Album Review: folklore (Taylor Swift)

August 04, 2020

Until now, it still feels like a dream... Taylor dropping a full studio album less than a year after Lover? Did TS8 really happen? ðŸ˜ē I truly believe this is one of the greatest things that happened during this pandemic. When everything has passed and humanity has finally beaten the virus, I want to look back to these times by listening to these songs, and all I want to remember is the comforting feeling these songs gave me during those trying times.

When Did Taylor Write The Album?
We knew Taylor was doing her duty of isolating herself (like what all people should be doing actually 😒) to minimize the spread of the virus. Like most people today, her plans for the summer got cancelled. Around this time, she should have been going around cities around the world as part of her Lover Tour. Well, since crowd gatherings are one of the primary activities that needed to be suspended (until further notice) because of this pandemic, our girl was just stuck at home (as far as we know). I suddenly remembered this conversation between her and her producer (Joel) that was shown in the Miss Americana documentary. She was talking about how she's still not ready to do those grown up stuff (like having kids) and the reality that she doesn't really have the luxury to figure things out in life as it happens because literally her life is planned, like two years ahead of time (because of all the concert tours etc). Well look at the world we live now. For sure she was able to do some contemplation and self-introspection during all those times at home.

Well I guess there's really no downtime for one Taylor Swift to chill and relax. Since she was young, songwriting has always been her way of coping with various situations in her life, and since she has all the time in the world, well guess what she chose to do -- write more songs and actually work with producers remotely to drop a 16-track studio album and do the announcement just 12 hours before it's worldwide release! Based on personal conversation threads that was released online, Aaron Dessner of the indie rock band The National, was approached by Taylor late April to collaborate on the album. And in just three months, the album was finished. ðŸĪŊ 

The process of releasing this album was just so unfashionable for her and this would surely go down Swift history. Fans know how much planning she puts in for an album release - all the marketing, easter eggs, promotions... heck there wasn't even a secret session held for this album! But I guess this strategy is working on her favor, as folklore is raking up streams and breaking Taylor's own records in various charts. Really, that's the power of Taylor Swift (she's been awarded the title Artist of the Decade, and for sure her reign still continues to the new decade). We all had hunches that Taylor might have started re-recording her earlier albums, but 'lo and behold- she was apparently busy creating a new one!

My Take on the Album Overall
Of course, in the same fashion that I reviewed reputation and Lover, I wanted to have an intimate "first listen" experience with this album. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to do this because of certain events (I got distracted by work meh). Since I can't really redo my "first listen" moment with the songs, I just chose to play it every single day so I could get more attached with the songs. And oh boy did the songs age well like wine for my listening pleasures. 💓

It's already established that Taylor is a great storyteller.Writing has always been her therapeutic process for coping with whatever that she's currently going through. And I guess this is her way of coping with these unprecedented times. This album is exactly the kind of music I would want to play while doing some solitude thinking at home. I imagine myself looking out at the window, looking at the trees while soft rain is falling in the afternoon. I would be sipping my warm cinnamon coffee while the folklore vinyl plays away. If you've been to the cozyplaces subreddit, those spots perfectly capture the atmosphere that I feel in this album. 

And so here's my track-by-track review, with my favorite lyrics from the song I edited into the promo photos of the album. I also added additional insights about the structure of the song in terms of what key it is in and the chord progression of the song (disclaimer: I am still a beginner and is still learning the fundamentals of music theory through this Coursera course).

01 the 1
Song Key: C
This first song already sets the overall mood of the album. I love the piano and those subtle layers (if that's the correct term). This is an instant favorite on just the first listen.

02 cardigan
Song key: E♭
Chord Progression: i - V - VI - iv (E♭ - B♭ - Cm - A)
I'm loving all those ambient sounds of this track, and I recommend listening to this via a pair of headphones. It's magical and dreamlike. The accompanying music video is as dazzling as the song. Because of the Peter Pan reference, I actually had to google the plot of the story, and ugh apparently it has a heartbreaking ending. 💔

03 the last great american dynasty
Song Key: G
I learned of another historical female figure through this song - a woman named Rebekah Harkness, the previous owner of the Rhode Island house that Taylor is currently in possession of. In reputation, Swift name-checked Elizabeth Taylor, a famous Hollywood actress, in the track "...Ready For It."

04 exile
Song Key: F♯
Based on the threads I have read on Reddit, most people liked this song and it's in their top 5. Some said the song even left them in the brink of tears. Hmmm I guess since I didn't have any experience with relationships, this one didn't really resonate with me. I did like the back-and-forth singing between Bon Iver and Taylor. Also, it's so random that there's this bird tweetering during the pause after Bon sings the first two lines of the first verse. Did you hear that too?

05 ​my tears ricochet
Song Key: C
This is one of Taylor's songs with her storytelling at its best. The lyrics are so visual. I actually pictured her persona in the Look What You Made Me Do music video, with all those jewelries. I could just make out a movie storyline for this song.

06 ​mirrorball
Song Key: D
I usually listen to the songs in the album in order, and I think at this point during my first few listening sessions, my mind was already wandering around (because the songs are just so relaxing). When I finally got to focus on listening to this song, I found myself connecting more to the song lyrics. "I can change everything about me to fit in." I often thought of myself as a Boggart (from the Harry Potter world), but with the opposite effect around people- I'll be the version of a person that you would like. I'll tell you what you want to hear. I'll be your echo chamber. I wear this kind of mask so that I won't cause trouble with the people around me. The truth is- I don't really like everyone.😆 I only take off that mask with a handful of people, and I could honestly say that I could show these people who I'm truly are, and they would accept me no matter what. It's not directly related to the message of the song, but I guess this is how it affected me.

07 seven
Song Key: E
Just like Exile, I didn't connect that much with this song. 😅 I also find the melody of this song a bit unnatural. I don't know why.

08 august
Song Key: F
This song is just so chill, I would want to listen to this song while driving down an unbeaten road with the windows rolled down and it's nearing sunset. It's been my dream to settle down abroad (NZ!) just so I could do long road trips with the mountains in the horizon. I want to be closer to Nature. I also wanted to experience a four-season climate. But if moving out is really not possible in this lifetime, can I be reborn as a Kiwi in the next one? 😅 

09 this is me trying
Song Key: A
This song stuck to me after watching the lyric video. There's something very melancholic about this song. I think I'll make this as the theme song (especially the chorus) of this thing I'm going through for ~4 years now. I don't know when this would be resolved... But I just wanted that person to know that hey I'm actually trying, okay?

10 illicit affairs
Song Key: B♭
This is my number one track for this album. I'm just so in love with it! The lyrics are just so powerful, and the message is made alive by Taylor's voice that is so full of emotions. 😭

11 invisible string
Song Key: D
I know the Japanese culture has this belief about soulmates and how two people's pinkies are connected by a single red thread. Taylor revisits this idea but in her version, it's a golden thread, which alludes to her previous songs on her symbolism about the color (for sure it holds a special meaning to her). I interpret those string patterns throughout the song as a nod to the Japanese culture because it kind of sounds like the Koto, a traditional instrument of that country.

12 mad woman
Song Key: E♭
"And there's nothing like a mad woman." I think Taylor goes back to the characters she created with previous songs such as Blank Space. It's also a symbol of how a part of the public sees her as such -- a very calculated crazy woman.

13 epiphany
Song Key: C♯
If mirrorball is the song where my mind starts wandering, this is the song that would finally lull me to sleep, melody-wise. I think this is Taylor's way of reaching out to the medical community with their enduring fight with the virus, overlapping with her interpretation of her grandfather's experiences in the world war.

14 betty
Song Key: C
This is another storytelling song, which Taylor herself has stated that is part of a "teenage love triangle", in the point of view of James, cheating with Betty with another girl. It's a nice narrative, and Taylor sure did a very unique way of being able to tell each person's side of the story.

15 peace
Song Key: F
I always loved how Taylor is very self-aware of her status as a pop star, and how this affects her relationships. I guess this is her ode to her lover... asking him if he's ready to accept the consequences of choosing to be with her. "But the rain is always gonna come if you're standin' with me."

16 hoax
Song Key: G♯
This is such a heavy song to close the album with. I hope Taylor truly is just projecting the emotions of a character she imagined in her mind. ðŸ˜Ē

This album very much reminded me Vanessa Carlton's Rabbits On The Run (please give it a listen too!). Vanessa even praised her on Twitter for the folklore album. 💓 Since playing it forever on loop since release day, here are the songs that really stuck with me:

My Top 5
1 illicit affairs
2 invisible string
3 my tears ricochet
4 the 1
5 cardigan

Well, I guess I'll continue holding onto these tracks, playing them in the morning as soon as I wake up, and at night lulling me to sleep. Thank you Taylor for another musical gift you gave to the world. 

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