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July 29, 2020

“folklore” Review: Taylor Swift’s Quarantine Storybook

(Header image via YouTube.)

On July 24, Taylor Swift released her 8th studio album folklore. The release came as a surprise to fans, critics, and even her label, being announced just 16 hours before it came out. Swift also surprised listeners with a completely new sound, trading the catchy pop songs of recent albums like Lover and 1989 for a more alternative folk vibe. The stripped-back sound allows for Swift’s songwriting abilities to stand out as she interweaves stories that blend reality and fiction. Already breaking streaming and sales records, folklore is sure to be a popular album among Gen Z for a while.

Imagination running wild

On Instagram Swift labeled her album as the result of her imagination running wild, creating a “collection of songs and stories that flowed like a stream of consciousness.” 

In the post she also breaks down the multiple examples of imagery and characters that she created in her mind to craft the stories. She says:

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.

An exiled man, a bitter ex-lover at a funeral, each side of a teenage love triangle, Swift’s own grandfather, and 20th century debutante Rebekah Harkness are all examples of the personas Swift embodied as she wrote each song. Known for teasing fans with easter egg hints in her music, her decision to write the album this way is fresh but on-brand, inviting listeners to spend weeks creating theories about the songs.

A Taylor Swift for the current way of life

I guess you never know, never know

And if you wanted me you really should’ve shown

And if you never bleed, you’re never gonna grow

And it’s alright now

This is the pre-chorus from “the 1,” the album’s opening track. The song itself begins with the line “I’m doing good, I’m on some new sh*t,” and though we’d replace the expletive, on first listen it seems Swift is exploring a new side (or sides) of herself in folklore. But the more you listen, the more it seems that this album is no different from the seven prior albums she’s released. Swift’s popular themes of toxic or failed romantic relationships and the lessons learned from them are still ever-present here, and even though they may be written from different perspectives, the songs are still ultimately by Swift, with bits and pieces of her personal life interspersed throughout. Some instances of problematic themes from folklore include:

And I can see us twisted in bedsheets

August slipped away like a bottle of wine

‘Cause you were never mine (“august”)


I’m a mirrorball

I can change everything about me to fit in

You are not like the regulars

The masquerade revelers

Drunk as they watch my shattered edges glisten (“mirrorball”)


Filled the pool with champagne and swam with the big names

And blew through the money on the boys and the ballet (“the last great american dynasty)


Swift sings about unhealthy relationships, vulnerability and brokenness, and irresponsible behavior. At this point in her career, retrospect on poor decisions sounds less like sober reflection and more like she just misses the mistakes. While it’s certainly important to make mistakes and learn from them, it’s also good to remember (and remind your teens) that things like self-discipline and responsibility can allow us to avoid the negative repercussions of more serious mistakes like affairs, recklessness, and binge-drinking that Swift has made commonplace in her songs.

Many are considering folklore to be Swift’s best album yet. Aaron Dessner, guitar player for rock band The National and primary producer of folklore, connected and collaborated entirely over the phone with Swift to create the album. Teens may find excitement in something new from one of the most influential artists of their time. The album’s folk aesthetic also evokes the romanticized “escape to the woods” mentality made popular by other pop culture staples like John Krakauer’s book Into the Wild or the 2007 album For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver (another collaborator on folklore), which likely resonates with fans as people stay inside and the fall season approaches.

How can I talk to my teen about this?

With music videos, alternate and unheard songs, and eight different ways to physically purchase the album so far, folklore is set to be an album that produces a marketing powerhouse and remains on pop culture’s radar for a while. Even though the idea of a big surprise album can sound exciting and new, it’s still a way for Taylor Swift to push her prominence in the music industry and make money while things like touring are still not an option. Though it’s a musically new and exciting direction for Swift, there is still questionable content about lavish living, romantic dependency, emotional turmoil, and affairs. Take time to listen to the album, then use these questions to have a conversation about it with your teen.

  • Have you listened to folklore? What do you like or not like about it?
  • Do any particular characters or stories from the album stick out to you? Why?
  • What do you think about Taylor Swift choosing to write from other perspectives besides her own, blending fiction and reality? Do you think this hinders or showcases her authenticity as an artist?
  • Does the fact that she released the album as a last-minute surprise make it more exciting to you? Why or why not?
  • Are there any other particular stories or things you’ve learned about while in quarantine? What is it about old stories and reminiscing that interests you?
  • In what ways does music connect with you most? What do you hope to gain when you listen to music?

Did any of these questions spark conversation in your home? We’d love to hear about your experience. Let us know in the comments!

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