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‘folklore’ turns a ‘Cruel Summer’ into a ‘Fairytale’

| Friday, August 14, 2020

When I think of folklore, I think of mythology, fantasy and fairytales. I think of mythical creatures and stories passed down for generations — which could potentially be true in some respects. On her latest album “folklore,” Taylor Swift has captured these associations I have with the word very well, as she has taken on a mystical aesthetic and nymph, pixie-vibe. I can’t wait to see how this album ages.

“folklore” appeared like a magical creature out of hiding, too. Swift never seems to settle for the same exact formula when releasing an album, and this is the closest she has gotten to a straight drop with very little announcement or advertisement, giving Swifties less than 24 hours to register the fact that we were getting unexpected new music from her. 

Upon first listen, the songs seem to blend together for me but not exactly in a bad way. After the first few cycles through I was still getting certain songs confused and some elude me even now when I’m asked what my favorites are. But that’s the nature of Swift’s work this time around; she’s created something she loved and didn’t polish it up with the bubblegum pop beats or loud rhythms she harnessed after crossing over with her fourth album “Red.”

“the 1” kicks off Swift’s eighth album, like most of her previous ones, on a happier note. It also sets the tone for the album’s fictional quality, as Swift muses from an unknown perspective — potentially her own, although she denies personal connections to a lot of the songs — about what if’s and how, if things had be different, anyone could have ended up with anyone else.

“cardigan,” while the most popular, is not my favorite. Great storytelling and a spectacular, somewhat eerie combination of instruments make this ballad compelling for sure. The music video was beautiful, featuring only Swift and her piano, through which she climbs into various other worlds and scenes. The subtlety and somewhat stripped-back production of the video adds meaning to the song, as it’s a far cry from the giant productions of music videos Swift has cooked up in her more pop past — see “We Are Never Getting Back Together,” “I Knew You Were Trouble,” “Wildest Dreams,” “Look What You Made Me Do,” “ME!” and “You Need to Calm Down.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s still very theatrical, just subdued and more Swift-focused.

As a reporter and journalist, I am very invested in “the last great american dynasty” and am so impressed with Swift’s recounting of the epic backstory of her Rhode Island mansion, which has been the site of other highlights like her Fourth of July squad pool party back in 2016.

“exile” is slightly reminiscent of “The Last Time” on “Red.” “my tears ricochet” packs a punch, and many speculate that this one is about Swift’s battles with Scooter Braun and Scott Borchetta over ownership of her music. “mirrorball” definitely grew on me, and while I have my own theories on it, I’m saving space to mention other songs like “august,” “this is me trying,” “invisible string,” “mad woman,” “betty” and “epiphany.”

“august” and “betty” really sharpen the love triangle they form along with “cardigan.” “betty” comes from the boy’s perspective with a harmonica and honest, real lyrics that capture the thoughts that strike teenagers when they’re in love for the first time. “august” is dreamy and detached, just like Inez feels in between Betty and James.

“this is me trying” and “illicit affairs” tackle tough topics but do so with grace and elegant writing. As does “mad woman,” which builds off of “The Man” in a softer but just as serious manner.

Out of the last four tracks, “epiphany” rounds out the album best as another airy and dreamy ballad. The track feels very much like an anthem for COVID times and the workers on the front lines of this battle, functioning as both a lullaby and mourning song.

“the lakes” comes as a bonus track on the eight physical deluxe editions of the album and captures the vibe of the album very well, although I’m not sure I’m a big fan of the exclusivity of the track. I had to ask a couple different friends if they had a link to the MP4 version, which was passed along through text messages and Instagram DMs. From what I got out of my first listen and hearing others talk, the song seems beautiful in a sad way, 

For all we know, Swift has more tricks up her sleeve. I don’t doubt that she’ll deliver some more Easter egg hints if she makes more music videos for these songs, and I can’t help but wonder if she and Joe Alwyn are engaged or even married. All I know is that “folklore” is one really great thing that came out of 2020, and quarantine specifically.

Artist: Taylor Swift

Album: “folklore”

Label: Republic Records

Favorite tracks: “the 1,” “the last great american dynasty,” my tears ricochet,” “epiphany”

If you like: Lorde, The Head and the Heart, Coldplay, Snow Patrol

Shamrocks: 5 out of 5

Jackie Junco | The Observ
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