Everyone has coped with quarantine differently. Some of us have thrown ourselves into school and work or binge-watched Netflix for hours on end. Others have aimed to perfect that banana bread or sourdough recipe. But if you’re Taylor Swift, you’ve been busy making an album — a surprising, spellbinding record unlike anything you’ve ever written before.
Just 11 months ago, Swift released the dreamy, pastel-tinted “Lover” which, true to its name, celebrated love in every shape and form. Before that was “reputation,” a darker composition loaded with songs of revenge, recklessness and of course, reputation itself. Her newest work, “folklore,” blends conflicts of romance and heartbreak, lightness and darkness, hope for the future and resentment for the past. Yet it is completely different: While Swift’s two aforementioned albums are definitively autobiographical — “Lover” describes her experiences falling in love, from the magical to the mortifying and everything in between, and “reputation” details her rise above rumors and judgements as she paved her own artistic path under the watchful gaze of the public eye — “folklore” still holds an anecdote … but perhaps it isn’t her own.
Swift states that the album is one of “storytelling,” a product of her use of imagination in isolation. “folklore” appears to be made up of multiple different storylines rather than one uniform narrative. There’s a trio of songs Swift refers to as the “Teenage Love Triangle” — “betty,” “cardigan” and “illicit affairs,” each from the perspective of an individual, yet all entangled in the same romance. There’s also “seven,” which spins a tale of childhood friendship and loss of innocence, while “august” and “the one” reminisce on infatuations that never quite resulted in happily ever afters. Although a variety of novellas are being told, there’s a universal quality to all of them: Maybe a listener hasn’t experienced everything Swift sings about (or at least not in the same way), but regardless the pathos stirred is so palpable and relatable. They’re comparable to diary entries set to music, a testament to Swift’s talent as a songwriter.
While half a year of social distancing has surely brought about rough edges, there are also countless valuable lessons it’s taught us. “folklore” encapsulates one paramount takeaway: Quietness doesn’t always equate to emptiness. A hallmark of the album (and the time period it was created in) is its contemplativeness and introspection. Separation can oftentimes elicit feelings of loneliness, but it carries more positive emotions of nostalgia, thoughtfulness, wonder and comfort, too. It supplies ample time to think, to reflect. All of these motifs are present in “folklore,” echoing through every note and embodying the peace to be found in solace.
words_samara smukler illustration_abby pak