A standout work from one of America’s greatest living songwriters
Jessie Atkinson
10:31 24th July 2020

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Cut through the noise: what do you really think about Taylor Swift. Superstar? Drama queen? Victim? Hero? On her eighth studio album, Taylor is all and none of these things. Across the hour of indie folk lullabies on folklore, she is whatever she wants to be: an artist at her most profound. If you were letting all of the crap stand in the way of seeing the truth, maybe now you’ll admit it: Taylor Swift is one of America’s greatest living songwriters.
 
It’s less than a year since bubblegum fan-pleaser Lover hit. A month after she was supposed to be headlining Glastonbury. Four months into the most transformative world event since 1939. Like all of us right now, Taylor is preoccupied with time. She gave her fans an uncharacteristic seventeen hours warning ahead of the release of folklore. “August slipped away into a moment in time” she sings on an eponymous central track that sums up the feel of lockdown impeccably. 
 
But it's not only her own experiences that Taylor tells on folklore. As the title suggests, it’s a quilt of ideas and narratives. “It started with imagery” she pens in the record’s accompanying sleeve notes. “Pretty soon these images in my head grew faces or names and became characters,” she writes, going on to sketch out some of the people who came to her in the madness of quarantine. The notes are a just nice-to-have, however. The characters Taylor write come across loud and clear in each and every one of these beautiful tracks.
 
On inspired Bon Iver collaboration ‘exile’, Taylor and Justin Vernon tell the story of an estranged pair in the first pangs of realisation: the relationship isn’t working. On the titillatingly-titled ‘illicit affairs’, she narrates something far sweeter sounding: a lover questioning the worth of secret trysts. In her first ever “fuck”-inclusive song ‘mad woman’, Taylor is telling the story of a Salem ‘witch’; Jane Eyre’s Bertha; herself. On 'betty', she presents a touching teenage love story.
 
Taylor’s lyrics have always been exceptional, but her truest genius reveals itself in her melody writing. Few people can so consistently serve their musings on the sparkling platter of irresistible pop composition - again and again and again. Standout ‘the 1’ is one example among sixteen: her knack for writing vocal patterns that hook you irresistibly in is unrivalled. It’s there across the board on folklore, though ‘cardigan’, ’this is me trying' and ‘betty’ are three particularly knockout examples of a poet who can set her musings to the hookiest melodies going. Can you resist the singalong? Be real: you’ve never been able to.
 
In this record - in large part a remote collaboration between Taylor and The National’s Aaron Dessner - Taylor is contemplative, authorial, clear and simply exceptional. The writing she so easily turned from country to stadium pop now holds its own on supple, starry-eyed indie folk. folklore shows it better than anything since 1989...but the truth is that Taylor Swift has always been this good. 

folklore is out now.

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