I have no words for Taylor Swift’s surprise album, folklore. Well, clearly that’s not true, as I’m about to spend 1,500 words or so talking about it.
But…I am completely and utterly in shock. I’m entirely absent from my former headspace, and snatched away to some part of the world I didn’t know existed.
So, let’s just do the damn thing. Let’s talk about every track on folklore, one by one.
1. “the 1”
Listen, I was in tears on track one of this album. One! This reflection on a failed past love is everything I hoped Taylor still had in her following the Lover era. It’s everything we love about her songwriting, encapsulated in one song.
And there are still 15 more tracks. Hello?
By track 2, I start to get a feel for the vibe of this record. This one’s probably the most atmospheric of all the songs (that may be a hot take, as I’ve only gone through the album three times, but don’t @ me).
And that music video? I have so many questions. How did she create it during a pandemic when no one can get within spitting distance of one another? How did she envision the most ethereal video ever, and bring that to life as the director? How?
I love it. Love it. Love it. Love it.
3. “the last great american dynasty”
The most poppy beat thus far, and I’m grateful for that.
And anyone who says Taylor can’t write anything beyond high school drama or love songs? Here’s this for ya! Thanks for coming in.
A song about the former owner of her Rhode Island home? I’d be hard-pressed to think of another Taylor Swift song that strays so far from her usual topics. I will always remember folklore for its lush variety of narratives, and that first struck me here on track 3.
4. “exile (feat. Bon Iver)”
The first bassy vocals are unlike anything else in Taylor’s discography (as far as male collaborators go). The up-and-down piano progression in the verses comforts me somehow, but in the choruses the song becomes more serious as the sound morphs.
“So, step right out” is the point where “exile” reaches its final form, and Taylor’s voice counterbalances Justin’s perfectly through the song’s second half. It’s beautiful, to say the least. Probably in my top 5 on the album.
5. “my tears ricochet”
The cooing throughout “my tears ricochet” is impossible to forget. I can totally imagine this song on one of The Hunger Games soundtracks.
At this point in the album, I feel conflicted: the tracks sound quite similar to one another, but the lyrical ball is never dropped and each song has a unique flair to differentiate itself from the others. So, what more could I want? A great song, through and through.
My first thought? “Is this ‘Soak Up the Sun’ by Sheryl Crow?”
My second thought? I can almost see the indie coming-of-age film this song would play on.
“mirrorball” is a positive note in the album so far, and brings a bit of summer light to an overcast forest clearing. It’s cute!
“Sweet tea in the summer. Cross your heart, won’t tell no other” is the catchiest line on the record so far. The summer vibes are pretty explicit here, and “seven” feels like a tranquil walk along a tree line at sunset. Overall, it’s definitely above the median for me.
It’s the quintessential unrequited love song. “I remember thinking I had you” and “August slipped away like a bottle of wine, ’cause you were never mine” deliver the message painfully and beautifully, all at once.
9. “this is me trying”
I don’t think this song is terribly interesting from an instrumental perspective, but Taylor continues to pour careful thought into each track on folklore, and “this is me trying” is no exception.
10. “illicit affairs”
The vocab words really stick out on this one. “Clandestine,” anyone? “Mercurial high”? But, again, this one’s sound doesn’t reach above the average on folklore, so it might take me a few months to warm up to it.
11. “invisible string”
Right away, the plucky strings differentiate this piece from the others. And overall, “invisible string” has a cute concept: that someone you’ll love in the future is out in the world, living their life unaware that you exist (and vice versa). We stan.
12. “mad woman”
“There’s nothing like a mad woman. What a shame she went mad,” is one of my favorite lines on the album. The calm, sardonic delivery really pushes my “Yass” button.
This feels like a sequel to “The Man,” while sounding completely different. I love Taylor’s versatility in songwriting, and “mad woman” is a great example of it (as is folklore as a whole; who expected the queen to release an indie album? Certainly not I). On an album narrating the lives of others, “mad woman” stands out for feeling classically Taylor Swift. Track 12 makes points while conforming to an entirely new musical genre.
…Is this song about coronavirus?
If so, it’s blanketed in such melodic verses that it’s almost completely disguised. The only lyric that tipped me off: “Someone’s daughter / Someone’s mother / Holds your hand through plastic now.” To further complicate the issue, Taylor writes “Keep your helmet / Keep your life, son / Just a flesh wound / Here’s your rifle.” I’m positive she’s drawing connections to war here, but why?
I need some time to process this one. Once again, a slow, unassuming track is packed with meaningful lyrics.
“betty” is already emerging as a fan favorite. On folklore, it’s the third and final installment of a love triangle sang from each person’s perspective. In that regard, it is rather emblematic of the album as a whole, which focuses heavily on stories not belonging to Taylor Swift herself.
I certainly appreciate the increased tempo here, as it adds some variety to folklore. I also appreciate Taylor’s first-ever key change in the final chorus of the song. Overall, it’s a cute song written from the eyes of a boy trying to win back a girl he did wrong. And, again, I can already hear this in an indie coming-of-age film.
A warning of a chaotic life, “peace” is one of the most, well, peaceful songs on the album. The song has a synthetic, pulsing heartbeat throughout, and a smoothly repeated guitar riff to boot. The lyrics feel very conversational here, as though she’s just speaking to her lover (rather than singing to him). And that conversational tone makes “peace” the most poetry-slam-esque song on the album.
I would be lying if I said my tolerance for slow, poetic music hadn’t decreased over the last 15 tracks.
That being said, track 16’s main crime is coming last in line. It’s perfectly fine, but nothing makes me excited to hear it again. “No other sadness in the world would do” is an interesting and complex way to verbalize appreciation for a partner, but beyond that I don’t hear much to remember here.
folklore Review & Track Ranking
Taylor Swift’s eighth album has the element of surprise, and makes me wonder what I could have accomplished during quarantine if I’d put my head down and wrote for three months.
Is folklore Taylor’s best-written album ever? Probably. Are some of her most impressive lyrics hidden within slow piano ballads that sound similar to one another? Yes. Does folklore deserve to be Taylor’s most critically-acclaimed work yet? I think that’s fair. Is it a little front-loaded with its best songs? Yes.
folklore is a complete diversion from Taylor’s existing discography, which started in country and gradually (but surely) evolved into pop. In response to this sudden musical detour, longtime fans might react to folklore a couple of different ways: they might love this new indie/alternative sound, and appreciate that Taylor took such a risk; or, they might long for more vibrant bops like “Cruel Summer” or “Blank Space.”
I’m about 75% column A, 25% column B. I love Taylor’s impeccable ability to surprise the world and reinvent herself. I’m so impressed, once again, at how quickly she mastered a new genre. But part of my infatuation with her music involves singing it loudly in the car…and that’s just not what folklore is about.
I toyed with the idea of forgoing the usual song ranking activity to give myself more time to process this record. But, I think I can do this. Deep breaths, everybody. Here’s a (tentative) ranking of every track on folklore from worst to best:
- “this is me trying”
- “illicit affairs”
- “my tears ricochet”
- “mad woman”
- “the last great american dynasty”
- “invisible string”
- “exile” (feat. Bon Iver)
- “the 1”