Swift’s folklore: Bop or Flop?


You may love her or hate her, but no one can deny that Taylor Swift is one of the most talked about artists of our time. She’s been named “Artist of the Decade” at the  American Music Awards and has broken countless records, including becoming the first female musician to have seven of her albums debut at number one. With the surprise release of her eighth studio album, “folklore,” you can add one more reason for people to talk about Taylor Swift. 

Released on July 23, “folklore” is an indie-folk experiment that is a stark contrast to her previous country and pop endeavors. Swift collaborated with Ohio native Aaron Dessner of The National on the majority of the album, along with Jack Antonoff, who has been a co-writer on her last three albums.

With “folklore,” Swift proves once again that she can do just about anything when it comes to music as she seamlessly weaves between genres. Swift has always had a chameleon-like ability to blend into any category she chooses. Perhaps that’s a notion she explores on “mirrorball” about midway through the album: “I want you to know / I’m a mirrorball / I can change everything about me to fit in.” 

She reflects on how hard it is to please critics, fans and the general public as she tries to navigate what she wants to write about and share with the world while also trying to remain relevant before the world gets bored with her. “I’m still on that trapeze / I’m still trying everything to keep you looking at me,” she sings on the 80s-influenced track.

However, this latest genre switch-up is a risk even for Swift, especially since she has done it more than once. In the past, country fans weren’t so pleased to hear the lead single of “1989,” “Shake It Off,” blasting through car radios and bars across the U.S. Yet, the switch to pop wasn’t so surprising. There were undertones of anthem-like pop on Fearless track “You Belong With Me” and synth-EDM influence on “I Knew You Were Trouble” from the album Red.  Even today, some people say that they miss the “old Taylor.”

Yet, for the fans who have stuck around, one thing with Taylor Swift has always been consistent — and that is her beautiful talent to tell stories. With “folklore,” Swift extends beyond already-high expectations and really shows what she is capable of. 

She steps into the shoes of different characters: the other woman in “illicit affairs,” a dead person being grieved at their funeral in “my tears ricochet,” two people who are going through a breakup as she duets with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver on “exile.” Three tracks in particular surround a high school love triangle on “cardigan,” “august” and “betty.” 

“folklore” not only gives the listener hauntingly beautiful tracks but also showcases that the “old Taylor” never left. She is still able to paint an image that plays out like a movie scene in our minds with poetic and carefully crafted lyrics. With nearly all songs done acoustically with piano and guitar, listening to “folklore” feels personal, like sitting by a campfire swapping stories with old, familiar friends.

On “seven”, Swift croons “And just like a folk song / Our love will be passed on,” cleverly playing on the fact that we will be discussing and passing down the stories she tells us on her eighth album. “folklore” reads like a Hemingway novel, slow but well worth the time and unforgettable overall. There are certainly no skips on Swift’s latest masterpiece.


Taylor Swift has definitely cemented her place as one of the leading pop artists for our generation. I’ve always been fascinated with her career. From the early years of country-pop love songs that soundtracked my middle school dances to the moodier “1989” that seemed to exude this “country gal moving to the big city” energy that I envied, and finally the album “Lover” which seemed to marry the two worlds seamlessly.   ​

When “folklore” was announced, I was excited to see what she was going to do next. Would she build on the dream-pop sounds of “Lover?” Or would she flex her songwriting abilities and take her music in a whole different direction?  

Unfortunately, I got a dud. “folklore” is a one-trick pony. While the haunting, low-key aesthetic of the album fits with the mood of quarantine and is sweet on the ears, it sounds as if Taylor Swift and her collaborators decided to rewrite the same song 16 times. 

​That’s not to say that Swift’s vocal performances aren’t heartfelt or that the songs aren’t well written in any musical or lyrical sense when listened to on their own. It’s just that the love-sick balladry gets old after the first few tracks and that the production doesn’t do much to help that repetitiveness.

Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner, the producers of the album, really dropped the ball on this project. The entire album has one gear, the “over-produced, cloudy dreamscape vibe,” and it feels like the monotone drone of a shy public speaker.

Not to say that some songs do that “one trick” better than others. “cardigan” is a genuinely sweet song with a smooth instrumental that carries the powerful imagery of your favorite old cardigan that becomes a part of you. Swift’s voice seems to fight to stay just above the waves of piano chords and counter-melody as the understated drums move the song forward. All the small elements of the song come together to make a beautiful soundscape.  

“betty” was also a high point on the record for me. Swift’s voice pops out of the mix and the childish lyrics are playful. The strings, guitar and synths combine with Swift’s powerful voice to pull your ears through the song.

On the other hand, there are some terrible misses on the tracklist. Take “this is me trying” for example. The vocals are drowned in this reverb effect that does no service to Swift’s voice and covers for the fact that song is the musical equivalent of wallpaper. “epiphany” is another song that falls into a similar trap but the vocals are a bit more palatable.

I can appreciate that “moody” was what they were going for, but expecting one emotion to carry the entire 1 hour and 3 minutes run time was a miscalculation. I felt that “Lover” was bloated and has a few songs that could have been cut, but with “folklore” Swift would have been fine with stopping at the fifth track and releasing a small EP or something along those lines.

Overall, it’s forgettable, repetitive and dull, but some of the songs have touching lyrics.