Taylor Swift’s success has in part been owed to the massive promotions of her albums, even to the extent that she changes her personal aesthetics to correspond with the sounds of her new music. You may know her best as America’s sweetheart during her “Fearless” era, the vintage darling of “Red” or the edgy superstar of “reputation”--regardless, or perhaps because of this variety, her huge impact on pop music has been undeniable.
Thus, it was a shock to Swifties and the music industry as a whole when Swift suddenly announced the morning of the release of her eighth studio album, “Folklore,” at midnight on July 24.
Even without any promotion, “Folklore” has found major success. Forbes writes that it is 2020’s fastest-selling album, reaching one million units in the United States by its third week. In addition, Billboard reports that Swift has become the first-ever artist to land the first spot on both the Hot 100 and Billboard 200 at the same time.
These recognitions are more than well-earned. “Folklore” consists of 16 folksy, “indie”-sounding songs that carry a quality of lovely loneliness throughout, and every single one is its own soft pleasure. A seventeenth track, “The Lakes,” is available only on physical copies of the albums, of which there are several different aesthetic versions for fans to choose from.
It wouldn’t be a Taylor Swift album without songs about heartache. Three songs--most probably “cardigan,” “august,” and “betty”--illustrate a love triangle-affair from the perspectives of three teenagers. “betty” doubles as a song that can be heard through a queer lens, to the delight of Swift’s large LGBT following, as the gender of the song’s speaker is not explicitly stated and the female voice sings lovingly to a woman subject.
Justin Vernon of Bon Iver features on the album in a duet with Swift for “exile.” Their voices mingle in a harmony that is both stunning and painful, as each singer represents a different perspective in a failed relationship. Vernon’s desperate insistence that “You never gave a warning sign,” followed by Swift’s broken-down “I gave so many signs” is a haunting reminder of the ease in which language between lovers can be dangerously lost in translation.
Of course, there must also be love songs. “hoax” and “peace” beautifully articulate the struggle of balancing true love with relationship struggles, while “the 1” continues wallowing in the devastation of losing who you thought was your soulmate.
But the album isn’t all about Swift’s romantic experiences. Perhaps the most important songs on the album are those that delve into her relationship with herself and with the world. “this is me trying” and “my tears ricochet” are stunningly confessional, as Swift admits to past regrets and earnestly tries to grow from them. “mirrorball” is one of my personal favorites off the album, wrestling with the dichotomy between being as you are and how you are perceived by the world.
Because it is Swift’s trademark to switch up her style with every album, it is impossible to know how personal she is in these songs. Nonetheless, they seem to signify the artist’s growth as she continues creating music into her thirties. Listeners will find here something that makes them feel gently held, loved “to the moon and to Saturn,” no matter what baggage they carry.
Ivy Marie Clarke ‘22 is an English literature and creative writing double major, double minoring in art and women’s and gender studies. She has served as editor of the Arts & Culture section of The Cluster for the last two years. She also interns with Macon Magazine and Mercer University Press and edits for The Dulcimer. She also enjoys drinking coffee and writing poetry.