July 24, 2020
Table of Contents
Background and Release
Taylor announced that the music video for the album’s lead single “cardigan” would debut at the same time as the album’s release. During the YouTube premiere countdown to the music video for “cardigan”, Taylor revealed that the album lyrics contained many of her signature Easter eggs: “One thing I did purposely on this album was put the Easter eggs in the lyrics, more than just the videos. I created character arcs and recurring themes that map out who is singing about who…For example, there’s a collection of three songs I refer to as the Teenage Love Triangle. These three songs explore a love triangle from all three people’s perspectives at different times in their lives”.
The code name used for folklore was woodvale. Taylor referred to the album as “wistful and full of escapism. Sad, beautiful, tragic. Like a photo album full of imagery, and all the stories behind that imagery”, and described “cardigan” as a song that explores “lost romance and why young love is often fixed so permanently in our memories,”. She also named the self-written track “my tears ricochet” as the first song she wrote for the album.
A documentary detailing the making of folklore along with an acoustic performance of its songs, folklore: the long pond studio sessions, was released to Disney+ on November 25, 2020, accompanied by its live album.
folklore has been described as an indie folk, alternative rock, electro-folk, and chamber pop album with elements of indie rock, electronica, dream pop and country. Devoid of any pop songs, it marked Taylor’s departure from the contemporary pop sound of her previous works. The album consists of cinematic, downtempo ballads with an “earthy”, lo-fi production and elegant melodies that together lend a modern spin on traditional songcraft, largely built around “nearly neo-classical” instrumentals, such as: soft, sparse and sonorous pianos, moody, picked and burbling guitars, fractured and glitchy electronica, throbbing percussions, mellow programmed drums and Mellotron, sweeping orchestrations with “ethereal” strings and “meditative” horns. Taylor told Paul McCartney: “There’s so much stress everywhere you turn that I kind of wanted to make an album that felt sort of like a hug, or like your favorite sweater that makes you feel like you want to put it on. Like a good cardigan, a good, worn-in cardigan. Or something that makes you reminisce on your childhood.”
The album does not completely avoid “digital beats, plush synths” characteristic of Taylor’s pop music, but instead “dials them down until they are an almost invisible texture”. Rolling Stone noted that the vibe of folklore resembles that of “Safe & Sound“, Taylor’s Grammy-winning single for the Hunger Games film soundtrack (2012). Co-producer Jack Antonoff told the publication in 2021:
Lyrics and Themes
Upon the release of the album, Taylor noted how isolation played a big role in the making of folklore and how it helped her during the lockdown period: “In isolation, my imagination has run wild and this album is the result, a collection of songs and stories that flowed like a stream of consciousness. Picking up a pen was my way of escaping into fantasy, history, and memory. I’ve told these stories to the best of my ability with all the love, wonder, and whimsy they deserve.”
Compared to much of Taylor’s older discography, the songwriting on folklore reflected her “deepening” self-awareness, formed “vivid” storytelling, and showed a “higher degree of fictionalization” that was less “self-referential”. The songs are also notably less upbeat than on Lover. In October 2020, Taylor told Paul McCartney in an interview for Rolling Stone that she wanted to make sadness the central theme of the album in a way that made it less scary and more comforting because some may have needed it amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The songs explore points of view that diverge from Taylor’s life, including third-person narratives. She told The New York Times in 2021: “I’ve always been so curious about people with synesthesia, who see colors or shapes when they hear music. The closest thing I’ve ever experienced is seeing an entire story or scene play out in my head when I hear Aaron Dessner’s instrumental tracks.”
The imaginary narratives described in folklore include 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 her funeral, recovering addicts, and a fumbling teenage boy. Three of the tracks — “cardigan”, “august” and “betty” — depict a love triangle between three fictitious characters: Betty, James and an unnamed woman, with each of the three songs written from the perspective of each of those characters in different times in their lives. Commenting on the maturity of the album’s lyrical execution, NPR‘s Ann Powers compared the album to releases by other artists when they were thirty years old, such as: The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St. (1972), Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark (1974), or Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life (1976). Many songs on folklore also incorporate cinematic imagery in their lyrics. Taylor told Paul McCartney:
folklore turned out be to be a massive success for Taylor and broke many records in the first 10 weeks of its release. It broke numerous streaming records upon release, including the Guinness World Record for the biggest opening day for an album by a female artist on Spotify. The album sold two million copies in its first week globally, 1.3 million of which were sold on its first day.
Earning more than 846,000 units in its first-week in the US, folklore debuted atop the Billboard 200 chart, giving Taylor her seventh consecutive number-one album on the chart. The album also reached number-one in Australia, Canada, Belgium, Ireland, New Zealand, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and several other territories. All sixteen tracks of the album debuted simultaneously on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, with three in the top-ten; “cardigan” debuted at number-one, giving Taylor her sixth chart-topping single in the US and making her the first act in history to debut atop the Billboard Hot 100 and Billboard 200 charts in the same week, while “the 1” and “exile” reached fourth and sixth spots, respectively.
“cardigan” was released as the lead single from the album on July 27, 2020 and reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. “exile“, featuring American indie folk band Bon Iver landed at No. 6 upon release and was made the second single. Later, “betty” and “the 1” followed as third and fourth single, respectively. folklore topped the Billboard Hot 200 list for 8 weeks. In November 2020, it achieved the monumental feat of selling 1 million copies in the US, becoming the first million-seller of 2020.
folklore received widespread critical acclaim, with emphasis on its sonic coherence, relaxed atmosphere, and lyrics based on fictional narratives. Its tracks received five nominations at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards, winning “Album of the Year”. It made Taylor the first woman in history to win the top prize thrice (in three different genres), and the fourth artist overall. The album was also a candidate for “Best Pop Vocal Album”, while “cardigan” was nominated for “Best Pop Solo Performance” and “Song of the Year”, making Taylor the most nominated female artist ever in the latter category with five nods. “exile” contended for “Best Pop Duo/Group Performance”.
At the 2020 American Music Awards, Taylor scored four nominations: “Artist of the Year”, “Favorite Pop/Rock Female Artist”, “Favorite Music Video” for “cardigan” and “Favorite Pop/Rock Album” for folklore, and won the first three, extending her record as the most awarded artist in the show’s history with 32 American Music Awards. It also marked the third consecutive year Taylor was crowned the “Artist of the Year”, and sixth overall — the first and only artist to achieve it.
Impact and Legacy
folklore was contextualized as a lockdown project upon release, and earned a reputation as the archetypal quarantine album. The Guardian opined that folklore was a respite from chaotic events. The Daily Telegraph called it “an exquisite, empathetic lockdown triumph”. NME wrote the album will be remembered as “the quintessential lockdown album” that “felt like the perfect accompaniment for the weird loneliness” of 2020. Insider stated that folklore would be known as “lockdown’s one true masterpiece”. Rolling Stone said the album may go down in history as “the definitive quarantine album” for providing comfort and catharsis “just when we needed it most”. Billboard proclaimed that folklore would be cherished as one of Taylor’s most influential albums for transcending the unprecedented times and freeing listeners from a socially distant monotonous life. Uproxx noted how folklore changed the tone of music in 2020, and its impact on the year’s cultural landscape “can’t be measured”. And Yahoo! wrote Taylor became the voice of 2020 by touching “the core of a cultural crisis” with albums that emboding a historic pandemic.
Ryan Tedder, who worked with Taylor on the songs “Welcome to New York” and “I Know Places” noted that since Taylor released folklore, other artists have been wanting to produce music with organic instruments again. In January 2021, Hayley Williams of Paramore released her second studio album, Flowers for Vases / Descansos, which she described as “her folklore.” Phoebe Bridgers suggested that her next record could be inspired by the album. Ed Sheeran said: “I think the catalyst to that [the return of real instruments in mainstream music] was Taylor’s folklore. I honestly think when folklore came out, everyone went, ‘Oh, you know what? Yeah, we should be writing like this, we should be making albums like this!’ So I think all credit for that goes to Taylor, for starting that.”
1 Year Anniversary
|Released||July 24, 2020|
|Studio||Long Pond (Hudson Valley, NY)|
Kitty Committee (Los Angeles, CA)
Rough Customer (New York City)
Electric Lady (New York City)
Conway (Los Angeles, CA)
TAYLOR SWIFT CHRONOLOGY