It’s no secret that Taylor Swift is one of the world’s highest-grossing female musicians, and it’s also no secret that over the last decade, Swift’s music has been laced with upbeat and arena worthy pop that begs listeners to dance. Nonetheless, the pop songstress has taken a sidestep away from the bubblegum pop and over to a subdued and folk-nuanced sound with her eighth studio album, Folklore.
Spanning 16 tracks, Folklore takes listeners through a somewhat gloomy, almost somber journey of heartbreak. Lyrically and aesthetically, the album thrusts listeners into a world filled with cozy sweaters, warm cups of coffee and the melancholic aura of fall. Though ironic for the album’s mid-summer release, the album displays the desolate and feelings Swift — and, arguably, society — have felt during quarantine due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Though Swift’s songs on the album largely illustrate stories of heartbreak and lost love, it can be clearly understood that the singer is giving into the isolation of quarantine and exuding it through the album. If 2019’s Lover exudes airiness and feelings of falling in love, 2020’s Folklore contrasts that with nuances of anguish and being alone.
Sonically, Swift sways from her usual pop sound and instead embraces a more emotionally raw, piano-led pop that is steeped in the storytelling aspects of folk music. Where Swift is usually poised in pristine pop, Folklore seems more rough and almost bare-boned as Swift navigates her bleak but fluctuating emotions like a sailor lost at sea. Swift knows there’s hope and she’ll be OK at the end of her heartbreak, but for now she’s going to explore it — and listeners are along for the ride.
Featuring production and writing credits from The National’s Aaron Dessner on the majority of the album, the album’s piano heaviness is understandable and accompanies the emotion-filled lyrics perfectly. Other than Dessner, Swift once again teams up with longtime collaborator Jack Antonoff.
Though no song on the album necessarily lacks in comparison to the others, Swift excels on tracks like “exile (feat. Bon Iver),” where production is stripped back and the tangible emotions of the lyrics shine through. The only track with a feature, “exile” pairs the deep and smooth vocals of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon with the softly sweet vocals of Swift to capture the aftermath of a failed relationship.
Arguably her best album in her career, it’s hard to compare Folklore to any of Swift’s previous releases. Showing a maturation of not only songwriting but also music styles, Folklore sees Swift execute an album that is equally impressive in lyricism as it is instrumentation as well as an overall package of a release. With zero marketing and press, Folklore is a testament to the musical power Swift has. Continually exceeding expectations and spanning an array of aesthetics per each album, Swift is truly one of the best in modern popular music, and it’s plain to see with the release of Folklore.