While Reputation and Lover were birthed from an Easter-egg laid trail, painting tales of romantic past and present, folklore is a little different. It came out from a time where all Swift could do was sit at her piano with a wine perched in one hand and a quill pen in another scrummaging through the memory banks until she landed on those belonging to the fictional. Betty, Inez, and James.
Then just like the set of monochrome photographs she used to announce the album, the tracks too were bundled together in an elaborate display of poetic metaphors. We’re not used to this highly wistful sound inspired by such bands as The National, but after pouring over each one in record timing, we at Nerds and Beyond can’t help but welcome the change. Below you’ll find our theorizing and detailing of each track, until we concluded that while they may be of the creative variety, the emotions behind them are very real and very Swift.
As the opening track of the album, “the 1” has to set up the new sound that defines folklore. Its clapping beat is slightly off the beat of the song itself, which emphasizes certain lyrics when Swift’s sharp intake of breath matches the claps. It’s a story of lost love that’s not sad so much as matter-of-fact about what happens when two people meet at the wrong time. The lyrics are poetic as always, with my favorite stanza being, “I, I, I persist and resist the temptation to ask you/If one thing had been different/Would everything be different today?/We were something, don’t you think so?/Rosé flowing with your chosen family/And it would’ve been sweet/If it could’ve been me/In my defense, I have none/For digging up the grave another time/But it would’ve been fun/If you would’ve been the one.” – Jules
When the glitz townfolk of Hollywood trade in ballgowns for a knit in the stormy blues of winter, we know we’ll have “cardigan” to thank. Much like the clothing staple itself, this tune is simultaneously melancholic and homely by reminiscing on a childhood love stumbling over a faulty storm when a third person enters the narrative (as such becoming the seedling in the triangle). Expressively told from Betty’s point of view, she idealistically thought she found someone who wholly accepted her until he was swept into the arms of someone else: “Chase two girls, lose the one.” Something where he isn’t the one marked across a timeline of lovers, rather the first she gave her heart too. A fact so beautifully imprinted in perhaps one of my favorite lyrics from the album “Tried to change the ending/Peter losing Wendy.” As summer comes to a close, he returns just as she pictured. – Rachel
“the last great american dynasty”
Swift explores the rich history of Rhode Island in “the last great american dynasty.” She has a great time discussing and identifying with other women who were decades before her. This song really shows off a new way of storytelling for Swift. There’s a mix between observation and time-hopping, but it still honors the point of view of a widowed woman named Rebekah: “Fifty years is a long time/Holiday House sat quietly on that beach/Free of women with madness, their men and bad habits /Then it was bought by me … the loudest woman this town has ever seen.” – Carleen
”exile” (ft. Bon Iver)
I’m not sure if there are adequate words to describe my excitement upon realizing that Swift had collaborated with Bon Iver for a song on this album. Justin Vernon’s vocals fit in perfectly with the mood and aesthetic of folklore, so this is honestly akin to a dream track in my books. Not to mention, when the “ooh, ooh”s kick in after the first minute, I get chills every single time. Outside of the fabulous vocals from this duo and an equally lovely piano track, the story that this track tells is beautifully poignant — two ex-lovers seeing one another after a break up. These are the kind of lyrics that latch on and settle deep in your gut, “You’re not my homeland anymore, so what am I defending now?/You were my town, now I’m in exile, seein’ you out.” As we reach the bridge, the emotions expand tenfold as the two sing back and forth to one another, and their misinterpretations of events leading up to their downfall are made clear, “You never gave a sign/I gave so many signs.” This one hurts, but it doesn’t stop me from listening to it endlessly on repeat anyway. – Lindsey
“my tears ricochet”
It is no surprise that this sorrowful ballad was written by Swift alone. Anyone who listens will get hit with all the right emotions. Such lyrics are able to make anyone retrace the steps of their previous relationships and exude chills to the bone: “I didn’t have it in myself to go with grace/And you’re the hero flying around, saving face/And if I’m dead to you, why are you at the wake?” The entire track is pure perfection and needs to be placed on any romantic playlist. – Carleen
“mirrorball” has California vibes that on first listen made me think of the band Best Coast and their song “Our Deal.” It’s another Swift/Jack Antonoff team-up that I love. Swift’s whisper-singing layered to form harmonies gives it a lullaby quality. Again Swift’s ability to work subtle and important references into her lyrics gives the song a self-reflective quality: “And they called off the circus, burned the disco down/When they sent home the horses and the rodeo clowns/I’m still on that tightrope/I’m still trying everything to get you laughing at me/And I’m still a believer, but I don’t know why/I’ve never been a natural, all I do is try, try, try.” You could spend hours on Genius trying to figure out all the allusions (and I definitely did). – Jules
“seven” is a soft, sanguine track that tastes like the summers of childhoods past and feels like a warm embrace of affection and nostalgia. The beat is cozy and gentle yet insistent, wrapped up neatly with the added bonus of lovely string track throughout. The lyrics reflects back on childlike love and innocence, and there’s just something really wonderful about the line, “Love you to the Moon and to Saturn.” Swift’s mention of her home state Pennsylvania, which is also where I grew up, adds an extra layer of fondness for me. – Lindsey
Seemingly a piece of folklore‘s love triangle trio, “august” comes from the perspective of ‘the other woman.’ The pacing of this track makes it one that you just can’t help but listen to on repeat, as it effortlessly slips between a steady, soft opening, to an upbeat tune with hints of melancholy, while wrapping up with a cinematic and passionate close. The transitions throughout feel consistent with the push and pull of the story. The aforementioned ending tune in particular feels like it really ties in to the lyrics, and one’s wishful thinking for the perfect yet impossible Hollywood ending to a fleeting summer fling. – Lindsey
“this is me trying”
“this is me trying” reminded me of a more grown-up version of Swift’s previous hit “Back to December.” It’s about trying to make up for all the hurt you’ve caused and put the past behind you, while secretly knowing it might not be that easy. It also contains the best line of the album, in my opinion: “I was so ahead of the curve, the curve became a sphere/Fell behind all my classmates and I ended up here.” Again, the indie vibe provided by Swift and Antonoff’s production makes it sound like a track that should be played in the background of The O.C. circa 2005. – Jules
Upon first glance, “illicit affairs” is this irresponsibly stunning portrait of two people living off an undeniable spark that catapults an entire love affair sneaking behind their respective partner’s backs. However, underneath the metaphorical essence are the marks of a lyrical genius and true writer as she draws muse from her own insecurities. She curates a string of clues from, “It’s born from just one single glance,” to, “Leave the perfume on the shelf that you picked out just for him” before finally amounting to bridge city. It’s possibly the best one on the record and draws a distinct comparison to “Cruel Summer,” angry, volatile, and completely raw. – Rachel
The beat and rhythm of “invisible string” is fairly consistent throughout, the kind that you can’t help but tap your feet along with. This places a heavier emphasis on the lyrics themselves, while also showcasing Swift’s ability to carry a song with the cadence of her voice, without relying on musical cues for emphasis. “invisible string”’s reference to the Japanese folk myth about a red string of fate feels very fitting for this album, and Swift’s use of colors to tell her story throughout continues to bolster the overall strength of the lyrical genius she exhibits throughout folklore. – Lindsey
If we were to linger in Swift’s presence during the elusive years between 2016 and 2017, then the eerie lullaby “mad woman” would be the overplaying soundtrack to night terrors built on feuds. In fact, it’s such a break away from the short story narrative she’s intricately stung throughout the album that it’s meant to be an introspective focal point. With lyrics such as, “And you’ll poke that bear ’til her claws come out,” it’s constructing the visualization of others wanting her to ingrain the American sweetheart moral system she once so reverently had in comparison to shrouding herself with layers to protect herself from villains. There’s also an underlying theme of women being gaslighted and could very much speak as a second edition to “The Man.” – Rachel
If there was more of a song to be shared during 2020, “epiphany” is the one. While taken from the pages of her veteran grandfather, it also acts as a tribute to the workers carelessly punching in hours during the pandemic. Significantly these lyrics compare soldiers to those in the frontline, ” With you, I serve/With you, I fall down.” They continue to grow more intense as she references the sound of a heart monitor, leaving listeners in awe. “Only 20 minutes of sleep, but you dream of some epiphany.” – Carleen
“betty” functions as a sequel song to “august”, but even on its own it’s a great song. This time, the story is told from the perspective of the boy involved, James. It’s more of a country track, with guitar chords and less production than some of the other songs. It sonically took me back to Red and specifically the song “All Too Well,” and there’s a subtle lyrical callback to her first single “Tim McGraw” when she says “Slept next to her but/I dreamt of you all summer long.” It’s an older, wiser look back on teenage romance and heartbreak, the opening line emphasizing the innocence yet seriousness of a summer love: “Betty, I won’t make assumptions/About why you switched your homeroom, but/I think it’s ’cause of me/Betty, one time I was riding on my skateboard/When I passed your house/It’s like I couldn’t breathe.” – Jules
Swift is so hauntingly talented that she’s always been able to take the contents rumbling around inside your mind and turn it into a sonically cohesive masterpiece with the bow of lyrics that pull at your core. For me, this time, it’s “peace.” It starts with the irregular heartbeat from a metronome illustrating a bout of anxiety in a relationship only for guitar strings to come and balance it out. However, when there’s “robbers to the east, clowns to the west,” does it ever truly silence itself? The answer I think it explores is: no, it doesn’t ever do such a thing. But despite the jealousy, vulnerability, and insecurities, there will always be a soft tenderness from simply only ever wanting the best for the other person. Maybe that is enough. – Rachel
It wouldn’t be a Swift album without talks about former relationships. However, this one hits differently than the rest. When listening to the song you feel deeply for what has happened to Swift, thus taking your breath away with its truthful storytelling: “This has frozen my ground/Stood on the cliffside screaming give me a reason/Your faithless love’s the only hoax I believe in/Don’t want no other shade of blue but you/No other sadness in the world would do.” – Carleen
folklore comes from an iteration of Swift who now resolutely knows that while her life may find a sense of calmness, she will always be able to produce an album we deeply long for. It’s tragically beautiful and simplistic, yet when every track is pulled together creates a scrapbook of her life’s story told through those currently living out theirs through her storytelling guitar plucking fingers.