Taylor Swift’s eighth studio album – announced with less than 24 hours notice – is a distinct departure from what we’ve come to expect from Swift and is easily Swift’s most mature, developed album to date. With ‘Folklore’, we get closer to hearing the ‘old’ Taylor Swift, Country-inspired sound than we have in a long time. But ‘Folklore’ is so much more than just a nostalgia trip back to the days of ‘Red’ and ‘Speak Now’, instead, it is the result of a nearly-fifteen year evolution that’s taken her from being a little-known country singer to a global phenomenon.
The lyrical content on ‘Folklore’ is far and away Taylor’s best to date. While her lyrics are occasionally simplistic (“If my wishes came true / It would’ve been you) or cliched (“I think I’ve seen this film before / And I didn’t like the ending”), for the most part, they are deep, inspired and original. When Swift sings of “faithless love” in final track ‘hoax’, she sings with more feeling and agony than she does, not just at any other point in this album, but at any other point in any of her songs. Meanwhile, the way she weaves small, peculiar details into concise lyrics (“In a feud with her neighbour / She stole his dog and dyed it key lime green”) is masterful and is reminiscent of the lyrical content from Phoebe Bridger’s spectacular sophomore album ‘Punisher’.
Taylor Swift has long had to deal with people doubting and criticising her writing ability – and each time her critics have been proven wrong; after her first two albums, the role she played in writing her own songs was dismissed, so she wrote ‘Speak Now’ entirely by herself, and now – after some dismissed her lyrical abilities after ‘ME!’ (which contained the lyric: “spelling is fun”) – she has released her most lyrically deep album to date. What sets ‘Folklore’ apart is it’s mysterious lyrics that contain multiple layers of depth and are very much open for interpretation. One example of this comes from the song ‘seven’: “I hit my peak at seven”. This lyric could perhaps refer to the unbounded confidence we have as children, but it could also refer to how Swift feels about her seventh album ‘Lover’.
While Swift is known for exploring her own heartbreak and heartache, ‘Folklore’ is at it’s best when Swift capitalises on her newfound political identity to combine her own experiences with a wider societal narrative. This is best seen in ‘mad woman’, where Swift seems to condemn the way society casts out supposedly “mad women”, but not the people who made them that way (“No one likes a mad woman / You made her like that”, “And you’ll poke that bear ‘til her claws come out”). In the song she also seems to condemn women who put down other women (“women like hunting witches too”).
Ultimately, ‘Folklore’ is both Swift’s most interesting and cohesive album to date. Even if this cohesiveness occasionally borders on repetitiveness, ‘Folklore’ is still an incredibly enjoyable listen and is unarguably Swift’s most mature album to date; showcasing the progression of a long career in the music industry. While Swift sings on this album’s sixth track: “I’m still a believer, but I don’t know why”, she has proven to us on this album why so many people still believe in her and her musical ability.