By Eli D.
Many of you probably already know that Taylor Swift’s eighth studio album, titled folklore, was released on July 24th, 2020. It was a surprise album in the sense that it was dropped with only a couple of hours’ advertising notice, and also in the sense that it was different from her usual cheerful country/pop sound. With a chill and ethereal vibe, the album dabbled in the indie folk and alternative rock genres. Swift tweeted that she wrote and recorded the entire album by herself in quarantine, and that it was just a collection of her wandering thoughts. Though it went against her tried and true pop sound, it skyrocketed on the charts within minutes of the drop, breaking the Guinness World Record for the biggest opening day for a female artist on Spotify. The album debuted at number one on the Billboard Charts, with just short of 850,000 units sold in the first week, which gave Swift her seventh consecutive number one studio album in the US. Three tracks made it into the top ten: “cardigan” coming in at the number one spot, with “the 1” and “exile” coming in close behind at number four and six, respectively. I’m going to summarize most of the songs, and go into detail for 5 of them–the ones that I think are important.
The first four songs on the album are ones that I actually think are noteworthy. You can tell a lot about an album by the artist’s choice of the first few songs. The first notes you hear on the album are some of the most important ones. In the case of folklore, the first song is titled “the 1,” and it starts by going from an F to a C, a simple and classic chord switch. I can already tell that the track is going to be smooth. Throughout the song, she uses imagery in her lyrics with: “I thought I saw you at the bus stop / I didn’t though,” etc. She plays with lyrics in a way that she hasn’t in her previous albums. Also, the harmonies on the track are very nice additions that make it seem more fleshed out. I’d give this song a 10/10.
The second song is called “cardigan.” It starts with simple piano and very descriptive lyrics, just as the previous song did. The hook of the song is “when you are young / they assume you know nothing,” which is a bold statement and something I can relate to–getting talked down to or not respected because of my age. The song’s chorus starts with the line “but I knew you.” It’s a classic chorus in that it develops momentum and her voice goes higher, indicating that it’s important and the listener should pay attention. It’s the type of chorus that is easy to memorize, and it is one that I would expect from a chart-topping song. One of Swift’s defining characteristics is that she is a master at crafting the bridges of songs. This track is no exception; the harmonies layered on top of the main track add to the ethereal vibe of the album. I snooped more into this song, and it turns out that Swift was writing it as a part of an “easter egg” in the album. The songs “cardigan,” “betty,” and “august” illustrate a teenage love triangle, but it is unclear what three teenagers she is singing about. Overall, this is a 10/10 song, and I can understand why it is so popular.
The third song is slightly different from the first two; it focuses much more on her storytelling. The song is called “the last great american dynasty,” and it describes the lives of people living in a small town and the special house that they live in, and how their lives were changed when “she” showed up. “There goes the most shameless woman this town has ever seen / She had a marvelous time ruining everything.” It definitely took me a couple of listens to fully appreciate the song, so if you don’t like it the first time you hear it, I would encourage you to keep listening and to really listen to it. I know I’m supposed to be critiquing these songs, but I cannot find anything wrong with these first three. This one is also 10/10.
The fourth song is called “exile,” and it introduces the only featured artist of the album: Bon Iver. With a simple piano chord progression and harmonies in the background, there’s one word that I would use to describe this song: magical. Bon Iver takes the first verse, and Taylor Swift takes the second, so that it almost sounds like a conversation. It seems like there are two different parts to the song.: It changes moods once it reaches the bridge, where Swift and Bon Iver alternate lines and sing over each other, so that the idea of the conversation is reinforced. The introduction of strings in the bridge also help to create the magic of the song. It’s so simple, but the emotion, harmonies, and conversation aspects of the song make it one of my two favorites on the 16-song album. 10/10.
“my tears ricochet,” the fifth song, is soft and quiet. You can tell it’s more of her thoughts flowing freely from her mind into the music. I’d give it a 9/10.
“mirrorball” is a little bit repetitive, but the guitar in the background is a nice addition, and makes it more unique. The descending title as sung in the song is beautiful, so I’d give it an 9/10.
“seven,” the seventh song, sounds like a description of her childhood. She showcases again how detailed and relatable her lyrics can be in this storytelling-focused song. 9/10.
In the song “august,” Swift shows off her pure singing skill with quick and clean switches between chest and head voice. 9/10.
The ninth song is titled “this is me trying.” It describes a time when Swift was in a failing relationship and going out of her way to try to make it work. There are some lyrics in the song though that had me thinking, “Huh? That doesn’t really make any sense.” In my opinion, the lyrics are the most important part of a song, so because this track was kind of confusing, I’m rating this one a 7/10.
“illicit affairs” is actually a lot like “this is me trying;” it has weird descriptions in the verses. I actually really like how she handles the guitar, the harmonies, and the light saxophone in the song though, so overall, I’d give this song a 7/10.
The eleventh song is titled “invisible string,” and it is the last of the 5 that I wanted to focus deeply on. It starts with an upbeat guitar picking pattern, which contrasts heavily with the melancholy of the previous song. She showcases her storytelling again in the first verse, describing how she can feel a connection with someone across the world. The introduction of drums in the pre-chorus and the changing voice color in the chorus give depth to the song. I think the most notable thing about it is the lyrics in the chorus– “Isn’t it just so pretty to think / That all along there was some / Invisible string / Tying you to me?” She sings about fate and how maybe everybody has a certain person in the world just for them, with an “invisible string” tying people together. This is a very interesting subject to sing about, and I think she does it well. On top of that, the simple guitar picking and soft drums mix with her airy voice to make the song dreamy and beautiful. “exile” and “invisible string” are my two favorites on the album. 10/10.
“mad woman” is different from the blissful emotion of the previous song, it is more tonally akin to brooding anger. It is a feminist song, and it radiates Swift’s frustration with the patriatrchy. It is beautifully crafted, with strings and harmonies on top of piano and quiet drums. I’d give it an 8/10.
The thirteenth song, “epiphany,” starts extremely slowly with soft synths, slow piano, and a near hypnotic voice from Swift. However, I feel like the song never actually kicks in; it stays the same for the entire time. Nothing is added. Because of that, it is a 7/10.
The song “betty” has an optimistic and joyful sound and is accompanied by a harmonica and a clean strumming pattern. The way that the song progresses is easygoing and light. Also, the key change near the end of the song gives it even more energy and life along with the promise of a happy ending. 9/10.
The fifteenth song, “peace,” has sliding guitar and picking loops that flow nicely with the voice, lending to its smooth vibe that stays roughly the same as the song progresses. 9/10.
The sixteenth and final song of the album is called “hoax.” The piano loop meshes with the voice beautifully, especially in the pre-chorus, where the clever rhyme between “reason” and “believe in” outshines the other top rhymes on the album. The song winds down the mood and leaves you really thinking about the project that you just spent an hour listening to. Overall, I’d give it a 9/10.
folklore is definitely different from Swift’s previous albums, and it makes me wonder whether or not she has always had this different side of her, and chose not to act on it. It is definitely worth examining the numbers to see which side of Taylor Swift the public likes more. The surprise album sold more units in the first week than any of her other albums, and the most popular song, “cardigan,” is still holding its ground on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, ten weeks after the drop. If we’re talking about the current numbers, the public loves this new side of Taylor Swift.
In the album, Swift proves how versatile she is, with intricate melodies that highlight her voice. She is able to fit so many different moods into the songs. It is a collection of her feelings and thoughts in quarantine that seem very real and relatable — perhaps why people enjoy the album so much. Personally, I loved it. It was subtle and otherworldly, and with synths and simple piano/guitar loops sprinkling the songs in fairy dust, it seemed magical. It is truly a masterpiece.
After all of my analysis, it’s time to look at the numbers from my point of view. After adding all of the numbers together for the sixteen songs, it is a 142/160. My final score for folklore, by Taylor Swift, is 89/100.