folklore was my first real introduction to Taylor Swift’s music, and I very much enjoyed the discovery.
I think I originally tried some of the songs this fall — the first I remember listening to are “peace” and “betty.” Eventually I decided I wanted to try them all, so I listened in order from start to finish (I did the same thing for evermore and might do a review of that too later). This post is basically an excuse for me to do a few things:
- fangirl about this amazing album.
- talk about what makes some of the songs so great (and what makes the others fall short for me).
- discuss content concerns and explain my thoughts on what is and isn’t appropriate for Christians to listen to.
I am really excited to do this and I hope you enjoy it! 😀
Taylor opens the album with a catchy beat and a captivating story.
“the 1” is a fun song full of unexpected metaphors. It’s about a breakup and a past relationship, and the singer says “it would’ve been fun / if you would’ve been the one… / if one thing had been different.” This song is not one of my favorites and I’m glad I didn’t hear it first; the main reason that I got into this album is the folky/acoustic sound of some tracks (I love folk!).
Nothing in particular strikes me about this song. It’s fine and I enjoyed it all right.
all lyrics in graphics are by Taylor Swift
This line reminds me of one of my favorite Bible verses:
We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame.
~ Romans 5:3-5
I’m going to talk about the mature content in this album later. For now I’m going to leave some content warnings on each song, so you can decide if it’s something *you* are okay with! 🙂 I’m not going to talk about things like mentions of kissing or romantic relationships unless I find them explicit, so you can assume there might be some of that in any/all of the tracks. (Feel free to look up the lyrics if you want to know more.)
content: s*** (muted in clean version)
(links are to Spotify)
This song is the first in a trio that tells a story from three different viewpoints.
I absolutely love the idea of telling a story in different ways in different songs! This is something I’ve played around with a little bit in a WIP (not songs, though) and it’s awesome to see someone do it.
This also is a song that might have turned me off the whole album. It feels a little like jazz to me (to be clear, I know nothing about jazz except what I learned in La La Land) and the tune isn’t very interesting. But I love this metaphor: “and when i felt like i was an old cardigan / under someone’s bed / you put me on and said i was your favorite.”
The tune of the bridge is a nice change from the rest of the song. This is definitely one I will return to (and already have listened to a bunch) because it has so many good lines (“you drew scars around my scars,” “i knew you’d haunt all of my what-ifs”) and because of the three-POV story.
this one was so hard to choose because all the lyrics are so good…
I always think of this song as the Dust song now, because of this line. (Dust is a Peter Pan retelling/sequel.)
content: “sensual;” mention of drunkenness + smoking, someone’s hand under the singer’s shirt
the last great american dynasty
So… I still don’t exactly understand this song?
According to Genius, it’s the story of Rebekah Harkness, one of the richest women in the U.S. in the 1840s. I’d like to learn more about the history behind it because it still doesn’t make much sense to me. The song seems to be about sexism and how people thought Rebekah ruined her husband’s “dynasty,” then compares Rebekah to Taylor. (At least… that’s what I think?)
I like the tune of this one a lot! It’s great fun to listen to musically (even if I didn’t get any of it until I looked up the lyrics).
content: b**** (muted in clean version)
At last, we’ve come to one of my favorites!!
This song is utterly beautiful and I love it! Like all the folklore songs, this one tells a story, but unlike the others this one has two points of view in one track. It uses the extended metaphor of a movie as the two singers discuss their failed relationship. “i think i’ve seen this film before / and i didn’t like the ending,” they say. Their lines are so similar that the little differences stand out starkly: “i’m not your problem anymore / so who am i offending,” the woman says (see graphic below for the contrasting line).
I saw this on a playlist someone made of “songs that should be in musicals” and I absolutely agree. Please somebody put this in a musical. The music sounds like a musical!
again, so hard to choose!
no content warnings
And… we’re back to a song I don’t understand 😂
I didn’t know what this song was about at all until I read the lyrics and explanations on Genius. It’s an extended metaphor in which the singer suggests she is a disco ball who reflects what everyone else wants her to be. I like the tune a lot, and now that I understand what’s going on I think I’ll listen to it more.
content: mention of drunkennness
This song is a tribute to childhood and I love its simplicity.
“please picture me in the trees,” Taylor sings. “i think you should come live with me / and we can be pirates.” The entire song is a memory of being young in Pennsylvania (I spent three years of my childhood in Pennsylvania, so I love the reference to it) and asking a friend to remember when they were young. It’s so lovely!
I also associate this song with The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes because of the foresty aesthetic and the lines about folk songs.
no content warnings
This is the second in the trio of songs from different POVs.
You probably won’t see the connection between “cardigan” and “august” until you hear the third song, but it’s there — both songs talk about the same boy. This one is about a relationship that only lasts for a summer, and the singer says “it was enough / to live for the hope of it all… / but you weren’t mine to lose.” I really enjoy the chorus of this song and it’s among my favorites (though not up the standard of “my tears ricochet” or “exile”).
Definitely re-listen to this one after you hear “betty,” because there a lot of connections and internal references.
content: mention of drinking + being “tangled in bedsheets”
this is me trying
This song is unfortunately relatable.
The narrator talks about how she’s “been having a hard time adjusting” — “i didn’t know if you’d care if i came back.” She doubts herself and is tired of being told her fears are irrational. I love the instrumental sections and the strings and drums! It’s a beautiful, heartbreaking song. Taylor’s low vocals are hauntingly lovely.
content: mention of drinking
Content-wise, this song is my least favorite.
It’s about an affair, as the title suggests, and how the narrator has to keep it a secret from everyone around her. There are some neat metaphors and a reference to Robert Frost, and I really like the tune and instruments, but the fact remains that the song is about an affair. So. I wouldn’t recommend it as the first folklore song you listen to, and you might just want to skip it.
content: discussion of an affair, subtle sexual references, mention of drugs, d***, “godforsaken”
This song is sweet and whimsical.
It imagines that a string has been tying Taylor and her boyfriend together since they were younger, and tells about their relationship. The metaphor reminds me of a story by George MacDonald and I love the lyrics! “chains around my demons… / one single thread of gold.” This track is very folky and acoustic, too.
no content warnings
This song is very strange and disturbing…
…and I’m not sure what to think of it. Like most of the songs in folklore, it’s about a breakup and what follows, but it’s very dark, from the point of view of a woman who’s been turned down in favor of someone else. The narrator says she doesn’t care that everyone thinks she’s crazy; instead she decides to hate her replacement and compares it to a witchhunt. “it’s obvious that wanting me dead / has really brought you two together.”
content: mention of a noose, wanting someone dead, “side flings;” f*** (replaced with “hate” in clean version)
This track is a tribute to soldiers and frontline medical workers.
I love the ethereal, echoing atmosphere and vocals of this one, and the story it tells. It’s one of the ones that you need to listen to multiple times in order to fully understand. The lyrics are all so good, too! “some things you just can’t speak about” reminds me of Hamilton.
no content warnings
And now we come to my favorite (or close)!
This is the third song in the trio, from the POV of James, the boy referred to in “cardigan” and “august.” Betty (the POV of “cardigan”) was James’ girlfriend, but he spent the summer with the POV girl from “august,” and now he’s coming back and trying to apologize to Betty. I absolutely love the tune and the lyrics — “right now is the last time / i can dream about what happens when / i see your face again” — and there are so many connections to both of the previous songs!
I definitely recommend listening to the clean version of “betty” since there are two f-words in the song that distract from the heart and fun of the rest of it.
content: mention of sleeping next to someone; f*** (replaced with “hell” in clean version)
This one feels like a fireside story told under the stars.
It’s gentle and calm, a haven from some of the darker content on the album, and is a restful song to listen to. It’s a quiet love song; the narrator feels insufficient compared to her honorable and brave lover: “your integrity makes me seem small… / it’s like i’m wasting your honor.”
so, so hard to choose. runners-up: “i never had the courage of my convictions” and “i would die for you in secret”
content: s*** (muted in clean version)
A dark and desolate story, “hoax” is about a failed relationship.
It’s full of vivid metaphors and memories. I haven’t listened to it as much as most of the others (I kept starting the album over but only got this far once), and it was a surprising contrast the other tracks. I was interested the entire time because I could never guess what the next line would be.
content: mention of standing “on a cliffside / screaming ‘give me a reason'” and of being (literally) “pulled apart”
This song sounds like it’s from an old musical.
“isn’t it romantic how all my eulogies eulogize me?” asks the narrator ironically. “i don’t belong… / those windermere peaks look like the perfect place to cry,” she says, setting out for the lakes to be alone with her beloved. I really like this song! I relate to a lot of the lyrics. It’s a The Sound of Music song for me because of the lake in the movie 😛
no content warnings
thoughts on mature content
I believe that it is all right for Christians to listen to, read, watch, etc. content they do not condone. If I didn’t believe this, I wouldn’t watch The Lord of the Rings (battles! violent deaths!) or read the Wingfeather Saga (children disobey their parents!) or listen to Taylor Swift. But I also believe that Christians should not dwell on these things. We are called in the Bible to think on whatever is pure, noble, and good. So let us choose pure, noble, and good things to dwell on.
As an adult (albeit a new one), I am comfortable with listening to Taylor Swift’s folklore. However, I know that many of you may disagree with me — either because you think it’s just wrong, or because you are not personally comfortable with the amount of profanity or other content in the album. And that’s okay! I respect your choices and beliefs. Or maybe you’re reading this and you’re not a Christian at all — I respect that too. It’s all right to disagree. We can talk about our differences but we don’t have to agree on everything to be friends. 🙂
I usually choose to listen to the clean version of “betty” because I’d rather not have the f-word become a part of my regular life and vocabulary, and I tend to not listen to “mad woman” or “illicit affairs” because they make me uncomfortable. When I’m with my younger siblings, I don’t play music with profanity in it, and I would probably avoid a few of the darker songs on folklore as well (I haven’t been listening to it for long, and most of my siblings are not interested in Taylor Swift XD).
One last thing: I’m not a fan of the word “clean” in reference to books/music/tv. It can be a handy way to say “this book is free of inappropriate content,” but — what are we calling “clean” vs. “dirty” in this situation? I’ve heard people say things like, “This book is clean! Only one s-word and, oh yeah, someone dies gorily, and there’s that one makeout scene… but it’s clean, I promise.” If I was defining “clean” then it wouldn’t include most of those things.
This article by Josiah DeGraaf has influenced my thoughts on “clean” content in stories — I recommend reading it if you’d like to learn more. For the sake of this blog post I referred to the “clean version” of each song, but I want to be clear: Some of the “clean” versions of Taylor Swift’s songs are just as dark or uncomfortable as the explicit versions. Just because a swear word is muted doesn’t mean the song becomes immediately acceptable.
In the end, what you listen to and what you’re comfortable with is up to you. I hope this post/review helps you figure out whether or not you want to try folklore (and if you do try it, I hope you love it, because it’s beautiful!).
I also like “epiphany,” “this is me trying,” and “hoax” a lot. But those five are my top favorites. Also, something else I wanted to talk about but didn’t know where to put: if you listen to these songs on Spotify mobile, there are short looping videos for each track that are absolutely lovely! So ethereal and woodsy and wild.
Until next time, my friends, stay safe and sane and have a lovely day listening to folklore!
i’m off to the lakes where the poets went to die,
P.S. Have you listened to folklore? Which song is your favorite?
(And a note: If you want to participate in the Meet My MC linkup, you have 7 more days to do that!)