Taylor Swift's 'folklore': Three Years On
By Lee Breslin
Whether it be a new studio album or one of her ingenious re-recordings, every Taylor Swift album stands as a pretty discernible landmark on the pastures of popular culture. From her roots as a country artist on her eponymous debut record to her transition into a budding pop phenomenon during 2012’s RED, each era of her career holds a special place in the hearts of her legion of die-hard supporters (affectionately known as Swifties).
folklore was released at a peculiar time in both the world and the timeline of Taylor’s career. Following three high-octane pop blockbuster albums, you wouldn’t have been foolish to expect more of the same. But as we know, the pandemic brought about a lot of change and uncertainty and in true Taylor fashion, she reflected the times impeccably. On the evening of July 23rd 2020, she casually took to social media to announce that her 8th studio album would be available for public consumption the following day.
The release of a new Taylor Swift album usually brings around a certain set of expectations; meditations on love and the hardships of relationships through the eyes of America’s biggest superstar. A while yes, you can find some of these elements on the record, folklore was a gear change of sorts. Steering away from narratives surrounding her own personal life, Taylor wrote from a third person perspective and through the lens of fictional characters. As the title suggested, this was folklore and for a lengthy 63 minutes, we would be living in this fantastical and vivid world that she created. Of course, all of this is much debated in the Taylor sphere with many fans speculating that these characters served as a vehicle through which Taylor could muse on her own experiences, but alas, if Taylor says so then so it shall be!
After some fruitful writing sessions and time nestled away in her LA abode, Tayor enlisted the help of longtime collaborator Jack Antonoff and The National’s Aaron Dessner to bring these stories to life. folklore traded the bustling pop productions of 1989, reputation and Lover for a more muted and minimalist approach. But as DIY and intimate as the record sounds, the unrelenting restrictions of quarantine forced the trio to adopt the modern way of working - exchanging instrumentals and vocal snippets digitally.
It’s an understatement to say that the release went off without a hitch. Immediate reactions from both fans and critics alike saw it become Swift’s most acclaimed album to date with many remarking on her impressive growth as both a vocalist and lyricist. No longer were the songs concise, bright & catchy; they were winding, intricate and brooding. And no longer was Taylor’s appeal limited to your average teenage girl; she was now someone the parents could also get down with. The extensive praise followed her all the way to award season too with her becoming the first woman ever to win Album of the Year 3 times at the GRAMMYs.
It’s hard to deny the sonic excellence and lyric prowess of songs such as ‘cardigan’, ‘exile’ and ‘august’, but as the old saying goes, hindsight is 20/20. At the time, many would say that straying from a winning formula was a bold and risky move for an artist almost 15 years into her career. But if folklore's release taught us anything, it’s to never underestimate the power of Taylor Swift.