2020, Music

Folklore (2020) by Taylor Swift

For most of Taylor Swift’s career, despite her ubiquity, I was only sort of aware of her. First, she was a country star and I don’t listen to contemporary country. Then she was a pop star at a time when I mostly managed to avoid Top 40 radio (and radio in general). For a while I could have only identified 5 or so songs as being Taylor Swift songs and probably could only name even fewer of them. That changed as I had to write about a few covers of her songs so I became better acquainted with a couple of them, but only a couple. But by 2023 she became so famous that started to change. I feel like, more and more, her music permeated the world in which I lived, even though I made no effort to seek it out. She is, or at least was leading up to the Super Bowl, perhaps the most famous person I’ve ever been alive to witness. (I was not alive for Beatlemania and was too young for peak Michael Jackson but I think the internet makes fame bigger.) There was that meme of the airport magazine rack that had 25 different magazines each of which had a front page story of Swift which I felt properly captured the coverage of her within the last year or two. I’ve never seen anything like this and now I guess I sort of know what she sounds like.

It’s probably quite weird that this is my Taylor Swift album even though I never sought her out. It is RYM’s second favourite Swift album but this is a site that is notoriously hostile to pop music. It’s hardly her biggest record. It is, probably, the most accessible to me, given the kind of music I listen to compared to the kinds of music she has made for most of her career.

I have written elsewhere how I struggle to understand the songwriting process of some major pop artists, though it makes more sense with a pandemic record. It’s weird to me that someone who used to write songs on guitar is just listening to tracks created by someone from some band she likes and then singing over them. (That is my understanding of how it was recorded. It’s possible I have that wrong.)

What I’m not surprised by is how catchy everything. I have listened to only a tiny bit of her oeuvre but it’s very clear from this record – certainly not one of her most hit-filled if I’m not mistaken – that Swift is very gifted melodically. And that makes sense. It’s hard to become the most famous person in the world without being really, really good at something. (Maybe that’s not entirely true, but it’s mostly true.)

If I’m not mistaken, Swift is usually a confessional songwriter and this record is mostly or entirely not confessional. So that’s interesting as well. And it was not what I was expecting. (Even among people like me, who were barely aware of her for as long a time as possible, her reputation for writing about exes preceded her.)

She’s a more expressive singer than I thought. Certainly she doesn’t have the greatest set of pipes I’ve ever heard but I sort of imagined…I don’t know, I guess a slightly more limited singer. I figured her early career was built on her precociousness (writing and singing country songs at such a young age) and her later career was helped out by production. But she’s a good singer.

The sound is this soft piano-driven folk pop thing that I was absolutely not expecting. What was I expecting? “Look What You Made Me Do” or “Blank Space” or, more accurately, “Anti-Hero.” (The latter being the closest in reality, of course.) So obviously there’s a lot of growth or change here, perhaps because of the new collaborators. I certainly didn’t understand that “Eras” meant before I listened to this but it’s a lot more clear now given how far away this is from what I she sounded like.

(As a side note: Her fans’ willingness to follow her into genres that aren’t obviously her area makes me hope that, someday in the future, she will do something really wild like make a punk album or something.)

Anyway, my first experience of a Taylor Swift album is quite positive. The songs are quite strong. The sound is pretty austere and effective. And it doesn’t sound like I thought it would.


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