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Taylor Swift’s ‘Folklore’ is a career-defining album and her best work to date

Taylor Swift’s ‘Folklore’ is a career-defining album and her best work to date

Taylor Swift’s ‘Folklore’ is a career-defining album and her best work to date
July 29
12:00 2020

For nearly every other Taylor Swift album, the buildup to its release has been monumental. It’s been a strategic process on her part, and superfans read into every minute detail of each Instagram post that could possibly reveal the details of the album. But her latest project was released quickly and quietly, though that doesn’t mean the buzz has been any less than usual — the artist announced her unexpected eighth album, “Folklore” on July 23 and then released it that night, and it’s her best work since 2012’s “Red.”

I only recently rekindled my love for Swift. I adored “Fearless,” “Speak Now” and “Red,” and loved, but not wholeheartedly, “1989.” “Reputation” was a massive disappointment for me and thus the start of my Tswift breakup, and it wasn’t until the Netflix documentary “Miss Americana” earlier this year that I eased into “Reputation” and first listened to “Lover.”

“Folklore” sees Swift steering in an entirely different, yet incredibly authentic direction from the trajectory she was on with her most recent releases. In ways, it almost revisits some of her earlier works like “Red,” though I’m hesitant to fully make the comparison because the now 30-year-old artist is her most grounded and mature here. Swift has always maintained a youthful air to her, shedding her childlike innocence throughout the years while still holding her sense of whimsy and wonder close to her chest. I’ve said it already in an episode of Daily’s Dose podcast, and I’ll say it again — listening to Swift just makes me feel like a girl. She sports her youthful femininity here again on “Folklore,” but this time it’s more quiet and gentle, which I think makes it all the more charming.

Don’t mistake me saying “quiet and gentle,” though, for a passive album. Swift is at the top of her game here, and her capabilities as a singer-songwriter are on full display. Hands down, this 16-track album is her most imposing work to date, with unbelievably masterful lyrics and gorgeous sound production. She’s honest and introspective, exposed for all to see.

Sonically, the album is exactly as the name implies — there’s a heavy folk influence, accentuated by a feature on “exile” from indie-folk king Bon Iver. She’s definitely ventured into new territory here, yet it doesn’t feel nearly as experimental as it might sound. Rather, Swift feels like the most faithful version of herself. Her more soft and feminine voice meshes seamlessly into this genre. Honestly, I think it’s a better fit than the more hard-hitting powerhouse vocals she aims for in songs like “I Knew You Were Trouble,” “…Ready For It?” and “I Did Something Bad.”

“Cardigan,” the second track and an album favorite, holds captivating airy melodies and a sense of comfort. The lyrics here are poetic: “And when I felt like I was an old cardigan / Under someone’s bed / You put me on and said I was your favorite,” she says, her hushed tone blanketing the song’s gentle percussive elements. The imagery here is quite stunning and a bit more raw than what she might typically feature.

Swift gets some aggression off her chest in “mad woman,” albeit in a far more subdued way. While songs like “Bad Blood” and “Look What You Made Me Do” are louder and generally sound more hostile, her anger and pain here are far more searing. In a deep, muffled tone, Swift confronts the source of her anguish, her serrated words offering more of that profound imagery.

The angelic opening on “my tears ricochet” is followed by an introspective look at the pain behind a failed relationship. Swift offers a masterclass in songwriting with incredibly honest lyrics about sorrow: “And I still talk to you / When I’m screaming at the sky / And when you can’t sleep at night / You hear my stolen lullabies.” It’s followed by the beautifully melodic “mirrorball,” which on the contrary, marvels at the awe of being in love.

Perhaps the most obvious homage to her old sound is felt on “betty.” Hearing this track for the first time, I was catapulted back to the “Fearless” and “Speak Now” eras. It possesses the simple storytelling found on tracks like “Hey Stephen,” “Fifteen” and “Never Grow Up.” Her maturity is on full display here as she owns up to her mistakes and wears her heart on her sleeve.

While I don’t expect Swift to permanently settle into the folk genre, it’s definitely a short-term adventure I’m so glad she embarked on. “Folklore” is her most successful project to date, transcending her work as a teenage country queen and 20-something pop princess. I hope she retains some of this influence in further albums (or just sticks to this type of music altogether) because it suits her perfectly and showcases her talents as a singer-songwriter. I anticipate this will be one of my most listened to albums for the fall.

Final rating: 4.75/5

Featured image: Courtesy Beth Garrabrant

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Haley Arnold

Haley Arnold

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