“In isolation my imagination has run wild and this album is the result, a collection of songs and stories that flowed like a stream of consciousness.” – Taylor Swift
Exactly one year since the release of “Archer” from the “Lover” album, Taylor Swift surprise-dropped her eighth studio album, “folklore.” Dubbed “TS8,” the newest album from Swift wasn’t expected until at least 2021, since “Lover” was released less than a year ago.
On July 23, Swifties woke up to black-and-white cottage-core photos of Swift in the woods and an announcement that a music video and new songs would be dropped at midnight. When Billboard’s Artist of the Decade releases unexpected new music, people listen. With a record-shattering music career of over a decade, our generation has literally grown up with Swift’s songs as our life’s soundtrack. “Love Story” played at our middle school dances, “Welcome to New York” greeted us when we first toured Fordham, “Cruel Summer” blasted in our office when we produced our first fall issue a year ago, and “folkore” has arrived to guide us through quarantine. On July 24, The Observer’s Swifties woke up with puffy eyes and tons of thoughts.
Esmé Bleecker-Adams, Fun & Games Editor and Asst. Photo Editor:
While I admit I was hoping for at least one song to dance to, what I got instead definitely captured the tone of an era of isolation in its somber and haunting reflectivity.”
The album absolutely feels like a product of quarantine, as if the experience of spending an unusual amount of time alone with your thoughts was captured by a top-notch lyricist — because it has been with “folklore.” While I admit I was hoping for at least one song to dance to, what I got instead definitely captured the tone of an era of isolation in its somber and haunting reflectivity. The album is very cohesive in that tone, and listening from start to finish feels like going in and out of various dream worlds, in part because of Swift’s ability to inhabit different characters like a kind of musical medium; it is otherworldly.
Favorites: While it’s impossible to pick a definitive favorite, and there are a lot of stellar tracks on this album, I’ve narrowed it down to two that stuck with me the most. “exile” is an incredibly powerful and melodically beautiful depiction of the ending of a relationship. The metaphor of a person as home is striking, as too are the overlapping voices that build in intensity. Meanwhile, “august,” though perhaps more up-tempo than some of the other songs on the album, is wistful and sorrowful in theme. I found it to be a really accurate emotional characterization of the way the end of a summer feels, regardless of whether the listener relates to the specific lyrics. The chorus is both catchy and poetic, and the “slipped away” / “sipped away” combination is so well-crafted.
Honorable Mentions: While this list is basically the entire rest of the album, “the 1” is a beautifully written picture of reflection, regret and the difficulty of letting go. “cardigan” tells a whole story in the imagery of something as seemingly simple and innocuous as an old sweater. “mirrorball” has been very stuck in my head, but I don’t mind whatsoever. “invisible string” is a rare uplifting song on the album, and the lyrics are touching, while “mad woman” is a haunting kind of hurt and anger put to music. “peace” is lyrically brilliant. The harmonica in “betty” gives it a distinctive flavor, and the melody is catchy.
Least Favorites: I didn’t dislike a single song on “folklore,” but the two that stuck with me the least were “illicit affairs” and “epiphany.” Neither is bad, but I found them to be less memorable and striking than the others.
Lara Foley, Layout Editor:
The piano on “hoax” is what ultimately broke me. This song encapsulates the delicacy and tenuousness of loving someone who might crumble in your hands if you loved them too hard.”
Being someone who was a major Swiftie back in middle school, I wasn’t expecting to drool over “folklore” after having been absent from her more recent work … but I can’t help it. Swift’s lyrics and melodies are more mature and stronger than ever, and yet each song reminds me of a very particular nostalgia I feel when listening to older songs of hers, like “Enchanted” (2010), “Last Kiss” (2010) and “The Best Day” (2008). I love the way she is able to create intricate storylines within three minutes, such as on “august” or “cardigan,” about love, loss or the in-between, and manages to make these little worlds feel extremely personal and yet still completely relatable. The simplicity and unanticipated sophistication of “this is me trying” seems to mirror Swift’s own growth as an artist, after having faced so many years of backlash and finding her footing in the crowd again: a beautiful union of harmony and unapologetic honesty, if you will. The piano on “hoax” is what ultimately broke me. This song encapsulates the delicacy and tenuousness of loving someone who might crumble in your hands if you loved them too hard.
Favorites: “mirrorball,” “hoax,” “this is me trying”
Honorable mentions: “the 1,” “illicit affairs,” “august,” “betty”
Gillian Russo, Online Editor:
It is an active adventure rather than a passive experience: Listen a few times, and you’ll notice repeated lyrics and imagery among its songs. You’ll catch references to her previous music. You’ll search for more.”
Simply put, “folklore” satisfied my craving for Swift’s “old” complex, moving lyricism in a way that nothing since 2012’s “All Too Well” has. The album’s ethereal, melancholy sound is distinct from the rest of her discography, but it’s nothing less than near-perfectly cohesive and poignant. It’s a testament to Swift that she achieves the same level of artistry and skill in her various forms of experimentation (plural in reference to “folklore” and “reputation,” arguably her other greatest departure from her norm and a favorite Swift album of mine) as we’ve come to expect from her “usual” sound.
You’ll get that on the first listen, but one listen isn’t enough with “folklore.” I have played it, in order and on shuffle, a minimum of 10 times by now, and the album just gets better each time. It is an active adventure rather than a passive experience: Listen a few times, and you’ll notice repeated lyrics and imagery among its songs. You’ll catch references to her previous music. You’ll search for more. Speaking from experience, you’ll catch a new lyric along the way each time that hits you squarely in the heart.
I listened to “this is me trying” three times before I actually heard “Pulled the car off the road to the lookout / Could’ve followed my fears all the way down,” and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. “invisible string” was my least favorite on first listen, but it’s growing on me now that I’ve caught onto how incredibly sweet the lyrics are. However, the simultaneously tender and tear-jerking “peace” sits firmly in my number one spot. “Give you my wild, give you a child / Give you the silence that only comes when two people understand each other / … I’d give you my sunshine, give you my best” are just some of the many lyrics from that song that need to be talked about more.
Honorable Mentions: “betty,” “my tears ricochet,” others vary by day depending on my mood
Least favorites: “epiphany,” “mirrorball”
Marielle Sarmiento, Managing Editor:
“TS8” will probably never win my number-one album spot because of the lack of bops for when I’m in a happy mood. “folklore” is 16 straight “sops” (sad bops).”
“folklore” in three words: “Sad Beautiful Tragic.” Taylor Swift returned to her “RED” roots.
Rolling Stone described “folklore” as “sound(ing) like she figured she wasn’t going to be touring these songs live anyway, so she gave up on doing anything for the radio, anything rah-rah or stadium-friendly.” However, as a Swiftie since ’09, I can see Swift singing “betty” to a sold-out stadium with just her guitar or “the 1” sitting at her piano à la “All Too Well.” And Swift’s stripped-down, acoustic concert performances are the ones where the audience sings along the loudest.
“folklore” has the slow, raw, wistful songs that we missed during the “1989” era. “TS8” will probably never win my number-one album spot because of the lack of bops for when I’m in a happy mood. “folklore” is 16 straight “sops” (sad bops). Good thing she has seven other albums for every mood.
Favorites: “mirrorball” (the libra anthem), “august,” “the last great american dynasty”
Cry fest: “exile,” “invisible string”
Least favorites: “epiphany,” “peace”
Andrew Beecher, Online Editor:
I hit play on “the 1” and heard the piano playing and I realized maybe this really isn’t the album I fully expected it to be. By the time I heard “exile” I had already decided this very well may be my favorite TS album yet.”
Just when I finally thought I was over my crush on Taylor Swift, she releases “folklore” and proves me wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I did listen to “Lover” countless times and of course I’ve seen “Miss Americana,” but the crowd-pleasing pop anthems were starting to lose my attention. It’s not that I didn’t like them, and they certainly have their place, but it just wasn’t the type of music that really fits the morning-commute-to-class vibe. Not to mention, all the songs about finding true love weren’t exactly uplifting for those of us not in Swift’s position.
When I first opened the album to listen and saw that Apple Music categorized it as alternative, I was a bit confused. An alternative Taylor Swift album? Must be some unnoticed glitch since it was just released. Then I hit play on “the 1” and heard the piano playing and I realized maybe this really isn’t the album I fully expected it to be. By the time I heard “exile” I had already decided this very well may be my favorite TS album yet.
Though Jon Caramanica seems to disagree, I think Swift’s vocal talents often get lost in the heavily produced pop. This stripped-down album allows her abilities to really shine. Take “illicit affairs” for example, where her occasional high-pitched notes grab your attention and convey the conflicted yearning and anguish of an extramarital relationship. Or listen to the tear-inducing back and forth of “exile,” where Taylor’s voice is the perfect complement to Bon Iver’s deep tones.
Taylor’s venture into stories that aren’t autobiographical — or at least not obviously so — was an experiment gone right. The three part story of a love triangle is told across “cardigan,” “august” and “betty,” each presenting a different perspective in a tale where there are no winners. Each song has its own feel that skillfully matches the character whom it portrays, from the soft-spoken heartbreak of the victim in “cardigan” to the hopeless longing of the other girl in “august” to the boyish harmonica of the regretful cheater in “betty.” Easily one of the best songs on the album, “the last great american dynasty” is a masterful mix of Bob Dylan-esque storytelling with her own life, as she tells the story of Holiday House, a Rhode Island mansion she purchased in 2013. The story of a widow disrupting life in an idyllic coastal town in the very house she now lives in draws clear parallels to Swift’s own life as she challenges the good girl persona she was told to have for so long. With this album, she proves that her ability to write songs her listeners can relate to extends far beyond her own experiences.
Favorites: “the last great american dynasty,” “illicit affairs,” “betty”
Cry fest: “exile”
Least favorites: “epiphany,” “peace”
Evan Vollbrecht, IT Manager:
I walked in expecting 16 teenage love ballads and walked out feeling like she had whacked me in the face with a baseball bat 16 times in a row.”
The sum total of my previous experience with Taylor Swift was “You Belong With Me” blaring on repeat at my sister’s dance recitals, so listening to “folklore” was like jumping into the deep end of a pool. I walked in expecting 16 teenage love ballads and walked out feeling like she had whacked me in the face with a baseball bat 16 times in a row. I’ve never been a fan of pop music’s radio-friendly choruses and formulaic melodies, so the stripped-down, alternative flair on “folklore” meant there was nothing holding the lyrics back — and what lyrics they are. It’s a mark of an incredible songwriter when their songs can not only make you feel nostalgic for heartaches you’ve never had, but also surprise you with a new emotional punch even several listens later, and Swift easily accomplishes both on every single song.
Favorites: I was immediately captivated by the one-two punch of the first songs on the album. “I’m doing good, I’m on some new shit,” the first lyric on “the 1,” seemed tailor-made to shatter the expectations I walked in with, and with every refrain of the clever-yet-poignant “in my defense, I have none” she drove another nail in the coffin of the mechanically-peppy chart-toppers I was used to hearing from her. This was immediately followed by the instant classic “cardigan,” a song somehow deeply familiar even on first listen, in which her crooning of “I felt like I was an old cardigan under someone’s bed” manages to perfectly evoke the gentle, warm sense-memory of such a garment. I was also struck by the tragic, heady and intoxicating “illicit affairs,” at turns evoking Imogen Heap with sudden high notes, and managing to perfectly capture the guilty romantics of the “clandestine meetings / and longing stares” she sings about.
Least Favorites: I was least impressed with “exile,” and some of the other slow songs like “seven” and “august.” I found that “folklore” was at its best when its warm melancholy was backed by a little bite, and though these songs are in no way objectionable, they weren’t as memorable to me as similarly-styled songs by contributors Bon Iver and The National.
Honorable mentions: The inevitably nostalgic “betty,” the succession of gut punches that is “this is me trying,” and the plot-twisting, relentless “the last great american dynasty.”