Fans of Taylor Swift were shocked when the singer announced she would be releasing a new album entirely written and recorded during COVID-19 isolation. A mere 16 hours after her announcement, Folklore was released.
Swift has historically released an album every two years, with the exception of her sixth album, Reputation, released three years after 1989. Releasing Folklore less than a year after her seventh studio album, Lover, was an unusual move.
Missing from the traditional Taylor Swift album release were the high-impact marketing techniques, typically involving a long-winded build up and a number of clues. In 2017, after a long period out of the spotlight following that infamous Kanye phone call, Swift seemingly broke her silence by posting a series of cryptic Instagram videos of snakes. She soon announced that her next album, Reputation, would be released in three months.
Ariana Grande’s album, Thank U Next, was a surprise release just six months after her wildly successful Sweetener album, paving the way for less rigid forms of creativity in the music industry. No longer bound by the need to stick to an album “era”, popular musicians are increasingly experimenting with different musical styles and album release formats.
And Folklore is just that. It’s Taylor Swift at her best: stripped back, mature and utterly whimsical. The indie-folk focus of the album points to a Swift who is no longer concerned about conquering the charts, but making the music she wants to make and her fans want to hear.
Swift has listened to fans and critics, with Folklore veering away from featuring the weak, childish pop singles that might be commercially viable, but aren’t reflective of the album.
Folklore is one of her most sonically cohesive albums, toying with ideas of storytelling and escapism. Swift stated in an Instagram post that her imagination in isolation played a key part in creating a “collection of songs and stories that flowed like a stream of consciousness”.
The album was produced mostly by Aaron Dessner of US rock band, The National and Jack Antonoff, whom she has collaborated with extensively in the past. The fourth track, "Exile", featuring Bon Iver, seemingly paints an encounter between two ex-lovers after a breakup.
"Seven" almost seems like the prequel to Lover’s "It’s Nice To Have A Friend", echoing themes of innocence and childlike wonder that have prevailed throughout her discography.
Swift’s genre experimentation can be seen in "Mirrorball" which has the 90s-esque shoegaze style of softly distorted, ethereal instrumentals that you would hear in a coming-of-age film.
"Invisible String" is a moment of sweetness in the latter half of the album, with Swift expressing gratitude and forgiveness towards ex-lovers, singing, “Cold was the steel of my axe to grind for the boys who broke my heart, now I send their babies presents”. This line may be a reference to Swift’s ex, Joe Jonas who is expecting a baby with wife Sophie Turner.
Growth and accepting responsibility appear to be of importance in this album, with "This Is Me Trying" and "Peace" seeing Swift attempt to make amends for failures within a relationship. The sombre yet hopeful tone in both songs evidence Swift’s maturation as both an individual and a songwriter.
Since Swift’s feminist awakening a few years back, her albums have had a distinctly feminist undertone. Folklore is no different, "Mad Woman" references how her feuds with Scooter Braun and Kanye West gave her a reputation as “crazy”. She sings, “no one likes a mad woman, you made her like that”. Alongside "Betty", it’s also the first song Swift has ever dropped the f-bomb.
Folklore is a compelling, non-commercial album that will undoubtedly still perform well. It highlights her skill as a songwriter in developing clever songs that are lyrically unmatched in the industry. Initial fan feedback is overwhelmingly positive and critical acclaim is abundant. This may well be Swift’s best album yet.
Listen to 'Exile' here: