Review: Taylor Swift – folklore

Life’s too short to pretend Taylor Swift is (still!) a guilty pleasure for some people. Ever since I met her (metaphorically speaking, of course), probably 12 years ago, I used to think she’s just a harmless pop princess, the one that won’t go awry with bad habits, drugs and alcohol.

Little did I know, she would embark on a journey in the spotlight to try and defend herself in very gruelling situations, some of which no one could ever think of before the internet. Heavily scrutinized because of her dating life and her (supposed) inspiration from her relationships, I think she was always assumed to be the whiney, mean girl, always playing the victim and yelling “wolf” when things didn’t go her way.

I also realised she’s a crafty wordsmith, with interesting ideas in terms of artistic expression, so she moved from ‘unphased pleasure’ to ‘fun pleasure’, ‘quirky moments’, and, in later years, ‘pop icon’ status.

On 24th July 2020, Miss Taylor Alison Swift has released her 8th album, and oh boy… where do I start?!

Nothing like her previous albums, but effectively smelling, tasting and feeling exactly like Swift’s poetry, which in itself is a phenomenon in her field, folklore manages to gather around her lyrics the faint feeling of love you’re feeling in the pouring rain, when you’re walking barefoot in the forest, when you’re dreaming under the stars, and when you’re remembering things from centuries ago, without the added weight of anxiety and shame. Shameful to say, but I wouldn’t know what to do if I had Swift’s ability to write poetry in such a natural way.

Because we’re talking about Taylor Swift, the track list is an Easter Egg on its own. Starting with the 1, the album sets the tone for this new Swiftian era. the 1 is that story you wish you’d share with an ex love that you always thought it would be the one who got away. Starting from a more mature point, past her usual pettiness, Swift masterful word crafting gets her towards imagines of the ‘roaring 20s’ and penny tossing, reminiscing about someone who could’ve been fun for her. Given her current situation, I’d say this is just a revisit with nostalgia glasses, pondering what could’ve been if only one thing would be different. The song itself is a different beast from Taylor Swift’s catalogue, having some electronic accents, on top of a trickling piano and with minimal percussion. The whole song feels like summer afternoon in a small town, somewhere in the mountains, and I am so happy in a very calm way about it.

But we were something, don’t you think so?
Roaring twenties, tossing pennies in the pool
And if my wishes came true
It would’ve been you
In my defense, I have none
For never leaving well enough alone
But it would’ve been fun
If you would’ve been the one

Next song, cardigan, sees Swift putting on her folk/soft rock jacket on. This piano ballad is again filled with literary references, because Taylor Swift likes to poke fun at herself, and her army of dedicated fans. The song talks about young, innocent love, plagued by battle scars, lack of confidence and bitterness. cardigan is the lead single, and it does a good job in setting the expectations high for this new work of art. It’s also worth noting that this is part of the ‘young love trio’, along with august and betty.

And when I felt like I was an old cardigan under someone’s bed
You put me on and said I was your favourite
A friend to all is a friend to none
Chase two girls, lose the one
When you are young, they assume you know nothing

the last great american dynasty lets Swift borrow from urban legends on a pop track. Here we see Swift telling the story Rebekah Harkness, the woman previously owned Taylor Swift’s home in Rhode Island. Because this album is supposed to be a collection of stories, more or less based on reality, we witness Swift’s talent in full glory – building stories from nothing, and romanticizing them and making them work to her favour. Although not a favourite song of mine, the song has a certain appeal, especially because of the brazenness of the lyrics.

There goes the most shameless woman this town has ever seen
She had a marvellous time ruining everything

Bon Iver is a guest on the fourth track, exile, and I think there are very few people who can actually deny the greatness of this music dialogue. Adding Justin Vernon’s deep baritone next to Swift’s breathy vocals proves to be a very successful mix, and drawing comparisons to The Last Time, from Taylor Swift’s Red album. The song is imagined as a dialogue between two exes, but no one seems to be listening. Over the piano and the dramatic strings, the vocals manage to create to such a build-up, taking the song to a different plane.

All this time
I never learned to read your mind (Never learned to read my mind)
I couldn’t turn things around (You never turned things around)
‘Cause you never gave a warning sign (I gave so many signs)
So many signs
So many signs (You didn’t even see the signs)

As fan favourites go, the 5th track of a Taylor Swift album is usually the best song off the album. My personal favourite, my tears ricochet, is a hauntingly beautiful song mourning a past relationship. The POV of the story is that of a deceased lover, reflecting on the toxicity and tension. The funeral imagery of the lyrics, on top of the instrumentals, give the song the gravitas to carry the message home. And if it’s to be believed, this is a message to be delivered to Swift’s former record label. And even if it’s not, I can guess we can all rely on the lyrics in various situations.

We gather stones
Never knowing what they’ll mean
Some to throw
Some to make a diamond ring
You know I didn’t want to
Have to haunt you
But what a ghostly scene
You wear the same jewels
That I gave you
As you bury me

I didn’t have it in myself to go with grace
And so the battleships will sink beneath the waves
You had to kill me, but it killed you just the same
Cursing my name
Wishing I stayed
You turned into your worst fears
And you’re tossing out blame
Drunk on this pain
Crossing out the good years
And you’re cursing my name
Wishing I stayed
Look at how my tears ricochet

mirrorball talks about being a reflection of others, rather than being yourself, and damn, isn’t that sometimes the truth. This confession is scary and dangerous, as Swift’s music was oftentimes scrutinized by the media due to the personal nature of her lyrics, when all she wanted was to be relatable and to be able to give her fans honesty and a deep connection.

I want you to know
I’m a mirrorball
I’ll show you every version of yourself tonight
I’ll get you out on the floor
Shimmering beautiful
And when I break it’s in a million pieces

Reminiscing about a childhood friend, seven is the – you guessed it, 7th track. Packed with queer hints, the story unfolds about two friends who enjoyed their time together, but with one of them living in a possible abusive home, the dark tones of the song cannot be missed. Still revelling in the innocence of kids at 7 years old, when you’d dream you can go anywhere, seven captures that freedom of being who you are when you’re still young and not yet moulded into a useful member of the society.

And I’ve been meaning to tell you
I think your house is haunted
Your dad is always mad and that must be why
And I think you should come live with
Me and we can be pirates
Then you won’t have to cry
Or hide in the closet
And just like a folk song
Our love will be passed on

The eighth song had to have Swift poking fun again, because the track is called august. Tasting like summer, this pop rock ballad evokes young love again, with a hint of sadness. Singing about love you can never attain, and yet being so intertwined with feelings of belonging to someone who doesn’t belong to you. It’s Swift poetry, and Swift guitar, and Swift anguish, and it should be trademarked. Also, it’s part of the ‘young love trio’, with cardigan and betty.

‘Cause you were never mine
Never mine
Do you remember?
Remember when I pulled up
And said „Get in the car”
And then cancelled my plans
Just in case you’d call
Back when I was living for the hope of it all
For the hope of it all
„Meet me behind the mall”

this is me trying reveals even darker moments, talking about feeling alone when it becomes too difficult to cope with the insane standards you put for yourself, struggling with mental illness, alcoholism. Probably the most insane lyrics belong to this song – I was so ahead of the curve, the curve became a sphere.

They told me all of my cages were mental
So I got wasted like all my potential
And my words shoot to kill when I’m mad
I have a lot of regrets about that
I was so ahead of the curve, the curve became a sphere
Fell behind all my classmates and I ended up here
Pourin’ out my heart to a stranger
But I didn’t pour the whiskey

illicit affairs is another favourite of mine, its subject so simple, yet such a compelling study material. Finally we see Swift becoming more mature, more understanding to the prospect of a trio, not pointing blame on the third person anymore, but rather trying to be understanding and empathetic.

And that’s the thing about illicit affairs
And clandestine meetings
And stolen stares
They show their truth one single time
But they lie and they lie and they lie
…a million little times

In a very innocent switch to the more romantic side of things, invisible string is a verbal painting of Swift’s current relationship, and includes references to past life, songs and places. Built on an acoustic guitar, the song is a very childlike, candid glimpse of Swift’s current universe.

Time
Mystical time
Cutting me open, then healing me fine
Were there clues I didn’t see?
And isn’t it just so pretty to think
All along there was some
Invisible string
Tying you to me?

Sarcastic Taylor is at it again, with mad woman. Bringing back the torches and lighting them and going against the ones who come after her, Swift brings fire over the piano keys in the gentlest way possible. Aimed at her old record label, this song is her fight song against the people she feels wronged by.

Now I breathe flames each time I talk
My cannons all firing at your yacht
They say „move on”
But you know I won’t
And women like hunting witches, too
Doing your dirtiest work for you
It’s obvious that wanting me dead has really brought you two together

And because Taylor Swift isn’t here to sing only about old boyfriends, current boyfriends and her old label, epiphany exists. Paralleling World War II atrocities with the COVID-19 pandemic, her lyrics speak about the trauma of trying to fight on the front, be it invisible or not. Trying to explain how difficult it is to continue serving after fighting death day after day, epiphany sounds more like a hymn than anything.

Crawling up the beaches now

Sir, I think he’s bleedin’ out

And some things you just can’t speak about

Coming back to young love, betty is folksy track based on a harmonica, with a pretty upbeat rhythm, but continuing the cardigan-august story. Probably the least creative of the three, or maybe because of that, betty sounds like a song that Bruce Springsteen himself could sing, and I’m not sure that’s too bad.

You heard the rumours from Inez
You can’t believe a word she says
Most times, but this time it was true
The worst thing that I ever did
Was what I did to you

An ode to her current love, peace sees Swift confessing her vulnerability in front of her loved one, and her fear that sometimes her love is not enough. Despite her being such a high-profile celebrity, Swift manages to keep her love under wraps, and as normal as possible, but also worries about not being able to give her boyfriend the normality they both crave.

But I’m a fire and I’ll keep your brittle heart warm
If your cascade ocean wave blues come
All these people think love’s for show
But I would die for you in secret
The devil’s in the details
But you got a friend in me
Would it be enough
If I could never give you peace?

Easily forgotten, hoax tells the story of a toxic relationship, where the resolution is to keep whatever unhappiness you have rather than start anew. Not necessarily my preferred method, but hey. When I’ll write better music, I’ll let you know.

My only one
My kingdom come undone
My broken drum
You have beaten my heart

Don’t want no other shade of blue
But you
No other sadness in the world would do

Hackney

Words have a different meaning now,

Since I changed latitudes and longitudes.

Things I used to read a different way,

Now they all sound like home,

And they taste like happy to me.

It was long before I got here, and maybe it took me some time,

But now I’m here.

And here we are, both in the same space, time and universe,

Enjoying the words that connect all that we were,

We are

And we will be.

It’s like saints and sinners in the same purgatory,

Except that this purgatory is filled with happiness and smiles,

And we’re all so grateful to be here together.

We all have hope in us, for us,

For the whole wide world that’s been so treacherous.

And at the end of the day, we’re in all this together,

And we’re on the same page of the same story,

On the same side of the history.

I’m part of you, you’re part of me.

There’s no place where I want to be.

Selfish

Selfish is easy, easier than you might even think,

Smoking and drinking, aimlessly, carelessly,

And it always makes you think you’re on a brink

Of losing your head, your normalcy.

Repeat of repeats, binge living and watching,

Like being stuck on a carousel of feelings,

Where people keep on taking in the brainwashing.

We’re all just poor, trashy, weaklings.

Swings

There’s nothing more you love than dreaming wide awake,

It’s like a whole galaxy hides in your eyes,

And whenever you blink a new one gets born.

The fire in you is warm and peaceful,

Like your arms are home, and your heart is not deceitful,

And you taste like coffee in the evening,

And smell like love in the morning,

And isn’t that exquisite?

As if you’ve planted your courage in me and gave me wings,

And now everything tastes like summer and feels like swings.

Easy Swipe

How are words easy, the soul’s uneasy,

With touches so cheesy,

Swipes of left and right so breezy,

Tell me is it worth it

To set everything on fire,

Like a hit man for hire,

Slashing my tire,

Making me tired,

Making me feel like everything I desired

Was uninspired.

How are your words so uneasy,

My soul is easy,

And now everything is breezy

Again.

Michael

For all the times when my body wasn’t mine,
Please remember
I was just a vessel,
A pathway to something better.
I had room to grow,
I was still this cookie dough
That legends talk about.
All I could do was
Resist and pout.
Now I’m not better,
And I’m not worse either.
I’m the same vessel,
With a little more stuff in me.
I still have room to grow,
And will probably do so
Until there’s no more room left.
Then this vessel won’t be as deft,
And things will spill,
And that’ll no longer be a skill.
Spillage becomes louder,
Spillage becomes death.
Spillage becomes chowder,
That’s when I’ll lose my breath.