Our editor-in-chief gives her thoughts on the understated release of pop-icon Taylor Swift’s eighth record…
When Taylor Swift posts on social media, her dedicated fans usually read into it in every possible way, counting fence panels or palm trees and deducing that five palm trees might mean something is happening or coming out in 5 weeks or in May. However, when Taylor posted on social media on the 23rd July, there was no need for fans to guess what it meant. Simply, Taylor told her fans she had created an entire album during lockdown and was releasing it at midnight that same day.
Releasing an album without the build-up, marketing or advertising might seem like a bold move, but Swift seemed to rely solely upon word of mouth and the internet to spread the word. It seems to have been successful with the album release trending all day on Twitter and the album dominating the worldwide music charts. In doing so, Swift proves that she can release any music, regardless of genre, and it will be greatly received by her fans and critics alike. “Most of the things I had planned this summer didn’t end up happening,” Swift wrote, “but there is something I hadn’t planned on that DID happen.”
Upon seeing the album cover for the first time, many fans deduced that the album would echo that of her song Safe and Sound previously written for the Hunger Games soundtrack. The seventeen-track album was classified as ‘alternative’ rather than the country or pop sounds we have come to expect from the 10-time Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter.
However, Swift proves with folklore that what she created during her time in lockdown is her most introspective and authentic self yet. Many eager listeners of the record claim that the songs feel like they’ve been lifted straight from the pages of their journals which is an art Swift has perfected in the thirteen years of her career.
This new album could not be more different to Swift’s two previous albums, Reputation and Lover, both of which changed Taylor’s tune to mainstream pop and was widely accepted by fans.
However, folklore shows Taylor return to her slower and calmer, more stripped back songs, starting with the 1 and lead single cardigan. Both provide a strong opening to the album, setting the simple and lyrical theme of the album, reflecting on previous relationships when she was younger singing: “when you are young they assume you know nothing”.
The album develops into the last great American dynasty which tells the story of Rebekah Harkness, the previous owner of Swift’s Rhode Island home, known as “the maddest woman this town has ever seen”. Whilst Swift usually focuses her music on telling her own stories and experiences, she expanded her horizons on this album, crafting her songs about other people from a variety of viewpoints. Swift explained these choices in a personal essay: “It started with imagery, visuals that popped into my head and piqued my curiosity…Pretty soon these images in my head grew faces or names and became characters,” she wrote, “I found myself not only writing my own stories, but also writing about or from the perspective of people I’ve never met.”
Other highlights from the record include Swift’s surprise collaboration with folk band Bon Iver on exile that details a toxic relationship and compares it to a film both parties have seen before: “I think I’ve seen this film before, and I didn’t like the ending”. This is me trying shows Swift admitting her role in the failure of a past relationship and betty is a firm fan-favourite track. Swift explained upon the release of the album that betty acts as one part of a teenage love triangle story on the album (along with tracks cardigan and august) and addresses the infidelity by James, one of Swift’s characters created for the album.
Throughout the album, Swift opts to allow her storytelling to take precedence over the production of the album, choosing to use simple acoustics over the big beats and electro-pop sounds we have come to expect.
The simple and stripped-back production on folklore shows Swift in a new and mature light that begs the question – is this the new Taylor?
By Faith Pring
Feature Image Credit: Taylor Swift