From a critical perspective, Folklore has been an absolute master stroke. Taylor Swift’s eight studio album has received higher praise than any of her work beforehand, and validated her place as an artist with serious staying power.
The album is — for most of us — a surprise move. On the face of it, the record is relatively new ground for Swift; songs dripped in indie folk, complete with an appearance from one of the genre’s leading faces, Bon Iver, and an overall aesthetic that departs completely from her most recent albums.
It’s not just a solid piece of work, though, it also marks a much needed change-up for Swift as an artist. Her previous album, Lover, was by all accounts a commercial success, in fact by most measurements it was the biggest seller of 2019. Despite this, the same year saw the Grammys ‘snub’ the singer for the third time running; since winning Album of the Year for 1989 in 2016, Swift has received no nominations for the same award, nor won in any other of the award’s categories.
Swift’s disappointed at her lack of awards nods is shown in the intimate Netflix documentary Miss Americana, where the singer is shown receiving the news that her album Reputation has been missed out from the Grammy’s ‘big three’ categories — she’s clearly hurt, and concludes she must “make a better record”, though Lover didn’t get the job done either. This year is likely to be a different story.
Music videos are often the best representation of what an artist is going for in terms of their public image, and Swift’s latest is no different. In the video for Cardigan, the singer climbs into her piano before being transported into the middle of a lush jungle, where she proceeds to belt out her ballad in a manner that calls Katy Perry’s stupidly successful Roar video to mind (3 billion YouTube views and counting). Subsequently, the acoustic version of the song has got its own video, which is low budget with a notable amount of whimsy.
The fallout from this bombshell record — the albums was simply dropped out of thin air, as is becoming trendy to do — will likely be shown by a string of award wins, and even besides from being a departure from the expected, Folklore is more than deserving of praise. The songwriting is rich, with real intimacy and storytelling, the likes of which hasn’t been seen much in recent releases from an artist of this stature.
Musically, the album isn’t exactly challenging, but it doesn’t need to be either. Ironically — and arguably — the blockbuster, ear trembling instrumentals of recent Swift releases may be one of their biggest weaknesses, as even the best songwriting ability can be washed out by overproduction. Here, we have a simpler listening experience; these songs aren’t dance floor scream-alongs, but they’re interesting to fans and non-fans alike for their other qualities.
Overall, Folklore is a beautiful, enjoyable chapter in the career of an artist who is now truly succeeding in her portrayal of authenticity. It’s enjoyable as another piece of a puzzle that has captivated fans, the media and critics for years; it’s an intimate outpouring from a singer that really has something to tell you