First Thoughts on folklore

On Thursday (July 23), I woke up to Instagram DMs, text messages and emails notifying me that Taylor Swift was going to drop her eighth studio album at midnight that night. Please grab your favourite cardigan and join me as I listen for the first time.

Before I jump in, let me just say that I’m still not over her seventh studio album, Lover. There’s still so many details to unpack in Lover, but like the COVID-19 pandemic, this album came when I was least expecting it. I’m not a music reviewer, but this is me trying…

the 1

The opening notes remind me of a wedding march. This song seems like a mature version of You Belong With Me. It’s very nostalgic and raw. The most iconic line? “In my defense, I have none.”

cardigan

Okay everyone, the cardigan phase of the pandemic has begun. I wasn’t ready for cardigan season to start in July, but if he says I’m his favourite, I’ll embrace it. The most striking lyric to me is “When you are young they assume you know nothing” during this exploration of young love. Also, I noticed that Taylor went from saying “Have I known you twenty seconds or twenty years” in Lover, to claiming a “once in twenty lifetimes” love. I’m not sure if she’s been using twenty for the purpose of 2020, if it’s because thirteen isn’t as poetic or if it’s an Easter egg.

the last great american dynasty

Before listening, I thought this would be a Miss Americana 2.0, but I couldn’t be further from the truth. The song starts off talking about a love story between Rebekah, a middle-class divorcée, and Bill, an heir to an oil company with a lot of money. She talks about their wedding, buying a house, their parties and his deteriorating health. The lyric “She had a marvelous time ruining everything” and references to a champagne pool reminded me of This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things from reputation. BUT, the lyric that made me sit up straight and look at the non-existent reality TV camera was “Then it was bought by me,” because I definitely did not expect the song to be about a real wealthy couple from the 20th century or for there to be a direct connection to her Rhode Island house.

This song is marvelous, and I hope you’ve listened to it or else I’ve ruined the best part for you.

exile (featuring Bon Iver)

The first thing I noticed was the birds chirping at the beginning. If you are looking for Easter eggs, this song may be full of signs, but you could also argue there were never any signs at all.

Bon Iver’s voice was so smooth is this duet and it was full of film references which I loved.

my tears ricochet

I loved the background vocals in track five and it reminded me of New Year’s Day when I first listened to it. I honestly cannot comprehend all of this song just yet; it’s thick with imagery about digging graves, wakes and jewels. So, you’ll have to look elsewhere for its meaning.

mirrorball

Taylor reminds us that even though she loves dancing, she also can break down into a million pieces and feels like she’s in a circus. I wondered why she didn’t call it disco ball and I’m not sure if mirrorball is the British term, or if she was inspired by Neil Young or Sarah McLachlan’s albums of the same name.

seven

The first time I heard this, I didn’t notice the word seven in the song at all – I was too surprised by the fact that Taylor jumps into vocals without any intro. I love the lyrics about sweet tea and Saturn. Watching the lyric video, this is a very loving poem and full of sweet visuals. I want to listen to this song in the car at sunset. Taylor also references pirates in the song, which could relate to Peter and Wendy in cardigan, along with the other boat references in the album.

august

The leo in me is happy for this anthem. It kind of reminds me of Back to December from Speak Now, but also addresses the relationships that never were defined. Thank you for giving us this song in July, so we can enjoy august and not let it slip away.

this is me trying

This was a really honest love song about the day to day disappointments and effort. While the break-up songs and I-wish-we-were-together songs are great, it’s nice to have a jam about trying.

illicit affairs

“Tell your friends you were out for a run” – yes, I’m going to use this for my next running caption. There’s nothing innocent about this song, Taylor shows her maturity by writing from the perspective of a self-aware mistress instead of a revenge seeking 19 year old.

invisible string

Easily my current favourite song on the album. I really appreciate all the different colour references and different string types – thread of gold, chains, barbwire. My interpretation is that the invisible string is fate bringing them together, but I could be wrong. She also references the bonus track The Lakes, but we’ll have to wait for the deluxe album to ship to hear that treasure.

mad woman

While the song has an angry vibe, Taylor manages to sound so calm. It’s like a response to You Need To Calm Down, The Man and Bad Blood with references to climbing people and breathing flames. The lyric that stood out for me in mad woman was “Wanting me dead has brought you two together” because it reminds me that even though some haters have bonded, she’s still a real person, and bonding over a mutual hatred isn’t a solid foundation at all.

epiphany

Blood, rifles, service and falling – at first I thought this was referencing bad blood but the closer I look at it, then more it seems like a military hospital story to me. There was a really cool buildup of suspense at the start of the track.  An interesting choice for track thirteen in the album.

betty

Betty is a bop, and so catchy. Taylor addresses the nervous feelings before an apology. Also, anytime she references a number, you just know it’s going to be referenced for many birthdays to come. I’m referring to being 17 years old.

peace

This song is so raw and honest. It’s like the sequel to The Archer, but it also reminds me of Paper Rings through the lyric “I’d die for you in secret” and It’s Nice To Have A Friend through the obvious lyric “You’ve got a friend in me.” Listening to this piece made me really happy because Taylor talks about how close she has gotten to his family and talks about starting their own family.

hoax

A soundtrack for a sad day about trust and scars. I really like that it was mostly (if not all) piano.  Taylor Swift references blue again in this track (and each time she does this I’m pretty sure she’s referring to the colour of his eyes).

Overall, each song tells a different story and gives me different insight into Taylor’s creativity. I would recommend listening to the album with your best headphones or speaker so you can be surrounded by the music.  The experience is not the same when I just listen through my phone and laptop speakers.  There’s so much to unpack in folklore and it will only come from discussion and further analysis (does this count as case analysis for my case-based courses???). If you need me, I will be listening to this album 24/7 for the foreseeable future.

If you’re interested in more Taylor Swift pandemic content, I wrote an article of captions & a playlist for getting through the pandemic earlier this year.  Additionally, you should watch Miss Americana on Netflix, as Sarah explains here. Priya explains the Taylor and Kanye history here, which may or may not be referenced in the song mad woman.