It’s been a rocky few years for good old Taylor Swift. In 2014, she released the all-conquering 1989, a massive era for the star with hits such as Shake It Off, Blank Space and the brilliant Style. 1989 was an album of shimmering pop goodness, addictive, sugary confections that hit in all of the right places. It seemed like Swift was at the top of her game. Then after a few years of tabloid gossip headlines and the like, she released 2017’s reputation. There were a few good songs on the record, namely Delicate, still one of Swift’s best, but this was an album that failed to live up to the highs of its predecessor. It all felt very fake, and, more importantly, just not that good. Lover followed in 2019, and while a clear step up from reputation it was still a long stretch from 1989. I had honestly started to wonder whether Swift would ever top it. I shouldn’t have worried.
In July 2020, Swift announced and surprise released her eighth studio album, folklore. It was a shift from her previous few albums, eschewing their bubbly pop production in favour of arrangements more typically reminiscent of her country roots, with a more refined, indie edge. folklore is Swift’s classiest album, one that will immediately stand out in her discography for years to come as the step that really solidified her as a brilliant songwriter, just as Norman Fucking Rockwell did for Lana Del Rey in 2019. It’s not just the sounds that have been given a refresh on this album, but also the lyrical content. Famously an autobiographical songwriter, folklore sees Swift step out of her traditional haunting grounds and into storytelling – imagined tales that wrap their tendrils around you and lay themselves bare before you. seven feels like one of Swift’s most sparse songs, and one of her most affecting to date. That said, epiphany is the song that feels most arresting in 2020 and 2021. The whole album was crafted during the pandemic, but epiphany feels like the song that couldn’t have been written any other time. It’s aching, desperate, calling for some kind of calm in these most turbulent times. Swift draws parallels between soldiers in World War II and the doctors and nurses on the front lines of the fight against corona. Honestly, listening to it now, so far from my own family and home country, is a little much, so I tend not to, but I would strongly recommend giving it a listen.
That’s not to say that folklore is all dark and heavy. The cover is filled with light beaming through the trees, and the album as a whole feels much the same. Things never stay dark for too long, and there’s more than a few upbeat tunes on offer here to keep you on your toes. the last great american dynasty was one of my early favourites, and mirrorball with its sixties throwback vibe stands out from the other more acoustic sounding songs on offer here. I sometimes feel like the only downside to folklore is that there aren’t many tracks that stick out as essential by themselves. The world of folklore is a vibe, one that you have to sink into from start to finish to appreciate fully. evermore, Swift’s second surprise release of 2020 might have some higher highs than folklore, but it doesn’t stand quite as high as a complete body of work. folklore feels complete, well-rounded and varied, the album that we will likely look back on at the end of Swift’s career as her masterpiece.