Taylor Swift reckons with her own mythology on FolkloreEd Blairon August 11, 2020 at 1:00 pm

The weekend of July 25, 2020, was supposed to be a coronation for Taylor Swift. That’s when her intercontinental touring music festival, Lover Fest, scheduled to begin in April, would’ve arrived at the brand-new Sofi Stadium in Los Angeles, where she would’ve become the first woman to perform the inaugural event at an NFL venue. Instead, the COVID-19 pandemic wiped those plans clean, and Swift largely retreated from the public eye, making only an occasional political tweet supporting BLM protesters after George Floyd’s murder or taking Donald Trump to task for stoking white supremacism among his supporters. Swift has a knack for turning lemons into lemonade, though, so when she didn’t get a chance to set attendance records, she created another kind of peak experience with the surprise July 24 release of her eighth album, Folklore. It trades the glib bombast of last year’s Lover for hushed indie folk, and for the first time Swift pauses to address the costs of building a reactive and combative public persona–and the lingering consequences of her actions. Over the plucked acoustic guitar of “Invisible Strings,” she wryly sings about buying baby gifts for the offspring of former paramours she castigated two or three album cycles ago. While Swift has previously nodded at the cracks in her carefully constructed identity (“The Archer” from Lover, “Delicate” from Reputation), on the wistful “Peace” she steps forward from that earlier work. Anchored by a sparse synth-bass riff, she sings of anxiety, of fearing that she’ll be simultaneously too much and not enough for her lover, and she offers a vision of the only kind of future together she can imagine–one filled with fire and conflict. At the end of the song, she leaves a simple question hanging in the air: “Would it be enough if I could never give you peace?” This would be a stunningly vulnerable statement from any pop star, and it’s doubly so from a singer who expertly and deliberately controls her public image. Releasing a hushed, contemplative indie-folk record in July is a canny move from Swift; its lead single, the Bon Iver duet “Cardigan,” is more likely than any song of the summer to stick in listeners’ ears as the seasons change. The minimalist qualities of Folklore might make it seem like an outlier in Swift’s catalog, but her willingness to examine and explode her previous personas all but guarantees it’ll stay relevant–and eventually be recognized as her most accomplished work. v

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