When Taylor Swift announced the release of her unexpected eighth album Folklore, I let go of a breath I had been inadvertently holding in for much of the year.
Released a mere 11 months after her last album, Lover Swifties were given just 17 hours to prepare for the impending arrival of album number eight.
Like most, Swift has wrestled with the struggles and challenges presented by a global pandemic: “Most of the things I had planned this summer didn’t end up happening,” she says. But instead of falling into a black hole of paralysis because of the lack of control and certainty caused by the pandemic, she embraced it: “But there is something I hadn’t planned on that DID happen. And that thing is my eighth studio album, Folklore.
The result is a triumph in the face of adversity.
Largely produced and written by The National’s Aaron Dessner, the 16 track record results in Swift embracing the indie-folk genre. Having already conquered the genres of country and pop, this most recent evolution is Swift’s most unexpected and successful to date.
Folklore covers the familiar Swift ground with its reckoning of break-ups, rejection, and heartache. In fact, Swift has been ruthlessly parodied for it in the past. But what sets Folklore apart is its exploration of these themes against the backdrop of quarantine and the feelings of loneliness and isolation amplified by it. Traversing these same themes and experiences, also as a 30-year-old, I felt heard and seen through Swift’s catalog of songs.
Beginning with ‘The 1’, Swift relives a lost lover from her twenties: “It’s another day waking up alone,” Swift acknowledges while grasping for validation and asking “But we were something, don’t you think so?” She is uncharacteristically solemn, searching for the answers within herself instead of the man who caused her such pain.
In ‘Exile’, Swift reaches her peak. Although the vocal collaboration with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon is unexpected, the result is a triumph. They sing as former lovers, trying to understand how their relationship fell apart. They are exhausted at finding themselves at the doorstep of heartbreak once again. “I’ve seen this film before, you are not homeland anymore,” Swift and Vernon sing, their voices cracking with emotion.
With ‘Epiphany’, Swift ups the ante even further with her risk-taking. Featuring strings, a piano, and vocals, Swift simply and powerfully builds up to a crescendo that gives way to a long French horn. In the lyrics, she compares the experience of war and trauma alongside the trauma suffered by healthcare workers during the COVID-19 crisis.
The remaining tracks also play their part. In ‘August’ and ‘Mirrorball’, Swift harks back to her pop self. In ‘Betty’ and Invisible String,’ she teases us with her country roots.
Folklore reminds us that we are not alone in our grief. Perhaps quarantine is the perfect opportunity to immerse in the grief, to run towards it instead of away from it, to process and hopefully move on from it. And in the case of Swift, to come out on the other end more self-assured than she has ever been.