A Personal Account on Taylor Swift’s Latest Album: “Folklore”

Taylor+Swift+singing+during+her+%22Cardigan%22+music+video.%0APhoto+by+Google+Images

Taylor Swift singing during her “Cardigan” music video. Photo by Google Images

Tina Enright, Staff Writer

On July 24, 2020, one of my favorite musicians of all time released her latest album “Folklore” just hours after publicly announcing it. This is Taylor Swift’s eighth studio album of her career, and the sixteen-song track list looks very different from what her fans have seen in the past. 

She wrote the entire album in isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you really take the time to listen to the lyrics in “Folklore”, you’ll notice that they aren’t just songs- they’re stories. Taylor really poured her heart and soul into this album, doing something she’s never really done before. She set aside pop-culture and all the pressure that comes with being a star in the music industry, and really took the time to create an album for herself. She’s expressed that this was an album she’s wanted to write for a long time, and quarantine became the opportunity for her to do that.

The cover of Taylor Swift’s latest album “Folklore”.
Photo by Google Images

Although it wasn’t as successful (popularity-wise) as some of her previous albums, it’s definitely my favorite. It’s a lyrical masterpiece with stunningly beautiful melodies. Folklore projects a Taylor that her fans have never seen before. We’ve gotten glimpses of country-star Taylor from her debut album with songs like “Tim McGraw” and “Our Song”; we’ve gotten full-throated pop-star Taylor on albums like “Speak Now”, “Red”, and “Lover”; we’ve seen her master rock-pop in her album “1989″; and we’ve watched her stretch herself into a hip-hop superstar with her spikey “Reputation”

With “Folklore”, we see Taylor blossom into an art that’s different from all of that. Its genre is a bit hard to identify, but I’d say it’s somewhere in the realm of alternative-pop and indie-folk. Taylor is evidently more open and honest in this album than she has ever been, and it brings a volume of sincerity and truth to her life that is really cool to see as a fan. 

I don’t have enough space to delve into the lines of every song on “Folklore”, but I will for a few of my favorites. Something unique that Taylor does with this album is her storytelling. She writes many of her songs from the perspectives of different characters (living or fictional? we’ll never know), and it’s really neat to think about how they all piece together.

I’ll start with my absolute favorite song on the album, one she sang with indie-folk icon Bon Iver: “Exile.”

There are no characters behind the lyrics of this song, but it tells a story nonetheless. It’s basically about the heartache lover’s experience after separation, especially when things are left in a place without explanation or mutual understanding. It explores the complexity of human emotions and our longing to feel heard. Some of the most beautiful lyrics are in the chorus:

I think I’ve seen this film before/And I didn’t like the ending/You’re not my homeland anymore/So what am I defending now?/You were my town, now I’m in exile, seein’ you out/I think I’ve seen this film before/So I’m leaving out the side door.

I don’t know how to explain why these lyrics are beautiful, but hopefully you can recognize that they are. Sung by both Bon Iver and Taylor Swift at different intervals during the song, listeners are able to empathize with both of them. We don’t know the full story about how or why their relationship ended, but we do know that both evidently miss the other person, even though neither feels they can say it out loud. From the beginning and ending lines of the chorus we can see that both are scared of getting hurt again, but they still don’t want to completely let go.

The track list for “Folklore”.
Photo by Taylor Swift’s Official Instagram

The second song I am going to discuss is the most successful on the album: “Cardigan”.

This song is narrated by a girl we later discover is named Betty, although her name isn’t mentioned in the song. This is the first of three songs that are a part of “Folklore’s” love-triangle, the others being “August” and “Betty”.  “Cardigan” has a surplus of beautiful lyrics, but I don’t think that their beauty can be fully communicated unless they are seen/heard alongside the rest of the song. I obviously can’t copy and paste the entire song here (as much as I would love to), but I will provide some of my favorite lyrics that I feel particularly stand out.

You drew stars around my scars/but now I’m bleeding gives me chills. Seriously. The chorus also has a bit of the same effect: preceded by the line When you are young they assume you know nothing, Taylor sings, But I knew you/Playin’ hide-and-seek and/Givin’ me your weekends/I, I knew you…/And when I felt like I was an old cardigan/Under someone’s bed/You put me on and said I was your favorite. Freaking CHILLS. I’m not going to elaborate on this one, just take the words in as they are and listen to the song for their full effect.

Lastly, I am going to talk about the third song in the “Folklore” love triangle: “Betty”.

As I mentioned earlier, the character Betty is the narrator for “Cardigan”. This song is narrated by a guy named James, as we learn from the lyrics I was walking home on broken cobblestones/Just thinking of you when she pulled up/Like a figment of my worst intentions/She said “James, get in, let’s drive”. I’m really just including this song to provide more context and explanation for the whole character & story element that I explained earlier, but it is also a really good song. It’s definitely the song that we see most of Taylor’s roots in- it’s the most upbeat on the album, and one could argue it has a bit of a country tang to it. It’s a really sweet song and since you’ve read this far, you should definitely give it a listen.

For the sake of time and space, I suppose that is all I have for now- but Taylor’s lyrical masterpiece doesn’t end here. Go give the full album a listen, if you haven’t already. Who knows? Maybe it will draw stars around your scars, too.