Taylor Swift’s ‘folklore’ shows a new side of storytelling


Image courtesy of Taylor Swift


During a four-month isolation period, Taylor Swift wrote, recorded, and produced her eighth studio album, folklore, with the help of Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner. 

This album is different than Swift’s previous work, aside from being written during a global pandemic, folklore is Swift’s first album that falls under the ‘alternative’ genre. folklore was a surprise album, Taylor announced it’s midnight release seemingly out of nowhere on the morning of July 23 (we’ll get there later), and fans noticed right away that it was an alternative album, which is a major shift from Swift’s usual country/pop songs. 

folklore explores themes of isolation and individuality while reflecting on past relationships and experiences. What makes this album a stand out from previous Swift albums is that a portion of the songs are not written from Swift’s personal experiences. Taylor is notorious for writing songs about her life, which is what makes her music more intimate, but this time she wrote from the perspectives of others, including characters she made up. 

The announcement of folklore’s release was a surprise not only because of how out of the blue it seemed, but the particular date she chose to announce her newest album. July 23, 2020, was the ten year anniversary of the beloved boy band, One Direction. Many 1D fans anticipated a reunion or new music from the boys, but instead, former 1D member Harry Styles’ ex-girlfriend (aka Taylor Swift) decided to announce her surprise album drop. It could have been random, however, Harry had released his second studio album, Fine Line, on December 13, 2019, which is Taylor’s birthday. Fans have been speculating whether this was intentional or not, and if any songs on folklore could be about Styles, especially considering a few songs on the album are about her younger self’s relationships.  

Perhaps the most interesting element of folklore is the three song, three person love triangle. Taylor explained that she wrote three songs from the perspective of characters she created, not from her personal experience. 

Fans quickly decoded the songs and figured it out- ‘cardigan’ is from the perspective of Betty, ‘august’ is told from an unnamed girl’s side, and ‘betty’ is from Jame’s point of views. ‘betty’ tells the story of someone who regrets cheating on their partner, saying ‘it was just a summer fling’. ‘august’ is told by the girl who was James’ summer fling, ‘you were never mine’. And finally, ‘cardigan’ is from Betty’s perspective, the girl who was cheated on. 

Each song references the other, ‘she said James get in’- betty, ‘remember when I pulled up and said get in the car,’ – august. 

Taylor also tells the story of Rebecca Harkness in ‘the last great american dynasty,’ the woman who previously owned her Rhode Island home. Later on the album, ‘epiphany’ references Taylor’s grandfather’s war experience, while comparing that to the uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

One of folklore’s main criticisms was that the songs ‘all sounded the same’ and were too lowkey. However, I personally feel that this is one of Taylor’s best works. Rather than focusing on upbeat, catchy tunes, folklore is centered around storytelling, and overall the art of Taylor’s writing. It shows that Swift has grown up. Her overall growth, both as a singer-songwriter and as a woman is showcased throughout folklore

Many lyrics on folklore reference Taylor reflecting on her youth and past relationships. I personally love this aspect of the album, because as a sixteen year old girl, my current emotions and experiences with relationships are the exact ones she reminisces about throughout folklore. As a long time fan of Swifts, I’ve always enjoyed her music for the catchy songs and fun lyrics, but now that I’m older, the lyrics finally were something I could relate to at the same time the album was released. 

The themes discussed throughout folklore are overall universal experiences- dreaming of what could have been, reflecting on childhood memories, wishing for someone you can’t have, and trying fit in. The songs on folklore are more general than usual Swift songs, which usually describe very specific situations and relationships, but still describe something she went through. Almost every song on folklore does not use pronouns at all, which also makes it easier for listeners to relate the music to their lives. 

Since written in isolation, the album demonstrates what good can come out of the bad. This long-term isolation has caused self-realization and discovery for so many, a new version of ourselves that would never exist if it weren’t for the pandemic, and Taylor proves this with the release of folklore