‘And just like a folk song our love will be passed on’: Taylor Swift surprises us with her folk-inspired album, ‘folklore’

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On Thursday, Taylor Swift announced the surprise release of her eighth studio album, “folklore.” The following is a discussion between Daily writers Lydia Chen, Michael Espinosa and Bridget Stuebner on their first impressions of the album.

This was a Taylor Swift album release unlike any other. We had less than 24 hours notice and no lead singles or music videos ahead of the entire album’s release. It’s only been a year since her last album “Lover,” which is shorter than the two years she usually takes between releases. What do you make of this choice to give us more music out of the blue, and in the midst of stay-at-home orders?

Bridget Stuebner (BS): Although “folklore” was released pretty soon after “Lover,” I was super excited for new music from Taylor. I am a huge fan of “Lover,” so I had listened to it numerous times. I felt ready for something fresh from her. I was shocked to hear that she was releasing a new album without any promotion, but I think that it made the album’s release even more exciting. I also think that with our current shelter-in-place situation, there is no need to wait two to three years to release like she usually does. People in quarantine will want something to listen to, and “folklore” provides that perfect opportunity. 

Lydia Chen (LC): I can say as a die-hard Swiftie, I was not expecting this release at all. Typically, Taylor has a two year cycle between her albums, but this time, she released her album less than a year after “Lover.” Her albums are filled with so many mementos to her previous songs and her life as a whole, so to enjoy the nooks and crannies of an album fully, it takes a good amount of time. There is this small grey area in between the release of two albums where I’ve just finished enjoying one album and I’m anticipating the next one. I was not in that grey area when Taylor began teasing “folklore” but at the same time, I could not have been more happy to have new music to listen to while stuck in quarantine. I just wish she could have let me thoroughly listen to “Lover” before coming out with “folklore.” 

Michael Espinosa (ME): I agree, I haven’t fully finished listening to “Lover,” so it’s a little too soon for me to get fully formed thoughts on this album. For both “reputation” and “Lover,” the lead singles helped ease me into the vibe of Taylor’s next era, but that’s not the case this time. As a result, it’s a lot more difficult for me to make sense of the album, especially since a lot of the songs sound similar. Also I get the feeling that critics calling this “quarantine album” are focusing more on the theme the work is produced, rather than the work itself.

What do you think about Taylor exploring folk as a genre?

LC: Honestly, I’m really excited that she is. When Taylor transitioned from country to pop music, it shocked the entire world, but look at what she has done with the pop industry! I may be a bit biased since I am a fan of folk-infused pop, but I love this new direction for Taylor. 

ME: It’s not my cup of tea. Don’t get me wrong, the songwriting is unmatched (and everyone else will tell you that), but I enjoy Taylor’s faster-paced music (songs like “If This Was A Movie,” “I Knew You Were Trouble,” “New Romantics” and “Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince”). It’s worth noting that I’ve never listened to folk before, I’m a fan of mainstream pop and rap, so this is a pretty big departure from what I normally listen to. It’s going to take some time for me to fully appreciate this album.

BS: I don’t listen to that much folk music (my playlists consist of mainly pop and country), but I think that Taylor exploring folk is really refreshing. At the very least, it feels like she can pull any genre off at this point — pop, country, folk. With this album, I’ve gotten exposure to folk music, and I like it. I don’t like the music in this album as much as the music in her country and pop albums, but I have enjoyed listening to it!

Taylor Swift always has one or two features on every album. This time we get Bon Iver on the fourth track, “exile.” What do you think of this collaboration?

LC: I only knew Bon Iver for his song “Skinny Love,” so I can’t say that I was initially excited about the collaboration, but that all changed once I listened to the song. Taylor and Bon Iver (Justin Vernon) really made such a great collaboration with both of them showcasing their polished voices in an overall super smooth song. One thing I noticed in “exile” was that Vernon sang significantly more than Taylor which was surprising considering it was her song; frankly, I’m not mad about it. 

BS: I had heard the name Bon Iver before “exile” but had never listened to his music, so I didn’t really know what to expect from this song. After listening to it, “exile” became one of my favorite songs of the album, so I’ll have to give Bon Iver’s music a listen after this!

ME: I never heard of Bon Iver before but this song is pretty good. I’m going to get a lot of hate on Twitter for saying this, but I was really looking forward to another collaboration with a rapper. But now that Taylor’s explored this whole indie-folk genre, her next album has to be closer to a rap album, right? Right?

Do you have a favorite song already? Or any songs that are notable or stand out?

LC: I know it’s soon, but I think I have a top five for the album already — which is crazy, I know, but I’m also crazy indecisive, so watch this list change countless times before the weekend is over. My definite number one would ironically be the first track on the album, “the 1,” and all I have to say is go listen to it right now. I go back and forth between “illicit affairs” and “exile” for second place, so let’s just say they’re tied. Then it would be “invisible string” because any song referencing Taylor and Joe’s love is an amazing song (so all of “Lover”). At first I had placed “peace” number five on my list, but the more times the album plays on repeat, I realize “my tears ricochet” is the true number five. 

BS: Whoops, I also have come up with a top five already (so soon I know)! I really like “exile,” “the 1,” and “invisible string” too, so those would definitely make it in my top five. My other favorites are “betty,” “seven.” “august” and “the last great american dynasty.” I love the songs “betty” and “the last great american dynasty” because Taylor is telling stories with her lyrics. “Betty” takes me back to her country phase (which I love!) since it’s about high school, which a lot of her country songs are about. “Seven” and “august” are so calming and the songs flow nicely. I know that that’s six songs, but I couldn’t limit myself to five!

ME: I can’t believe you both have a top five already. I think it’s way too early to pick, and they all sound similar, so it’s hard for me to pick a song out already.

Where do you think this album will end up in the grand scheme of Taylor’s discography? Do you think it matches up to fan-favorites “Red” or “Speak Now?”

LC: This is truly my favorite Taylor album to date! In each and every album, Taylor displays her incredible songwriting skills, and she doesn’t disappoint in “folklore.” I know Michael is going to say this album is “not upbeat enough for him” and that he will probably enjoy it more when he needs a “good cry,” but I always need a good cry. Kidding, kidding — but I like softer songs to listen to when I need some background noise while working or writing, so this album is it for me. 

ME: This is a good album, although not as good as some of her other albums. I’ll definitely listen to “folklore” if I need some time by myself to cry, but those cases are rare, and I still plan to spend most of my time listening to her more upbeat albums while doing everyday activities like doing the dishes and writing essays.

BS: I agree that the songs are not too upbeat in “folklore,” but I still like the album! The songs in “folklore” are perfect for either relaxing or having a good cry in my opinion. However, it’s not my favorite Taylor album. Her “Speak Now” album is my personal favorite (although it’s so hard to choose a favorite) because it’s her country phase, every song is a total bop and it reminds me of my childhood.

What are your thoughts on the “cardigan” music video?

ME: To put it simply: Taylor Swift has made better music videos. What I’m looking for in her music videos is really cool and interesting visual effects to accompany the music. Compared to videos from the “reputation” or “1989,” the music video for “cardigan” is much more mellow, which is no doubt her point, but not something I find as entertaining. Also the basic idea of traveling through different landscapes is an idea that was kind of already covered in the “Out of The Woods” video which makes the video even less original. I’m sure there are Easter eggs that I have yet to pick up on, but I don’t think those will change my opinion of the whole video.

LC: Taylor’s music videos have been elaborate, especially recently. Remember “ME!” — I have that music video forever embedded into my brain: all the bright pastel colors parading across my screen for four minutes and eight seconds. In contrast, “cardigan” had darker colors that still somehow felt warm. I don’t know why it’s my favorite part of the music video, but I thought it was so cool when she disappeared into her piano bench that then transported her to an ocean. And yeah she already used that effect in “Out of the Woods,” but I think the effect was just as cool this time around. Also she definitely had underlying reasons why she chose to make the two music videos similar because you know everything she does has a reason (I love her Easter eggs). 

BS: I enjoyed the effects in this video, and although it has “Out of the Woods” vibes, it felt fitting for the song. The video certainly set up the stage for a new Taylor — no more pastels and bright colors, but a calm, cottage core vibe. I feel that “cardigan” doesn’t quite compare to her old music videos, though. It wasn’t as captivating to me as “You Belong With Me,” “Love Story” and “Mine”— arguably the cutest music videos to exist.

Any other lingering thoughts?

BS: I liked “folklore,” but it’s not my absolute favorite album of hers. Compared to “Lover,” I liked “Lover” better because the songs were so happy, romantic and catchy. I’m excited about her exploring folk music, though. There was so much heart and beauty in “folklore,” and I love getting to see that. She did an amazing job with this album!

ME: I think a tour for this album is going to be super difficult. The “reputation” tour was able to effortlessly balance high energy songs with complex choreography and more intimate moments with just Taylor and the audience. Also the lack of enthusiasm I currently have towards “folklore” definitely mirrored my initial thoughts when “reputation” was released, which ended up becoming my second-favorite album after “Red.” So there’s definitely still a chance “folklore” really grows on me.

LC: I think by this point everyone knows how I feel about “folklore.” I love the album, and it’s my favorite — what more can I say?

Contact Lydia Chen at lydiac123554 ‘at’ gmail.com, Michael Espinosa at mesp2021 ‘at’ stanford.edu and Bridget Stuebner at bridget.stuebner ‘at’ gmail.com.

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Michael Espinosa '21 is majoring in international relations. He's the head of The Daily's social media team, and editor for the University beat and also occasionally writes about other topics for sports, arts, and The Grind. He's the biggest Taylor Swift fan at Stanford and the proudest New Yorker you will ever meet. Contact him at mesp2021 'at' stanford.edu.
Lydia Chen is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily's Summer Journalism Workshop.