New York, NY (Top40 Charts) I'm standing in Taylor Swift's cardigan, playing her in my car again, and stopped at the street lights because she knows I've missed her. If I'm being fully transparent, I was not prepared for another mood shift. Statements like these sound witty or goofy to the primary sample size of my friends and peers. Many anxious and creative peers, however, will probably empathize with the strife of having art completely dictate life.
Throughout quarantine, I have tried on many different masks (COVID pun not intended): long hair, short hair, beard, no beard, technicolor, neon, black and white, sepia; I am constantly searching for a "vibe" while never leaning into the comfortability of being confined by a box. I am obsessed with beings that are an amalgam of a million different voices, ideas, colors, and stories. I am also equally obsessed with omniscient, misunderstood women - put those two ideas together (another amalgam, if you will) and you have "folklore".
In the midst of an already extremely 'cruel summer', hearing "folklore" allowed me to almost fully comprehend the multifaceted experience of reflecting during isolation. In reminiscing on past heartbreaks, stories, adventures of love and love lost, I realized that on the heels of multiple years, we start to recount and distribute these stories differently than they actually occurred. The story of an awful, gut wrenching heartbreak might be remembered years later as enlightening, or even funny. Now, this doesn't diminish the initial experience, but, rather exposes the subtext of an emotion - a million different emotions. The basis within the oral traditions of these stories are inherently folklore.
Taylor utilizes her own intense and complex isolation reflections in such a creative way on this album. She creates a character narrative (some historical, some fictional) in the retelling of her own stories. I've learned that, for me, and apparently for Taylor Swift, finding a voice similar to your own in art is one of the most cathartic experiences. The characters of James, Rebekah, the unnamed illicit affair woman, and Betty (a younger Rebekah) are the anchors that drive the ebbs and flows of the story. Now is the part where we circle back to my obsession with omniscient, ominous, misunderstood women.
In the same way I am enthralled with "Judy" of Twin Peaks, I am equally as enthralled with Rebekah; the leading lady of whom we never actually hear from, but is talked about so incessantly; she somehow dictates everything and nothing at the same time- powerful, yet unbelievably powerless. Rebekah Harkness was a real person- a composer and artist who founded the Harkness ballet. She is also the former owner of Taylor Swift's Rhode Island home. She blew all her money on the boys and the ballet. She flew in her bitch pack friends from the city. She had parties and pools filled with champagne. She mused over boys, got her heart broken, and broke quite a few along the way. She had a marvelous time ruining everything. The irony of living in Rebekah's home was definitely not lost on Taylor, as she navigated her way through "folklore" paralleling the similarities between Rebekah and herself.
The standout tracks, for me, are found in the love triangle aspect of the album. From The Last Great American Dynasty, to Cardigan, to August, to Illicit Affairs, to Betty, it's a fun game placing which character sings each song. Found within these different voices, however, are inherently "Swiftian" motifs. She calls back to "bad was the blood of the song in the car", she muses over the "garden", "shades of blue" and that ever-lasting Taylor Swift cry of "I remember". The recycling of these themes, I believe, are one of the most important aspects to the album. In the same way that I might reference Taylor Swift lyrics to mirror my own experience, Taylor uses her own motifs to mirror her character's experiences. Every character is interconnected in a beautifully dark way- exploiting each other's pain and heartbreak for the sake of art.
I find it funny how many fans and publications assumed this was a breakup album. You can tell who hears the words in music and who actually listens to them. There's not a right or wrong way to do it, it's just more fun to actually listen. Of course, a story is about a specific experience, but the beautiful complexities are what happen in between (the devil is in the details, after all)- the fairytale-esque regurgitation of a story in which multiple people write different endings. Every story comes from a real place, but the final product of the song is not necessarily the historical experience- it's simply folklore.
Written by Anthony Lario
Contributions from Dominic Lario, Morgan La Motta, and Alexandra Hernandez