Memory and Heartbreak: Reviewing Taylor Swift’s ‘folklore’

Taylor Swift shines as a songwriter

Late last evening, Taylor Swift surprised fans when she revealed that her 8th studio album, ‘folklore’, would be released at midnight. Today, as fans take their time with the 16-track project, that surprise turns into a deep dive into the dreamy inner world of Taylor Swift. 

Taylor’s New Release

2020 is the year of surprises, and isolation has proved valuable to Ms. Swift. And, the American singer-songwriter who has, in recent years, achieved absolute pop star status, has taken a step back with ‘folklore’. Maneuvering in sharp turns away from ‘Taylor Swift, The Pop Star” and claiming the role of ‘Taylor Swift, The Singer-Songwriter”, the singer explores dreams, memories and personal histories in what are her most poignant moments as a writer.

‘folklore’ is the singer’s first release as a 30 year old. It is also her first release untouched by month-long marketing plans, label driven promotion and charting strategies. For the first time in years listeners are undistracted by the “she came to slay” and “Taylor really did that” teasers; for the first time in years, fans get to rejoice in the glory of Taylor’s journey – a world defined by the music its creator makes. 

‘folklore’ makes its way to our playlists accompanied by one music video, directed by the singer herself, and 16 lyric videos for the complete album. Swift has also announced the release of 8 CD editions, and 8 Vinyl editions to celebrate her 8th release. 

The Journey of ‘folklore’

The full-length studio album begins with the track, ‘the 1’. Boasting mellow acoustic riffs, and light pop beats, it is a comfortable invitation for what’s to come. The tracks that follow, ‘cardigan’, ‘the last greatest american dynasty’ and ‘exile’ are odes to love lost and love present. They are dreamy celebrations of romance, soaked in the acoustic-country arrangements reminiscent of the original Taylor sound. 

Establishing her new sound, Taylor Swift dares you to enter the world of heartbreak drenched in nostalgia and unapologetic confession. Exploring the reality of loss and separation, Taylor tracks records like ‘exile’, ‘mirrorball’, ‘this is me trying’ and ‘illicit affairs’. With the push and pulls of minor notes and folk riffs, the middle of the album is uncomfortable to digest. 

In ‘mirrorball’, she sings: “I’m a mirrorball/ I’ll show you every version of yourself tonight,” and with the acceptance of raw emotion, Swift does just that. She shows you the not-so-romantic versions of pain we all experience, the not-so-whimsical moments of loneliness we all dread. And in proof of her grasp over human emotion, she uses the music to make it okay. 

No Taylor Swift record is complete without unabashed revelations of the singer’s darkest moments. And the tail end of the album delivers a punch on that front. Songs like ‘mad woman’, ‘hoax’ and ‘peace’ show Taylor standing strong in her resolve to detail her experiences with crystal clear articulation.

In ‘peace’ she croons: “Our coming-of-age has come and gone/ Suddenly this summer, it’s clear/ I never had the courage of my convictions/ As long as danger is near.” But, as ‘folklore’ would have it, Swift is more courageous than ever.

The Old Taylor Comes to the Phone

Defying the rules of what it means to be a pop star in 2020, Taylor Swift takes the narrative in her own hands with consistent authenticity, unlike ever before. ‘folklore’ marks her second owned album (in light of the Scooter Braun fiasco) and is her first project to be classified under the “alternative” genre. But, technicalities aside, it is also her first step into a new world of storytelling. 

And so, ‘folklore’ reignites her passion for songwriting. It focuses on her persona as an artist, and not a pop star under the commercial spotlight. Turns out, the “Old Taylor” was never dead; she was just taking her time to heal and this is her reclamation. 

By: Ahalya Narayanan