“Picking up a pen was my way of escaping into fantasy, history and memory”
In self-isolation, you have an archive of stories and fragments of memories to carry you to a place of safety, fear or both.
This proves true for singer-songwriter and master storyteller, Taylor Swift, who released her surprise eighth studio album folklore mid-quarantine. Here, she collaborates a great deal with The National's Aaron Dessner and even features Bon Iver in one single, exile—reminiscent of her The Civil Wars era. In just 24 hours upon its release, without any prior marketing, thus making us oblivious mortals believe there's “not a lot going on at the moment,” she sold a record-breaking 1.3 million copies globally and received 80.6 million streams on Spotify, the most garnered by any female artist in the platform.
From the cover visuals alone that highlight “cottagecore,” you immediately see the great dichotomy from her previous album Lover (2019), dominated by pastel gradients and cheerful, romantic ballads you find yourself singing in the shower to. Folklore is in black and white, maybe a response to the times, especially with the deluge of heartbreaking headlines that follow us even in our sleep.
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Mastering the Art of Storytelling
The listener is entrusted with a weave of psychedelic stories all throughout the album. You're given the opportunity to use your imagination and visualize people who may or may not be real—some even taking the face of people you love (or have loved).
In a heartfelt post on her album release day, she writes, “Pretty soon, these images in my head grew faces or names and became characters. I found myself not only writing my own stories but also writing about or from the perspective of people I’ve never met, people I’ve known or those I wish I hadn’t.”
She further articulates the use of “folklore” in the album title: “A tale that becomes folklore is one that is passed down and whispered around. The lines between fantasy and reality blur and the boundaries between truth and fiction become almost indiscernible. Speculation, over time, becomes fact.”
This deems true for singles like the last great american dynasty about a “misfit widow getting gleeful revenge on the town that cast her out.” From outstanding fan theories, this single speaks of the previous owners of Taylor's Rhode Island mansion. For betty, which features a refreshing element of queerness—yet sounds like Fearless (2008) and Speak Now (2010) era country Taylor—she takes on the POV of one James, a “seventeen-year-old standing on a porch, learning to apologize,” who is part of a teenage love triangle. Still, many think this speaks of her covert bisexuality.
A Pop Star Done With Pop
As a shameless Swiftie since I heard Love Story as an impressionable teenager in 2008, I'd say folklore is an amalgamation of all her albums. As one The New York Times review describes it, this is “a pop star done with pop.” What once was fueled by bad blood—no pun intended—she returns to her country roots but perfects it. Still, she has the ability to make you clutch your chest and cry silently in the middle of the night for feelings you think you've forgotten or never had in the first place. This is the magic of one Taylor Alison Swift.
“Picking up a pen was my way of escaping into fantasy, history and memory,” writes Taylor. Folklore is a delicate, breathtaking gift to the ether, which makes you forget—for the duration of 16 songs at least—the inferno that has become of the place we call home. For this, we are grateful.
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver