“Folklore” is the answered prayer to those of us who grew up on Taylor Swift. A return to lyrical mastery that is both simple, yet incredibly complex.
The album is almost entirely acoustic with mostly guitar, piano and storytelling depth Swift has only brushed in the past. Album hits “Cardigan,” “August” and “Betty” explore the same teenage love triangle from all three perspectives and although they transport the listener back to age 17, the relationship is sophisticated in only a way young love can be.
From start to finish, the album is exactly as the title describes — a collection of stories detailing the most intimate moments. Deeply personal lyrics are not uncharacteristic for Swift who has spent much of her career subtly dropping names into songs like "Teardrops On My Guitar:" “Drew looks at me / I fake a smile so he won’t see.” The only difference here is these stories are no longer about her. Despite this they still maintain an uncanny level of relatability.
Swift has collaborated with artists in the past, notably Kendrick Lamar in “Bad Blood” or Ed Sheeran in “Everything Has Changed,” but the chemistry with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and simple piano notes in “Exile” create a new kind of union. “You were my town / Now I’m in exile seeing you out,” are lyrics that metaphorize heartbreak in a way only Swift could’ve written.
For fans and the rest of the world, uncovering the truth behind Swift's lyrics is a game, a testament to your level of dedication or a tabloid headline waiting to materialize. This time, “Folklore” didn’t require listeners to chase after it, it requires an hour and three minutes of digesting. It’s a slow burn that ultimately leaves you feeling dissected.
“The 1” will leave you grasping for a love you let go of a long time ago with three lines: “I persist and resist the temptation to ask / If one thing had been different / Would everything be different today?”.
While exploring the other side of this with “Peace,” Swift addresses what that relationship would look like: “The devil’s in the details, but you got a friend in me / Would it be enough if I could never bring you peace?” An unsettling look at what settling for a relationship that wasn’t “The 1” really looks like.
Perhaps one of the most storied songs on the album is “The Last Great American Dynasty.” Inspired by Rebekah Harkness, the “middle-class divorcee” heiress and previous owner of Swift’s Rhode Island mansion, Swift lays out the parallels between herself and “the loudest woman this town has ever seen.”
Simple plucky guitar perfectly matches the glittering walk-through of past memories sung about in “Invisible Strings.” In a turn away from her typical vengeful writing when it comes to boys of her past, this track sees Swift finding peace in the nostalgia of her early relationships: “Cold was the steel of my axe to grind / For the boys who broke my heart / Now I send their babies presents.” It really is the most beautiful in terms of its simplicity.
Swift has not been without controversy in the last couple of years and while previous records seemed only to serve the purpose of exacting revenge, “Folklore” is the work of an artist with absolutely nothing to prove. Storytelling has always been one of humankind’s most powerful tools, and with it in her arsenal, Swift will never run out of material.