Any musical artist with staying power has a defining album, the collection of music that defines their legacy. For Paul Simon it was “Graceland,” for Katy Perry “Firework,” and if you’d asked me this time last year, I’d have said Taylor Swift’s was “Reputation.”
That’s all changed, however, with the release of her 8th studio album, “Folklore.” It comes just barely a year after the release of her highly-anticipated “Lover” album.
“Folklore” is a 180 from any of Swift’s previous work. It is, as the kids say, a cultural reset. Gone are the overhyped album releases: the Easter eggs, the anticipation. Gone is Swift’s affair with over-stylized pop music, replete with garish costumes and autotune.
It’s no secret that Swift is an accomplished lyricist. She’s exhibited her penchant for songwriting since the release of her debut album in 2006. As she morphed from a country star to a pop star, however, her lyrics were often overshadowed by over-the-top performances and heavily-produced music.
Change is not new for Swift. She switches personas like a chameleon, morphing her color and personality to fit her age and status in the music industry. Taylor Swift fans categorize her career into different eras. The “Red” era was marked by Swift’s straight blunt bangs, red lipstick, and vintage vibe. The “Reputation” era saw snakes and skin-tight bodysuits.
But, none of those eras could go the distance. Each one was too niche, too pointed. She either outgrew it or her fans moved on from it before she could really flesh it out. But, “Folklore” has the power to stay. If there’s ever a Taylor Swift era that has potential for permanence, it’s this one.
In “Folklore,” Swift’s lyrics return to the focus on storytelling that made her earlier work stand out. The stripped-down and raw musical style beautifully showcases her lyrical genius. There is nothing to hide behind, nothing to distract from what she has to say.
Swift also writes like the 30-year-old woman she is. The lyrics show maturity and understanding of the world, something that has not been present on her last seven albums. Instead of angry breakup songs, Swift takes a different approach to writing about relationships. She views ending relationships as lessons rather than personal affronts.
In “The 1,” Swift sings, “But we were something, don’t you think so? Roaring twenties, tossing pennies in the pool. And if my wishes came true, it would’ve been you.” Gone is the vengeful tone of songs like “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “I Forgot That You Existed.”
Swift now writes like she’s been there before, like she’s experienced and learned from life. It’s not just refreshing, but also necessary. Throughout her career, Swift’s fans have matured and grown alongside her. Her ability to write to them and for them has always been impressive. Now that fan base is gravitating toward mature and honest lyrics, Swift had to adapt. And she delivers.
“Folklore” is Swift’s ticket to the annals of music history. There’s no question that she’s talented and that her music resonates with her audience, but she’s struggled to find a personal style. She’s proven time and again that she can morphe and conform to the expectations and appetites of the culture. But that continuous — and drastic — pendulum swing is unsustainable.
Swift needed to find her sound, her natural state. “Folklore” is it. This is Swift’s defining moment, and if she can hold onto this honesty and rawness, she will be remembered as one of the greatest musicians of the 21st century. This is her turning point. Let’s hope she can see it.