*The thoughts, views, and opinions in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts, views, and opinions of the When in Manila community as a whole.
Taylor Swift’s new album folklore had numerous positive reviews from different music critics around the world. The surprise drop indeed brought some “surprise” to new and old fans, as the singer experimented with a genre that’s new to her music. The album diverted the attention away from her country-turned-pop persona, which has been the subject of criticism for the singer for a long time.
I’m not a music critic in any way, and I understand that everyone has different music tastes and that alone is subjective. Instead, I’m speaking from the perspective of someone who’s loved Taylor Swift and her music for as long as she can remember.
(ALSO READ: OMG: Taylor Swift is Dropping A Surprise New Album!)
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Most of the things I had planned this summer didn’t end up happening, but there is something I hadn’t planned on that DID happen. And that thing is my 8th studio album, folklore. Surprise ?Tonight at midnight I’ll be releasing my entire brand new album of songs I’ve poured all of my whims, dreams, fears, and musings into. I wrote and recorded this music in isolation but got to collaborate with some musical heroes of mine; @aarondessner (who has co-written or produced 11 of the 16 songs), @boniver (who co-wrote and was kind enough to sing on one with me), William Bowery (who co-wrote two with me) and @jackantonoff (who is basically musical family at this point). Engineered by Laura Sisk and Jon Low, mixed by Serban Ghenea & Jon Low. The album photos were shot by the amazing @bethgarrabrant. Before this year I probably would’ve overthought when to release this music at the ‘perfect’ time, but the times we’re living in keep reminding me that nothing is guaranteed. My gut is telling me that if you make something you love, you should just put it out into the world. That’s the side of uncertainty I can get on board with. Love you guys so much ♥️
If you backtrack to at least Swift’s past four albums, the lead single has always been the radio-friendly song with the catchy hook. One iconic example of this would probably be Look What You Made Me Do, the lead single from her sixth album, reputation. Another song that fits into this category would be (what many consider) her first dip to the pop world, We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together from the album Red.
What I personally noticed from the release of folklore is that her transition to the more indie sound helped highlight the singer’s lyrical brilliance. With stripped-down acoustics and no catchy lead single to hype up the album’s release, folklore was welcomed as one whole project, ready for fans and critics to delve into right away.
Many called this album a departure from her previous sound and works, and some may even say that this is the singer’s best work yet. I think part of why many thought so is because of how she wrote songs about different stories, and not from personal experiences. Just as written in the album’s preface, this album was made in isolation, and these songs and stories were results of her wild imagination.
However, this kind of songwriting existed in Swift’s projects since her debut (and even her unreleased music). The storytelling that many highlighted in her latest project has always been present in her previous works. The singer has always been great at telling stories that weren’t ripped from the pages of her own diary.
It is no doubt that Swift’s transition from country to pop brought in mixed emotions from her fans, hence why you may hear some people go, “I miss the old Taylor.” With the release of folklore, the singer puts behind the pop sound she transitioned to in her past four albums. From the album name itself, it was obvious that she was diving into a new genre.
I’m lifting this line from Variety’s Chris Willman’s review of the album. He wrote, “At least this one won’t require an album-length Ryan Adams remake to convince anyone that there’s songwriting there.” Here, Williams is referencing to how Adams did an acoustic cover of the entire 1989 album, to which then some people finally acknowledged the brilliance of the album’s songwriting after it was stripped free of its synth-pop production.
I think my point here is that the lyrics in folklore are highly comparable to lyrics from 1989, an album that cemented Taylor as a pop singer (or to any of her past albums for that matter). If you take away the singles with catchy hooks from her pop albums, you’ll be left with songs that have the same lyrical brilliance that has always existed in the singer’s works.
Lyrics like “I’ve been picking up the pieces of the mess that you made” from her song All You Had to Do Was Stay (1989) have the same emotional depth like the lyric, “Look at this godforsaken mess that you made me” on illicit affairs (folklore).
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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. Picking up a pen was my way of escaping into fantasy, history, and memory. I’ve told these stories to the best of my ability with all the love, wonder, and whimsy they deserve. Now it’s up to you to pass them down. folklore is out now. ?: Beth Garrabrant
The obvious difference between these two is that the former was sung in the background of synth-pop tunes, while the latter had a stripped back acoustic guitar to accompany it.
Moreover, this lyricism’s already been present in Swift’s debut album. In the song Cold As You, she sings, “You come away with a great little story of a mess of a dreamer with the nerve to adore you,” invoking that same, raw lyrical emotion that she’s established and branded herself.
The same goes for the storytelling present in folklore‘s third track, The Last Great American Dynasty. This song tells the story of Rebekah Harkness, the woman who used to live in now Taylor’s Rhode Island mansion. Looking back to the album Red, Swift draws the same kind of inspiration from a black and white picture of Ethel and Bobby Kennedy in the song Starlight.
She also does this kind of storytelling in her song, The Lucky One, which is a song rumored to be about Joni Mitchell and Kim Wilde. Here, Swift talks about how a certain star had “everything,” only to disappear from the public to enjoy their life more. The song then tells the story of how Swift now understands why the star did so because she now lives that same life.
This is highly similar to The Last Great American Dynasty, where she talks about how Rebekah was called “the maddest woman” the town has ever seen while she lived in the Rhode Island mansion, only for Swift to buy the said mansion and later be called “the loudest woman” the town has ever seen.
It’s also important to give a nod to the internalized misogyny that pop music is accompanied with. Pop music has always been deemed as a “guilty pleasure” because of the way its fans primarily consisted of teenage girls (which is a whole other discussion itself).
The questionable welcome of Taylor’s pop sound in music has now taken a turn to a positive welcome into her entry in indie. But as a Taylor Swift fan for more than 10 years now, this isn’t necessarily a “new Taylor” that I see, like music critics paint it out to be. Instead, this has always been the Taylor I knew and loved when I was in 6th grade, singing “Teardrops on My Guitar” and “Love Story.”
It’s just that this time, her stories have matured with time, like we all do.
What’s your favorite song off ‘folklore’? Let us know!
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