The Magic of Storytelling – A Folklore Review

The Magic of Storytelling – A Folklore Review



Taylor is back at it again. A short 11 months after the drop of her seventh studio album, Lover, Taylor Swift has released her eighth studio album, a surprise drop titled folklore. Written over quarantine, the 16 track album was released on July 24, with a less than 24 hour notice to her audience of its existence. The album, which is being classified as alternative/indie, is the first of the genre that Taylor has released, further showing off her incredible musical range, as well as showcasing some of the best storytelling of her career. 

Folklore covers many different topics in the writing, so in order to review the album most effectively I will be grouping the songs into their respective topics. The first group I call the “Lake Poets,” and the songs in this group are “seven,” “invisible string,” and “the lakes” (bonus track). The second group is the “Teenage Love Triangle” which includes “cardigan,” “august,” “betty,” and as I will argue “illicit affairs.” The third group is the “Reputation” group which consists of “my tears ricochet,” “mirrorball,” “mad woman,” “the last great american dynasty,” “this is me trying,” and “peace.” The fourth and final group is the “Miscellaneous” group which has “the 1,” “exile (feat. Bon Iver),” “epiphany,” and “hoax.”

To start I will be talking about the “Lake Poets” songs. To preface this section, the Lake District in England was a very popular place for poets to settle in the early 1800s, most notably are poets Lord Byron and William Wordsworth. Songs “the lakes” and “invisible string” both mention the Lake District, “take me to the lakes where all the poets went to die” (“the lakes”) and “bold was the waitress on our three-year trip getting lunch down by the Lakes” (“invisible string”). Both of these songs are love songs, but they do it in very different ways. “The lakes” is a song about escaping the pressure of modern day, “I’m not cut out for all these cynical clones/These hunters with cell phones,” but doing so with the person that you love, “I’m setting off but not without my muse.” On the contrary, “invisible string” is about growing together with the one you love, “Isn’t it just so pretty to think/All along there was some invisible string/Tying you to me,” and on it she reminisces on her previous loves, and thanks them for leading her to her current love, “Cold was the steel of my axe to grind for the boys that broke my heart/Now I send their babies presents.” The final song in the “lake poets” section, “seven,” fits into this section, not because it mentions the lakes, but because it is likely inspired by lake poet, William Wordsworth’s poem “We Are Seven.” In the poem, Wordsworth talks about seven dead children, and in Taylor’s “seven,” she talks about a haunted house, “I’ve been meaning to tell you I think your house is haunted.” While Taylor’s “seven” is likely inspired by her own childhood in addition to the poem, you can see why people connect it to the poem. In all of the “lake poet” songs Taylor utilizes strong vocabulary and imagery, reminiscent of the poets that she is paying homage to, which she does beautifully.

The second grouping of songs, my favorite grouping, is the “Teenage Love Triangle.” The “Teenage Love Triangle” songs tell the love story of three characters, James, Betty, and another unnamed girl, and the love triangle between them. “Cardigan,” which is the first song of the love triangle is from Betty’s point of view when she is older and reminiscing on her relationship. You can see how her relationship with James likely fell apart due to cheating, “chase two girls, lose the one,” and you can see how she has been affected by this, even as she’s grown up, “I knew you’d haunt all of my what ifs” and “I knew I’d curse you for the longest time.” The second song in the love triangle is “august” which is from an unnamed girl’s point of view as she is reflecting on their relationship. This “august” girl has a relationship with James, either during or right after their relationship with Betty, and you see her falling very hard for someone who doesn’t feel the same, “You weren’t mine to lose.” “August” is beautifully written, and while keeping an upbeat tempo delivers a heartbreaking story. The third, and final clear song of the love triangle is “betty” which is from James’s point of view when they are in the situation, and still a teenager, which is a choice I can only assume Taylor did to accentuate how immature James is. “Betty” is James’s apology for their relationship with the “august” girl, “The only thing I wanna do, is make it up to you,” and it draws many comparisons to other songs in the love triangle: “I was walking home on broken cobblestones/Just thinking of you/When she pulled up like/A figment of my worst intentions” (betty), “High heels on cobblestone” (cardigan), and “Remember when I pulled up/And said ‘get in the car’” (august). These three songs create an incredibly well written love triangle, and all of the analysis and connections you can make with these songs really showcase how phenomenal Taylor’s songwriting is. The fourth song that I like to consider a part of the love triangle, is “illicit affairs,” my personal favorite from the album. “Illicit affairs” is the story of sneaking around with someone, but through the song you watch the adrenaline and excitement of the relationship deteriorate, “That’s the thing about illicit affairs/And clandestine meetings/And stolen stares/They show their truth one single time/But they lie, and they lie, and they lie/A million little times.” The writing on this song is absolutely breathtaking, and the bridge tells such a compelling story that is both heartbreaking and stunning. The parallels between this song and the story told in “august” are a little too similar for me to ignore, so that is why personally I think this song falls into the teenage love triangle. 

The next grouping of songs is the “reputation” group. These songs are called this not because I think they fit on her album Reputation, but because they deal with the subject of her reputation. The first song in this section is “my tears ricochet,” which is her track five for this album. If you know anything about Taylor’s albums, she usually puts her most emotional song at track five (previous songs have been “Dear John” and “All Too Well”). Many assume this song is about her very public feud with Scooter Braun, who has the rights to her first six studio albums, a fact that Taylor has voiced being uncomfortable with. The story told in this song, and the raw emotion of it is very heartbreaking, and you can’t help but feel for Taylor as she sings “You wear the same jewels/That I gave you/As you bury me.” Songs “mad woman” and “this is me trying” allude to the same feud, Taylor declaring “Every time you call me crazy, I get more crazy/What about that?” on “mad woman.” While “this is me trying” isn’t my favorite on the album, I consider it to be the best written song, containing many powerful lyrics such as, “They told me all of my cages were mental/So I got wasted like all my potential” and “I was so ahead of the curve, the curve became a sphere/Fell behind all my classmates and I ended up here.” The fourth song in this section is “mirrorball” which differs from the previous songs in the fact that it deals with her reputation in the context of a relationship, not in the context of the public eye, “I’m a mirrorball/I can change everything about me to fit in.” Mirrorball is another word for disco ball, so you know the imagery of this song is wonderful, “You’ll find me on my tallest tiptoes/Spinning in my highest heels, love/Shining just for you,” and the story of craving validation is beautifully executed. The fifth song on the “reputation” section is “peace” which is such a gorgeous love song, talking about relationships in the public eye “Would it be enough/If I could never give you peace?”  About the song, my friend Abby Zmuda said, “It’s about like true dedication and the feeling of growing into someone and accepting every flaw and difference between the two of you. That’s so beautiful.” The portrayal of that kind of relationship is something that isn’t often talked about in songs, and as always Taylor wrote it beautifully, some of my favorite lyrics being, “The coming of age is come and gone” and “All these people think love’s for show/But I would die for you in secret.” The sixth and final song in this section is “the last great American dynasty” which tells the story of Rebekah Harkness, the woman who previously owned Taylor’s Rhode Island mansion. Of Rebekah, Taylor sings, “There goes the maddest woman this town has ever seen/She had a marvelous time ruining everything” and in the final verse and chorus Taylor begins to sing about herself “Holiday House sat quietly on that beach/Free of women with madness/The men and bad habits, and then it was bought by me.” The storytelling on this song is immaculate, there are so many details added in that really show Rebekah and her charm, “And in a feud with her neighbor/She stole his dog and dyed it key lime green.” This is one of my favorites on the album because it is just amazing storytelling and the parallels that Taylor draws between herself and Rebekah give me literal chills, I absolutely adore this song and everything about it. (Also Ed Markey played this song after he beat Joe Kennedy, which I find hilarious.)

The final section on the album are the “Miscellaneous” songs. The first song in this section, “the 1,” is about the bittersweet end of a relationship, and wishing things had worked out with someone, “It would’ve been fun/If you would’ve been the one.” I love this song, I think it’s super catchy and the story told is heartbreaking but very fun to sing along to. The second song, the only feature on the album, is “exile feat. Bon Iver.” Taylor knows how to do a good duet, the way their voices blend together, and the layering of vocals during the bridge, is just so good. Lyrically “exile” is also very strong, and I think it captures the tension of the relationship perfectly, “I can see you starin’ honey/Like he’s just your understudy.” The third song in this section is “epiphany,” and I honestly don’t have much to say about it, it is the one song that I consistently skip on the album (I’m sorry Taylor, I’m sure it’s wonderful it’s just not for me). The final song in the section, and the final song on the album, “hoax” is a tale of heartbreak, that is written very beautifully. The bridge to this song is really amazing, and the lyrics get me everytime, “You know I left a part of me back in New York/You know the hero died so what’s the movie for.”

Overall, Taylor really did it with this album. Often, I think about what I was doing in early quarantine, and knowing that while I was regressing back into my middle school Percy Jackson phase, Taylor Swift was somewhere writing folklore, kind of haunts me. I think this is her best written album yet, and the charts seem to agree, her being the first ever person to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and the Hot 100 simultaneously. There’s a reason that Taylor Swift is such a big name, and this album does nothing but help prove that, because she really has a wonderful talent for music. 

My Definitive Ranking of Taylor’s Albums:


2) Red

3) Folklore

4) Speak Now

5) 1989

6) Lover

7) Fearless

8) Self-Titled