The Rover Reviews Taylor Swift’s folklore
Nostalgia, literary escapism, existential musings, a desire to seek solace in nature—if any of these words resonate with your time spent in quarantine (or your state of being in general), you might enjoy Taylor Swift’s folklore.
Swift’s eighth studio album came as a complete surprise to the world (and her record company). Announced on Instagram just sixteen hours before its release, the album was written, recorded, and produced entirely “in isolation”—although it must be said that Swift collaborated remotely with multiple producers and co-writers (Jack Antonoff, Aaron Dessner, William Bowery, and Bon Iver). It is an album for quarantine, from quarantine, colored throughout by the isolation from which it was born.
The all-lower-cased folklore represents yet another genre jump for Swift. While the singer never fully embraced mainstream pop, at least a few songs on each album since Red are clearly designed for mass appeal and radio playability; think Red’s “22”, 1989’s “Shake It Off”, Reputation’s “Ready For It”, and Lover’s “Me!”. In contrast, folklore eschews such brash, upbeat songs entirely, and moves instead from one dreamy, wistful song to the next without a single flop. The album is an indie anthem, drawing on the talents and influences of icons of the genre like Dessner (The National) and Bon Iver. The change is a welcome one; Swift is freed from the fetters of pop, and her talents shine. The intricate yet simple stories she weaves in folklore, and the poetic lyrics she uses to do so, are undoubtedly some of the artist’s best work.
Taylor Swift gives us a key insight into the aptly named folklore in her introductory Instagram post: “In isolation my imagination has run wild and this album is the result, a collection of songs and stories that flowed like a stream of consciousness.” The writing was, she says, a “way of escaping into fantasy, history, and memory,” filled with “love, wonder, and whimsy.” At the heart of the album is a collection of stories, drawing not only on Swift’s own experience and imagination but also on various historical, literary, and contemporary references. Take, for example, “the last great american dynasty,” which playfully tells the story of Rebekah Harkness, a wealthy widow who owned the Rhode Island mansion “Holiday House” before Swift herself bought it. In “epiphany,” Swift weaves images from the beaches of World War II — passed on by her veteran grandfather — together with the experience of medical staff in a hospital ward. The comparison is all the more poignant given the terrible suffering faced by such medical staff during the coronavirus pandemic. The whole album is permeated with Romantic melancholy and nostalgia: for simpler times, for lost childhood, for long-dead relationships real and imagined. “Please picture me in the trees,” Swift sings in “seven,” and indeed the prevailing image of the album is that of Swift wandering, like Wordsworth, “lonely as a cloud” through the forest of stories she’s created.
The best song on the album is — unsurprisingly — the one which feels the most deeply personal: “peace.” It is the second-to-last song on the album and is undoubtedly a standout track. In true Swift style, “peace” tells a love story that is extraordinary in its utter ordinariness. Set against sparse production—a few guitar strums here, a piano note there—Swift’s lyrics are deeply vulnerable: “And you know that I’d swing with you for the fences / Sit with you in the trenches / Give you my wild, give you a child / Give you the silence that only comes when two people understand each other / Family that I chose, now I see your brother as my brother.” At the heart of the refrain, and the song, is a question: “Would it be enough if I could never give you peace?” Swift’s own life has certainly been far from peaceful over the course of the last ten years. But folklore feels like a haven of peace in the current chaos, and the album is a place of rest, where one can get lost in the depths of an introverted escapism. For an artist battered by the storms of a decade in the public eye — and for a world battered by a pandemic of yet-unseen proportions — maybe that’s the point.
Caroline O’Callaghan is a senior living in Badin Hall and studying Theology, Studio Art, and Irish Language. Her favorite hobbies include wandering through the woods and reading Walker Percy (although not at the same time: she’s run into one too many trees.) If you’re curious about the best state park in Indiana, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.