The world was in the middle of the cruelest summer ever, just staggering through late July, when Taylor decided to make it all so much messier -- her specialty. In a move that nobody
saw coming, she announced a surprise album on July 23rd, less than a year after her career-capping smash "Lover". Like the rest of us,
Taylor had to cancel her summer, including her "Lover Fest" shows. Instead, she spent the quarantine season throwing herself into a
new, secret project: her eighth album, "folklore". But the real surprise is the music itself -- the most head-spinning, heartbreaking,
emotionally ambitious songs of her life.
Some of us have spent years dreaming Taylor would do a whole album like this, but nobody really dreamed it would turn out this great. Her greatest album -- so far. "Lover" self-consciously summed
up the first 30 years of her life, bringing all her musical passions together. But on "folklore", she leaves her comfort zones behind. It sounds like she figured she wasn’t going to be touring
these songs live anyway, so she gave up on doing anything for the radio, anything rah-rah or stadium-friendly. She just made some coffee, sat at the piano, and let her mind wander into some dark
places. You can picture the candle on her piano flickering as the wax melts over her copy of "Wuthering Heights" and another song rolls out.
A NEW GENRE
"folklore" really feels like the debut album of a whole new Taylor -- her narrative scope has opened up, with a wide-ranging cast of characters for 17 songs, without a dud. It’s
amusing, in retrospect, how people actually worried that being happy in love might mean she would run out of things to write songs about. Not a chance. It turns out to be the other way around, as
she lets these characters tell their own stories: A scandalous old widow, hated by her whole town. A scared seven-year-old girl with a traumatized best friend. A ghost watching her enemies at the
funeral. Recovering addicts. A fumbling teenage boy. Three of the highlights -- “cardigan,” “august,” and “betty” — depict the same love triangle, from all three different perspectives. Other
songs tell both sides of a story: “the 1” and “peace,” or “invisible string” and “the lakes.”
If "Lover" was the last album of her twenties, "folklore" is the first of her thirties. "Lover" was styled as a well-rounded musical autobiography, with everything from Nashville twang to
electro-disco. "folklore" takes a completely different approach, yet feels even more intimate, simply because it’s the sound of an artist with absolutely nothing to prove. She’s never sounded
this relaxed or confident, never sounded this blasé about winning anyone over. It makes perfect sense that the quarantine brought out her best, since she’s always written so poignantly about
isolation and the temptation to dream too hard about other people’s far-away lives. On "folklore", she dreams up a host of characters to keep her company, and stepping into their lives brings out
her deepest wit, compassion, and empathy. And it sounds like for Taylor Swift, her best is yet to come.