Understanding a Musical Masterpiece: Folklore

Folklore; the musical masterpiece that single-handedly saved 2020

Maya Lyou

“Folklore,” Taylor Swift’s new indie-folk album, written and produced entirely over quarantine, was released July 24, less than 24 hours after the surprise eighth album announcement. Swift’s announcement was the first hint that this album would shy away from her well-known pop and country roots, and introduce a new indie, folk, alternative rock side of her music. 


The album “Folklore” is beautifully produced and proves once again Swift’s remarkable storytelling ability. Her lyricist expertise allowed her to create narratives within the songs that display a familiar aspect of her past romance focused songs. She constructs narratives in a way no other artist does- with intelligence and elegance. 


Swift has put out seven other albums, each different “eras” of her career, and none quite like the previous. “We are Never Getting Back Together,” Swift’s first pop song to hit the Billboard 100, was the song that set her up for her next pop romance songs that made their way to the top of the charts. 


Swift has been known for being an incredible lyricist since her first albums, in songs like “All Too Well,” she describes moments she remembers from a past relationship, using illustrative phrases and words to create an image in your head of these specific special moments. 


“It started with imagery. Visuals that popped into my mind and piqued my curiosity,” Swift explains in her letter announcing and describing Folklore. “… A cardigan that still bears the scent of loss twenty years later. Battleships sinking into the ocean down, down, down. The tree swing in the woods of my childhood…”


She describes how she visualized these stories and constructed the songs off of past memories and daydreams. Swift effortlessly writes using analogies, smilies, metaphors, and many other figures of speech to describe these tales of lovers. 


Jon Caramanica, a journalist who works for the New York Times, reviewed “Folklore,” wonderstruck by the intentional complexity and beauty of the album. 


“Autobiography has always been baked into Swift’s value proposition, both in the way she laded her songs with Easter eggs about her own life and in how her artistic rise was echoed in tabloid hysterics,” said Caramanica. “But in the “Folklore” liner notes, she emphasizes that the album spans multiple characters and points of view.”


Caramanica observed her storytelling ability, noticing how she deliberately made listeners focus and grasp the importance of the perspective of each character. The most popular and most comprehensible narrative in “Folklore” is what Swift referred to as The Teenage Love Triangle, a song for each point of view. Listeners have theorized and decided that these three songs are Cardigan, August, and Betty. 


Although perplexing at first, the intricacy of detail in each song and for each story is bewildering and brilliant all at once. Swift was deliberate with the music and stories she produced, creating a whole new Swift era unlike any other. 


“Folklore” is made of intelligence and beauty, Swift proving once again that the music she creates is truly magical.