It’s Monday again and today we’re talking about music, which isn’t something I often do on this blog, but it fits into the media/culture theme my Monday posts have going on and… well… Taylor Swift just released a new album! folklore was a surprise release on July 24th, announced just hours before its arrival. I always love Taylor, so I was obviously super excited to see her coming out with a softer, more muted album.
Much like my Lover First Impressions post, I’m going to be going through folklore, talking about my first (…fourth) impressions, and ending with a ranking!
So this is my fourth time listening to folklore so I had chance to get acquainted with the new songs, but as I know from looking back on my Lover post from almost a year ago, my early impressions change A LOT. So let’s see what my first impressions are, and sorry to whatever song that I rank super low that ends up one of my all time favourites!
- “the 1”
The first time I listened to this one, I laughed out loud at the first line. Taylor swearing just really tickles me. The beat in this song is great, but it really wasn’t what I was expecting from folklore. The line “In my defense I have none” is an iconic Taylor line. This is a pretty reflective song, musing on what-could-have-beens, almosts and maybes. Wondering if a past love could have been “the 1”. This perspective is pretty interesting for Taylor to explore now, in a long-term relationship. Initially, I was hearing “me” in the last chorus as “neat” to make it rhyme with “sweet” and I hated it, so I’m so glad that’s not the real line!
“But we were something don’t you think so?/ Roaring twenties tossing pennies in the pool”
The first single! This is actually going to be my first impression of the music video because I’ve not had chance to watch it yet. The opening scene is so homely, evoking much of the atmosphere of folklore. The second scene, when she first steps into the piano really represents the ethereal, whimsical, beautiful aspect of the album for me, and I was honestly taken aback at how gorgeous she is whenever the camera catches the blue of her eyes in this scene. The third scene in the ocean shows two things for me: the turbulence of the “Teen Love Triangle” that “cardigan” introduces, and also the importance of music and writing to Taylor. The piano is literally stopping her from drowning. The final scene brings us back to the home introduced in the first scene, and the cardigan itself — she never really went anywhere. This is a home album.
“I knew everything when I was young”
- “the last great american dynasty”
This is SUCH a clever song! The song centres around old owners of one of Taylor’s houses, heir to a large amount of oil shares, and his eventual widow. Rebekah, after her husband’s death becomes an outcast in Rhode Island and blows all her husband’s money on parties, dance, and Dali commissions. For some reason, I get really strong Daphne DuMaurier vibes from the story of Rebekah and Bill. Towards the end of the song, Taylor reveals she bought Holiday House (“And then it was bought by me”), which sent chills down the spine. The final chorus, where Taylor becomes the woman the song is about creates a gorgeous parallel between these two women of Holiday House.
“Who knows if I never showed up what could’ve been?/There goes the loudest woman this town has ever seen/I had a marvellous time ruining everything”
- “exile” ft. Bon Iver
I was really excited for a Bon Iver track! This song really evokes “The Last Time” ft. Gary Lightbody, from 2012’s RED. It also has a lyrical parallel to “If This Was a Movie” in the line “I think I’ve seen this film before”. My opinion of this one has changed pretty quickly in a few listens: I wasn’t a fan at first, but now I’ve listened to it properly I’m warming to it a lot. This is a song of two ex-lovers, seeing one another again and remisicing about their relationship. They both have pretty different opinions of what happens (“You never gave a warning sign/I gave so many signs”). “You were my town” also seems to call back to Lover‘s “False God” (“I’m New York City”) and “we always walked a very thin line” reminds me of the “fragile line” walked in “Haunted” (Speak Now).
“Cause you never gave a warning sign/I gave so many signs”
- “my tears ricochet”
Swift fans were quaking when they saw this title attached to track 5. Track 5 is traditionally, well, sad. (“Cold As You”, “White Horse”, “Dear John”, “All Too Well”, “All You Had To Do Was Stay”, “Delicate”, “The Archer”). True to form, this is a ballad-style song. This wasn’t quite the tear-jerker I expected, though. This is about the death of a relationship, but there’s a certain power and freedom about Taylor that keeps this song out of devastating territory a la “All Too Well”. “my tears ricochet” is about someone who cannot let Taylor go after she is supposedly dead to them. The break of the relationship might have killed Taylor, but it’s taking the other party with her.
“And you can aim for my heart, go for blood/But you would still miss me in my bones”
This is one of my lowest ranked on the album I think. There are a few lines that I like, and the overall sound of the song somehow perfectly fits the idea of the mirrorball, but I think the sound just isn’t quite for me. The start of the bridge really reminds me of another Taylor song, but I can’t place it, which is really bugging me! It’s the way she says “burned the disco down” that sparks some kind of memory in me. “try, try, try” also reminds me of “Stay Stay Stay” from RED.
“I’ll show you every version of yourself tonight”
This song has the sound I expected folklore to have. It’s really ethereal, reminiscing about a childhood friend. I really love the sound of “seven”. The bridge is incredible, the lyrical standout of the song. This song is possibly also partly where folklore‘s title comes from as it references folk songs.
“Please picture me in the weeds/Before I learned civility/I used to scream ferociously/Any time I wanted”
Here we return to the Teenage Love Triangle! While “cardigan” was told from the perspective of Betty, the girlfriend, “august” is from the perspective of the other girl: the summer fling. The speaker accepts the inevitability of the end of her fling with James, but clearly wishes it could have been something more. The Teenage Love Triangle songs are a really interesting concept that I’ve not really seen explored before. The closest is duets where you hear two perspectives, but Taylor offers each member their own song, and all are told from different periods of time. “august” as well is a great song in it’s own right.
“I can see us twisted in bedsheets/August sipped away like a bottle of wine”
- “this is me trying”
The opening of this song sounds like Taylor’s disapperance after the success of 1989. This idea is carried through the song, with lyrics reminiscent of reputation, but more reflective. This song feels really short (it’s 3:15, so it is fairly short), and I do kinda wish there was more to it! I love the verses, but the chorus feels lacking to me. To be honest, there’s not really a proper chorus which I think is why this one feels a little bit lacking.
“You’re a flashback in a film reel on the one screen in my town”
- “illicit affairs”
A recent staple on Taylor’s albums is some kind of song about clandestine affairs – “Getaway Car” (reputation), “Cruel Summer” (Lover), and continued here in an even more extreme form: even the narrator’s friends are unaware of the affair. This song is much slower, much more romantic even than perhaps the title would have you think. Despite it being illicit, there is a sense of real love for this person and the pain the secrecy causes. The lyrics are just so Taylor it almost hurts. This one didn’t stand out much to me the first time I heard it, but it is growing on me already.
“Don’t call me kid, don’t call me baby/Look at this idiotic fool you made me”
- “invisible string”
Taylor and her colours! Colours were somewhat missing from folklore up until this point. There are little references to Taylor’s past, both musical and person littered throughout the song that are fun to try to spot. For sure one of the most romantic songs on the album, and I love the audible plucking of strings in the background! Taylor has always been a romantic at heart I think, and I love to see this idea of fate and soulmates popping up again in her music
“Time, mystical time/Cutting me open then healing me fine”
- “mad woman”
OK so I’ve heard this one more than four times. This was the song that stood out to me the most when I first heard the album. It has a slightly darker tone than much of the album, and revisits themes present on both Lover and reputation and improves them. This has the same message as “The Man” in a sense. Perhaps the woman in this song is Rebekah? (Both are referred to as ‘mad’ and Taylor says “mad woman” is about a “misfit widow”). Perhaps, though, this song is also about Taylor and her feud with Scooter Braun and Scott Borchetta over her masters. This song calls back to the crazed persona Taylor has parodied throughout her career as well as drawing on feminist ideas and her own personal arguments.
“Every time you call me crazy I get more crazy/What about that?/And when you say I seem angry I get more angry/And there’s nothing like a mad woman”
“epiphany” is about Taylor’s grandfather according to the album prologue, and his experience in the army, landing at Guadalcanal. While this song has a gorgeous message, and creates parallels between PTSD incurred from war and the experiences of COVID-19 frontline healthcare workers, this somewhat misses the mark for me. The vocals are really interesting, but the rest of the music doesn’t really catch my attention. It almost feels like a lullaby.
“Holds your hand through plastic now/Doc I think she’s crashing out”
The final installment in the Teen Love Triangle songs, and here we finally get the perspective of the cheater themselves, James. This is the most country Taylor has sounded since Speak Now, and to be honest, parts of the music almost sound like it could be on her debut album. This song is also a little bit reminiscent of “Back to December” (Speak Now), with the narrator standing in front of an old flame and asking forgiveness. There are lyrics that directly parallel “august” when the girl James has the summer fling with pulls up in her car saying “James, get in, let’s drive”. It also parallels “cardigan”, with a reference to the cardigan itself and “I’m only seventeen, I don’t know anything” This teen love is so reminiscent of really early Taylor. A true nostalgia trip for long-time fans.
“If I just showed up at your party/Would you have me would you want me?”
This is very reminiscent of “The Archer” (Lover), asking if she can be enough for her lover to stay, expressing her self-doubts and her fears. Her genuine devotion to her lover is clear here, but she’s offering him a way out. “peace” is a warning to her lover of what she cannot offer. I was surprised that this wasn’t the final track on the album, because it feels like a closing song, as a return to something that seems to be more closely drawn from Taylor’s personal life as it is now that folklore notably, and unusually, deviates from. The insistent beep/pulse (idk what it’s called but it runs through the whole song) reinforces the message of the song. If not for that sound, the song would be a beautiful, relaxing ballad, but the insistency of the sound keeps you on edge, just as Taylor will always be on edge, never alone.
“I would die for you in secret”
Another very quiet, subdued track. Thematically, this reminds me in parts of “cardigan”, with Taylor singing about a turbulent relationship. Again, as well, we have a reference to scars which also appears in “cardigan”. I’m not sure how I feel about this as the closer for the album, but I guess the real closer is “the lakes”, which is currently still unreleased. The music in “hoax” is gorgeous, and the lyrics are quite stripped back, with verses of short lines replacing Taylor’s usual lyric-packed verses. While I really like the music on this, the lyrics don’t really stand out to me as much, and it feels like “peace” would have felt more fitting as a closing song.
“Stood on the cliff side screaming “give me a reason”/Your faithless love’s the only hoax I believe in”
“the last great american dynasty”
“my tears ricochet”
“this is me trying”