“I’m doing good, I’m on some new shit…”
Buckle in, this is gonna be a long one…
Last Thursday, July 23rd, at around 2pm, Taylor Swift uploaded nine pictures to her instagram account which resulted, less than a day later, in her surprise new album being released worldwide. With no promotion, lead single, or even a hint that she was writing, Folklore was released solely to streaming platforms and links to pre-order various versions of it on vinyl and cd started popping up left right and centre.
This is the first Taylor album since 2010’s ‘Speak Now’ that I’ve not gotten a physical copy on release and been able to pour over the lyric book, hunting for (her classic trait of planting) ‘easter eggs’ throughout, however, with it being a ‘midnight USA’ release, it meant that the UK streaming platforms wouldn’t get it until 5am – so a 5am alarm was set.
Folklore is a sixteen track dream featuring a collaboration with Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver), on the hauntingly beautiful track ‘exile.’ Eleven of the tracks were co-written and produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner, and others with close work pal of Taylor’s – Jack Antonoff.
The first track Antonoff is credited on is the infamous ‘track 5.’ It’s a running theme throughout Swift albums that track 5 is an emotional rollercoaster song – see All Too Well, Dear John and White Horse for example. ‘my tears ricochet’ is Folklore’s offering to carry on the tradition and it absolutley fits the bill. I could quote lyrics til the cows come home, but a stand out every time – from the first listen – is ‘and if I’m dead to you why are you at the wake?‘ So far, there are many fan theories that this track is in reference to the drama with her ex-label and manager stealing the masters of her previous albums, but that’s one of the countless things I love about Taylor’s storytelling albility in her music – it could be about ANYTHING – her specific way of writing, ‘take what you need from it’ type lyrics.
Speaking of fan theories and story telling… in the last few days, there have been ideas floating around that the whole album is actually telling one big story. In the hours around the release, Swift was reponding to comments on Youtube about the album, and told one fan that three of the tracks were in fact three different views of a fictional love triangle. These three tracks – ‘cardigan’ (Betty’s perspective), ‘betty’ (James’ perspective) and ‘august’ (Inez’s perspective) tell the story of James cheating on Betty with Inez, realising his mistake, and trying to get back to Betty. Whilst another track on the album, ‘illicit affairs’ seems like it would fit straight into the story too. Fictional right?
WELL… ‘Betty’ seems to actually be about real life dynasty, Rebekah Harkness – who also went by the name Betty, and just so happened to live in Taylor’s Rhode Island mansion before her. The love triangle story that Swift writes about in Folklore could very well be fictional however, ‘the last great american dynasty’ could also be about Rebekah/Betty, as it’s said that she’d throw wild parties and made the usually tranquil spot, not quite so tranquil whilst there – “I had a marvellous time, ruining everything”. In true Taylor style though – it’s also connected to her life. Lyrics such as “their parties were tasteful, if a little loud” could have two refereneces, and I’m OBSESSED if this is what it means; so the first one, like Rebekah, is Taylor’s infamous fourth of July parties where she invites all her friends and it’s an instagram dreeeeam. The second being in reference to the line she says in her documentary, Miss Americana. When talking about sexism and learning not to be apologetic for having her own views and opinions, she says “Why did I say sorry? We’re like… ‘Sorry, was I loud… in my own house that I bought with the songs that I wrote… about my own life?” As soon as I heard that lyric, it’s exactly what I thought about, and it might not be what the song in it’s entirety is about – but that one wee reference makes it even more brilliant.
So on the story-telling front; it turns out that Folklore could pretty much be a whole folk story about the history behind the last owner of Taylor’s Rhode Island home.
[Also – small tiny side note, James & Inez are the names of Blake Lively (Taylor’s bestie) & Ryan Reynold’s first two children. They had a third and didn’t reveal the name… turns out, it could be Betty.]
I could write essays and essays about my favourite lyrics from Folklore but I’m absolutley obsessed with Taylor referencing her own lyrics in ‘invisible string’ – “bad was the blood of the song in the cab on your first trip to LA” which is obviously about Bad Blood from 2017’s Reputation album.
In ‘peace’ fans picked up on a subtle hint of shade at the longrunning, on going disagreement with Kxnye Wxst/Kxm Kxrdashian. Stylistically, the Folklore font is all in lower case, from the track titles to the lyrics in the lyric videos… until you get to a particular line in ‘peace.’ “robbers to the east, clowns to the West” – with the W capitalised like it’s referencing a name. I’m sorry, but… YAS Taylor!
In less than a week, Folklore has broken records, topped the charts, and pretty much saved 2020. My favourite bit of album promo has been the cardigans that Taylor’s been sending out to her famous friends (who’ve then been in turn, posting about them on their social media accounts) – the likes of Kelsea Ballerini, Kesha, Nina Nesbitt, Fletcher and many more have taken to their screens to shout about how much they love the album, whilst wearing the infamous cardigan from the music video… of course we’ve ordered one from the merch store – I’m not missing that hype train!
In its first 24 hours, Folklore hit over 1.3 million sales (the 13 reference, is not lost on me), the top 16 in the US Charts were in fact, the 16 tracks of the album, and it also broke the record for the most streams for an album by a female artist in the first 24 hours – with over 80 million streams. That’s some extreeeme numbers for an album that noone (not even her label apparently) knew was coming until less than 24 hours before. It’s well on track to be UK number 1 album this week, which would secure Taylor her fifth in a row.
Full of nostalgia and wistfulness, the album is definitely less ‘pop’ than the previous three, with more hints of 2012’s Red (which is a clear fan favourite) than anything else. The production is more minimal than we’re used to with Taylor albums, and listening to it instantly makes you want to take yourself to a dreamy little cabin in the woods with some massive blankets, some candles, and watch the rain pour outside.
I’ve spent the last 5 days trying my hardest to pick a favourite overall track, but the album comes as a package as a whole. ‘august,’ ‘mirrorball,’ ‘illicit affairs,’ ‘exile,’ ‘peace,’ and ‘invisible string’ are the current favourites tied at my number one spot. From the relatable lyrics and the feeling that she’s actually read your diary before writing any of the tracks, to the ‘easter egg hunt’ and the inability to turn it off, there’s plenty of classic ‘Taylor Swift album’ features (someone just crown her the queen of writing bridges already… screaming the bridges from ‘august’ and ‘illicit affairs’ in the car has become my new favourite hobby), but this alternative indie folk dreaminess has well and truely proved that Swift can do anything that takes her fancy. Guess she finally got round to dealing with that ‘indie record that’s much cooler than mine’ line…
‘No other sadness in the world would do…’