Review: Taylor Swift expertly mixes fact, fiction and genre in surprise album release


Taylor Swift’s latest release, “folklore,” surprised fans with timing and sound. 

Annelise Wells

Taylor Swift’s storytelling and songwriting ability is unmatched in the pop music industry and her ability to dance between genres is just as impressive. These skills remain strong throughout her eighth studio album “folklore,” which she released as a surprise July 24.

“folklore” feels like a coming home for Swift, as any of the 16 tracks would not feel out of place on her previous records “Fearless” and “Red,” although with a bit more of a mature sound. The newer side to this album is Swift’s dive into the folk and indie genres. Swift intertwines her pop and country backgrounds seamlessly while experimenting with heavier folk acoustics.

Swift’s last studio album “Lover” was released a mere 11 months ago, so fans were not expecting a full new album for another year or two. Swift usually writes all of her tracks and has a heavy hand in production of each album.

On the morning of July 24, she announced her eighth studio album would be released at midnight that night along with a music video for the song “cardigan,” and she quickly broke the internet, with “folklore” trending on Twitter throughout the day.

Swift said she wrote the album in isolation during the past few months, putting together the album in an amazingly short time. Swift is also credited as a songwriter on each of the 16 tracks, with familiar names helping with the process.

Aaron Dessner of The National, one of the co-writers on the album, shared how the album came together on Twitter: “I thought it would take a while for song ideas to come and I had no expectations for what we could accomplish remotely. But a few hours after sharing my music, my phone lit up with a voice memo from Taylor of a fully written version of a song — the momentum never really stopped,” his statement says in a tweet. “Over the next few months, we remotely finished 11 songs (she also recorded several others with the amazing Jack Antonoff) of her magical new album ‘folklore.’ I’ve rarely been so inspired by someone, and it’s still hard to believe this even happened — these songs came together in such a challenging time.”

Singer/songwriter Jack Antonoff, who previously helped write songs on Swift’s “1989” and “reputation” albums, returned to “folklore.” In a tweet, Antonoff wrote the tracks “my tears ricochet” and “august” are some of his favorite work he has collaborated with Swift on, which with many stellar tracks under the duo’s belt, says a lot.

In a description of the album posted on Facebook, Swift said “folklore” is just as it sounds: filled with stories passed down through generations and ones she has made up herself. Real-life events and interwoven fictional storylines leave listeners with a puzzle piece of an album that after many listens still has new pieces and lyrics to uncover the final picture.

The album is mainly acoustic and has heavy vibes of folk tunes and indie production. The nostalgic feel is really given a chance to shine with very little electronic influence and piano taking the forefront in a lot of the tracks.

Opening track “the 1” begins with Swift tongue-in-cheek singing, “I’ve been good/I’m on some new shit,” which is a fitting introduction to the concept of the album as a whole. She’s been working on this album and is releasing something new to the world, and as a surprise nonetheless.

While Swift has always excelled at storytelling, this is the first time she has made a clear note of writing from other people’s perspectives in addition to just her own.

In a statement she released on Facebook, she writes “In isolation my imagination has run wild and this album is the result, a collection of songs and stories that flowed like a stream of consciousness,” the statement said. “Picking up a pen was my way of escaping into fantasy, history, and memory. I’ve told these stories to the best of my ability with all the love, wonder, and whimsy they deserve. Now it’s up to you to pass them down.”

“the 1” is a strong opening track, and personally one of my favorites lyrically on the album. Although witty and catchy, the lyrics posing questions of “what if’s” and wondering about the role of fate in one’s life resonate deeply even after the first listen.

The only feature on “folklore” comes from Bon Iver on “exile,” a heartbreaking, lengthy song with a bridge emulating a screaming match between the two singers. The song is devastating to listen to, with Bon Iver and Swift both using their lower registers in a crescendoing string-filled masterpiece.

A fictional love triangle unites certain tracks throughout “folklore,” and the history of Swift’s Rhode Island house takes center stage on “the last great american dynasty.” This track seems more like an audiobook with its narrative storytelling structure, yet still remains catchy and won’t get out of your head. 

The song tells the story of the previous owners of her house on Rhode Island, focusing on a divorcee named Rebekah and the life she led after inheriting a lot of money after marrying into the Standard Oil Company and her husband dying less than a decade after their marriage.

The listener discovers in the bridge Swift now resides in the home, and the following chorus the “she,” referring to Rebakah’s life at the house, changes to “I” with Taylor being the woman who drives the Rhode Island town mad.

Swift sings, “Fifty years is a long time/Holiday House sat quietly on that beach/Free of women with madness, their men and bad habits/and then it was bought by me.”

Songs “cardigan,” “mirrorball” and “this is me trying” are indie pop successes for Swift, giving her audience the perfect coming-of-age driving around soundtrack.

Tracks “august” and “betty” bring a fresh take on Swift’s storytelling and are two of the standout tracks on the album. The details she includes in telling narratives makes each song more personal than the last.

“betty” is told from the perspective of a male named James, and this is new territory for Swift’s writing style. Swift nails her narrative storytelling format again in this song, and it has instantly become a fan favorite for this reason.

Swift also uses quite a bit of profanity on the album, which doesn’t feel out of place as she is growing more into herself as an artist. These lyrics don’t feel forced, but more casual and natural like you would hear in conversation.

“invisible string” seems to be a slight outlier, and seems to be one of the tracks personally written about her life. Swift sings about her boyfriend of three years and how throughout their lives, they were always tied together by some sort of fate and invisible string.

This song shows a lot of growth in Swift, with the too-perfect lyrics: “Cold was the steel of my axe to grind/for the boys who broke my heart/now I send their babies presents,” which is a possible nod to Swift’s ex-boyfriend Joe Jonas and his wife Sophie Turner recently welcoming their first baby into the world.

The bridge of the song ends with a beautiful: “Hell was the journey but it brought me heaven,” which also seems to reflect the obstacles Swift has faced throughout her career and getting to this point.

Swift’s fans have grown up with her, and whether or not you are a fan of hers, this album feels like she has been going through what a lot of people have in quarantine: Daydreaming, thinking about old flames and reflecting on life. While writing a masterful album during quarantine is more her speed than binging Netflix, the concept of ‘folklore’ is so ingenious and has brought life to such an odd, dark time. 

Each track on “folklore” seemingly blends perfectly into the next. There’s no standout out of place pop single her fanbase has learned to grow and love from her, but an achingly mature, beautiful storybook of a record.

Swift continues to top herself with her breathtaking lyrics and ability to describe feelings we all have felt in a way we wish we could say. With something for everyone on this more chill, mature-sounding album, “folklore” is a smashing success.

Final Verdict: 10/10