On July 23rd, 2020, Taylor Swift announced her 8th studio album folklore would be dropping at midnight. The surprise release varied drastically from Swift’s usual album rollout, which commonly included months of promotion, the release of singles, and her signature in-depth hint-dropping in advance of new releases.
The album marked yet another genre shift for Swift, who had previously transitioned from country to pop, and was now moving into a folksy acoustic sound with folklore.
The sixteen track album, and an additional bonus track that was released on a deluxe version after the initial album release, saw both financial and critical acclaim. Rolling Stone named folklore the best and biggest album of 2020. It saw 1.2 million sales and 1.1 billion streams in 2020; topped the charts for 8 consecutive weeks; and earned an 8.0 rating from Pitchfork. It also earned the notable accolade of Album of the Year at the Grammys, marking Swift’s third win in the category, having previously won in 2009 for Fearless and in 2016 for 1989.
In a statement released on social media, Swift said “My gut is telling me that if you make something you love, you should just put it out into the world.” folklore feels like an intimate labor of love, as the album’s sound was created in lockdown by artists scattered in different locations.
This album might’ve been unconventional for Swift on a surface level, but its lush storytelling derives from the singer’s magnificent songwriting abilities, which she’s showcased throughout her entire career.
folklore, as Swift puts it, is full of “whims, dreams, fears, and musings.” The album has lingered in the public consciousness since its release, and with Swift embarking on the historic Eras Tour, the album is finally getting the opportunity to be sung live. Beyond Swift’s global following, what made folklore so successful?
Flashing back to July 23rd, 2020, is to step into an entirely different world. There was no COVID-19 vaccine available yet, and many people were still staying home as much as possible. College campuses were going virtual for yet another semester. Bars and concert venues remained closed. Social distancing was still being enforced in many public venues. We were all, in a sense, living in our own distant worlds in a way that we never had before.
In track eight,“August,” the narrator laments “to live for the hope of it all,” which captures the longing that existed in summer 2020. There was a growing sense that the pandemic wasn’t going away, and that it would be a long time until a sense of normality returned. The stories of folklore invite listeners to both reflect and long. Through transition between songs about young love triangles, running off to live at the lakes, finding the one, trying but never being enough, and even the history of her Rhode Island home, Swift’s album provides an entryway into active points of life in a time where everything felt so stunted.
folklore’s quiet aesthetic blended well with the vibe of humid summer evenings, social distancing in the park, and humming along to tunes in one’s bedroom on warm mornings.
It’s an album of storytelling, of weaving together elements of truth and what could’ve been. folklore’s quiet release came at a slow, pensive time where many people were experiencing isolation and a longing for connection. Whereas the typical yearly upbeat summer pop hit had no concerts to play or venues to fill, folklore’s quiet beauty fit right in with that dreaming, dreary, and lonely summer.
It’s impossible to say what would’ve happened if folklore had been dropped at a different time. For one thing, the music was written in virtual conversation between artists across the United States, and those stories imagined during lockdown might have had a different perspective if they had been written during the hustle of a tour or regular artist life.
folklore was created and released in a shared cultural moment of reflection and grief as we all navigated the early months of the pandemic. They showed the talents of Swift as a singer-songwriter in the prime of her career with many more albums ahead.
Julia Dath is a Senior Writing major who, like many others, was unable to get tickets to the Era’s Tour and will forever long to see Ms. Swift in person. They can be reached at [email protected].
Art by Julia Young.