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Album Review: Taylor Swift's 'Folklore' Embodies Heartbreak

Updated: Jan 21, 2021

This image of Swift's album cover is used through the Fair Use provision of the U.S. Copyright Code.

By Hayley Rea--Eagle Staff Writer

Folklore is the eighth studio album for pop star Taylor Swift. She released this album in July under Universal Music Group. Folklore is only her second album under this contract, as she switched labels a couple years ago.

The album starts off with “The 1”, a soft ode to someone who should’ve been the one person you spent your life with. She sings about how “if [her] wishes came true, it would’ve been you” and that “it would’ve been fun if you would’ve been the one”. This song starts Folklore off strong by clarifying the main theme of heartbreak.

Folklore continues on with songs like “Cardigan” and “Exile” that exaggerate the pain of losing someone you love. She talks about how her partner made her feel special by comparing herself to “an old cardigan under someone’s bed” and how they “put [her] on and said [she] was [their] favorite”.

Swift even suggests a reference to her leaving Big Machine Records in the emotional song “This Is Me Trying” when she sings about how “[she] got wasted like all [her] potential” while she was signed with them. Swift also mentions in her song that “[she’s] been having a hard time adjusting” to her new record deal.

Next comes “Illicit Affairs”, a powerful hidden gem about the effects of infidelity. Upon first listen, it may be something you look over, but this song is an allusion to tragedy with painstaking imagery. It describes an affair from beginning to end and how it changes from something “started in beautiful rooms” to “meetings in parking lots”.

Toward the close, Swift includes “Betty”, a mysterious song that many fans have speculated is the product of a love triangle between characters mentioned within other songs on the album. It is the heart of Folklore and one of its most analyzed songs.

Swift includes names like Betty and Inez and sings about how “the worst thing that [she] ever did was what [she] did to [Betty]”, which creates a lot of mystery and provokes some interesting questions. Who is Betty and what did Swift do to her?

The whole album creates a rather soft tone. Each song has a low and pleasing sound; none of the singing is overwhelming or harsh. Even the bridges, which are typically considered the most powerful part of a song, are low-key and gentle upon listening.

Folklore’s theme is apparent from the start: heartbreak and loss. Swift sings about losing your soulmate and the stages of grief we all experience from losing things and people we love. The theme is dark but with a glimmer of hope just barely shining through.

At the end, Swift leaves you feeling thoughtful. There is so much mystery in the album: the theories about love triangles and infidelity and breakups. Folklore leaves you with so many questions that you find yourself Google searching answers to quench your curiosity.

In spite of Folklore gaining a great deal of popularity for Swift, there are weaknesses within the album, such as “Exile”, that keep the album from reaching its full potential. “Exile” includes a collaboration with Bon Iver that creates a mismatched sound with the drastic contrast between voices. It didn't match up well with the other songs included on the album.

Despite Folklore being beautifully made and written, I still personally prefer her previous albums to this one. This album brings more of a sad, pessimistic feel to it and can be off putting at first listen, especially for people who prefer more upbeat music.

Although Folklore is like nothing we’ve ever heard from Taylor Swift, it provides a sense of devastation that many people can understand. Each song is perfectly chosen and sung in a gentle way that expresses the underlying pain of heartbreak.

Even though Folklore has been the big talk about Swift in recent months, she has a rather large history in music that is just as fascinating as her newest hit album. Her whole life has revolved around music since she first moved her family to Nashville, TN to pursue her career.

Swift originally signed with Big Machine Records in 2006, which was her first record deal in her career. She started out as a country singer but switched to primarily pop music around 2014.

Her rise to fame came from her debut single, “Tim McGraw”. The country song was released two years before she signed her deal with Big Machine Records.

That first song would be the start of something big for Swift, leading to her first self-titled country album containing many hit singles. The album was a strong lead for Swift’s career. The themes of love and heartbreak were something that every teenage girl at the time could relate to.

She followed up her hit country debut with three more country albums: Fearless (2008), Speak Now (2010), and Red (2012). All of these albums brought Swift an abundance of fame and fans.

Swift’s first pop album, 1989, was released in 2014 and signaled her farewell to country music and the start of a new era. It contained a whole new sound but gained just as much popularity as her previous studio albums.

Before releasing Folklore earlier this year, Swift released two more pop albums to follow 1989: Reputation (2017) and Lover (2019). These two albums could not have been more different, despite the consistency of genre.

Reputation was Swift’s response to much backlash and hate she’d received. It was a strong comeback with dark, powerful songs to show her renewed strength and confidence. Lover, on the other hand, showed a lighter side of Swift, celebrating the love and happiness she’d experienced.

Folklore brings something new to the table. In contrast to her previous albums, Folklore brings a more alternative sound. It is written as a breakup album, showing the gray sides of life.

Despite the contrast in theme, the eighth addition to Swift’s discography has brought her insurmountable fame, not unlike all those that came before it.

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