After a surprise last minute announcement, Taylor Swift has released a new album, written and produced during lockdown. Folklore is her most indie record to date, a more successful, softer attempt at subverting her typically straight up pop sound than 2017’s Reputation whilst also moving away from the natural bubblegum sound of 2019’s Lover.
A low key, folk pop sound is easier to manage under isolation conditions than that of one of Swift’s typically highly collaborative releases. Much of the production on this LP comes from The National’s guitarist Aaron Dessner. The lead single ‘Cardigan’ has a piano line which is the doppelgänger of the one featured in The National’s 2019 single ‘Light Years’. I am okay with this. Dessner highlights the naturally beautiful and intimate qualities of this release’s stripped back writing.
Swift’s reflective, touching lyrical style has clearly been impacted by the pandemic, but ‘Mad Woman’, a song about the flack she gets online stood out to me as particularly strong. “It’s obvious that wanting me dead/ has really brought you two together.”
If you’re after sincere, sensitive twee folk with plenty of heart then Folklore is a pleasing LP. This is an oversubscribed genre though, and one that is being done in more engaging ways elsewhere. The most interesting thing about Folklore is the fact it is Taylor Swift doing it. But is it more compelling than Lucy Rose, Lucy Dacus or Phoebe Bridgers’ takes? No. These are artists who have dedicated their careers to this slightly more obscure pop craft. They do not have the world conquering appeal of Taylor Swift though, so there is merit in Swift performing this kind of music to her audience. She is good at it.
I don’t predict this will be a long term change of direction for Taylor, rather one created by lockdown conditions. Whilst 2019’s Lover was not nearly as consistent in quality as Folklore, the peaks were Swift at her very best, playing to her strengths. My perfect Taylor Swift LP would have the best qualities of both.
Folklore is out now on Republic.