Song of the Fae: A Review on Taylor Swift’s “folklore”

Taylor Swifts 'folklore' album cover.

It's Charlie on Flickr

Taylor Swifts ‘folklore’ album cover.

Shelby Hansen

As quarantine dragged on and on, and it seemed like we were never going to get out of the house, I noticed one thing that was a common annoyance in many teenagers’ and young adults’ minds: the lack of newly released music from their favorite artists. Staying at home is already hard enough, but when you’ve heard the same Ariana Grande songs for the past two weeks, music can get pretty old. Thankfully, my favorite “problematic” musician saved me from boredom and musical repetition. When Taylor Swift randomly announced that she was dropping an entire album based around storytelling and cottagecore, I simply didn’t know what to do with myself. It was like God was finally on my side for once. After her surprise eighth album dropped on July 24, I didn’t listen to anything else except it for two weeks straight. So, without further ado, I present my in-depth review on the album that changed quarantine for me: folklore. 

the 1:  This song is a really strong opening for the album. It really screams Taylor Swift vibes, so it’s a semblance of familiarity for those wanting to ease into it. I really love that it highlights relationships that could’ve worked but didn’t. After a breakup, you always think you see that person in public, and you wonder if they were The One and you just ruined it. At the same time, there’s no negativity or regret from this song. It’s just a feeling of wondering what could have been.  

cardigan: This one gives me dark academia vibes. From the beginning, we’re already starting with a scene being set for us. Unlike the 1, this song is tinged with a sense of regret. We can tell that the “narrator” of the song is really attached to this person and misses what they used to have, but she also knows that she’s been used, hence the phrase, “I felt like I was an old cardigan under someone’s bed.” It can be really relatable, for we as humans are bad at letting go of old memories, even if the person associated with them has done some bad things to us.  

the last great american dynasty: The storytelling in this song is exactly what I expected from an album named folklore. It’s about a real woman named Rebekah Harkness and her life, but it also is an allusion to Taylor, as she bought Rebekah’s first home in Rhode Island, Holiday House. It also connects the album as a whole, which I will explain later. The vibes are kind of ominous, but also tells a great story. 

exile (feat. Bon Iver): Immediately after the first few notes of this song, I had goosebumps. The melody and mix of both Taylor and Bon Iver singer Justin Vernon’s voices together creates a haunting effect that puts you in the place of each side of the ending relationship. This is a collaboration that I HAVE to see again. It also makes me wonder what a Taylor Swift feat. Hozier song would be like. 

my tears ricochet: Once again, this song is haunting. We’re thrown into a world of consequences and hypocrisy, two very big themes in our world. Like all of the songs, this one has a double meaning; it could be about Taylor leaving her toxic record label or literally about someone’s death and haunting of a former lover.  

mirrorballThis one attacked Pisces me so hard. It’s all about projecting what others give you back on to them and reciprocating their energy. I’ve learned that I definitely do that, and hearing a song that relate so hard tofeels like an out-of-body experience.  

seven: Nostalgia. That’s all I feel. As we grow up, we start to lose touch with our childhood, but we still miss our childhood best friends. We used to blame our problems on trivial things, but now they are real. We used to be carefree, and now we have to be responsible. Also, this is the seventh track, and the song is named seven, which is pretty cool. 

august: This song is also very relatable. It’s part of the love triangle between cardigan and betty, and it’s from the point of view of someone who has fallen in love with someone they shouldn’t have. A summer fling turns into a mistake, and looking back on it makes you miss the time you had with that person, where you are “living for the hope of it all.” 

this is me trying: As a gifted kid, this song speaks to me because it highlights being told how much potential you have your entire life and trying so hard to live up to that, but all you can do is try. It’s hard being in that position and feeling all that pressure; often, you crack from it. Taylor’s view on this idea shows that this is a much more common thing than people think. 

illicit affairs: The lyrics and the music in this song match each other perfectly. As the lyrics and emotions become more raw and vulnerable, the music swells and increases volume with that emotion. The song touches, once again, on becoming attached to someone that you shouldn’t be attached to.  

invisible string: This song is absolutely about Taylor and her long-time boyfriend Joe Alwin. It’s an allusion to the Japanese story about a thread that ties soulmates together, and Taylor uses events from their lives to show how the “string” between them forced them to meet. Very wholesome.  

mad woman: Taylor focuses a lot on making someone who they are and society affecting the way people act. It also seems to be a compendium of her experience with men and how women tend to turn on each other when it comes to men. This really reflects on her experiences with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian a few years back as well.  

epiphany: I did not expect this song at all. The softness of the music and Taylor’s voice gives me shivers, but the lyrics hit even harder, honestly. It starts about the horrors of war from a military vet’s perspective. Then, it shifts to a nurse’s perspective during the COVID-19 crisis. Using terms like “Something med school did not cover,” “Holds your hand through plastic now,” and “Doc, I think she’s crashing out” really put this global pandemic into a different perspective. It made me really emotional, and it still does every time I hear it.  

betty: This song is what every girl wants to hear. We all want to hear that a cheating boyfriend regrets everything that happened and was just confused, even though that may not be the full truth. Either way, Taylor returns back to her country roots with “betty,” and the entire rhythm and feel of the song is very upbeat, which goes along with the theme of immaturity.  

peace: peace is a song written for Taylor’s now-boyfriend, Joe Alwin. It shows the aspect of a star and how they will always be in the spotlight, but they will always love you. With Taylor, there may not be a life of peace and quiet, but her love will always be there.  

hoax: Finally, hoax brings the perfect ending to this album’s vibe. There is an aura of simplicity, but the lyrics are much more complex. It centers around a relationship where the other person knows how you’ve been betrayed in the past, but they do the same thing anyways. At the same time, you don’t want to leave. This is a really big step for abusive relationships because that is often how it works; they hurt you, but you don’t want to leave.  

 Now that I’ve covered the basics of each song and what they mean, it’s time to cover the interpretations of the album. Of course, each song can be seen as its own story with its own meanings and interpretations. Every song in the album can be about Taylor’s life or an individual story, but they can also all be about the beginning of Rebekah Semple West Harkness’s life if you put them all in a certain order.  

It goes like this: in “invisible string,” we are pulled into the story of Rebekah’s first relationship in high school with a boy named James. She’s never felt this way before, and she thinks it’s meant to be, but she tells him in “peace” that she’s not sure if he could handle her. Over the summer, in “august,” James ends up cheating on Rebekah with a girl named Inez, but Inez thought it was something more than a fling. Rebekah finds out that James cheated when school starts again in the fall, and she feels like an old “cardigan,” missing what they had before James cheated. James, however, feels terrible and realizes his mistake in “betty”; he then goes to Rebekah’s house during a party and apologizes, wanting her back. They kiss, but Rebekah explains that she is a “mirrorball” and will always tear herself up trying to please him after the cheating. So, they go their separate ways. Fast forward a few years, and Rebekah runs into James again. James is now in the army, and Rebekah is a nurse. She relives her childhood growing up together and their relationship in “seven,” and they get back together. They are happy for a while, but James becomes mentally and emotionally abusive towards Rebekah. Unable to leave him, Rebekah cheats on James in “illicit affairs” with another man while James is deployed. She finds out that James has died in war in “epiphany,” right as she is occupied with a deadly disease hitting at work. She ends her affair, and James’s funeral occurs in “my tears ricochet,” where both James and Rebekah relive how they have wronged each other. Rebekah thinks about how James could have been “the 1,” if only things have gone differently. However, she still continues her relationship with the other man, but he ends up becoming distant and hurtful in “hoax.” Rebekah finds out that the other man is actually married. The entire town finds out and paints her as a seductress witch, which turns Rebekah into a “mad woman.” She curses the town and leaves forever, heading to Rhode Island. Finally, “the last great american dynasty” highlights the rest of Rebekah’s adventurous life that we know, such as her marriage to William Harkness and her time at the ballet. 

One reason why this is such a believable theory and story is because Rebekah’s nickname was actually Betty. This seems like an unusual coincidence with the song “betty,” and all of the songs seem to flow together in this order. Now, why wouldn’t Swift just put the songs in this order if they should be interpreted this way? The answer is simple: Taylor Swift is an artist. She created the album and kept it open for interpretation, but she also wanted to leave things for listeners to uncover.  

My favorite thing about this album is that every song can be interpreted and is relatable. Swift wrote them from her experiences, but the lyrics are so open yet specific that anyone can relate to them. I feel like this shows Swift’s complex songwriting and truly does reveal her as a lyrical genius. I honestly did not enjoy much of the Lover album, but folklore definitely makes up for it. At least now I know which album is going to be #1 on my Spotify 2020 Wrapped at the end of the year.