Album Review: Taylor Swift – Folklore (2020)

I woke up pretty late yesterday. I eventually went onto Twitter in early afternoon, and it was on FIRE. Why? The Swifties had only wanted a radio release for ‘Cruel Summer’, a track from Taylor’s seventh album ‘Lover’, but instead, she revealed that she had created a whole album in lockdown, and she was dropping it TOMORROW. And no one had a clue! In an age where seemingly everything is leaked to the internet weeks in advance, it’s a genuine surprise. It even might have surprised the woman herself, writing “before this year I would have probably over thought when to release this music at the ‘perfect’ time” – but we’re glad that she hasn’t.

‘Folklore’ seemed to be indicative of a return to a more guitar-infused, chilled, country vibe which is where Taylor’s career really took off before she became full pop star, especially with the confirmed collaboration with indie folk artist Bon Iver on the tracklist. Containing 16 tracks, there is a 17th – ‘The Lakes’ – which is exclusive only to the deluxe physical editions of the album. This was especially interesting to me before I even listened to the album – it shows an inventive way of getting around the loss of revenue which artists face to streaming sites such as Spotify, an issue which Swift is a leading voice. Will it also help propel her to the top of the album charts once again, without the need for an extensive promotion campaign? Only time will tell; for now, the music will do the talking.

Listening to it, I had a range of emotions. I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did – the more indie feel to the album evoked Wolf Alice’s ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’ on several occasions, especially during ‘The 1’, which is one of my favourite tracks on the album. It’s darker, more orchestral tones felt very haunting at times – the backing of ‘this is me trying’, for example, created an eerie undertone which made me hang on every word which she spoke. At times, it felt less like a studio album and more like the soundtrack to a Hollywood romance. Rarely has an artwork matched so perfectly with the music it represents: sad, haunted, but also deeply soothing in a way. I feel like she is reaching her inner peace, and away from the drama and chaos which her name often gets attached to, ‘folklore’ feels like a complete escape.

‘August’, the 8th track on the album, might be my favourite. It’s a concept track about the month, which is fitting as I could see myself lying in a grassy field, drinking wine, under the sun, having a marvellous time in a few weeks time. Throughout, a guitar and a soft drum beat accompanies Taylor’s gliding voice. The strings which can be heard in the background then overtake the rest of the track and push the song into its glorious outro: the sun setting on a hot day. This is a vibe which I would not have seen Taylor succeeding with (although she is successful at everything she does) – if you love this album, check out London Grammar. It has a very similar feel to it.

‘folklore’ is a very long album – over 63 minutes – but strangely I don’t really mind. It feels complete, and full. It meanders very slowly to it’s conclusion, particularly through the second half of the album, nothing is rushed and it fits so cohesively well that I could listen to it for longer. Obviously, it is not a pop album, but it feels like it transcends that. It’s more mature. it’s polished and sleek, and it feels grander – magical in a Disney film way, without the cheesiness which comes with trying to create a memorable hook to grab sales, or the forced, tackier fun which haunted ‘Lover’. Taylor knows she is at the top of the music world – she got to the top of country with ‘Red’, the pop world with ‘1989’, proved she could fight back against the hate and drama with ‘Reputation’, and showed human growth to get past that negativity with ‘Lover’, which came less than a year ago. ‘folklore’ is an assured album from someone who is comfortable with who she is – despite the latest stuff with Kanye, and the Big Machine drama, she now has a chamber of inner peace, which is where it feels this album has come from.

This album deserves all of the acclaim that it receives, and it surpassed all of my expectations. Maybe it was the absence of an out and out smash hit. Maybe its down to Taylor no longer trying to appease as many people as possible with her music, and just being content with existing in her own space – if people want to listen to her, they can. Again, the promotional shift she’s taken with this album says it all – ‘if you create something you truly love, you should share it with the world’. More than anything else though, this is an hour of the best of Taylor Swift.

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