Release Date: 24th July 2020
"From the moment this album was announced on Swift’s social media, fans got the feeling things were going to be different. Why? Because there was no promotion."
You may be forgiven for thinking that 2020 was already a write-off. We have already witnessed a global pandemic; international riots in response to police brutality in the US, and the plague of murder hornets that invaded Africa (remember that?). All this and it’s only July. Yet one woman thought differently. One woman recorded her eighth album entirely in secret, from home, without the benefits of a recording studio. Taylor Swift’s folklore is a massive departure from her other works, yet somehow feels so right, and so appropriate for July 2020.
From the moment this album was announced on Swift’s social media, fans got the feeling things were going to be different. Why? Because there was no promotion. One Tweet, literally hours before the album dropped, announced the release of the album. There was no fanfare, no rumours that something might be in the pipeline. It is a testament to Swift and her team that there were no leaks at all; this was a genuine surprise of the highest order. And yet, doing things this way meant that Swift was in control of the narrative. There was no speculation surrounding what the album might sound like; no comparisons to other works, and no expectations. Swift beat us all to the punch by letting her music do the talking.
The album has sixteen tracks, plus one bonus track only found on the CD/vinyl editions. The first thing that struck me as I eagerly downloaded the album from iTunes is just how many songs have explicit warnings by them; five! For context, the only other song I can remember Swift swearing in is ‘I Did Something Bad’ from the reputation album. While swearing in songs is nothing dramatic by today’s standards, seeing five songs with explicit warnings next to them gave me another indication that this listening experience was about to be something I’d never been through before.
No recording studio means no fancy editing, and no over the top special audio effects. The arrangements are so simple, yet so effective: it is easy to tell that this album has been produced in isolation. Piano and simple drum beats are the basis of this album; it’s almost acoustic, that’s how stripped back we’re talking. reputation was full of special effects and exciting beats, and Lover followed suit, though in a different style (remember the surprise guest appearance of Idris Elba at the beginning of ‘London Boy’? None of that here).
The first line of the very first song on the album, ‘the 1’, gives further credence to the notion that this album is different: "I’m doing good, I’m on some new shit / Saying yes instead of no." Long gone are the days of angsty teenage Swift recording album after album about her broken heart and how boys have done her wrong (though you could say those days were on their way out with the release of Lover, which continues to be the most emotionally positive Swift album I’ve ever heard).
In another dramatic shift from albums of days gone by, Swift tells other people’s stories in folklore. Perhaps the world’s most frequent criticism of Swift is that her music is repetitive and dull because every album used to be twelve to fifteen songs detailing break up after break up. folklore is the furthest thing from that. Track three, ‘the last great american dynasty’ details the life of Rebekah Harkness, who married an oil magnate, Bill Harkness, in 1947. The couple owned a house in Rhode Island that Swift bought in 2013. On Twitter, Swift wrote what looked like a letter to fans, in which she said:
“[folklore] started with imagery. Visuals that popped into my mind and piqued my curiosity…I found myself not only writing my own stories, but also writing about or from the perspective of people I’ve never met, people I’ve known, or those I wish I hadn’t.”
This album is for every Swiftie who has been crying out for a departure from the love songs. For the Swift we saw glimpses of in reputation and Lover, it is calm and collected, yet passionate and intense. There is only one artist in the world who could pull off country, pop, and now acoustic storytelling of the highest order. folklore is a lyrical and musical masterpiece and is sure to be one of the albums of the year. As US women’s football star Alex Morgan wrote on Twitter when she saw the promo Tweet Swift put out: “OMG the good news we didn’t know we needed.”
Take that, 2020.
Words by Jack Walker.
28th July 2020.