Taylor Swift is an artist who relishes the build-up to an album release.
The easter-eggs, the secret sessions and the knowing teasing –when fans were convinced her fifth album would be a black and white themed album called Roses, Swift made an appearance in a black and white rose patterned dress – it's become as much a part of a Taylor Swift era as the record itself.
So imagine the surprise when Swift broke her relative silence during what fans believed to be mid-way through the Lover era to announce Folklore, a 16-track album with a woodsy, black and white aesthetic, toting collaborations with indie heavyweights Bon Iver and Aaron Dessner of The National.
On Folklore, Swift is weaving a tapestry made up of stories that aren't her own, layering hear-every-breath vocals, dulcet synths and mellow strings to explore stories about a vengeful widow, a lovestruck teenager, her own grandfather "landing at Guadalcanal in 1942." This isn't the first time Swift has drawn on others' experiences, however this is the first time her own stories and those of others have been so closely tangled.
Having something of a reputation for autumn-adjacent releases (up until Lover every record of hers was released in October or November), Folklore sees a return-to-form after the pastel hued summery aesthetic of her last era. We're back to cosy knits and golden leaves, this time without visceral, personal heartbreak. Instead of 'The Scarf' from Red's "All Too Well", we have Swift comparing herself to someone's favourite cardigan: "when I felt like I was an old cardigan under someone's bed / you put me on and said, 'I was your favourite'." Swift reaching into her lower registers and smiling as she sings, making it an altogether less fraught affair.
Despite the centre-stage given to lyricisms and songwriting on this album, it would be reductive to call this a return to her roots – even when she was embracing full-on bombastic pop a-la Reputation ther high-calibre songwriting was still there. It always has been, with Swift trading on stories and quick turns of phrase even on her now infamous red-herring singles. On Folklore this runs deeper, the tracks acting as glaciers winding downhill ever slowly, ice giving way to crevasses full of acute observations and adult realities, the detailed, specific songwriting she perfected in her country-days revisited through the wiser eyes of an assured 30-year-old. It feels like a continuation of her more recent deep cuts (“New Year's Day”, “It's Nice To Have A Friend”) which saw her start to drift into the sphere that Folklore wholly exists in. Without the desire for a huge lead single, the unobtrusive instrumentation across the entire album gives the lyrics space to breathe instead of being crammed into succinct pop hooks, placing her storytelling in the spotlight once again.
Swift enjoys the huge discography that precedes this album, revisiting all the best facets and improving upon previous concepts. On "the 1" we get a glimpse of witty and unlucky-in-love Swift – “it would've been fun / if you would've been the one" – whilst "mad woman" sees her commenting on how women and their anger are so often treated, this time over a tense piano riff and orchestral swells to much greater effect than on Lover's somewhat trite "The Man". “betty” is the most obvious throwback to the love-story narratives of her earlier country albums, culminating in a show of affection and a fairytale ending, harmonica and key change included. However, perhaps most sentimental is "invisible string", a meandering breath of relief which takes stock of a romantic past whilst firmly closing that door: "isn't it just so pretty to think / all along there was some invisible string tying you to me?" It's classic Swift, romantic in all the ways we've come to love throughout her career, vignettes of personal moments adding up to reveal the overarching theme, made sweeter because this time it’s a fairytale with a real happy ending you suspect is all hers.
In an interview with Mark Sutherland for The Telegraph in 2015, Swift hoped that: "if I ever find some sort of meaningful relationship, I’ll be able to still find inspiration, just through the everyday ups and downs." Folklore is proof that she can, she can, she can – and beyond just writing about her own love story. This is an album of Swift at her most knowing, pushing away the tabloid fodder that has often surrounded her artistry and magnifying the talent she's been honing her entire life. The melodies are full of warmth and round-edges, moving and twinkling on her whim as she indulges in one of the most most human and timeless pastimes we have.