I'll start with this: Folklore is great! It's definitely my new favorite Sufjan Stevens album!
As a Taylor Swift album, though, my feelings on it are mixed. Don't get me wrong — it is undoubtedly one of her best creative works so far. The lyrics are back to absolute peak Taylor, the songwriting is superb, and the whole thing is an astonishingly good first foray into a genre that she's never touched before. The fact that she whipped the album up during a pandemic and the global shutdown of nearly all industries makes it even more impressive. But it isn't quite to my taste. I prefer the happier, poppier Taylor that Lover epitomized so well last summer — so, while Folklore is great, it's unlikely to unseat her prior albums on my list of personal favorites.
Oh, and she's doing the lowercase-only thing again. Whatever. We'll be ignoring that here, to no one's surprise, and looking forward to the day when both Taylor and Ariana Grande realize that capital letters are not the enemy.
For now, though, let's get to reviewing some songs in album order so we can all the more quickly make our way to "Betty."
The 1. Ahhh. I already told one person this, but truly, when I hit play on this song on Thursday night, it took me exactly eight seconds to have my eyes closed, my chin on my hands, and a closed-lip grin on my face like a smiley baby at a photoshoot. This is a charming little number, and one of the few on the album that doesn't sink me into a dark depression. Cool!
The Last Great American Dynasty. On my first couple listens to this song, I was unimpressed. I didn't like the "Taylor Sings About Rich Old Ladies" genre when she tried it out with that Kennedy song eight years ago, and I didn't figure I'd like it now. But this one is a bop! And it's about one rebellious, socially-shunned woman giving way to another! I can get behind this. Please inquire if, inspired by this song, you would like to join me in dyeing someone's dog green as a prank.
Exile (feat. Bon Iver). Listen. Did I nearly throw my computer across the room when this song started and the voice issuing forth was some ~dude~ instead of Taylor? Yes. But have I turned out to actually enjoy it? Also yes. "You're not my homeland anymore / So what am I defending now?" is a real gut-punch of a lyric and, coincidentally, also what I plan to adopt as my life's mantra when I someday manage to move from the United States to a country that believes in science.
Mirrorball. You know that TikTok where the girl is wholesale sobbing but still busting out a choreographed dance? That's me listening to this song, which is technically about a disco, but in a sad way.
August. This album should have come out exactly one week later, and this song is why. You give us one song with Instagram caption potential, and it's about a month that hasn't started yet? Taylor. Come on.
Illicit Affairs. Zero Taylor Swift fans in history have been involved in illicit affairs. Taylor Swift has not been involved in an illicit affair. But this song has made chain-smoking, jilted mistresses of us all. I do want to scream, "Don't call me kid, don't call me baby!" I've totally done drugs that only worked the first few hundred times! (Disclaimer for my mother and the FBI agent inevitably monitoring my activity online: given that I can't even handle beer, that is very clearly false.) This number has some of the best storytelling on the album in my opinion, and that bridge is Taylor's Golden Gate. Mainline this song.
Invisible String. The ultra-rare happy Folklore song emerges once more! This too is a charming little number, and I became a human :') emoji when I noticed that someone doing a Twitter thread of "Folklore songs as Mamma Mia" described this one with a picture of Donna and the Dynamos. I don't know about a golden thread connecting romantic partners, but I sure felt my invisible strings being pulled on Thursday night when texts from friends about this album started pouring in. I'm interpreting this number as a friend love song, and I want more of those.
Mad Woman. Guys, did you know that Taylor says the F-word on this album? A lot?! This angry piece has the best F-bomb of T. Swift's career, and my jaw truly fell on the floor when I heard it. I will not rest until there is merch based on that line.
Peace (presented out of order for what will soon be obvious reasons). Setting aside the fact that this song references Taylor one day having children — an inevitability that extremely-childless me is NOT ready for — I found this song to be one of Tay Tay's best ruminations yet on her current relationship. You have mentioned, Taylor, that dating you is sewww hard, given that you're a paparazzi-ridden hot person. You mentioned it on "Ready For It." You mentioned it on "The Archer." But, in this instance, the straightforward question format drove it home in a really genuine, simple way.
A bonus advantage to this song is its rich array of potential rhyming parodies. Stay tuned for the Weird Al spin-off for lactose intolerant people, "Would it be enough if I could never give you cheese?"
Betty. TOP FIVE TAYLOR SONG OF ALL TIME. Maybe top three. I love that this can at least be interpreted as queer, I love that it throws a bone to Kaylor truthers, I love that it's old-school Taylor with a guitar — I just love it. Whatever they paid that harmonica player, it wasn't enough. The American national anthem will probably be cancelled sooner or later, and when it is, I propose "Betty" as a replacement.
On a serious note, I want to make clear that this album ("Betty" excluded) makes me sad. The sound of it is bleak and moody, the lyrics even more so, and frankly, extra sadness is not what I need in this no-good, very bad year. I'm going to continue listening to Folklore, but I'll probably take breaks from the darker corners of the record — and, if you're feeling at-capacity for bummerdom, I'd suggest you do so, too. The album will still be there next year when we can leave our houses and see our friends again. And in the meantime, you can always go back to laughing at Reputation.
Overall, though, I'm thrilled that our benevolent queen gifted us with new music. What a piece of news to wake up to in the middle of this summer from hell! The last time I was surprised with Taylor news this good was 2015, when I won tickets to a concert of hers via Tinder (yes, really). I was job-hunting then just as I am now, and the surprise joy of that 2015 ticket win was followed a few days later by the extra joy of a job offer. Let us hope history repeats itself this year, and that when it does, the new job is signficantly less depressing than this new album. Fingers crossed!
Adios 'til the next album, readers. Don't forget your masks.