Ria Listens to... Folklore

Taylor Swift is nothing if not an incredible artist. She’s written nine albums over the course of her career, all of which feature outstanding songs and lyrics. But folklore, her eighth album, is something different, something special. To start, she gave us no warning for the album until the day of, a far cry from the usual drawn-out releases of her past albums.

But folklore differs from previous albums even more so by harkening back to Taylor’s folk and country roots. The songs are definitely inspired by folk music. But it’s more than just that. The songs in folklore are raw and vulnerable, which is something we haven’t seen from Taylor in a while. There’s less polish. There’s less auto-tune and synthesizer and heavy baselines. folklore is an album about the heart and everything it contains, whether it be hope, love or heartbreak.

So, without further ado, here’s my analysis of the songs of folklore.

 

“the 1”

The album opens with piano chords, repeated over the course of the song. It builds with the addition of acoustic instruments, and then finally Taylor’s voice above the instruments. The melody is mellow and calm, if not a bit melancholic. The song feels a bit nostalgic, as though Taylor is reminiscing on someone lost, on what would have happened if just one thing had been different.

 

“cardigan”

The second song on folklore is one of melancholy and heartbreak.  Taylor sings of losing someone who used to be important. The loss repeats throughout the song with lines such as “Tried to change the ending/Peter losing Wendy” and “Leaving like a father/Running like water.” But despite all the sorrow, there’s a touch of hope at the end when she sings “And I knew you’d come back to me.” This is a song to sing when your heart is aching.

 

“the last great american dynasty”

This song tells the story of a real woman named Rebecca Harkness who owned the house that Taylor now lives in and how Rebecca was seen as mad and shameless. During the bridge, Taylor shifts the narrative focus to herself and ends the song by celebrating her own shamelessness. It’s a fun song to listen and sing to, and it always makes me smile when Taylor sings the lines “She had a marvelous time ruining everything.”

 

“exile (feat. Bon Iver)”

“exile” is a song of heartbreak, without question. The first verse sung by Bon Iver, speaks of how quickly someone is lost and of how fast they move on. But the narrative shifts in the second verse and chorus when Taylor begins singing of misunderstandings and wasted chances, offering a second perspective. The bridge weaves these two narratives together seamlessly. It’s beautiful to listen to but sad,  a song of people who may never understand each other.

 

“my tears ricochet”

This song truly evokes the kind of slow, solemn song you would hear at a funeral. The instrumentation is light with most of the focus on Taylor’s voice, which is loud and clear in comparison to the simplistic, repetitive harmony beneath her lyrics. It gives the song an almost-eerie feeling, like it’s sung by a ghost watching as she’s buried.

 

“mirrorball”

Although this song follows the style of being softly sung, there’s more hope in the lyrics and the melody of “mirrorball.”  While I don’t quite understand what a mirrorball is, I do understand that there is love in this song and that Taylor is showing someone all the ways she loves them.

 

“seven”

“Love you to the moon and to Saturn” is probably my favourite line in this song. It opens on a relatively melancholic note, and at first you believe it’s going to be a sad song, but then she begins singing of all the things she’ll do with her special someone. She’s asking to be pictured “before I learned civility,” to be seen at her barest. The twining of the gentle, simplistic piano chords and the quiet use of the string instruments above it gives this song a very sweet feeling. It’s the kind of love song that’s sung at the deepest part of the winter, right before spring blooms in the world.

 

“august”

This is a song to sing when you’re sitting at dusk on a summer night while watching fireflies dance. Although she sings at full volume, it feels like she’s singing it quietly to someone beside her. This is a song to be shared with someone special on a summer night when you’re both looking up at the stars.

 

“this is me trying”

“this is me trying” tells of wasted potential but points out that Taylor is still trying. And that’s perhaps an incredibly powerful song to sing, especially during 2020. Because at least we’re all still trying, right? While the lyrics begin with hurts, problems and vices, the repeated line of “I’m still trying” points towards growth and change. She’s still trying, just like we’re all still trying.

 

“illicit affairs”

This song speaks of the loss of “a secret language” that accompanies a breakup. There’s grief as Taylor pleads that she can’t feel these things or say these words again for anyone else, that she would ruin herself for this person. This song feels raw, like a grieving heart.

 

“invisible string”

In direct contrast to the previous song, “invisible string” opens with a happier acoustic melody. Truthfully, this may be my favourite song on this album. Maybe it has to do with the upbeat melody. Maybe it has to do with the simple instrumentation of the song, bringing Taylor’s vocals to the forefront. Or maybe it’s because she’s rehashing all the ways she could have been connected to someone precious to her before they met because the thought of being connected to someone through little things like colours and places we’ve been is so simple and beautiful.

 

“mad woman”

This song feels almost like a rant about how the acts of someone have hurt her (likely a reference to the Kanye drama). Taylor’s voice in this song feels raw and hurt. The repeated piano motifs haunt the song, and me, long after it’s ended.

 

“epiphany”

“epiphany” is another song that uses delicate piano notes, both simple and heartrending. This song speaks to the current pandemic as well as Taylor’s grandfather’s experiences in World War II. This song is still relevant in 2021, as we’re begging for some sort of epiphany, anything to make sense of what we are seeing in the world, and why it’s happening.

 

“betty”

This song is an absolute delight. It’s charming, it’s sweet, and more than anything in this album, it reminds me of Taylor’s first album. The harmonica, the sweet yet heartbreaking lyrics, and the final verse are all full of hope and promise. Overall, listening to this song makes me very happy.

 

“peace”

The penultimate song for folklore is a gentle melody that feels a bit like a plea. You can feel it in the lyrics as she details her own shortcomings, “I talk shit with my friends/it’s like I’m wasting your honour.” You can feel it in the softness of her voice at the end of each chorus as she pleads, “Would it be enough if I never give you peace?” There’s acceptance of all her flaws and all of her strengths. There’s also that constant question, though, of whether she is enough even though the person with her will never know peace. It’s an incredibly vulnerable song, meant to be sung quietly and shared only with someone precious.

 

“hoax”

“hoax” closes out folklore on a melancholic note. It’s about what can be best described as a hoax of a relationship. There’s despair and darkness in this song. Lyrics like “Your faithless love is the only hoax I believe in” and “You knew the hero died so what’s the movie for?” illustrate a great deal of pain and heartbreak. And yet the lines “Don’t want no other shade of blue but you/No other sadness in the world will do” speak of an unwillingness to let go. Despite how much this relationship is hurting, there’s a desire to stay.