T-Swift. The mega-pop star. Trendsetter. Influencer. Writer and singer of ‘ME!’. Nemesis of Kanye. Charter-topper. Queen of pop. And all the rest of the accolades and tags that you could award Taylor Swift. Now, if you were lazy, you could add cool indie kid to the mix. Only you’d be an idiot. folklore is much more than your average pop star desperate for credibility. Arguably this is the album that Swift has been making all along, just with the chart-baiting hooks and melodies (mostly) stripped away and replaced by haunting piano, electronic bleeps, and real instruments. At its heart, folklore isn’t really revolutionary, it’s Tayor Swift by the numbers, and that’s a bloody fine thing.
You’ll likely have read about the centre of the album, the triumvirate of ‘betty’, ‘cardigan’ and ‘august’, it’s a demonstration of the quality of Swift’s songwriting and her intelligence with a song. ‘betty’ in particular is pretty close to the return to her original country music sound that some of her fans have been dreaming of, while ‘cardigan’ is at the other end of the sonic spectrum, more cold and distant, like something you might hear from Lily & Madeline but with Swift’s trademark lyrical flourish, and a hook to die for.
Dig further and the duet with Bon Iver sounds like nothing you’ll have heard from the ‘Shake It Off’ singer before, yet feels totally at home in her oeuvre. It’s part of an incredibly strong opening third of folklore, with the bleeps, whirrs and electronic drums of ‘the last great american dynasty’ – coming off like Lorde’s ‘Royals’ – bouncing off of ‘cardigan’ and the louche opener, ‘the 1’, all winning melody and relatable lyrics.
What folklore really does is strips away the sheen, the glamour, the mainstream, the excess. That leaves you with the essence of Taylor Swift, her totally underrated voice – as unique and wonderful as any singer – and her genuinely incredible stories, which in time will see her as one of the greatest artists of all.
(Also, just as a footnote, this was written, recorded and released in secret, in three months. That’s astounding.)