folklore – First Listen Impressions

taylor litho

Like so, so many people, I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night because of the release of TS8 – folklore. There is already so much I want to say after only one listen, and I want to put it down in writing before subsequent listens change things, as subsequent listens always do.

There are going to be a lot of posts on this site about this album. I’ve been wanting to post about Taylor for years, and that urge bubbled up strongly during the reputation era in 2017 (and I’m just going to put it out there, even though I know it’s Swiftie blasphemy and Taylor herself would disagree, I love reputation more than 1989, by a lot, and that’s not anything against 1989 just love for reputation).

I hadn’t thought about blogging in a long time but that album made me want to write blog posts about every song on the album, about my Taylor Swift origin story (that’s still on the docket to be posted eventually), about the infamous phone call drama (I think the only day since corona started that I forgot, for just a little bit, that we were in the middle of a global pandemic, was when the full phone call was released on Twitter), about some of her other albums and songs and lyrics, and so on.

But I never did.

That was also the era when I was applying to medical school and traveling way too much and spending an insane amount of time watching Taylor videos (anyone else who did that only needs to hear the words “cookie dough” to invoke that time) to get boosts in the Ticketmaster Verified Fan program and taking on a higher-up role at work and so on. So the urge to blog passed, and I was struggling with the name thing. It was similar with the Lover era, except by then I was a full-on medical student and going through an unexpected move prompted by a psycho violent neighbor and also still struggling with the name thing.

This time around, re-invigorating my blog on Wednesday night after a lot of thought and planning, I didn’t expect that maybe twelve hours later there’d be an album drop announcement and a new Taylor era. But here we are, and so, I’m going to post a lot about folklore, I’m sure. So this post is just the beginning. And some of these thoughts are cobbled together from things I said to people last night and wrote on Twitter.

I’ve only listened once so far. Last night, when it finally showed up on iTunes. And I watched the “Cardigan” video once as well. So these are really just a jumble of first impressions.

Thoughts on folklore

-When the album finally showed up on the iTunes Store, one of the first things I noticed was that five songs were marked as explicit and that there was a parental advisory. Because a friend and I had recently been talking about the Tool album that came out last year, my first thought was something like that “That moment when the new Taylor Swift album has a parental advisory and the latest Tool album didn’t.” Also, who knew those even existed anymore? This IS a new era.

I think you can easily see the evolution of Taylor growing up, going from more innocent songs, to venturing into cursing and more directly sexual lyrics (“Dress” for example) and then letting the cursing fly in the Miss Americana documentary. I love it when Taylor curses, and she does it so well on this album.

-“exile” – the track with Bon Iver – they sound so freaking good together.

-“cardigan” video – that line about feeling like an old cardigan under the bed that someone still picks up now and then struck a chord with me. It reminded me of this one time in 2003 when a guy I was totally obsessed with rejected me and I described the way he rejected me (I kinda want to post the exact words because I think it’ll make more sense but if the person saw it this guy would know it was him and would feel called out and I don’t want him contacting me sooooo maybe not?) as feeling like I was a discarded outfit in a dressing room.

Later, I had to stop that friend and her then boyfriend now husband of over a decade, from writing that description somewhere this guy would see it (and what they wrote instead is still one of the funniest, most vulgar things I’ve ever read and it helped me at the time because I was so heartbroken but would think about what they wrote at random moments in my sad and pissed-off days and just about fall over laughing). So the whole cardigan metaphor reminded me of that time and made me feel things.

It also reminded me of the line in “King of My Heart” – “You try on callin’ me baby like you’re tryin’ on clothes” which, because of the aforementioned, is one of my fave lines of the song and one that grabbed me right away.

I LOVE the fire and water imagery of the video

-This album is probably my favorite of hers, already. I’m not usually a “love at first listen” kind of girl. Usually, and this has been true for decades now, ever since listening to an album was a thing in my life that I did, I’m more of a “love by immersion” kind of girl, where an album, upon repeated listens, comes over me in waves until I’m immersed and completely into it. This is actually also true of my romantic life too; instead of an immediate first impulse love or infatuation, I fall for people by immersion, coming on in waves until suddenly I’m drowning.

But this may be love at first listen. In some way, it probably suits me and my particular music tastes most out of her work. I like sad music, and this is an incredibly sad album. At my core, I’ve always been an alternative rock girl more than a pop one (which may have something to do with my preference for reputation over 1989, reputation has a rock feel to it to me in a lot of ways) and it’s not that I would describe folklore as alternative rock, it’s not rock at all, but there is something alternative about it that just exactly fits what I look for in music. This is all still so first impression-y that I feel like I’m not making sense in the words I’m writing here but it makes sense in my head. In a way, I feel like this is the Taylor Swift album I’ve always wanted.

-I want to state for the record that in my post yesterday, based off the cover, I said I expected the music to be moody and somber and contemplative, and I think that wasa pretty spot-on prediction. Just sayin’.

-This is her best songwriting yet. It’s not up for debate. Lyrically, though I don’t remember many of the lyrics after only one listen, I was blown away. Sometimes there’s a fear of having too-high expectations, and I feel like I’m particularly prone to feeling disappointed because of that in art, but lyrically, she exceeded all expectations, high as they were.

-I can’t remember when I started crying while listening to the album–maybe song 2 or 3 or even 1–but I cried (or, as I put it on Twitter, I cried like a bitch baby, which I feel a little wary of posting here because it may offend some people but that’s how I thought of it (and when I say it, I’m referencing an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, and if anyone replies with the correct Grey’s episode – it’s an iconic one – and who says it, I’ll write them a poem) and it made me laugh) for the whole thing.

I don’t usually cry from a first listen to music, or even cry from music that often. Not without context of heartache or loss or something, or some connection I’m making because I know a song so well and it ties to this or that. Though, I did cry the first time I listened to Speak Now.

But yeah, with folklore, I cried like a bitch baby from way early on till the whole way through. I was disappointed to learn we won’t get the bonus track “the lakes” until the physical deluxe album comes out but I also wasn’t sure I could handle another song. I felt like I needed a drink, or an episode of The Office, or a lighthearted podcast episode to put between the listening experience and going to bed just because I felt so emotionally wrecked. In the best way.

-“betty” – other people were ahead of me on Twitter so I was seeing a lot of posts about the song and knew it could be a whopper, but thought maybe I was seeing so much about the emotional impact that it could be overhyped by the time I got to it. Ummmm, nope. I was literally sobbing, out loud. Just thinking about it now is making me tear up.

From the very first moments of the song, I took it to be about betrayal within a female friendship (later found out it’s actually from the perspective of a teenage boy who betrayed a teenage girl). It brought me back to something I did in 1995, when I was fourteen, that ended a friendship with someone who was my best friend at the time. And it’s not ambiguous really, it’s not a we both messed up thing. I try to have compassion for the scared girl that I was at the time, but I was in the wrong. It was not over a guy, which is what I originally took the song to be about. It was about a lie that had a lot of impact on both of our lives. I’m hesitant to say what it was because at face value it seems so trivial, but there was a lot of fallout.

I never made it right with this friend at the time, or anytime after. I tried reaching out once when I was twenty, but I wasn’t sure she ever got the apology card I sent, or would want to hear from me if she did (which definitely resonates with the words of the song), And I still hadn’t come clean about the lie to anyone in my life (a year later, I did but there’d be no way for that to have gotten to her, as our circles were completely un-overlapping by then).

It still lives within me, both an understanding of why I did what I did, and also the guilt for having done it. I still sometimes reflect on it in my journal and it has come up in therapy. I sometimes wonder what high school would have been like if I hadn’t done it, or had made it right with her at the time, and wonder what my life might’ve looked like if we’d remained friends.

So yeah, that song, more than any other, just ripped my heart out. They all did, but this one especially.

-So “betty” takes on storytelling from a character perspective, and for some reason, I kind of expected there to be a lot more of that on this album. I can’t explain why, maybe the short time frame, maybe something about the cover, maybe that we got a bit of that on Lover, especially “Death by a Thousand Cuts,” and maybe just that a lot of songwriters tend to start doing that. Maybe something reminded me of when Tori Amos started writing character songs, and entire albums (Scarlet’s Walk and Night of Hunters come first to mind). Maybe it’s because I’ve been so obsessed with Ingrid Michaelson’s Stranger Songs album (see below). Whatever the reason, I kind of assumed there’d be more songs from different characters. It’s cool.

-Something about folklore, and I can’t put my finger on it, reminds me of Chris Cornell’s Higher Truth album.

-One last thought. I was telling one of my closest friends last night that back in the spring of 2014, I went to an AMA on Reddit. I think it was the only one I ever went to, though there may been a Breaking Bad related one in there somewhere too. This one was with Ingrid Michaelson (who I also have to post about – I’m so obsessed with her Stranger Songs album which is based off of Stranger Things from Netflix). Someone asked her what artist she was most excited about and she said Taylor.

I think people were surprised or asked her why and she said something along the lines that she felt Taylor had so much growth and so many genres to explore ahead of her and was so versatile and she was really excited to see what she’d come up with. This was a few months before we knew anything about 1989. Last night, I was reminded of that, as now we have an indie-esque, singer/songwriter-y new album in folklore.

There is more to say, I have that “I’m forgetting something” feeling even just in this first impressions post. And there will be more to say after more listens, and after watching the lyric videos for all the songs (just realized that’s a thing). But I think I would sum up my first impressions by saying it exceeded my dangerously high expectations, I think it’s her best work yet, lyrically it is fucking gold, and it’s the album I didn’t know I was waiting for from her.

Happy sad-rip-your-heart-out listening!

-April

P.S. I’ve updated this post to fix some grammar mistakes, try to make the backstory I described in the “betty” section a little more clear, and to add some things from some notes that I forgot to include first time around.

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