folklore by Taylor Swift: Review

TIME FOR ME TO WORD VOMIT.

Wow, it’s been a while! Hello! Thank you for checking this out. I hope you will find this worthwhile, as this is a review from someone who is deeply invested in Taylor Swift and has been significantly impacted by her work over the years.

Before I start, I just want to dedicate this review to my best friend, Hanna. It was truly an act of God what happened to us, with this album. Hanna and I, both avid Swift fans, just decided to sort of impulsively spend some time in Rhode Island together (while being cautious of social distancing and wearing our masks/sanitizing at any chance we got, obviously), for three days. It was during our time together that Taylor announced that folklore would be dropping in less than 24 hours, and we were able to stay up at midnight to experience this album for the first time together. Incidentally, Taylor also references Rhode Island in “the last great american dynasty.” Crazy, right? Hanna, this album will always remind me of you.

NOW, onto what I want to say about folklore. I am going to get into a track-by-track review shortly, but I want to preface all of that by first saying that I think this album is a home run—not just for longtime Swift fans, but to new listeners.

To those of you who have been ashamed of listening to Taylor Swift and have been afraid to admit that maybe some of her music isn’t too bad despite people saying that it’s “pop fluff” or that she’s “melodramatic”: Congratulations! You now have an out. This is a solid indie album that will not necessarily disqualify you and your music tastes to jerks who have looked down on Taylor Swift for being a young woman who writes about her life! And if anyone makes fun of you for liking her lyricism or pokes fun at the fact that they see you listening to her sometimes on Spotify, guess what? They need to grow up! :)

My snarky comments aside, the reason why I feel that this is a perfect album for veteran fans and new fans alike is because there is really something for everyone here. I know that there are some fans out there like myself, who, despite hanging on for the ride and attempting to be as invested in Reputation and Lover as we were for albums like Fearless and Red, had begun to somewhat mourn the “old Taylor.” You know, the Taylor who wrote raw music with pounding drums and lyrics with piercing specificity that would cut you deep without fail during every single listen. In other words, Red Taylor. While there are songs from 1989, reputation, and Lover that I absolutely feel connected to, let’s just say I would still trade “London Boy” for “All Too Well” any day of the week.

folklore brings back everything we’ve been missing. Swift has reaffirmed for us that all the parts of “old Taylor” that we loved are still here. At the same time, there are some people out there who genuinely are not interested in pop or country, which is why Taylor hasn’t appealed to them. Or maybe they actually have been really turned off by the constant swarm of drama that seems to surround her, which is fair. This is an avenue for new listeners to discover who she is as an artist for the first time, and to form new opinions on her musicality and songwriting. I personally feel that there’s truly no denying Swift’s lyrical prowess here. Now’s a good time to jump in if you haven’t before.

folklore ended up selling over 2 million copies in its first week. I am so glad we have this body of work now, and I’m really excited to write this review. I hope you begin to form bonds (or more bonds) with this album after reading my thoughts. Without further ado, here’s my track-by-track review of folklore.

the 1

This is a fun opener to the album! Admittedly, it’s not one of my favorites, but it’s a really great track to frame the rest of the album. There are a lot of callbacks to older songs of hers— “And if you wanted me, you really should’ve showed” reminds me of “The Moment I Knew” off of Red (Deluxe), mention of the Roaring 20’s reminds me of references to Gatsby and Daisy in reputation, “For never leaving well enough alone” reminds me of a specific line in “ME!” featuring Brendan Urie from Lover, and “For digging up the grave another time” reminds me of the stark graveyard imagery from the music video for “Look What You Made Me Do.” Swift makes it clear that she is “on some new s — -” now, but that’s not to say that she doesn’t still sometimes look back on her past with unanswered questions and what-ifs.

Favorite lyric: It’s a tie between “We never painted by the numbers, baby, but we were making it count” and “I persist and resist the temptation to ask you / If one thing had been different / Would everything be different today?”

Favorite musical moment: Not really a moment, but I think I just really love how clear and simple her voice sounds throughout the entire track.

cardigan

wow ok there is a lot that i can say about this now that there is a music video (which was filmed in quarantine???) but i’m gonna try my best to keep it concise

What an interesting first single. I love songs about lost love and what could’ve been, so this song was a great first introduction to the folklore era for me (we watched the music video at midnight before we listened to the album the whole way through). The melody of this song is so simple, but the lyrics are so incredibly rich. Again, love the specificity of the words. What I think I love the most about this song, though, is the last minute and a half or so, starting from “But I knew you’d linger like a tattooed kiss.” It reminds me a lot of the outro to “The Other Side of the Door” from Fearless, which is one of my favorite things that Taylor has ever written. Another thing that I think is cool about this song is that it’s one out of three songs in a trilogy on this album that Taylor has mentioned:

Screenshot from Insider’s video, “Everything You Missed In Taylor Swift’s ‘Cardigan’ Video | Pop Culture Decoded

I, along with other fans, think that the trilogy is made up of “cardigan,” “august,” and “betty,” but who knows?

Also…….. I may or may not have bought the cardigan she wears in the video………I’m so excited to just LIVE in it forever.

Favorite lyric: “I knew you / Your heartbeat on the High Line / Once in twenty lifetimes” and ALL of verse 3:

“But I knew you’d linger like a tattooed kiss
I knew you’d haunt all of my what-ifs
The smell of smoke would hang around this long
’Cause I knew everything when I was young
I knew I’d curse you for the longest time
Chasin’ shadows in the grocery line
I knew you’d miss me once the thrill expired
And you’d be standin’ in my front porch light
And I knew you’d come back to me”

Favorite musical moment: Also not really a moment, but I love that the piano is so recognizable and warm-sounding.

the last great american dynasty

I love, love, love the storytelling in this song. “the last great american dynasty” details the stories that took place inside Holiday House, the most expensive private home in Rhode Island that Taylor now owns—specifically what happened to previous owner Rebekah Harkness. Harkness was known for her enormous parties, lavish lifestyle, and oil heiress schmonayyyy. Even though Harkness died in 1982, seven years before Swift was even born, and even though I’m sure it’s IMPOSSIBLE for any of us to ever step foot inside of Holiday House, Swift paints a picture for the listener of decades-long history, and everything that went on before Swift bought the property. “the last great american dynasty” is really different from every other song on folklore, but it still fits somehow… perhaps in the way it encourages the listener’s imagination to wander and to create a movie in their mind.

Favorite lyric: “Fifty years is a long time / Holiday House sat quietly on that beach / Free of women with madness, their men and bad habits / And then it was bought by me” (I love the way these lyrics suddenly, yet somehow naturally, bring the narrative up to the present)

Favorite musical moment: I really like that little percussion fill that happens every so often; I’m not a percussionist so I don’t have the right words for it, but it happens at 1:03 really softly.

exile (feat. Bon Iver)

I GAVE SO MANY SIGNS

Here we go. Here’s where I start to break.

This song is in my Top 5 (I’ll note the rest as we go through the album). This song is “The Last Time,” my favorite Taylor duet and one of my favorite Taylor songs ever, on steroids. I am not a big fan of Bon Iver, just because I have never taken the time to listen to their music, but man, do Vernon and Swift’s voices work surprisingly well together. 10/10, perfect to listen to as you become a crumpled up piece of paper lying on the cold hard ground.

Favorite lyric: So many…

  • “I can see you starin’, honey / Like he’s just your understudy / Like you’d get your knuckles bloody for me / Second, third, and hundredth chances / Balancin’ on breaking branches / Those eyes add insult to injury”
  • “I’m not your problem anymore / So who am I offending now?”
  • “I think I’ve seen this film before / So I’m leaving out the side door”
  • The. Entire. Bridge

Favorite musical moment: THE BRIDGE. ALL OF IT. THE LYRICS. THE OVERLAPPING. ALL OF IT. STAB ME A HUNDRED TIMES, TAYLOR.

my tears ricochet

ooooOOOOOOooooh. (can you hear it in your head? it’s the beginning)

Dang. Not in my Top 5 but probably would make the Top 6. I remember hearing, “If I’m dead to you, why are you at the wake?” for the first time and gasping. I can imagine the funeral procession as I listen to this song, and although my image of this is not fully formed, I can also imagine Swift’s lingering spirit haunting the ones who are mourning in present-day but stabbed her in the back while she was “alive”. She has said herself that the song is the first she wrote for the album, and that it’s about “an embittered tormentor showing up at the funeral of his fallen object of affection.” I can understand why Jack Antonoff feels that this song and “august” (one of the tracks in my Top 5) are the best songs he’s written with Swift.

Although unconfirmed, this song seems to be about Swift’s broken relationship with Scott Borchetta, CEO and founder of Big Machine Label Group, Swift’s old label (Borchetta sold the masters for Swift’s first six albums to Scooter Braun, someone who, according to Swift, has bullied her for the past few years). There are plenty of references to the downfall of their relationship and the aftermath:

  • “I didn’t have it in myself to go with grace”—Swift was not at all silent about what had happened between her and Borchetta, and wasn’t afraid to be clear about how she felt
  • “If I’m dead to you, why are you at the wake?”—This line made me personally think about how despite the tension between Borchetta and Swift, Big Machine and Braun released an unauthorized live album of Swift’s old performances.
  • “And I can go anywhere I want / Anywhere I want, just not home”—Swift is arguably one of the biggest artists in the world, and yet she doesn’t feel safe or welcome at the label / with the man who helped launch her career
  • “Crossing out the good years”—Swift and Borchetta had plenty of “good years” together, as they celebrated the success of Swift’s work essentially from 2006–2018

Okay, I’ll stop. Take a listen and decide for yourself.

Favorite lyric: “Even on my worst day / Did I deserve, babe / All the hell you gave me” and “You wear the same jewels that I gave you as you bury me”

Favorite musical moment: I really love the return of the ooOOOOooohs after the bridge, right before the last chorus.

mirrorball

This honestly is a song that I skip sometimes, but I still won’t say that it’s bad. I can so easily see this playing during a Stranger Things prom scene… something about this actually reminded me of the club in Black Mirror’s “San Junipero” episode, even though the lyrics don’t really make sense in that context (by the way, I am in love with Gugu Mbatha-Raw… just wanted to say it).

Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis in “San Junipero” (Black Mirror episode)

This song seems to be a reflection on Swift’s career and where she is now. She knows that, at her age, the “end” of her career may be near (or, at least, people may expect it to be), but she’s going to keep reinventing herself and “spinning on [her] highest heels” for those who are willing to watch her. In her Netflix documentary, “Miss Americana,” she says the following about where she is in her career:

“The female artists that I know of have reinvented themselves 20 times more than the male artists. They have to, or else you’re out of a job. Constantly having to reinvent, constantly finding new facets of yourself that people find to be shiny. ‘Be new to us, be young to us, but only in a new way and only the way that we want… and reinvent yourself, but only in a way that we find to be equally comforting but also a challenge for you… Live out a narrative that we find to be interesting enough to entertain us, but not so crazy that it makes us uncomfortable.’ This is probably one of my last opportunities as an artist to grasp onto that kind of success. As I’m reaching 30, I’m like, ‘I want to work really hard while society is still tolerating me being successful’.”

Taylor Swift in “Miss Americana”

Favorite lyric: “I’m still trying everything to keep you looking at me”

Favorite musical moment: I love everything that the electric guitar is doing, haha.

seven

I. love. this. song. Absolutely in my Top 5. Swift sounds so, so good and somehow she makes me feel like the friend she’s talking about as we wander around her family’s Christmas tree farm at age 7. The lyrics are so packed with details and I… I honestly don’t know what else I want to say. It’s just so good.

Favorite lyric: ALL of verse 2. And also the bridge. These might be some of my favorite lyrics on the whole album

“And I’ve been meaning to tell you
I think your house is haunted
Your dad is always mad and that must be why
And I think you should come live with me
And we can be pirates
Then you won’t have to cry
Or hide in the closet
And just like a folk song
Our love will be passed on

Please picture me in the weeds
Before I learned civility
I used to scream ferociously
Any time I wanted”

Favorite musical moment: I really like listening to the song straight through, zeroing in on what the piano is doing throughout. It makes me really want to learn it for myself!

august

I… also really love this song. This song is also in my Top 5, and it is speculated to be the second song in that trilogy that Taylor talked about! For longtime Swift fans, this song checks all the boxes. The evoking of nostalgia, the telling of a long-lost romance, the (again) “Other Side of the Door”-esque outro… wow. I guarantee this song will have you screaming “MEET ME BEHIND THE MALL” in your car. 10/10, perfect to listen to, blasting in the car, as you drive down the highway with your windows rolled down. Trust me, I’ve tried it. Also, doesn’t the electric guitar remind you a bit of Fearless? No? Someone please tell me you agree.

Favorite lyric: I know I keep listing whole chunks of songs for the “favorite lyric” sections of each song, but I just… have to.

“Back when we were still changin’ for the better
Wanting was enough
For me, it was enough
To live for the hope of it all
Canceled plans just in case you’d call
And say, “Meet me behind the mall”
So much for summer love and saying “us”
’Cause you weren’t mine to lose”

Favorite musical moment: One of my favorite moments on the ENTIRE album is in this song—at 3:06, when the instrumentation drops out and then slams back in. Give me whiplash, please.

this is me trying

Something about the effect on Swift’s voice makes me imagine an alcoholic man with a ton of regrets about his past. This isn’t one of my favorites either, but again, I still think it’s really good. I think I just need to be in a certain mood to listen to this song. And dang, does she try to fit a million words into the bridge. I can’t put my finger exactly on what makes this song sound lonely and helpless, but it… does that, haha. It sort of makes me imagine that this is “betty” went wrong—like if James showed up at Betty’s doorstep years later, wanting to apologize and make up for what’s happened between them, but it doesn’t work. You’ll understand later, once I get to “betty.”

Favorite lyric: “They told me all of my cages were mental / So I got wasted like all my potential / And my words shoot to kill when I’m mad / I have a lot of regrets about that”

Favorite musical moment: I love the way the instrumentation swells right before the bridge, and I love the layering in the last chorus (“And maybe I don’t quite know what to say”).

illicit affairs

Another Top 5 song. Listening to this song makes me feel like a young lady who met a charming married man at work and started an “entanglement” with him and even though it was just for fun at first, now I’ve developed feelings but he’s neVER GOING TO LEAVE HIS WIFE AND KIDS FOR ME.

But really, Swift does such a beautiful and heartbreaking job at evoking this feeling of what it’s like to chase after a fleeting high with someone who you know is only going to leave you dry and empty eventually. Even though I’ve never like, had an affair with someone a bunch of years older than me, I can definitely relate to this feeling of turning a blind eye to reality just to experience something with someone that’s magical, temporary, and detrimental all at the same time—and to see the facade start to crack as it all starts crashing down…. ANYWAY.

Favorite lyric: So I’m gonna go ahead and copy/paste the whole bridge again

“Don’t call me kid, don’t call me baby
Look at this godforsaken mess that you’ve made me
You showed me colors you know I can’t see with anyone else
Don’t call me kid, don’t call me baby
Look at this idiotic fool that you’ve made me
You taught me a secret language I can’t speak with anyone else
And you know damn well
For you I would ruin myself a million little times”

Favorite musical moment: I think the really gentle acoustic guitar in the background is so pretty… and sad. One might say it’s…. sad…. beautiful…. and…. tragic…..

invisible string

This is such a lovely song. Very clearly about Swift and her boyfriend of three years, Joe Alwyn, “invisible string” is a really genuine and heartfelt tribute to their love and the heartache that she had to endure to get to him. There are a ton of references to their relationship:

  • “Bad was the blood of the song in the cab on your first trip to LA”—perhaps implying that Alywn’s first trip to LA was around the same time Swift’s song, “Bad Blood,” was released with her album 1989 in 2014
  • “Bold was the waitress on our three-year trip”—Swift and Alwyn have been dating for three years
  • “A string that pulled me out of all the wrong arms, right into that dive bar”—Swift also mentions a dive bar in her song “Delicate” from reputation, which is about Alwyn as well

It definitely is just so pretty to think, Taylor, that all along there was some invisible string tying you to him.

Favorite lyric: “Bold was the waitress on our three-year trip, getting lunch down by the Lakes / She said I looked like an American singer” (love this, so cute)

Favorite musical moment: “meee-ee-ee-eeeee-ee-ee-eeeeee-ee-ee-eeeee-ee-ee-eeeeeeeee”

mad woman

Awwwww snap. This is “The Man” 2.0, but more of a slow-burning anger that’s been simmering for years. As far as I’m concerned, Taylor can write about being a mad woman or being perceived as one, because I can guarantee she’s been called crazy more times than she’s talked about being called one. This is another song that is widely speculated to be about Scott Borchetta and Scooter Braun—and potentially, Justin Bieber, which is another person who she’s had tension with in the past (and infamously dated her best friend, Selena Gomez, on and off, in a relationship that Gomez has now called abusive). There are a lot of connections I could draw, but I’ll just leave this Genius site with you to decipher on your own.

Favorite lyric: “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” and “Every time you call me crazy, I get more crazy / What about that? / And when you say I seem angry, I get more angry”

Favorite musical moment: I love the piano that plays throughout the song.

epiphany

I… can’t believe this song. It’s so, so simple but so beautiful. Swift manages to tie the PTSD that her grandfather experienced after being deployed to Guadalcanal to the trauma and pain that millions have had to experience this year alone as they watched their loved ones pass from COVID-19. The instrumentation and effects on Swift’s voice, as well as the actual bpm of the song, make it easy for the listener to imagine both scenes (the war and the ICU) playing out in slow motion. Try listening to the song and breathing along to the beat.

Favorite lyric: “Only twenty minutes to sleep / But you dream of some epiphany / Just one single glimpse of relief / To make some sense of what you’ve seen”

Favorite musical moment: I think the melody of the chorus is just so beautiful. I really love the harmonies and layering in the last chorus.

betty

I’m really shouting “YOU HEARD THE RUMORS FROM INEZ” every hour because of this song.

Ah, the last of my Top 5. What a fun one. But also, the modulation at the end makes me tear up sometimes because of how triumphant and unabashed it feels. Taylor is really creating a whole world out here. This is thought by many to be the third song in the Teenage Love Triangle, and I am here for it. It’s giving me “Mary’s Song (Oh My My My)” AND Billy Joel vibes (yasss harmonica). I honestly think this could have come out on her first album, except she definitely wouldn’t have said the F-bomb on her first album, so I’m glad this is on folklore.

I looooooove the direct reference to “cardigan” in the outro (“Standing in your cardigan / Kissin’ in my car again”), and there’s something so heart-wrenching and great about how many times James (the character that this song is told by) says that he misses Betty. ALSO, the lyric “Betty, one time I was riding on my skateboard when I passed your house / It’s like I couldn’t breathe” reminds me of “How You Get The Girl” from 1989! I just want to belt this song all day long. And I think I will.

Favorite lyric: I… love all of it. But if I had to pick (these lyrics are going to be in all caps because again, I just want to belt this song all the time)…

  • YOU HEARD THE RUMORS FROM INEZ / YOU CAN’T BELIEVE A WORD SHE SAYS / MOST TIMES, BUT THIS TIME IT WAS TRUE / THE WORST THING THAT I EVER DID / WAS WHAT I DID TO YOU
  • I’M ONLY SEVENTEEN / I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING BUT I KNOW I MIIIIISSS YOUUUUU
  • …plus I saw you dance with him…. :(
  • WILL YOU KISS ME ON THE PORCH IN FRONT OF ALL YOUR STUPID FRIENDS??

Favorite musical moment: OBVIOUSLY the modulation right before the last chorus—also, I really love all the space within the lines “So I showed up at your party / Yeah, I showed up at your party” right before that last chorus, to build anticipation

peace

This is one I also tend to skip sometimes, but once again, still a good song in my opinion. In “peace,” Swift talks about how she hopes her lover (presumably Alwyn) will stay with her despite the fact that she is, well, Taylor Swift. She’s talked about how hard it is to be in a relationship with her in the past, specifically on her 2014 album, 1989, and her 2017 album, reputation:

  • “Something happens when everybody finds out / See the vulture circling dark clouds / Love’s a fragile little flame, it could burn out” (from “I Know Places”)
  • “Touch me and you’ll never be alone” from “…Ready for It?” has been interpreted by some to mean that after a lover touches Swift, they will never be alone since she is almost always swarmed by paparazzi and fans
  • “This ain’t for the best / My reputation’s never been worse, so you must like me for me / We can’t make any promises now, can we, babe? / But you can make me a drink” (from “Delicate”)

I love how jam-packed these lyrics are. Swift is so clear at articulating how she wants to spend the rest of her life with Alwyn, how she sometimes feels inadequate and unworthy of what he gives her, and how hard it is to be with her sometimes—all at once.

Favorite lyric: “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?” and “All these people think love’s for show but I would die for you in secret”

Favorite musical moment: I just really enjoy how simple the instrumentation of this song is, and how it really allows Swift’s voice to be the center of attention.

hoax

This is another song that breaks me, and man, what a way to end the album. This song seems like it’s definitely about a breakup with Alwyn to me (um, she always talks about him in relation to the color blue and there’s a line that says, “Don’t want no other shade of blue but you”???… and also she started dating Alwyn after all that stuff with Kimye first went down, which I’m assuming is what she’s referring to when she says, “From when they pulled me apart”). But this makes no sense because it seems like they’re still together AND he might even be a cowriter on this album (there’s some pretty convincing evidence). My close friend Naomi (hey, girl) speculated that maybe the whole song is…. a hoax. Which made me scream.

I love how simple this song is. I love how simple most of the album is. But wow, this song is devastating.

Favorite lyric: “You know I left a part of me back in New York” and “You knew it still hurts underneath my scars from when they pulled me apart / But what you did was just as dark”

Favorite musical moment: I love when the strings come in at the bridge!!

Final Thoughts

Okay, I think this is the longest review I’ve ever written, and my brain is mush but I HOPE YOU ENJOYED READING THIS. I hope you give this album a chance even if you’ve never given Taylor Swift a chance before. My final thoughts? This album is really good. Stream it.

--

--

--

Lover of Jesus, music, and people. Discovering how to better analyze and appreciate music one track at a time.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Recommended from Medium

About Poet, Artist and Composer Jung Yonghwa

Remembering Steve “StevoTVR” Guidetti

All Bad Things Must End: The Final Revïew of the Sümmer

READ/DOWNLOAD@] Music, Language, and Cognition: And Other Essays in the Aesthetics of Music FULL…

Tributes to Sajjad Hussain, the enigmatic genius of Hindi cine music world, on his 22nd death…

Cory Wong & Dirty Loops - Turbo (2021) Album Zip

Can Festivals Be Fun For Someone Sober?

Composers on the Move

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Cat Cheng

Cat Cheng

Lover of Jesus, music, and people. Discovering how to better analyze and appreciate music one track at a time.

More from Medium

Social Media for Healthcare: Modern SMM Procedures to Utilize

Commercial Credit Checker: Instant Equifax business credit report inside Salesforce

Saying Yes to Liberation

Ingenious Sales Development Strategies to Help Your Team Sparkle