‘Folklore’ displays Swift’s songwriting expertise

Taylor Swift performs at a moss-covered piano in the music video for “Cardigan” off of her new album “Folklore.” (Fair use from YouTube)

This summer was supposed to be packed with performances for Taylor Swift. However, Swift, like most, had to quickly cancel these big plans and instead spend her summer at home. During this time, Swift had a secret project in the works: her eighth studio album, “Folklore.”

On Friday, July 24, with just a day’s notice, Swift released “Folklore.” The album’s melancholy tone provides a refreshing change from her previous album’s pop sound while still employing her classic storytelling techniques to create perhaps her best lyrical album yet.   

One of Swift’s most intriguing artistic choices is tying three songs together, which all offer differing viewpoints on the same topic: infidelity. The first of these songs is the album’s lead single, “cardigan,” in which she sings from another woman’s viewpoint as she reflects on being cheated on. Swift beautifully captures the feeling of betrayal this character feels and creates a heart-wrenching song. “Cardigan,” as the second song on the album and the first song released, sets the tone for the rest of “Folklore.”  

The next in this trio is my favorite song on the album, “betty.” The song blends flawlessly with the tone of the entire album, but it is slightly more reminiscent of Swift’s country roots in its sound. It is sung from the perspective of a boy named James who regrets cheating on his girlfriend, Betty. Swift effectively takes the listener through the highs and lows of James’ and Betty’s relationship. Long time fans of Swift will likely find this song very similar to some of her earlier work, such as “Tim McGraw” from Swift’s self-titled album, or “Fifteen” from her album “Fearless” in its subject matter of teen romance. It is also similar to songs like “All Too Well” off of “Red” due to its emotional writing and powerful key changes. 

The third song, “august,” is told from the perspective of the man’s mistress and completes the musical love triangle. Swift’s lyrics and delivery encapsulate the feeling of nostalgia and loss felt by the man’s mistress as she looks back on their fleeting relationship. 

Outside of this trio, “Folklore,” has multiple other strong songs to offer. Swift collaborates with the band Bon Iver on “exile,” which is perhaps the saddest song on the album. The song explores two people’s emotions while going through a breakup. The voices of Swift and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver blend wonderfully to create a beautiful and heartbreaking song. 

Another song that I found to be a standout is “the last great american dynasty.” I would consider this to be one of Swift’s best-written songs to date. It is slightly more upbeat than the rest of the songs on the album while still cohesive with “Folklore” as a whole. The song tells the real-life story of Rebekah Harkness, the late heir to the Standard Oil fortune and the previous owner of Swift’s Rhode Island mansion. The lyrics include anecdotes of Harkness’ adventures in her Rhode Island home, one of Swift’s best examples of storytelling in music. As the song continues, Swift expertly draws parallels between her own life and Harkness’, creating a highly satisfying full-circle moment for the listener. 

“Folklore,” although starkly different from Swift’s most recent works, is appropriate in tone relative to the unprecedented times in which it was created. Swift is able to tap in to very raw and relatable feelings of sadness and isolation and express them clearly through her songwriting on “Folklore.”