There is a new addition to the catalog of amazing music that has come out despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Taylor Swift has released her eighth studio album. Titled folklore, Swift’s surprise release is both a product of the artist’s writings during quarantine and a gracious gift to the fans that were supposed to see her live this summer. And what a gift it is; an album for die-hard Swifties, hipsters, dancers and literature majors alike. folklore is Swift’s most creative and evocative work yet with songs written from the perspective of teenagers, scorned mistresses, doctors, soldiers, children and yes, even a corpse. Her ability to write compelling lyrics remains immaculate.
Some of folklore’s strongest moments are its most melancholy. “You were my town, now I’m in exile seeing you out,” she harmonizes with Bon Iver on their piano-driven duet “exile”. On the angelic fifth track “my tears ricochet”, Swift equates listening to her old songs as “hear(ing) (her) stolen lullabies.” [I listen to “State of Grace (Acoustic)” when I can’t sleep, so this lyric shook me to the core.] It all comes to a head at “epiphany”, an eerie tribute to the health care workers at the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic. The imagery of “someone’s daughter, someone’s mother” nursing a patient through “something med school didn’t cover” is a fittingly grim description of any hospital in 2020.
Amidst these tear-jerking ballads, there are also Swift’s signature canticles about love, friendship, spirited women and promise. “the last great american dynasty” tells the true story of a woman who “had a marvelous time ruining everything.” “peace” sees Swift describe her partner who “paint(s) dreamscapes on the wall” and her touching wishes for their future: “Give you my wild, give you a child.” For fans of her old songs about broken hearts, Swift sings what might be the most Swiftian lyric of her career on “illicit affairs.” Over acoustic guitar, she exclaims “Don’t call me ‘kid’, don’t call me ‘baby’/ Look at this godforsaken mess that you made me!”
To even the most casual listener of Swift’s music, folklore is a departure from her usual sound. Any singer whose biggest hit of the past decade was a cute pop song about shaking things off would make waves for collaborating with Aaron Dessner of The National or being billed as alternative on iTunes. However, if folklore spending a fifth week at number one on the Billboard charts is any indication, Swift truly can do anything she sets her mind to.