Taylor Swift’s newest album hits a home run


Beth Garrabrant

The front and back covers of “folklore,” Taylor Swift’s newest album.

Ansley Kopp, Asst. Managing Editor

The name Taylor Swift has to ring a bell. How could it not? Your grandma’s probably even heard her on the radio. Her career began in country music when she filled a niche nobody knew the world was missing— country music aimed towards teenage girls. She quickly gained a nearly-cultlike following among the general public. Then, in 2012, she began an overhaul of her music style, with her album Red considered “country pop.” In 2014, she became a fully-fledged mainstream pop artist after she underwent a full genre switch with the release of her album 1989. She’s gone on several tours and written countless songs. When a global pandemic hits, what’s a ten-time Grammy award winner to do? Naturally, write an entire album with everything stylized in all-lowercase, of course. Here’s a breakdown of folklore from start to finish.

The album opens with a song called “the 1,” which is immediately markedly different from all of her other works. Much more acoustic and calming in nature, it still manages to sound bright. The choral vocals in the background send chills down the spine. You can already tell that this album is the antithesis of the last six years of her career. 1989 was all about bright synths and songs about hanging out with friends, reputation was chock-full of images of snakes and songs of betrayal, and Lover was a breathless declaration of joy decorated in the audible version of pastel paper-mache. This is clearly much different. It’s darker. It’s calmer. It’s almost deadlier in a sense.

The lead single from folklore, “cardigan,” is incredibly dark in a different way than “the 1” was. It’s hard to picture it broadcasting on the radio. A lyric in this song, “When you are young they assume you know nothing,” is a motif that repeats itself later on in the album, too. The song doesn’t play to the media’s usual perception of Swift as an author of peppy breakup songs, but perhaps that is the point. 

The next song of note, “the last great american dynasty,” is one of Swift’s greatest lyrical works of all time. This just might be the most cheerful song on the entire album, but introduces an incredibly skillful technique you can hear in several songs to come— the imagery is so real and so vivid. In your mind’s eye, you can see the peeling paint on the walls and the crash of the ocean waves in the backyard of Holiday House (the house that belongs to the main character in the song). The best part? The entire song is based on the true story of Rebekah Harkness, who once lived in the house that Swift has since purchased. 

The transition into the middle of the album is one conducted with grace. These middle songs tell countless different stories— of exile, of losing who you are, of showing people what they want to see, of childhood friends, and of summers wasted away. All of these songs are executed using haunting background vocal tracks and sobering piano accompaniments. Some of the choral-style vocals resemble screams, such as in “illicit affairs.” One song especially worthy of note for its poeticism is “invisible string,” which explores the concept of two people on two seemingly different paths meeting and falling in love. Its lyrics in particular (“And isn’t it just so pretty to think / All along there was some / Invisible string / Tying you to me”) refer to the East Asian concept of the red string of fate that ties two soulmates together.

The next few songs also chronicle tales of anger and distrust. “mad woman” seems to acknowledge those who have terrorized Swift in the past, including Scooter Braun and Kanye West. She sings, “No one likes a mad woman / What a shame she went mad / You made her like that,” and its title also calls back to a lyric in “the last great american dynasty” (“There goes the maddest woman this town has ever seen / She had a marvelous time ruining everything”). Swift also tells of a teenage love triangle in “betty,” told from the perspective of a seventeen-year-old cheating boyfriend, James. It does a fantastic job of evoking vivid imagery, similar to “the last great american dynasty.” However, the album then takes a much more somber turn in “epiphany,” hailing the essential health workers during the COVID-19 pandemic as heroes, likening their daily struggle with the global pandemic to a battlefield. The beat in the background that serves as the foundation of the song is constant and unwavering, sounding eerily similar to a heartbeat.

The final three songs are equally as good as the rest of the album. “peace” is much less acoustic than the other songs, and discusses feelings of inadequacy in a relationship. Incredibly similar to Swift’s song “Delicate” off of reputation, the lyrics ask, “Would it be enough if I could never give you peace?” The intended closing song, “hoax,” is bittersweet. You can hear the heartbreak oozing out of Swift’s voice on this track. It reeks of hurt, like a festering wound. The final song that can only be found on the deluxe version, “the lakes,” is perhaps one of the best tracks off of the entire album. In it, she mourns a life free of scrutiny that she’s hardly ever known (“A red rose grew up out of ice frozen ground / With no one around to tweet it / While I bathe in cliffside pools with my calamitous love / And insurmountable grief.”) She criticizes those who tried to ruin her: “I’ve come too far to watch some name-dropping sleaze / Tell me what are my words worth.” The music rises and falls, and it swells and crumbles. It’s sad, but it’s at peace.

Even for those who don’t traditionally like indie pop music or indie music in general, this album is so worth giving a go. Although some of the songs can blend into one another at times, the masterful lyricism exhibited by Swift on this album is something to be commended. It very well may be one of her greatest works yet. She’s no longer the country girl with curly hair crying over the boy next door— she’s the woman with blonde bangs taking the world by storm, one guitar string and one piano key at a time.