The icon pop-star reinvents herself for a second time
Taylor Swift gave us all an unexpected gift: her adorned eighth studio al-bum folklore, uncharacteristically within 15 hours of its announcement. Swift, notorious for leaving Easter eggs in songs, music videos, and social media posts, wrote on Instagram, “Before this year I probably would’ve overthought when to release this music at the ‘perfect’ time, but the times we’re living in keep reminding me that nothing is guaranteed,” upon the album’s announcement.
A must-listen, folklore is by far Swift’s most experimental album, introducing influences of folk and alternative mu-sic, as well as a return to country. The album was written, re-corded, and produced in its entirety during the state of self-quarantine many currently find themselves in, while Swift was set to tour around the United States and Europe for her seventh album, Lover. Credits for folklore include collaborations with Aaron Dessner, Bon Iver, William Bowery (believed to be a pseudonym for Swift’s boyfriend, actor Joe Alwyn), and Jack Antonoff; additionally, engineered by Laura Sisk and Jon Low and mixed by Ser-ban Ghenea and Jon Low.
In another post about her new album, Swift writes about the creative process for folklore, “In isolation, my mind has run wild and this album is the result, a col-lection of songs and stories that flowed like a stream of conscious-ness.”
She goes on to explain that writing the album provided a “way of escaping into fantasy, history, and memory” during the state of lockdown in most parts of the world this past spring and summer. The concept of the album stems from images and visuals that Swift claims “popped into my mind” and eventually developed into characters, some real, some entirely made up, and others a combination of both. Deviating from her past albums, Swift masterfully slips into alternate personas for the majority of the album, writing and singing from the many perspectives of said characters. Habitually, Swift’s songs and albums in the past have predominantly resulted from personal experiences, relationships, stories, and widely criticized dramas.
Folklore also veers from its predecessors on genre. She rose to fame in the music industry through country music with her-first three studio albums Taylor Swift, Fearless, and Speak Now. With Red, Swift began her transition from country to pop, flawlessly re-inventing herself with fifth album, 1989. Marking another genre change for Swift, folklore ventures into “alternative music,” as iTunes labels it, containing tinges of folk, pop, and country. Many see this album as a way for Swift to revisit those country roots, even if only as country-adjacent. As unexpected as this redirection of genres is, it seems like a natural progression for Swift; with its noticeable country and pop influences, folklore feels like a natural maturation of Swift’s sound. However, only time will tell if this will be only a temporary diversion from pop music.
A new sound for Swift, folklore is saturated with a blend of sweet, dreamy vocals, skillful use of a mellotron, cozy acoustic guitar riffs, and soothing piano melodies, as well as sprinkled with bouts of cello, saxophone, and notably, the harmonica. Simultaneously, the album ably maintains the familiar storytelling expertise of Swift’s song writing. Perhaps the most experimental song “betty” is reminiscent of Swift’s country days, opening with a bright, folk-style guitar pattern paired with a glaring harmonica melody. As it continues, more countryesque instruments arrive along with gradual layers of percussion, bass, and subtle piano, beautifully filling the track. Swift man-ages to evoke feelings of nostalgia and familiarity in this one with a concept and writing style comparable to Swift’searly music, quintessentially “Tim McGraw.”
As one of the few upbeat, cheery songs on the album, “betty” stands out from others on folklore, which largely take on a more mature tone and voice as well as a rather minimalistic, soft sound.
Taylor Swift’s folklore marks a possible new be-ginning for the artist, as she manages to effortlessly delve into an entirely new genre with complete ease.
Largely accepted as Swift’s most mature album, its success marks the largest female debut on global Spotify, ranking second to Drake’s Scorpion. Born out of self-isolation due to this year’s unprecedented pandemic, folklore show-cases Swift’s imaginative capabilities as a lyricist and melodist, once again, prov-ing she’s an adept songwrit-er and performer in any genre, unbound by labels like country or pop-star.