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Taylor Swift – folklore

August 12, 2020

This is a delightful and surprising release. This is the first significant release of quarantine pop. Hopefully, this is the tip of the iceberg.

TSwift shrewdly reached out to Aaron Dessner of The National to collaborate. Per Dessner in April:

I got a text and it said, “Hey it’s Taylor. Would you ever be up for writing songs with me?” I said, “Wow. Of course.” It was a product of this time. Everything we had planned got cancelled. Everything she had planned got cancelled. It was a time when the ideas in the back of your head came to the front. That’s how it started.

From Pitchfork

I was not a fan of the National until their 2019 album I Am East To Find. I love the dreamy atmospheric music of that album. It is like chamber music merged with folk. Dessner’s aesthetic adapts well to Taylor’s distinctive vocal style and lyrics. Although Bon Iver was only a minor participant on the album, his presence is strong.

My first few listens I heard the collaborators, but upon each subsequent listen TSwift’s presence dominates. Around the tenth time through it was obvious that this was TSwift’s vision – she just found some new colors to paint with.

This is adult music and teenage lyrics (in a good way) or as one reviewer said: bildungsroman obsession. This a brilliant pivot for a pop star – hook up with an indie rock cult hero and make some magic. This is not a gimmick or desperate posturing by Taylor to “take me seriously.” Instead, it is the right move at the right time. Without bombastic big arrangements, I really hear Taylor. Turns out she was hiding in plain sight for a guy like me. I now realize what a great storyteller she is and like all great rock and pop stars, an actor.

I don’t have a lot of context for TSwift. Since she came on the scene in 2006 and elevated to superstardom I pretty much ignored her. To regular readers of this blog, you should know by now that I am partial to female recording artists. So I don’t think my lack of interest in TSwift was sexist, I just assumed I was way out of her target demographic as an old man. At some point, my wife and adult daughter saw her live and raved that it was a great show. They have seen a lot of shows and so I took their word on it. I figured fine, she is a great performer, but still, this is not for me.

Then one of my rock heroes, Ryan Adams, covered her 1989 album. He was not being ironic – he genuinely loved it. I liked his take and so I gave Taylor’s 1989 a serious listen and I liked it too. I finally realized she was more than a typical pop star – there was some meat here and she was a real songwriter. Then came Taylor’s Reputation stadium tour. I was not that interested, but my wife insisted we go. Boy am I glad she pushed that. TSwift is phenomenal live and she is one of a handful of artists that can make a stadium small. I now officially got it. Then came Lover – my first experience meeting TSwift artistry in real-time. It is a very solid album.

But folklore is my first TSwift obsession. I think it is a combination:

  • Of quarantine
  • My finally getting TSwift as an artist
  • The fact she is performing in a style that is closer to my aesthetic
  • That it feels like her Joni Blue
  • But most of all because it is just plain great!

What I have learned (duh!) is she is a great songwriter. In hindsight that was obvious in Ryan Adams’ cover of 1989. I guess I just needed a quieter and more familiar setting to figure that out.

I can’t imagine the pressure cooker it is to be a star of Swift’s caliber. But as a true star, she appears to savor the heat and is emboldened to follow her North Star. She has taken a weird tangent and it works perfectly. I have read and listened to some TSwift experts and it appears this is not such a weird tangent – there are plenty of songs in her catalog foreshadowing this sound. I wouldn’t know (I will trust the experts on this) and I assume my typical reader is just as ignorant as I am. In summary, this is a great album and don’t let any preconceived notions of Taylor Swift hold you back. Give this a listen!

P.S. If you find yourself as obsessed with folklore as I am, check out these podcasts and reviews that dig into folklore:

  • Switched On Pop folklore: taylor swift’s quarantine dream
  • Popcast (New York Times): Taylor Swift’s ‘Folklore’: Let’s Discuss
  • Popcast (New York Times): Answering Your Questions About Taylor Swift’s ‘Folklore’
  • Pitchfork 8.0 review
  • New York Times review



From → Music Reviews

  1. It’s a very good record I think – there’s some pretty good mature songwriting on her previous records too, like Lover on the last album, but it’s more obvious here with the different production style. I ignored her for a while but came on board after Red and 1989 – she’s a very good songwriter and she’s kept it up for eight albums now.

    I would submit Charli XCX’s How I’m Feeling Now as the first significant quarantine album. Came out a few months back and has also gotten great reviews. You might not find it as accessible though – way more synthetic and poppy.

    • I will check out the Charli XCX – thanks!

      • There’s a pretty interesting story behind Swift’s 2012 album Red, too. The original tracks are some of her best ever – she hits this weird stadium-rock/country aesthetic on some of it. But her record company freaked out a bit and made her add stuff like ’22’ and ‘We Are Never Getting Back Together’.

        Have you heard Katie Pruitt’s album Expectations? I’d assume that would be way more up your street than Charli XCX – kind of in the Americana space.

      • Not aware of Katie Pruitt. Will check it out.

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