Taylor Swift Unveils Her Most Raw Voice in folklore
October 2, 2020 | Sarah Yi
Illustration by Livia Lemgruber
It is safe to say that most of us fell into some kind of slump during the past couple of months in quarantine. So when Taylor Swift announced her new album only 12 hours before it was released in July, fans everywhere went into a frenzy. Despite the low-energy caused by staying at home and isolating — or perhaps as a result of it — many people found themselves falling in love with the heart-wrenching stories told in folklore. Though it was a drastic change from her last pop album, Lover, this album wasn’t necessarily a return to her country roots, but rather a dip into something new.
The album opens up with “the 1,” the opening line being “I’m doing good I’m on some new shit.” This isn’t just a nod to her fans letting them know that she is doing well, but also that she is straying away from cleaner content and becoming more explicit. Each of the 16 tracks (17 if you count the bonus track on the deluxe album) tells a different story. With the first piece, Swift reminisces on an old relationship (some fans speculate that it was written about the one and only Harry Styles), and she ponders what would have happened if they lasted. It is a bittersweet song, and even though she is happy with Joe Alwyn, she writes about how her old love was apparently the greatest one, but could not happen.
folklore is arguably one of the rawest albums Swift has released. Take this trilogy, for example. The storyline consists of “cardigan,” “august,” and “betty.” These three songs tell the same story but from a different perspective. The basic plotline is a love triangle between three teenagers: Betty, James, and August Girl. In the story, Betty and James were dating, but when James left for the summer, he cheated on Betty with “August Girl.” In the end, he leaves “August Girl” too, leaving both of the girls to deal with their own grief. “cardigan” is told from Betty’s point of view, and “betty” is from James’ point of view. Each piece expresses pain, heartbreak, and regret through the three teens’ distinct voices. Betty’s heartache breaks through in the lyric “you drew stars around my scars / but now I’m bleeding,” James’ wrongdoing is shown through “I’m only seventeen / I don’t know anything / but I know I miss you,” and August Girl’s unrequited love in “So much for summer love / and saying ‘us’ / cause you weren’t mine to lose.” Through these three tracks, Swift weaves a heart-aching love story that could be analyzed like a novel in English class.
Illustration by Livia Lemgruber
folklore pushes the boundaries and creativity of musicality and lyrical genius. Not all Swift’s tracks are heavy with loss and tragedy; “the last great american dynasty,” a historical rundown about her Rhode Island beach house, is still an interesting and unique song. Other tracks pull on your heartstrings, especially “exile,” which features Bon Iver. Let’s be real, anything sung by them can make people wallow for hours.
Swift also digs past romantic heartbreak into more personal experiences with the track “my tears ricochet.” This song is about Swift’s relationship with her past record label, Big Machine Records. Swift alleges they took advantage of her young age and inexperience, signing her when she joined the music industry at 16 years old and then refusing to give Swift the rights to her masters when the contract was up. This song explores her feelings about leaving this label: disdain, anger, and great waves of grief. The song makes many references to funerals, such as the gospel-like background vocals that mimic those heard at a funeral, including the opening lyric “We gather here…”
This album broke down any expectations that critics and her fans had when she first announced it. Her sudden shift of genre into indie-folk surprised many listeners, but it also won over a lot of people who did not enjoy her music after she “went pop.” Aside from this dramatic change, the tracks are extremely detailed; the stories told through each song are clear enough to reach listeners but still open to interpretation and analysis. With the release of folklore, Swift not only proved her adept skills in writing and producing music in a range of genres but also demonstrated her abilities as a female artist in mainstream media. The music industry and music lovers have been known to look down on Swift and her music because of her focus on past lovers, even though that is what countless other artists write about. The sexism within the music industry ridicules Swift for writing about her exes, yet the same hateful energy isn’t put into criticizing artists like John Mayer or Sam Smith. It became a popular trend to belittle her music, but time and time again she has risen above her haters. With this album, she has changed how others view her, and for the better. The raw voice she presented on this album truly shows her musical abilities, and that even for a star like Swift, the best might be yet to come.