Instagram/Taylornation

If there’s one thing that 2020 has taught us, it is to expect the unexpected. Announced just hours before its release in late July, Taylor Swift’s eighth studio album folklore was met with widespread critical acclaim, supported by staggering numbers in both sales and streaming. Despite its minimal promotion in comparison to the big-budget fanfare that usually accompanies her album releases, folklore is tangible proof of Swift’s domination of the music industry. Although sonically and stylistically different from her previous albums, one thing is for certain: Taylor Swift is limitless in her musical endeavours.

As a self-proclaimed Swiftie, Taylor Swift has most certainly provided the soundtrack to my formative years. I can vividly recall dancing to ‘Love Story’ and ‘You Belong with Me’ with my friends at school discos, quite oblivious to the emotional narrative of the tracks but nonetheless engrossed in their catchy melodies. A few years later, I remember singing along to her 2012 album Red at karaoke. And now, during a global pandemic, I listen to the soft, haunting tracks of her latest album over a lively video call with my friends (Zoom audio sharing, I appreciate you). While my musical tastes have undoubtedly evolved over the past decade, Taylor Swift has been a continual presence in my playlists.

“Despite her constant experimentation with her style, Swift continues to assert the same lyrical mastery and storytelling genius that has come to shape her impressive, record-breaking career.”

That’s not to say that Swift’s style hasn’t changed. In fact, since entering the music industry in 2006, we’ve seen her metamorphose from country sweetheart to pop superstar with 1989 and reputation. Since then, the bubblegum pop production of Lover has been swapped with soft melodies and moody guitars. Yet, despite her constant experimentation with her style, Swift continues to assert the same lyrical mastery and storytelling genius that has come to shape her impressive, record-breaking career.


READ MORE

Mountain View

Folklore: a lyrical ode to escapism

Folklore, an album created entirely in lockdown, is Swift’s debut alternative album. Its romantic lyrics and intimate acoustics offer a warm, wistful escape from global uncertainty. We are whisked away from our everyday troubles via the third-person narratives that are woven into the lyrics of ‘cardigan’, ‘betty’ and ‘august’, forming a fictional love triangle that reminds us of the transience of youth. In the poetic bonus track ‘the lakes’, Swift pines for her lover behind the stunning backdrop of the Lake District. “Take me to the lakes where all the poets went to die”, she sings, as she yearns to flee from the modern world and the “hunters with cell phones.” Even in the ‘cardigan’ music video, Swift escapes into a peaceful woodland where she momentarily forgets her everyday anxieties. In an Instagram post announcing the surprise release of folklore in July, she explains how writing this album was a “way of escaping into fantasy, history and memory.”

instagram/taylorswift

However, despite providing a welcoming getaway from reality, Swift poignantly honours front-line workers in the melancholic ballad ‘epiphany’, which draws parallels between her grandfather landing at Guadalcanal in 1942, and the trauma faced by healthcare workers in the wake of the pandemic. The song’s haunting lyrics exemplify the tragedies of both war and sickness, and the painful reality of those who are left to continue the fight. The soldiers “crawling up the beaches now” in the first verse of the track are swapped with the sombre mother who “holds your hand through plastic now” in the second. The mournful lyrics of the track pair perfectly with its hymnal sound.

“The combination of honest, raw lyrics and minor key chords produce an intimate indie-folk album”

A fan favourite on the album is the stirring duet ‘exile’ featuring Bon Iver, a mesmerising ballad that intertwines a dual narrative to capture the sentiments of a broken relationship. The track is full of beautiful harmonies and echoes as the ex-lovers exchange lines in a melodic argument that gloriously erupts in the bridge. The track fades out as slowly and as quietly as it began, leaving behind only the memory of a past love.

Full of enchanting tales, folklore is, at its core, an album of self-reflection. Away from the limelight, Swift has created a nostalgic and mature album that reflects upon her old loves, missteps, and regrets. The combination of honest, raw lyrics and minor key chords produce an intimate indie-folk album that showcases the artist at her most vulnerable and creative. In the midst of a cruel summer, Swift emerges with her most ambitious and momentous album yet. This year needed saving, and Taylor Swift did not disappoint.