2020 has been the apocalypse.
Seriously, it seems like whenever things can’t get worse, they do. I think everyone who makes it to 2021 deserves a medal — if we survive this year, we can survive anything.
Having lost all hope that this year had anything good to offer, imagine my surprise when I woke up on July 23rd to see that Taylor Swift was dropping her new album, folklore, that night. I nearly cried tears of joy, I was so happy.
This album has surpassed every expectation possible. The sound, the themes, and, most importantly, the lyrics were more than I could have hoped for. And when it comes to Taylor, that’s a pretty high standard of hope. After a month since the album’s surprise release, my opinions are pretty much solidified. folklore is a no-skip album, so I thought it was only fitting that I list the best lyrics from each and every song. So, without further ado, here are the saddest/most heartbreaking/prettiest/best lyrics from folklore.
- the 1
“I persist and resist the temptation to ask you / If one thing had been different / Would everything be different today?”
I love the concept behind “the 1.” It’s essentially Taylor just wondering about how life would be different if the person she thought was the one, actually was. This line epitomizes that—what would life be like had things been even just slightly different?
“I knew you / Tried to change the ending / Peter losing Wendy.”
I could talk about this line for hours. “cardigan” as a whole is just a visual and symbolic masterpiece, but this metaphor is just *chef’s kiss*. Peter Pan, the boy who didn’t want to grow up, losing Wendy because she had to grow up. The song focuses on a woman (we find out later in the album that her name is Betty) reminiscing on a relationship from her teenage years that had an unfortunate ending. The symbolism is truly immaculate. Even the placement of this line is perfect—it comes towards the end, but as soon as you hear it, you can’t stop relating the song to Peter and Wendy’s story.
“cardigan” is also the first perspective of what Taylor calls the “teenage love triangle” of the album. Remember that.
- the last great american dynasty
“There goes the loudest woman this town has ever seen / I had a marvelous time ruining everything.”
In this song, Taylor tells the story behind a beach house she owns that once belonged to socialite Rebekah Harkness. This line culminates why this story was significant enough to write a song about: Taylor greatly identifies with Rebekah. Both women’s personal lives were subjected to scrutiny by the media, and both were condemned for their seemingly scandalous actions. This is the most important line of the song as Taylor switches the focus from Rebekah to herself, showing how they are one and the same.
- exile (ft. bon iver)
“You never gave me a warning sign / (I gave so many signs).”
“exile” is a popular favorite off of the album for good reason. It’s a melancholically beautiful duet, telling the story of a failed relationship from both sides. This line in particular shows the miscommunication and the frustration between the ex-lovers because they never got to understand each other. The contrast between Bon Iver’s deep voice with Taylor’s soft one makes it so sonically pleasing. This one hits every single time I listen to it.
- my tears ricochet
“We gather stones never knowing what they’ll mean / Some to throw, some to make a diamond ring.”
What a hauntingly beautiful track. In Taylor’s own words, it’s about an “embittered tormentor showing up at the funeral of his fallen object of affection.” What I like about this line is that it shows this sort of ray of hope in the possibility of the metaphorical stones making a “diamond ring.” This hope is crushed by the end of the verse, though, with Taylor singing “You wear the same jewels that I gave you / As you bury me.” It’s just a stunning visual metaphor.
“I’ve never been a natural / All I do is try, try, try.”
“mirrorball” is a song for all the people pleasers, Taylor included. She had this performative personality where she simply acted as the culmination of what she was told to be and what she thought she had to be to please people—and I think a lot of people can relate to that. This line is particularly heartbreaking because it shows how debilitating this can be.
“I think your house is haunted / Your dad is always mad and that must be why.”
In “seven,” Taylor reflects on a childhood friend who seemed to have a troubled home life—at just age seven, she thought issues such as dealing with angry fathers could be easily solved, demonstrating this childish innocence. I think this specific line epitomizes that innocence. As a child, all problems can be traced back to mystical happenings rather than the harsh reality of issues just being complicated.
“Back when we were still changing for the better / Wanting was enough / For me, it was enough.”
This is the second song that makes up the “teenage love triangle,” from the perspective of the girl who had an affair with Betty’s ex-lover, James. Like “cardigan,” this song is a reflection back in time on this relationship, and continues with the theme of innocence that plays throughout folklore. This line in particular showcases this idealism and romanticization that young people tend to fall victim to when they fall in love, not thinking of anything else but their wanting and hope.
- this is me trying
“They told me all of my cages were mental / So I got wasted like all my potential.”
This is definitely one of the saddest, most internally reflective songs on the album. I’m really just obsessed with the double meaning of “wasted” in this line—this sort of self-destruction from the mental cages that kills your potential, along with the external self-destruction via alcohol.
- illicit affairs
“You taught me a secret language I can’t speak with anyone else.”
Another song that is a visual, detailed masterpiece as well as just beautifully written. This line is heartbreaking. It shows how this affair takes something away from the person in question that they can’t ever get back—shows them something that they can never show anyone else. The “secret language” is also reflective of this secret relationship and the difficulties that come with being unable to share it.
- invisible string
“Chains around my demons / Wool to brave the seasons / One single thread of gold / Tied me to you.”
After the sadness from the past two tracks, “invisible string” is the sweetest, most developmental song that you could have asked for. It concentrates on this thread of fate that ties you to your soulmate, and all of the challenges and obstacles that must be run through for you to get there. I especially love the parallelism in this line, this sort of strength that had to be gained before that thread of gold could finally lead you to your soulmate.
- mad woman
“And women like hunting witches too / Doing your dirtiest work for you / It’s obvious that wanting me dead has really brought you two together.”
There are so many ways to interpret this song. Is she referring to Scooter Braun and his wife? Is she referring to Kanye West and Kim Kardashian and the way they ganged up on her? Perhaps we’ll never know, but this line is powerful all the same.
The entire song shows this battle and how Taylor appears to be losing it (though maybe not—as the “mad woman” is also referenced in “the last great american dynasty” in a carefree, positive light). I think the narrative of this couple of witch hunters is just so genius. It ties back to Taylor’s reputation era, when she frequently used the symbolism of witch hunting.
“Something med school did not cover / Someone’s daughter, someone’s mother / Holds your hand through plastic now / Doc, I think she’s crashing out.”
The theme of war in this album shows up most dramatically in “epiphany.” There’s not too much to interpret from this line specifically—though some people are making the interpretation that this verse could be a commentary of the COVID-19 pandemic. Once again, who knows?
“The worst thing that I ever did / Was what I did to you.”
Finally, we’ve reached the last perspective in the teenage love triangle: James had an affair with the girl from “august,” and now he’s apologizing to the woman from “cardigan,” who is named Betty, and is hoping to win her back. Unlike the other two songs, this one doesn’t take place in the future but in the present when they’re all teenagers—as stated in the song, James is only seventeen.
Now, the bridge is definitely the climax of this song. In it, James reflects on his affair with the girl from “august,” and all of the feels from hearing all of these songs tied together come in spades.
But I love this line because it epitomizes what this song is all about: an apology. Also, the development towards the end of the song with the line “The only thing I want to do / Is make it up to you” is just so heartfelt.
Anyways, if it hasn’t shown, I’m obsessed with the “teenage love triangle.”
“And you know that I’d swing with you for the fences / Sit with you in the trenches / Give you my wild, give you a child / Give you the silence that only comes when two people understand each other / Family that I chose now that I see your brother as my brother / Is it enough?”
Okay, I know this is a longer one, but I just couldn’t cut it down. “peace” focuses on Taylor’s shortcomings and wondering if the person she loves will stay with her in spite of them. These lines, though, concentrate on what Taylor has to give. Though she can’t give him “peace,” she can give him everything that’s in those lines. She finishes by asking if it’s enough. It doesn’t get more masterful than that.
“Don’t want no other shade of blue but you / No other sadness in the world would do.”
This is my favorite song off of folklore. I love its simplicity, the resignation to sadness, the soft piano, the intense bridge...ugh, I just love this song.
I think this line in particular is so interesting—the song focuses on believing in a “faithless love.” The second line’s play on the common phrase “Nothing else will do” is really cool in that she switches the focus from this positive irreplaceability to an upsetting revelation. “hoax” is just a beautiful, melancholic closure to the album.
- the lakes (bonus track)
“A red rose grew up out of ice frozen ground.”
“the lakes” sounds like a fairytale, though perhaps a more melancholic one then we’re used to. What I love about this song is that it was this sort of belated closer following “hoax”; whereas “hoax” was this sad ending, “the lakes” offers a bit of hope. This line is a reference back to “hoax” (“This has frozen my ground”), giving the imagery that a flower is able to grow from harsh conditions. I liked how “the lakes” was released belatedly, that it left listeners contemplating “hoax,” and then offered a happy ending.
A friend of mine said it best by describing folklore as an album of “All Too Wells". Honestly, I'm convinced Taylor released it so people wouldn't mind self-quarantining, as they'd be able to just sit at home and ponder over these lyrics. Whatever her reason, this album is going to be one that goes down in the books as far as Taylor's legacy goes.
Okay, I've finally reached the end of this article. Time to go listen to folklore for the hundredth time today.