I have a confession to make.

In the past, I have thought T-Swift was too much. But now, after listening and breaking down the nuances and lyrics of Folklore… I realize I was foolishly wrong.

On Friday, I put her new album on while I worked. Each track flowed into the next one. All sounding pretty similar. Nothing really stood out. But I have the humility to admit, it was all my fault.

I now realize, you won’t understand this album unless you give it the time it deserves. This is not an album for the ‘faint of heart’ or for grazing ears or idle party-goers. This album is meant to be tasted, digested, and scooped up again in indulgence for seconds, thirds and fourths.

Even though I really want to, but for time’s sake, I’m only going to scratch the surface beyond the meaning of a select few songs in this review. I mean, there are 16 songs on this surprise album. It’s a lot to take in and appropriately discuss in one blog post. But, I’ll share which tracks are my favorite and which lyrics stand out the most to me.

Whelp, here we go…

Written during isolation that COVID-19 brought about, Taylor decided to let her mind run wild with imagining up scenarios of what could’ve beens, apologies never heard, dramatic perspectives from both sides of the story, and (Taylor’s forte) delicious revenge. If you really listen to each song, you’ll understand how Taylor tailored and carefully crafted each piece.

Giving rhyme and reason for the muse behind her eighth studio album, Taylor wrote in the prologue: “I found myself not only writing my own stories, but also writing about or from the perspective of people I’ve never met, people I’ve known, or those I wish I hadn’t. An exiled man walking the bluffs of a land that isn’t his own, wondering how it all went so terribly, terribly wrong. An embittered tormentor showing up at the funeral of his fallen object of obsession. A seventeen-year-old standing on a porch, learning to apologize. Lovestruck kids wandering up and down the evergreen High Line. My grandfather, Dean, landing at Guadalcanal in 1942. A misfit widow getting gleeful revenge on the town that cast her out.”

And why the nondescript one-word album title? Well, because the packaged tracks are all stories to be talked about –

“A tale that becomes folklore is one that is passed down and whispered around. Sometimes even sung about. The lines between fantasy and reality blur and the boundaries between truth and fiction become almost indiscernible. Speculation, over time, becomes fact. Myths, ghost stories, and fables. Fairytales and parables. Gossip and legend. Someone’s secrets written in the sky for all to behold.”

Traditional to other Swift albums, Folklore is complex, chalk full of past relationship secrets to uncover, fantastical and mystical. Different than her previous compilations, this album is dark, moody, calm, and not always personal.

Sonically it’s folk but with a twist of pop. Her songwriting is if Joni Mitchell and Coldplay were to make an album baby. I’m reminded of Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” in “epiphany” especially.

Let’s look at it as a whole first and then move onto dissecting it by select tracks…

The album together is complex and so dang smart for so many reasons:

1. She gives nods to previous albums in several tracks that only true Swifties would catch

2. In three particular songs she details one dramatic event, however, each coming from a different perspective (because a story is rarely linear)

3. She even lists songs in intentional ways that is a fun Easter egg if you’re paying attention

4. Analogies. Analogies. Analogies.

Now onto discussing Folklore track by track. Each track is cinematic and simply beautiful. She’s extremely detail-oriented and intentional down to every note.

#1. “the 1”

One of my favorites, “the 1”, is a playful fantasy into the ‘what-ifs’ of a past lover turning out to be the one rather than just a memory. She says, wouldn’t it have been cool if we actually turned out to be each other’s one? We’re not– but what if we were?

Also, did you notice that the first track has the number one in it? Yeah, that’s on purpose. The placement on the album is not coincidental, she also does this with song number seven, “seven” and song number eight, “august” – August being the 8th month of the year.

My favorite lyrics:

[Last Chorus]
“In my defense, I have none
For digging up the grave another time
But it would’ve been fun
If you would’ve been the one”

#2. cardigan

The focus track off of the album, “cardigan”, is the first perspective we get into the hidden story of ‘The Teenage Love Triangle’. During a live chat to kick off the premiere of the music video, Taylor detailed, “There’s a collection of three songs I refer to as The Teenage Love Triangle. These 3 songs explore a love triangle from all three people’s perspectives at different times in their lives.’

The other two tracks are believed to be “august” and “betty”. If you really listen and take notes you’ll realize that the teenagers in question are James, Inez, and Betty. Reading between the lines you’ll find that James and Betty are dating but then James goes and messes it all up by cheating on her with Inez, or so the story goes.

“cardigan” is from Betty’s perspective. She’s remembering their love and then how it all went away when James cheated on her. She’s hurt but also still thinks about him even years in the future.

A cool thing to listen for is right after the last chorus, you’ll hear the production sound like it’s rewinding. Maybe can’t stop replaying the event again and again in her mind?

My favorite lyrics:

[Last Chorus]
“I knew you Tried to change the ending
Peter losing Wendy, I
I knew you
Leavin’ like a father
Running like water, I
And when you are young, they assume you know nothing

[Third Verse]
I knew you’d haunt all of my what-ifs
The smell of smoke would hang around this long
‘Cause I knew everything when I was young
I knew I’d curse you for the longest time
Chasin’ shadows in the grocery line
I knew you’d miss me once the thrill expired”

#3 “the last great american dynasty”

Another one of my personal favorites, Taylor really dove into fun fantasy here while drawing comparison to herself. The story revolves around a wild woman named Rebekah who married into money and bought a house on the coast and named it “Holiday House”.

The house played host to many over-the-top parties filled with big named stars, one of them Salvador Dalí. And it seems, along the way, the lady of the house caused quite a bit of chaos. Fans went to work to crack the code, with the help of Wikipedia, understanding that Rebekah was actually the previous owner of Taylor’s Rhode Island home, Rebekah Harkness. Similar to Taylor, Rebekah had garnered quite a bit of attention from the papers and tabloids and was the talk of the town – been seeing as a “shameless woman”. And if I have any say, I think Taylor is quite proud and finds it fun to own that comparison.

My favorite lyrics:

“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

[Last Chorus]
“Who knows, if I never showed up, what could’ve been
There goes the loudest woman this town has ever seen
I had a marvelous time ruining everything”

#4: exile

Have you ever broken up with someone and then you see them at a party with someone else? Well, that’s the storyline for the fourth track, “exile”. Two ex-lovers run into one another and each are describing their feelings of their hard to swallow breakup. Bon Iver sings from the guy’s perspective, he’s hurt and depressed as he says he didn’t see the break up coming, he must’ve missed the signs. While the girl, Taylor, says she gave so many “warning signs” that it just wasn’t working.

The title is an analogy of how they must feel now being around one another; outcasted from the relationship as an exile. The bridge is especially beautiful as their voices overlap, creating a crescendo of views in how it went down and the aftermath.

My favorite lyrics:

[First Chorus]
“You’re not my homeland anymore
So what am I defending now?”

[Second Verse]
“I can see you starin’, honey
Like he’s just your understudy
Like you’d get your knuckles bloody for me”

#5: “my tears richochet”

My all-time favorite track off of her new album. Filled with so many great analogies and a possible serious nod to her feud with her ex-label exec at Big Machine Records before she moved over to Republic.

Taylor shared on Instagram that “my tears richochet” is a tale about an “embittered tormentor showing up at the funeral of his fallen object of obsession.” We all know the story about her fight with her old label, claiming that they stole her former catalog and one specific lyric in the bridge definitely seems to allude to it: “And when you can’t sleep at night (You hear my stolen lullabies)”

Seems she’s played up a scenario between these parties where one of them dies and the other shows up at the wake. Taylor uses a lot of death analogies to illustrate the famous fight and betrayal: “and if I’m dead to you”, “You know I didn’t want to have to haunt you, But what a ghostly scene”, and “You wear the same jewels that I gave you, As you bury me”.

You’ll also notice that the keys first heard are strikingly familiar to that of what you would hear during a funeral.

As far as relating back to her previous albums, does “my tears richochet” refer to her infamous line in “Look What You Made Me Do” when she claims that “the old Taylor” is dead? Maybe, maybe not.

My favorite lyrics:

[First Chorus]
“I didn’t have it in myself to go with grace
And you’re the hero flying around, saving face
And if I’m dead to you, why are you at the wake?
Cursing my name, wishing I stayed
Look at how my tears ricochet”

#13: “epiphany”

It’s truly an homage to end the review on # 13.

You remember when Swift wrote in the prologue how she imagined writing about her grandfather’s experience in WW2? Well “epiphany” would be the corresponding track for that description, but what is fascinating about the song is how she draws comparisons between war and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The production is gorgeously cinematic, sounding just like something you’d hear scored in a film. Her vocals make it feel like time is slowed down and stuck. You can almost see it – that the dramatic scene in a war film where bullets are flying, soldiers are being cut down, and the hero is fighting for his life to make it to another day.

After the first verse of strong war imagery, she moves into the current situation of the pandemic. Comparing the medical frontlines as significant as the frontlines in war.

I geeked out at the end of the song when the production resembles the sounds found in the ER. A dull, but powerful, drum thumps in time beckoning the sound of a defibrillator as it works to jump start a silent heart. Overlapping, is the reverb of ticking similar to a heart monitor machine as it beeps.

My favorite lyrics:

[First Verse]
“Keep your helmet, keep your life, son
Just a flesh wound, here’s your rifle
Crawling up the beaches now
“Sir, I think he’s bleeding out”
And some things you just can’t speak about”

[Second Verse]
“Something med school did not cover
Someone’s daughter, someone’s mother
Holds your hand through plastic now
“Doc, I think she’s crashing out”
And some things you just can’t speak about”

“Only twenty minutes to sleep
But you dream of some epiphany”

I seriously could go on and on about how each song is tied to one another and how beautifully poetic Swift is with intricate delicate details knitted within each lyric, but I will save that for an in-person conversation you can have with me.

I strongly suggest you open up the lyrics to read as you listen to each track. It will grow your appreciation for her artwork. Seriously, well done, Taylor, well done.

To learn more about our Music Editor, Shaina Russo, Click Here

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