It’s been autumn since July — and we have Taylor Swift to thank for that. Since her album “folklore” was surprise-released in late July, my life has had quite the autumnal ambiance. August — also the name of a song on the album — consisted of early morning runs, a slightly-overcast sky, cozy blankets, and more than a few Harry Potter movies. “Folklore” very well may be the soundtrack to the end of summer; there is no better way to usher in the sweater weather we are all so eager for. Any change of pace, of weather, at this point, is welcome.
Quarantine forced us into a monotony we are not used to. I thrive off social interaction, communication and the general liveliness of social circles. Even hearing about the goings-on of others is enough to sustain me. The lack of human connection in my personal life allowed me to appreciate this album at its fullest: “folklore” told me the stories of drama, heartache, and personal growth that I had not heard in months. Thus, because of Swift’s unmatched ability for storytelling, I queued her album on repeat. The album title, according to Oxford Languages, means “beliefs or stories passed through word of mouth.” Swift’s buttery voice does the storytelling and the album chronicles tales of love, friendship, gossip, strength, and individuality.
Swift wrote this record-breaking album during quarantine. Talk about productivity, right? On the day of One Direction’s ten-year anniversary, Swift surprise-dropped “folklore”— a potential slight to ex-boyfriend and former Directioner Harry Styles, who dropped his album on her birthday. The release also completely overshadowed the album drop of Swift’s public enemy Kayne West, which was a serious power move. The shock of this album largely contributed to its success. Her last album, “Lover,” featured arguably her worst singles. That album received limited attention beyond her group of dedicated Swifties. But what did she expect? “ME!” (feat. Brandon Urie of Panic! at the Disco) sounded like a Webkinz theme song.
This album might as well be the complete opposite. The soft indie vibes sparked nostalgia and memories of emotions I haven’t felt since leaving Yale in March. While I certainly have my favorites, there are hardly any skips on this album (although “epiphany” is questionable). Swift doesn’t perform any vocal acrobats on this album, but I’m not mad about it. If anything, it just makes the album far more relatable. Easier to sing along with, too!
Swift’s rich details are her claim to fame. If I didn’t know any better, I would think she took English 120 — every song is a narrative, and her pithy descriptions evoke such poignantly unique emotions. My (awesome) English 120 professor James Surowiecki literally said to the class that everything is within the details: choose one small item and make it central to your story. You can’t tell me Taylor Swift doesn’t do this. ”cardigan”? It’s the whole song. Once again, I suppose that is what makes her music so relatable — but Taylor Swift should never be called cliché.
Time to get down to the nitty-gritty. My favorites of the album are “exile (ft. Bon Iver)” and “illicit affairs.” “exile” is the soundtrack to every movie I’ve ever made in my head: the gut-wrenching cinematic masterpieces where I am the main character, looking out the car window into the pouring rain. To compound the mastery of her lyrical craft, I have always been partial to duets. But when they are depressing? It’s a whole new level of song addiction. I know this song will be at the top of my Spotify Wrapped this year. “illicit affairs” offers the point of view of “the other woman.” It’s powerful and loving and exactly what I expect from Swift. Its bridge is on par with that of Red’s “All Too Well”.
While not every song is my favorite, there are definitely some worthwhile mentions. “the last great american dynasty” delights us with the story of the woman who previously owned Swift’s Rhode Island home. The tie Swift feels to the former homeowner — who eventually is considered to be a mad woman — mirrors the ethos of the album: relationships within songs don’t have to be romantic. Connections are everywhere, even if you don’t see them immediately. “invisible string” perfectly describes such a feeling — ties between strangers, fate, the interconnection of social circles and communication. It’s easy for Swift to convey a storyline, or a connection between a pair, within a song. We have applauded her for doing so many times. “folklore” ups the ante. In a multi-song drama, Swift underscores the relationship between Betty, James, and Inez: three young teenagers who have found themselves in a love triangle. “cardigan” is from Betty’s perspective, “august” from Inez’s, and “betty” from James’. This intertwining of perspective reflects the magic of teenage connection.
Swift’s emotional intelligence truly shines in “Folklore.” For this indie album, she has stripped herself of her typical pop persona. Obviously, Swift is a lyrical mastermind, but she dropped “folklore” at a time when people are particularly emotionally vulnerable due to isolation, and simultaneously looking to “feel” something after weeks of boredom. Taylor Swift gave us the remedy to quarantine that we never knew we needed.
Hailey O’Connor | firstname.lastname@example.org