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August 2020

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TAYLOR SWIFT
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TAYLOR SWIFT

  • By RICH ANDREW

By writing in streams of consciousness under a haze of existential isolation, Taylor Swift conjures up her wildest dream yet. Her latest studio album is both a surprise and a revelation, going platinum, breaking streaming records, and dominating global Billboard charts on its first day alone. Folklore is a deep dive; it’s a good cry; it’s a masterclass in melancholy. And it’s the most insightful and complex Taylor Swift has ever been when expressing her thoughts on love.

Way back when she was just a country queen, she told us of high school crushes and the boy next door. The pop princess inside her belted anthem after anthem over bad breakups and bad blood. The rising rock star made a comeback and a clapback in defense of her reputation whether or not the haters were ready for it. Then the Americana mistress won our hearts back with upbeat ballads about great loves and even greater lovers. And now, with her latest album going full out indie folk, Taylor Swift has proven that she is more than just a pop singer — she’s a poet.

The first single to launch is Cardigan, a reflection of every bit of greatness this album sets out to deliver. Stripped of the superfluous pop production, this is signature Swift, just her and her piano, singing another signature love song about a girl who’s still in love with a boy who’s fallen out of it. But these lyrics have long moved beyond the adolescent hate for cheating lovers only to embrace the indelible scars that a young love forever leaves on us after we lose it. The music video, directed by Swift herself, finds her all alone in a cabin, a discarded old piano becoming the only form of escape from a similarly discarded heart. In the woods, she finds peace, but in the waters, she finds madness, both feelings raging inside her because of one bad romance. And so begins Swift’s storytelling motif where every track on the record works in tandem to dramatize a love that’s taken for granted and the raw emotions that result. Naturally, this manifests out of the first track written, the soulful My Tears Ricochet, the catalyst for a more mature narrative not generally felt in Swift’s earlier albums.

Cardigan reveals just one angle in her fictional love triangle, and Swift continues the cautionary tale with August, a guitar ballad sung entirely in the sweet spot of her vocals, lilting their way through breathy harmonies and catchy rhymes that will undoubtedly satisfy those fans still pining for their pop princess. August follows the other woman in this love triangle as she lingers in the complicated memories of her summer fling, knowing it had to end but grateful for the whirlwind fantasy that reminds us all what magic feels like. That sentiment finds a darker thread in Illicit Affairs, which harps on the emptiness that comes when the mercurial high of that infatuation becomes less and less intoxicating. And once that guilt becomes palpable, the guilt we know all too well when mucking up our own relationships, we lose ourselves in the track This is Me Trying, a ballad that is by far so haunting and so vulnerable that if its purity of lyrics don’t bring you to tears, then Swift’s ghostlike vocals certainly will.

The album’s tragic story comes to its climax with the song Betty, told by the boy now realizing the errors of his summer fling and the trials of true love. Despite hopeful guitar riffs and an endearing key change, the track can’t quite sugarcoat such a bittersweet confession from someone consumed by regret. And yet, Swift lands her last and deepest emotional cut with the crippling piano on Hoax and a chorus that bleeds with a love of the worst pain that only comes from the pain of the greatest love. Due credit must be given to indie gurus Aaron Dessner of The National, Jack Antonoff, and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, producers who crafted the album out of that indie folk sound to ensure that the songs feel authentic, Folklore finds its voice, and Taylor Swift earns every accolade.

 For all things “folklore,” click here.

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