Has Writing Made A Comeback? A Look Into Taylor Swift’s 'folklore'

Bob Dylan, Stevie Nicks, Elton John, Joni Mitchell. These are some of the best pop writers of all time. Their lyrics took crafting, their songs tell stories; it is almost impossible to not feel like you’re living another life when you’re listening to any song by any of these pop icons. Then again, that is why we listen to music, to be transported. Of course, the instrumentals and production play a huge role in this feeling, but I believe lyrics are just as important, if not more so. However, over the years, the pop industry has seen a decline in lyricism, not just in the number of words written but also in the intensity of those words. In his article “Are Pop Lyrics Getting More Repetitive?” Colin Morris discusses how within songs, lyrics are repeated multiple times throughout a song; if they aren’t exactly the same, they have very small tweaks. Furthermore, in “Lyric Intelligence In Popular Music: A Ten Year Analysis,” Andrew Powell-Morse used a readability score to measure “the average grade level for the top ranking songs each year according to Billboard” and found that most non-explicit songs could have been written by third graders. So pop song lyrics have been getting less and less complex as the years have gone by. I barely listen to the pop charts unless I’m in the mood for something mindless. Then, something happened. On July 24, Taylor Swift released folklore, and everything changed. 

Taylor Swift, in my opinion, is one of the few modern-day pop artists who know how to write a song. Her songs are almost always highly detailed and tell super complex stories. Whether you like Taylor Swift or not, you have to agree she is very talented. When I was younger, I didn’t pay that much attention to her lyrics, nor did I listen to her that frequently. However, when folklore dropped, I decided to listen through, and saying that I was blown away is an understatement. However, something that needs to be understood is that folklore is Taylor Swift’s least poppy album and would probably be better characterized as folk or indie. Nevertheless, given Swift’s large presence in the pop industry, this album will most likely have a large effect on the pop world. Music aside, Swift’s lyrics are definitely better than anything we’ve seen in the top pop charts since the '90s. If you haven’t listened, let me share some of my favorite lines. 

In her song “invisible string,” she writes, “Cold was the steel of my axe to grind / For the boys who broke my heart / Now I send their babies presents.” First, the imagery is absolutely immaculate; something you rarely see in other top-charters. Second, she is literally referencing so many of her songs from past albums, like “Bad Blood” and “Blank Space” (both of which joke about her being a crazy girlfriend), which adds another level of complexity. In “the last great american dynasty,” Swift writes, “I had a marvelous time ruining everything,” which first, screams feminism, and second, is so unapologetic, which I’m so here for. In “this is me trying,” she writes, “They told me all of my cages were mental / So I got wasted like all my potential.” Do I even have to say why this one is elite? I could go on, but I’ll stop here with the lyrics and let you listen to the album in its entirety. The best thing about Swift’s lyrics is that when someone is reading them, rather than listening, they look like poetry; they have underlying layers of complexity but still make sense if you read them simply. Listening to this album was a breath of fresh air, bringing me back to old pop music when lyrics played a role in the song.

If Swift hadn’t released this album, I most likely would never have willingly listened to anything on the pop charts again — at least not for a while. However, she gave me hope for the industry. Maybe this album will set a new standard for other artists, and lyrics will be back in business. Nevertheless, this album has reformed the pop world, in my opinion. If you haven’t yet, go listen; it is life-changing.