Taylor Swift released her eighth studio album, “folklore”, July 24, making it almost two months old. Despite being released during a global pandemic, protests calling for social change and a heated election year, the album quickly climbed to the top of the Billboard Top 200, earning Swift her seventh No. 1 album.
Recorded in isolation, Swift released the surprise album the day after she announced it via social media, providing her fans and even her naysayers something to talk about during a time of quarantines, canceled plans and uncertainty.
“My gut is telling me that if you make something you love, you should just put it out into the world,” Swift said in a Tweet announcing the album release July 23. “That’s the side of uncertainty I can get on board with.”
While the album may seem like “old news” in the fast-paced music industry, I can’t stop listening to it as it continues to break more records and solidify its spot as, dare I say it, Swift’s best album to date. Made up of 16 songs filled with regret, hope and romantic insight as well as a bonus track released on the deluxe album, Swift provides listeners with expertly crafted lyrics and storytelling developed from years of songwriting.
Her first track, “the 1”, is an upbeat reflection on memories locked away inside her heart. The song explores wondering how things would be if a past relationship ended differently and the struggle that comes with moving on.
“I persist and resist the temptation to ask you if one thing had been different, would everything be different today?” Swift sings, acknowledging the unasked questions many of us have.
Her collaboration with Bon Iver presents listeners with melancholic verses, easily making “exile” one of the best breakup songs Swift has written. Her voice, contrasted by Bon Iver’s husky tones and the sounds of a gentle piano melody, cuts right to the heart.
“I think I’ve seen this film before and I didn’t like the ending,” the artists sing together at the end of the track. “You’re not my homeland anymore, so what am I defending now?”
“mirrorball” takes listeners back to high school. With music reminiscent of soundtracks of any 2014 young adult novel, the track transports you to a dance held in a high school gym, where expectations are met with uncertainty and insecurity.
The lyrics reference the singer as a mirrorball, an object so willing to show onlookers exactly what they want to see. It evokes feelings and memories of wanting nothing more than to please the people around you while balancing who you are with who you want to become.
“I’m still a believer but I don’t know why; I’ve never been a natural, all I do is try, try, try,” Swift sings. “I’m still on that trapeze, I’m still trying everything to keep you looking at me.”
Swift debuted her song “betty” at the American Country Music Awards Sept. 16. The event looked different than past years because of precautions taken to avoid potential exposure to COVID-19. Sitting on an empty stage with her guitar and a couple of spotlights, Swift performed to an empty venue with just as much heart as she would have a packed-full stadium.
The song dips into Swift’s storytelling abilities, following the perspective of James, a seemingly fictional character who recently cheated on his high school girlfriend, Betty. He asks her for forgiveness, chastising his behavior and preparing for the worst.
“The worst thing that I ever did was what I did to you,” the lyrics claim.
Because of when this album was released, I find myself latching onto the lyrics of “this is me trying”, a bittersweet song about feeling overwhelmed while trying to be better than before.
Although the lyrics are likely directed to a romantic relationship, they are applicable to feelings I’ve confronted during the pandemic as all of us try our hardest to make it through something we have no cheat sheet for.
The lyrics take responsibility for shortcomings while reinstating the commitment to try to move past them. I often repeat the lyrics “at least I’m trying” over and over in my mind as anxieties present themselves throughout the day.
I’ll get a little personal here and say that Swift has become a staple in my life. Her albums always seem to be released exactly when I need them, as dramatic as that sounds. For example, “Teardrops on My Guitar” was the first song I ever learned to play on the guitar. I sat in nosebleed seats at her “Speak Now” concert in San Antonio, after calling into radio stations to win tickets. Her “reputation” album, released November 2017, was the soundtrack to my life as I embarked on a whimsically short-lived romance the next year and found myself facing nasty rumors about me.
Her songs have been a part of my life since I was seven years old and this album has not disappointed, speaking directly to the nostalgic feelings I’ve sat in since the beginning of quarantine. “folklore” is no doubt a love letter to Swift’s past and present partners, family members, herself and her fans.