All is right in the world, as Taylor Swift has dropped her new album. On July 23, Swift announced the midnight release of her eighth studio album, “folklore,” to the welcoming cheers of the public. Further surprising the public has been Swift’s new direction under her quarantine album, ditching the iconic pop sound found in previous albums and instead diving into the genre of romantic indie-folk. The Swifties—what the arduous Taylor Swift stans lovingly refer to themselves as—are once again winning.
As critics and fans have pointed out, “folklore” is the beginning of a new era. While Swift’s sound has been primarily rooted in pop, she has never been sonically stagnant. 2017’s “reputation” saw the official departure from her country-pop sound after the unfair scrutiny of the media, and the 2019 follow-up “Lover” saw a full embrace of bubblegum pop.
Sonically, Swift collaborates with industry veterans such as Aaron Dessner, Jack Antonoff and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon to create a rebranded soundscape. The clear strums of acoustic guitar are accompanied by swelling strings and poignant pianos, often accompanied by muted drum sets and soft synthesizers. The campy, welcoming aesthetic of commercial indie-folk is established right off the bat in album opener “the 1,” encompassing all of those characteristics and telling the listener exactly what sound this album is about. It is the cottagecore “Live, Laugh, Love” aesthetic maximized: A fairytale familiarity anyone can get behind.
The album, however, does experiment with its commercial indie-folk sound. Soft organs and the echoes of synthesized vocals linger around in the heart-wrenching “my tears ricochet.” Ambient sleeper-hit “epiphany” finds Swift experimenting with both her vocal delivery and musical aesthetic, almost manifesting itself into the realms of a surrealist dream. “mirrorball” echoes as sweetly as the happiest dream one could have, almost feeling like a dabble into dream pop.
It’s equally as important to discuss the literary narrative Swift manufactures with her surprise release. “folklore” creates a fictional narrative centered around a high school love triangle being examined by the characters of Betty, James and an unnamed girl. “cardigan,” “august” and “betty” are explicit in their storytelling material, but the whole album compliments Swift’s storytelling. “exile,” featuring Bon Iver’s vocalist Justin Vernon, creates an interesting and contradictory dialogue between two fictional lovers who are trying to figure out what went wrong in their past relationship. The narrative is as fluid as the album’s runtime.
Similarly, Swift continues to pull from her origins as an American country-pop artist in allusion and imagery. “the last great american dynasty” discusses historical figure Rebekah Harkness and parallels similarities with Swift. “invisible string” manifests American landmarks important to Swift, such as Nashville’s Centennial Park and life in Los Angeles. “my tears ricochet” and “epiphany” harken patriotic imagery, with “epiphany” in particular harkening Swift’s grandfather and his service at Guadalcanal in 1942.
“folklore” is not looking to compete with modern indie folk giants, such as Sufjan Stevens or Fleet Foxes either, nor is it looking to tussle the experimental hits made by artists such as Daughter or Neutral Milk Hotel. It is not a groundbreaking album by any means, nor does it have to be. Swift said it best when she described how her “imagination has run wild and this album is the result.”
“folklore” is not a perfect album by any means either. Tracks like “exile” would’ve greatly benefitted from Swift’s fictional imagery, being almost elevated to the Southern indie movie aesthetic carefully crafted in more detailed tracks such as the specific “august.” “peace,” with its playful and shade-filled lyrics, feels sonically empty as a persistent synth ticks away like a nervous clock, never quite reaching the full sound of stellar tracks nor experimenting enough.
Swift’s eighth album is not the beginning of a new era, but the evolution and maturation of a talented artist. “folklore” still discusses Swift’s personal experiences, draws from her favorite stories and chic aesthetic and has the occasional spice and snark many fans have loved. “folklore” is, all in all, still a Taylor Swift album. It might just be her current masterpiece.
“folklore” is a must-listen. It is an exploration of Swift as both an artist and a human being, one that will leave current fans manifesting and newcomers excited for more. Even Swift’s most cynical critic should check out the album, as “folklore” departs into new territories unlike previous releases. You’ll be surprised at what Swift has pulled off.
“folklore” is available on streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music. Alternatively, Swifties can manifest through the aesthetically-pleasing music and lyric videos provided by Swift and her team.