Words: Thomas Stichbury
Quarantine appears to have brought out the best in Taylor Swift as she produces, quite possibly, her finest work to date.
Bold claim? Absolutely, and of course, haters gonna hate.
Surprise album Folklore, which dropped on Friday (24 July) with less than 24-hours notice, forgoes stadium-sized pop for something quieter and richer that plumbs deeper depths upon every listen.
Going hand in hand with the artwork of Swift roaming around in the woods, the record finds the singer foraging in the world of folk, indie and electronica music, tapping up collaborations with Bon Iver, and The National’s Aaron Dessner, who produces alongside go-to Jack Antonoff.
A far more intimate, muted and sparse affair than 2019’s Lover, Swift’s latest offering shines a light on the different shades of her nuanced, diary-like song-writing.
Opener ‘The 1’ is a misty-eyed ode to the one who got away: “But we were something, don’t you think so?/Roaring twenties, tossing pennies in the pool/And if my wishes came true, it would’ve been you.”
We move seamlessly on to ‘Cardigan,’ inspired, it would seem, by boyfriend Joe Alwyn, buoyed by piano flurries and sweeping strings. “When I felt like I was an old cardigan under someone’s bed/You put me on and said I was your favourite,” she sings.
Trade the cardie for a jockstrap and we totally relate.
A more embittered trip down memory lane is navigated on ‘Exile,’ Swift’s melancholic duet with Bon Iver, aka Justin Vernon, about two ex-lovers seeing one another after a break-up: “I can see you staring, honey/Like he’s your understudy/Like you’d get your knuckles bloody.”
Meanwhile, haunting standout ‘My Tears Ricochet’ – complete with choral interludes – reflects on a tormented figure from the past. “If I’m dead to you, why are you at my wake,” she muses. “You had to kill me, but it killed you just the same.”
Explaining in her album notes that the “lines between fantasy and reality blur,” Swift also casts herself as a mistress in ‘Illicit Affairs,’ and in a subtler follow-up to last year’s ‘The Man,’ she cries on ‘Mad Woman’ that, yes, bitches be angry when you call them angry.
LGBTQ fans are already having a field day with ‘queer anthem’ ‘Betty’, which is arguably sprinkled with sapphic desire: “If you kiss me, will it be just like I dreamed it? Will it patch your broken wings? I’m only 17, I don’t know anything, but I know I miss you.”
And it has harmonica riffs. Consider us sold.
Not that we had any doubts, but Swift provides further proof that she is music’s most skilled storyteller.
Listen to Taylor Swift's 'Folklore' below: