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Review | Get to Know Taylor Swift’s New Album “Folklore” & the Meanings of the Lyrics

It should have been a normal Sunday on July 23rd for the Taylor Swift’s fans, but they woke up with a big surprise: an announcement of a whole new unexpected album to be released on the next day! Taylor launched folklore (purposely stylized in lower case) in a very different style from the last year album, Lover, and before she could even go on tour with it, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As Taylor Swift loves to reinvent herself in each new era, folklore, her 8th record in 14 years of career, brings a new rhythm to her songs: the indie folk. Initially a country star, becoming later a huge pop artist, now singing folk, we definitely can understand why Taylor Swift won the “artist and women of the decade” Billboard awards!

The 16 songs of folklore plus the deluxe track “the lakes” were all written and produced during quarantine. Taylor announced the album as a place where she poured all of her “whims, dreams, fears, and musings into”. In the lyrics of this new album, Taylor brought not only her stories, but tales from people she knows or, even, from invented characters that she has created. For her, folklore is a tale that is passed down and whispered around. “In isolation my imagination has run wild and this album is the result: a collection of songs and stories that flowed like a stream of consciousness. Picking up a pen was my way of escaping into fantasy, history and memory”, said Taylor on all her social media when promoting the record.

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The first song of folklore starts with a bit of pop mixed with a slow piano. “the 1” is a song about a couple, which is no longer together, talking about regrets and what could have happened if they were “the one” - the right person to each other. This song also represents a new phase of Taylor, freer to swear, something that she never did in her previous songs and which follows her through other songs in the album. 

On July 24th, the day when Swift presented folklore to the world, it came together with the music video of the album’s second song “cardigan”. In it, playing the piano and later drawing herself in the ocean, Taylor holds onto the piano as a way to be safe and not drown. It was a metaphorical way to show how music saves her. 

The third song of the album “the last great american dynasty” is another story told by Taylor. It is about Rebekah Harkness, a woman who was the owner of the mansion Taylor bought in Rhode Island. It approaches the sexism she suffered and talks about how people used to say bad things about her. Taylor draws subtle comparisons between herself and Rebekah Harkness too. This song is faster than most songs in the album and we can see the pop style very present in it. 

Talking about feminism, we also have “mad women”, that could have a direct connection to “The Man”, from Taylor’s last album Lover. They both build huge critics against the patriarchy. In “mad women”, she weaves a criticism about how girls are always seen as crazy by society, and always being told what to do. In the lyrics, she says that people made women mad: “Every time you call me crazy, I get more crazy/ And when you say I seem angry, I get more angry/ And there's nothing like a mad woman/ What a shame she went mad/ No one likes a mad woman/ You made her like that”. Taylor herself suffered a lot of sexism in her career.

Already in a reference to her own life experiences, in “mirrorball” Taylor compares herself to a reflective disco ball: she sees herself reflecting all the personalities around her. In the verse “I can change everything about me to fit in”, she talks about all the criticism she had to deal with for many years, and how she was always changing herself to be accepted. 

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In the opposite from the last songs, “exile” and “my tears ricochet” are really calm and slow songs, which talk about endings. The Taylor featured song with Bon Iver, “exile”, tells the story of two ex-lovers talking about the end of their relationship. On the other hand, “my tears ricochet” is about a funeral, but some theories believe that it can also be a metaphor to a years ago Swift’s fight with the music manager Scott Borchetta, due troubles involving the rights of her musical productions. 

The 7th song, “seven”, maintains the folk rhythm but is really faster, with more pop and higher vocals. This one is about the childhood of two friends of age seven and how their lives were difficult at home. The pop beats appear again in the track “this is me trying”, but the song is still slow. It goes back to the relationship theme, about someone trying to repair their mistakes. And the love tales continue in the rest of the album: while “illicit affairs” talks about infidelity in a relationship, the next song “invisible string” says that there is a string tying her to her lover. In this track, we can hear a soft sound of guitar and piano, mixing pop and folk. 

And then we arrived at “epiphany”, which is believed to be a song honoring the doctors fighting against COVID-19, talking about how tragic and tough this moment is being. An epiphany would be a moment when we would find peace, like in a dream, and when we forget for a while about everything bad happening in the world. Or, how Taylor defines in these verses, “only twenty minutes to sleep/ But you dream of some epiphany/ Just one single glimpse of relief”. This is what she’s trying to do with her songs: bring comfort. Here, she also touches on her grandfather’s experience in the military. 

Finally, the last two songs of the album, “peace” and “hoax”, have strong tunes of piano with a lot of melancholy. The first one, ”peace”, describes Swift’s maturation and changing view of romance. After this, Taylor finishes the album narrating the struggles in a toxic relationship in “hoax”, which ends up the verses: “You have beaten my heart/ Don't want no other shade of blue but you/ No other sadness in the world would do”.

Explaining the easter eggs and theories

On a live stream, Taylor told her fans that there were three songs in the album that were part of a “teenage love triangle”. After that, many fans theory believe that those songs are “cardigan”, “august” and “betty”.  On “cardigan”, Taylor talks about feeling left out, feeling like she was used and “exchanged” by the person she once loved: “And when I felt like I was an old cardigan/ Under someone's bed/ You put me on and said I was your favorite”. Later, another phrase proves that it probably was a betrayal: “Chase two girls, lose the one”.

According to the fan’s theories, “cardigan” would be the song according to Betty’s point of view, the optics of the girl who was betrayed. If that’s right, “august”, the 8th track of folklore, should represent the point of view of the other girl, with whom Betty’s boyfriend (that later, on “betty”, we found out is named James) cheated on her during the summer. “august”, talks about this forbidden love: “August slipped away like a bottle of wine/ Cause you were never mine”. This verse can probably shows that he wasn’t her boyfriend and what they had wasn’t official. Later, the part “Meet me behind the mall/Remember when I pulled up and said: Get in the car” makes a reference to another verse in “betty”, when James regrets the affair and tells what happened during that summer. 

The 14th song, “betty”, different from most songs is the album, brings back Taylor country roots - it could be easily a song from 2008's Fearless and that’s what makes it so unique. “betty” is also the song that can most prove the fans theories: it probably talks about the betrayal of the love triangle, like on the verses: “You heard the rumors from Inez/ You can't believe a word she says/ Most times, but this time it was true/ The worst thing that I ever did/ Was what I did to you”. During this song, James says to Betty “Would you believe me if I told you it was just a summer thing?”, making a big reference to “august”, the same in the verses “She said: James, get in, let's drive/ Those days turned into nights/ Slept next to her, but/ I dreamt of you all summer long”. He admits the affair with another girl in the summer. Well, we can’t lie: this whole story really seems convincing…

[bf_image id="qdzlhy-b4dkw-fow0f9"] Definitely the songwriting of folklore is a big highlight, all the beautiful and meaningful stories told in the lyrics makes you feel more involved in the music. Together with the mix of great indie/folk sounds, not forgetting the pop and her country roots, Taylor managed to reinvent herself one more time. A black and white cover of Taylor in the woods, more slow soft songs and a new style. This folklore might have a different look, but is sensible and extraordinary as always. Overcoming herself one more time, Swift turns into an impossible task not to fall in love with every new phase of her music!

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The article above was edited by Helena Cardoso

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Julia Palmieri

Casper Libero '22

20 year old student of journalism at Cásper Líbero, in love with writing, reading, traveling, music, art, movies and everything that makes me smile.
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