Folklore (Taylor Swift album)

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Folklore
A greyscale picture of a young woman standing in the woods
Standard cover[A]
Studio album by
ReleasedJuly 24, 2020 (2020-07-24)
RecordedApril–July 2020
Studio
  • Long Pond (Hudson Valley, New York)
  • Kitty Committee (Los Angeles, California)
  • Rough Customer (Brooklyn, New York)
  • Electric Lady (New York City)
  • Conway (Los Angeles, California)
Genre
Length63:29
LabelRepublic
Producer
Taylor Swift chronology
Live from Clear Channel Stripped 2008
(2020)
Folklore
(2020)
Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions (From the Disney+ Special)
(2020)
Singles from Folklore
  1. "Cardigan"
    Released: July 27, 2020
  2. "Exile"
    Released: August 3, 2020[note 1]
  3. "Betty"
    Released: August 17, 2020[note 2]
  4. "The 1"
    Released: October 9, 2020[note 3]

Folklore (stylized in all lowercase) is the eighth studio album by American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift. It was a surprise album, released on July 24, 2020, through Republic Records. Swift conceived Folklore in quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic as "a collection of songs and stories that flowed like a stream of consciousness" out of her imagination, and collaborated with producers Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff virtually.

Departing from the upbeat pop elements of its predecessors, Folklore consists of mellow ballads driven by neo-classical instruments, pursuing indie folk, alternative rock and electroacoustic styles. With storytelling rooted in escapism and romanticism, the album explores fictional narratives featuring characters and story arcs, in contrast to the autobiographical tone of Swift's previous projects. The album's title was inspired by the singer's desire for the music to have a lasting legacy akin to folk songs, whereas its artwork and aesthetic reflect cottagecore.

Upon release, Folklore broke the Guinness World Record for the biggest opening day on Spotify for an album by a female act. Three of its tracks reached the top 10 of the official charts in eight countries, namely "Cardigan", "The 1" and "Exile", the first of which is the album's lead single and marked Swift's sixth number-one song on the US Billboard Hot 100. The album reached number one in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and various others. It was Swift's seventh consecutive number-one album on the US Billboard 200, where it topped for eight weeks and became the best-selling album of 2020.

Folklore was met with widespread critical acclaim centering on its emotional weight, poetic lyricism and relaxed pace. Critics found its introspective themes timely for the pandemic and regarded it a bold reinvention of Swift's artistry. The album prominently featured on publications' year-end lists of the best albums of 2020, ranking first on many and frequently called the quintessential lockdown album. It won Album of the Year at the 63rd Grammy Awards, making Swift the first female artist in history to win the honor thrice. Folklore was succeeded by its sister record, Evermore, which was released on December 11, 2020.

Background

In April 2020, Swift was scheduled to embark on Lover Fest, her fifth concert tour in support of her seventh studio album Lover (2019), but the tour dates were cancelled or postponed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.[3] On July 23, 2020, nine photos were uploaded to Swift's Instagram account, all without captions, forming an image of the singer standing alone in a forest. Subsequently, she made another post across all her social media accounts, announcing that her eighth studio album will be released at midnight; Swift stated: "Most of the things I had planned this summer didn't end up happening, but there is something I hadn't planned on that DID happen. And that thing is my 8th studio album, Folklore". She confirmed the image as the album's cover artwork and revealed the track-list.[4] The Wall Street Journal opined that the surprise announcement "caught fans and the music business off-guard".[5] Billboard stated that the news "blindsided the pop music world", and saved listeners from their tedious lockdown lives.[6] Folklore was released eleven months after Lover—the fastest turnaround for a Swift studio album, beating the one year and nine months gap between Reputation (2017) and Lover. In another post, Swift announced that the music video for the track "Cardigan" would debut at the same time as the album's release.[7]

During the YouTube premiere countdown to the "Cardigan" music video, Swift hinted 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".[8] She 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",[9] described "Cardigan" as a song that explores "lost romance and why young love is often fixed so permanently in our memories,"[10] and pointed-out the self-written track, "My Tears Ricochet", as the first song she wrote for the album.[9] Uproxx narrated, "on Thursday night, that hand-drawn 'T' and 'S' could be seen up and down the timeline. Music fans and critics across genres unveiled hot takes, quoted lyrics like Myspace teens writing on the back of textbooks or crafting the perfect AIM away message, and debated Folklore's place in the unimpeachable Taylor Swift canon".[11]

Conception

Swift did not expect to create an album in early 2020.[12] After the cancellation of Lover Fest,[3] the singer quarantined herself, during which she watched numerous films, such as Rear Window (1954), L.A. Confidential (1997), Pan's Labyrinth (2006), Jane Eyre (2011), Marriage Story (2019),[12] and The Last Dance (2020),[13] and read more books than she ever did, books that "dealt with times past, a world that doesn't exist anymore", such as Rebecca (1938) by Daphne du Maurier.[14] The fictions inspired Swift to venture beyond her usual autobiographical style of songwriting, and experiment with different narrative standpoints.[12] In isolation during the lockdown, she let her imagination "run wild", ensuing in a set of imageries and visuals that consequently became Folklore.[15]

It started with imagery. Visuals that popped into my mind and piqued my curiosity. Stars drawn around scars. A cardigan that still bears the scent of loss twenty years later. Battleships sinking into the ocean, down, down, down. The tree swing in the woods of my childhood. Hushed tones of "let's run away" and never doing it. The sun drenched month of August, sipped away like a bottle of wine. A mirrored disco ball hovering above a dance floor. A whiskey bottle beckoning. Hands held through plastic. A single thread that, for better or for worse, ties you to your fate. Pretty soon these images in my head grew faces or names and became characters. I found myself not only writing my own stories, but also writing about or from the perspective of people I've never met, people I've known, or those I wish I hadn't.

— Swift on how she developed Folklore, Billboard[15]

Some of the imageries the singer developed include: "An exiled man walking the bluffs of a land that isn't his own, wondering how it all went so terribly, terribly wrong. An embittered tormentor showing up at the funeral of his fallen object of obsession. A seventeen-year-old standing on a porch, learning to apologize. Lovestruck kids wandering up and down the evergreen High Line. My grandfather, Dean, landing at Guadalcanal in 1942. A misfit widow getting gleeful revenge on the town that cast her out".[15] Swift "poured all of [her] whims, dreams, fears, and musings" into the songs, and reached out to her "musical heroes" to collaborate with.[16] She initially planned to release Folklore in early 2021, but it "ended up being done" sooner, and released in July 2020 without giving it second thoughts. She approached the album's creation without subjecting herself to any rules, and explained that she "used to put all these parameters on [herself], like, "How will this song sound in a stadium? How will this song sound on radio?" If you take away all the parameters, what do you make? And I guess the answer is Folklore".[14]

Writing and recording

Swift drifted towards a direction of escapism and romanticism in terms of her songwriting,[14] and enlisted two producers to achieve her desired sound—her longtime collaborator Jack Antonoff, who previously worked with her on 1989 (2014), Reputation (2017), and Lover, and first-time collaborator Aaron Dessner, guitarist of the American indie rock band the National.[17] Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Swift, Antonoff and Dessner quarantined remotely, separate from each other, and created Folklore by continually exchanging digital files of instrumentals and vocals.[18] The album ensued from a do-it-yourself process,[19] mixed and engineered by personnel scattered across the US.[6]

Man playing a guitar on stage
Man playing a red guitar
Folklore features production from Aaron Dessner (pictured left) and Jack Antonoff (pictured right); Dessner produced the majority of tracks.

Swift had previously met the National on an episode of Saturday Night Live in 2014, and she attended one of their concerts in 2019, where she talked to Dessner and his twin brother Bryce.[20] She enquired Dessner about his songwriting technique, because it's her "favorite thing to ask people who I'm a fan of", and Dessner replied that his band members live in different parts of the world, and that he would make instrumental tracks and send them to lead singer, Matt Berninger, who would write the lyrics—this ignited Swift's idea to create music during quarantine.[14]

After all recording studios were closed due to the pandemic, Swift built a home studio in her Los Angeles residence, named Kitty Committee studio, with help from engineer Laura Sisk.[12] Antonoff, with whom Swift collaborated on five songs from the album, worked from New York City while Sisk recorded Swift's vocals from Los Angeles. "My Tears Ricochet" was the first song written for the Folklore. Swift wrote it about her ties with Scott Borchetta, founder of her old record label, coming to an abrupt end.[12] Antonoff compared the writing process of "Mirrorball" and "August" to that of "Out of the Woods" (2016); he sent tracks to Swift, who returned them with completed lyrics.[21] Swift wrote "Mirrorball" following the cancellation of Lover Fest, as an ode to fans who find solace in her music and concerts.[22] She wrote "August" about a fictitious mistress, and "This Is Me Trying" based on multiple narratives, such as dealing with addiction and other struggles, and her own mental health in 2016–2017 when she felt she was "worth absolutely nothing".[12]

In late April, Swift approached Dessner to co-write some songs remotely. He worked on eleven of the album's sixteen tracks with her over the next few months.[23] Dessner remarked he "thought it would take a while for song ideas to come" and "had no expectations as far as what we could accomplish remotely", but was pleasantly surprised that "a few hours after sharing music, my phone lit up with a voice memo from Taylor of a fully written song—the momentum never really stopped".[24] Swift and Dessner "were pretty much in touch daily for three or four months by text and phone calls".[20] He would mail her folders of instrumentals, and she would write the "entire top line"—melody and lyrics, and "he wouldn't know what the song would be about, what it was going to be called, where [she] was going to put the chorus".[14] The first song Swift and Dessner wrote was "Cardigan", which was based on one of Dessner's sketches called "Maple".[24] "Cardigan" was followed by "Seven" and "Peace".[25] Upon hearing the instrumentals of "Peace", Swift felt an "immediate sense of serenity" that roused the feeling of being peaceful, but thought it would be "too on-the-nose" to sing about finding peace, instead, she wrote about complex "conflicted" feelings in contrast to the calming sound of the track,[12] and recorded it in one vocal take.[20]

Taylor has opened the door for artists to not feel pressure to have "the bop". To make the record that she made, while running against what is programmed in radio at the highest levels of pop music—she has kind of made an anti-pop record.

— Dessner on Swift's new sonic direction in Folklore, Billboard[26]

After a few weeks, when Swift and Dessner had written "six or seven" songs, Swift explained him her concept of Folklore.[25] She also told him about the work she had done earlier with Antonoff, concluding that she thinks both of her works resonate as an album.[24] Swift and Dessner also wrote "The Last Great American Dynasty", "Mad Woman", and "Epiphany", the first of which has an array of electric guitars inspired by Radiohead's 2007 surprise album In Rainbows, with lyrics written by Swift in under the time Dessner went out jogging and returned.[24] The lyrics document American socialite Rebekah Harkness, whom Swift had been wanting to write about ever since she bought the Holiday House in 2013.[12] Dessner composed the piano melody for "Mad Woman" with his earlier work on "Cardigan" and "Seven" in mind.[25] On "Epiphany", Dessner slowed down and reversed the sounds of different instruments to create a "giant stack of harmony", and added piano for a cinematic trope.[24] Swift wrote "Epiphany" based on the experiences of her veteran grandfather and healthcare workers during the pandemic.[12]

Swift wrote two songs, "Exile" and "Betty", with William Bowery. The singer developed "Exile" as a duet, and Dessner recorded a draft of her singing both the male and female parts.[25] Swift and Dessner ran through candidates for the male partner, and Swift liked the voice of Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, who is one half of the American indie rock band Big Red Machine along with Dessner.[20] Dessner sent the song to Vernon, who liked the song, added his own lyrics and sang his part.[24] "Betty" is the only song on the album produced by both Dessner and Antonoff; Swift was influenced by Bob Dylan's albums The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan and John Wesley Harding for its instrumentals.[25][24] Bowery initially appeared to have no online presence and was assumed to be a pseudonym,[27][28] which mainstream media, commentators and fans presumed to be of Swift's boyfriend, English actor Joe Alwyn.[29][30] Swift later confirmed that Bowery was indeed an alias for Alwyn,[31] and that he penned the chorus of "Betty", and the piano composition and first verse in "Exile".[32]

The last two songs written for the album were "The 1" and "Hoax", the first and last songs on the album respectively; Swift wrote both in a span of few hours.[24] Speaking about his collaboration with her, Dessner commented, "There's a palpable humanity and warmth and raw emotion in these songs that I hope you'll love and take comfort in as much as I do."[33]

In a November 2020 Rolling Stone interview with Paul McCartney, Swift stated that she also began using words in the album's lyrics that she always wanted to use, not worrying about whether it would suit radio. She used "bigger, flowerier, prettier" words such as "epiphany", "elegies" and "divorcée", just because they "sound beautiful". Swift disclosed that she maintains lists of such words, and recalled using one such—"kaleidoscope"—in her 2014 song "Welcome to New York".[14] In a December 2020 Entertainment Weekly interview, Swift stated that she wrote the lyrics, melodies, and production on Folklore the way she wanted them, without subjecting herself to others' expectations.[12]

I always thought, "Well, that'll never track on pop radio", but when I was making this record, I thought, "What tracks? Nothing makes sense anymore. If there's chaos everywhere, why don't I just use the damn word I want to use in the song?"

— Swift on using her favorite vocabulary in Folklore, Rolling Stone[14]

Folklore was written and recorded in secrecy. The only people aware of the album were Swift, her boyfriend, family, management team, Antonoff and Dessner; Swift did not disclose the news or play the album to her friends like she did with her previous albums.[12] Near the end of Folklore's recording process, Dessner reached out to regular collaborators, including the National bandmates, to provide instrumentation remotely.[25] Dessner's brother Bryce wrote the orchestration for several songs, while the band's drummer Bryan Devendorf performed the drums in "Seven".[17] Dessner kept Swift's involvement confidential from his family and collaborators until Swift's announcement.[20][34] While filming the "Cardigan" music video, Swift wore an earpiece and lip-synced to the song to prevent it from leaking out.[35] According to Dessner, Swift's label was unaware of the album until "hours" before its launch.[20]

Music and lyrics

A tale that becomes folklore is one that is passed down and whispered around. Sometimes even sung about. The lines between fantasy and reality blur and the boundaries between truth and fiction become almost indiscernible. Speculation, over time, becomes fact. Myths, ghost stories, and fables. Fairytales and parables. Gossip and legend. Someone's secrets written in the sky for all to behold. 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. Now it's up to you to pass them down.

— Swift on the concept of Folklore, Instagram[36]

The standard edition of Folklore is about an hour and three minutes long, consisting of 16 tracks, while the deluxe edition adds a bonus song, "The Lakes", as the seventeenth track. American indie-folk band Bon Iver is featured on "Exile", the fourth track. Folklore was written and produced by Swift, Dessner, and Antonoff, with additional writing credits to Joe Alwyn (under the pseudonym William Bowery) on "Exile" and "Betty", and Justin Vernon, the lead vocalist of Bon Iver, on "Exile".[17][37] It is Swift's first album to carry an explicit content label.[38]

Composition

Critics mostly categorize Folklore as an alternative, indie folk, and electro-folk album that departs from the pop maximalism and synth-driven sound of Swift's previous works.[39][40] NME writer Hannah Mylrea characterized it as indie folk and alternative rock,[41] while the same magazine's Gary Ryan dubbed it indietronica and chamber pop.[42] Variety's Chris Willman and Pitchfork's Jillian Mapes also found it to be chamber pop.[43][44] PopMatters critic Michael Sumsion described the album as a blend of chamber-pop and alt-folk.[45] Folklore encompasses elements of various other genres, namely indie rock,[46] electronica,[47] dream pop[48] and country.[41] A few critics dismissed the indie classification and called it pop.[39][49] The New Yorker critic Amanda Petrusich called Folklore a "genre-less" record that drifts toward atmospheric pop rather than folk.[50]

Devoid of radio-friendly pop songs,[51][52] Folklore eschews the mainstream pop sound of her older work.[43] It consists of mellow, cinematic, slow-paced ballads,[24][53][43] featuring earthy lo-fi production[54] and elegant melodies, together lending a modern spin on traditional songwriting.[53] It is built around neo-classical instrumentals, such as: soft,[47] sparse[44] and sonorous pianos,[53] moody,[44] picked[53] and burbling guitars,[47] glitchy and fractured electronic elements,[47] throbbing percussions,[55] mellow programmed drums and Mellotron,[43] sweeping orchestrations[44] with ethereal strings[48] and meditative horns.[56] The album does not fully avoid plush synths and programmed beats characteristic of Swift's pop music, but instead dials them down to a subtle texture,[53] delivering an electro-acoustic soundscape.[57]

The Atlantic wrote that Folklore "swims through intricate classical and folk instrumentation" organized by electronic music, resulting in an "eerie, gutting, and nostalgic" effect.[58] The Guardian simplified the album as a set of "hushed, intricately woven" chamber-pop songs.[59] Rolling Stone noted the album's vibe resembling "Safe & Sound", Swift's 2012 single for The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond.[51] The Ringer observed that Antonoff confers a synth-based style to the record, while Dessner contributes a piano-leaning sound, and linked Folklore to two songs on Lover—"The Archer" and "It's Nice To Have a Friend"—as Swift's albums "usually have a couple tracks that harken back to the previous album or wind up connecting them to the next".[60] Many critics observed a subdued texture to the production, making space for Swift's voice and lyricism to glow.[61][43][48]

Lyrics and themes

Folklore is a concept album[62] with songs exploring points of view that diverge from Swift's life, including third-person narratives[56] written from perspectives of characters that interweave across the tracks.[24] The songwriting is primarily distinguished by its wistfulness, nostalgia,[24] escapism,[63] contemplation,[64] and empathy.[58] Although Swift opted for a new sound, the album retains stylistic aspects of her trademark songwriting, such as mournful delivery and bildungsroman passion.[60] Compared to much of her older discography, Folklore reflected Swift's deepening self-awareness,[47] introspection,[45] and vivid storytelling[41] that showed a higher degree of fictionalization and fewer self-references,[43] culminating in an outward-looking approach.[58] The lyricism is both personal and fictional, and a blend of both at times.[65] The emotional and narrative range of Folklore is widened by expanding the focus from Swift's personal stories to imagined characters and personifications.[64]

The narratives described in Folklore include a ghost finding its murderer at its funeral, a seven-year-old girl with a traumatized friend, an old widow spurned by her town, recovering alcoholics, and a love triangle between three fictional characters—Betty, James, and an unnamed woman—as depicted in the tracks "Cardigan", "Betty" and "August", with each of the three songs written from each of the character's perspective in different times in their lives.[51] NPR's Ann Powers defined Folklore as a "body constructed of memory, a shared sense of the world, built of myths, heard stories", based on the idea that "we each have our own folklore", with the album being Swift's folklore.[66] Many songs on the album exude a cinematic quality in their lyrics,[67] and reference objects and phenomena in nature, such as a solar eclipse, Saturn, auroras, purple-pink skies, salt air, weeds, and Wisteria.[68]

Songs

The opening track, "The 1", is a soft rock tune[69] driven by a bouncy[47] arrangement of trickling piano, minimal percussion, and electronic accents. Written in the perspective of Swift's friend, "The 1" describes their new-found positive approach to life and past love, wishing they could have been soulmates.[41][24] The slow-burning "Cardigan" is a folk[70] ballad driven by a moody, stripped-down instrumentals[71] of clopping drums and tender piano;[72] Swift sings from the perspective of a fictional character named Betty,[55] who recalls the separation and enduring optimism of a relationship with a boy named James.[67] She mentions Peter Pan and High Line in the song, and uses cardigan as a simile for the persisting physicality of the relationship.[73]

Rebekah Harkness is the muse behind the third track "The Last Great American Dynasty".

"The Last Great American Dynasty" is an alternative indie pop tune with classical instruments like slide guitar, viola, violins, drums and glitchy production elements.[41][74] The satirical song tells the story of American socialite Rebekah Harkness, the founder of Harkness Ballet, when she resided in Swift's Rhode Island mansion—the Holiday House. It details how Harkness married into an upper-class family, was hated by the town, and blamed for the death of her then-husband and heir to Standard Oil, William Harkness, and the fall of his family's name. Swift compares Harkness to herself, drawing parallels between the harsh criticism Harkness received to that of which Swift received throughout her career.[75][76] The soaring "Exile" is a sentimental,[77][78] gospel-flavored,[57] indie folk[79] duet with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, fusing Swift's honeyed vocals with Vernon's growling baritone,[80] serving as an unspoken, argumentative conversation between two former lovers.[79] It begins with a plodding piano and advances into a climax of chorused vocals, dramatic strings, synths[81] and posh harmonies.[82] It has drawn comparisons to Swift's 2013 single "The Last Time".[79]

Sung from the perspective of a deceased lover's ghost, "My Tears Ricochet" is an icy arena-goth song[83] that reflects on the tensions following the end of a marital relationship,[12] using funereal imagery—a metaphor for Scott Borchetta and his sale of the masters of Swift's older catalogue.[67][12] It encompasses a twinkling music box, backing choir, reverbed ad-libs in the bridge, and reaches a tumultuous climax over shuddering drums.[41][84] "Mirrorball" is a folk-tinged, jangle-pop[85] and dream pop[46] song with swirling vocals, pedal steel,[86] snowy tambourine,[58] and twanging guitars,[83] creating a nervous dance-floor sensibility.[8] The song portrays Swift as a disco ball, pertaining to its reflective quality, vowing to the listeners to reveal every facet of themselves. It inspects Swift's ability to entertain people with her music, by sacrificing her vulnerability and sensitivity.[77][67] The song is also interpreted as a romantic declaration.[41]

In "Seven", the nostalgic seventh track,[77] Swift uses her upper register[84] in an innocent tone,[47] reminiscing an abused friend from her childhood in Pennsylvania,[87] whom she cannot fully remember but still has fond memories of, over a resonant production set to flurrying strings and piano.[47] The escapist song sees her hinting at her friend's queerness and urges them to run away with her to India.[73][67] "August" is a gloomy dream-pop song[48] that captures the summer affair between two young lovers—a naive girl who is seen holding on to a boy that "wasn't hers to lose";[55] the boy is revealed to be James, later in the album.[67] The song is a summer anthem,[88] seeing the girl grieve and yearn over her love, using Swift's light and breezy delivery, yo-yoing vocal yelps, and a grandiose production driven by acoustic guitar, glistening vocal reverb, and key changes.[48][67]

The ninth track, "This is Me Trying", is a drowsy orchestral pop song[83] that documents accountability and regret of an alcoholic narrator who admits feeling inadequate.[67] The production slowly grows into a dramatic setting with Swift's ghostly reverb-drenched vocals.[47][77] Over a hushed[83] acoustic arrangement of finger-plucked strings and soft horns,[48] "Illicit Affairs" unfolds infidelity[86] and highlights the measures the disloyal protagonist has to carry out to keep the affair a secret.[77] "Invisible String" is an airy[89] folk song[90] that gives a glimpse into Swift's current love with English actor Joe Alwyn, recounting the "invisible" connection between them that they weren't aware of until they met, alluding to an Asian folk myth called Red thread of fate.[67] It is built around thumping vocal backbeats, an acoustic riff,[90][67] a distinct songwriting style of using passive voice to create narrative remove,[52] and references Swift's past hits "Bad Blood" (2015), "Delicate" (2017) and "Daylight" (2019).[67]

In the seventeenth track "The Lakes", Swift sings about her vacation with her lover to Windermere, the largest lake in England.

With snark and sarcastic remarks at sexism,[78][86] "Mad Woman" tackles the taboo linked with female anger,[67] acting as Folklore's moment of vituperation.[43] Metaphorizing Swift's dispute with Borchetta and Scooter Braun,[12] the song describes a deviant widow getting revenge, with references to witch hunts[76] throwing back to Swift's 2017 deep-cut "I Did Something Bad". "Epiphany" is an ambient,[46] ethereal hymn[86] that depicts the devastation of COVID-19 pandemic, paying homage to the healthcare workers. Swift dubs doctors and nurses as soldiers on beaches,[55] comparing them to her military veteran grandfather, Dean, who fought in the Battle of Guadalcanal (1942) in World War II; she empathizes with their trauma of seeing death and having to reconcile with that to continue serving the affected.[67] Her vocals are notably reverent and angelic in the song, carried by a glacial piano,[91] howling brass[84] and orchestrals.[76]

The fourteenth track, "Betty", is a country and folk rock song knitted in harmonica.[41][86] It is the tale of the relationship narrated in "Cardigan", but in the perspective of the cheating boyfriend James,[55] who had a summer fling with the female narrator of "August".[86] James apologizes for his past mistakes but does not fully own up to them, citing his agoraphobia and Betty's roving eye as excuses.[76] Its characters—Betty, James, and Inez—are named after the daughters of Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively.[92] The R&B-inclining "Peace" spotlights Swift's soulful and jazzy voice, using a complex vocal melody[83][24] over a pulse juxtaposed with three lushly harmonized basslines,[78][25] complemented by minimal synths and a light piano drizzle.[57] "Peace" is a prayer-like ode[83] that dissects the effects of Swift's hectic superstardom on her relationship and warns the subject of the challenges that come with them being a part of her life.[88][77]

"Hoax", the standard closing track, is a slow piano ballad with emotionally raw lyrics that detail a flawed but lasting relationship,[76][24] ending the album on a despondent note of sadness.[93] The deluxe bonus track, "The Lakes", is a string-laden midtempo song[93] that introspects on Swift's semi-retirement in Windermere, the largest lake in England, situated in its Lake District;[8] the location is also mentioned in "Invisible String".[67] Fantasizing a red rose growing out of tundra "with no one around to tweet it", Swift imagines a social media-free utopia,[43] with references to depression, Wisteria flowers, and William Wordsworth, the 19th-century poet known for his Romantic writings.[93]

Art direction

From the very beginning, Taylor had a clear idea of what she wanted for the album's visuals. We looked at Surrealist work, imagery that toyed with human scale in nature. We also looked at early autochromes, ambrotypes, and photo storybooks from the 1940s.

— Beth Garrabrant, "Meet the photographer behind Taylor Swift's folklore artwork", i-D[94]

The album art, packaging, and lyrics videos of Folklore were created in a do-it-yourself method.[12] Swift collaborated with photographer Beth Garrabrant for the artworks, without involving a technical team due to COVID-19 concerns. The photoshoot marked a change from Swift's older shoots, where she would have "100 people on set, commanding alongside other people in a very committee fashion". Swift styled herself for the shoot, including hair, makeup and wardrobe, and prescribed Garrabrant a moodboard prior to the shoot. In Swift's words, the photoshoot was just her and Garrabrant wandering fields.[12] The photographs are characterized by a grayscale, black and white filter.[95][52]

Cover artwork

The standard cover art is a depiction of Swift's imagined idea of an 18th-century pioneer sleepwalking through a forest in a nightgown.[12] In the cover, Swift is standing alone in a misty forest in a morning fog,[96][97] wearing a long, double-breasted plaid coat over a white prairie dress,[98] gazing at the height of a trees-meadow.[99] On the backside cover, she stands turned away from the camera, wearing a slouchy flannel-lined denim jacket slumped around her arms, and a white lace frock, with two loose braided buns low towards her nape, similar to the American Girl doll Kirsten Larson.[98][96] The album title is written in an italicized roman font reminiscent of a Chronicles of Narnia scrawl.[100][101]

The Folklore logo

In a December 14, 2020 interview, Jimmy Kimmel asked Swift about the presence of the word "Woodvale" on the cover artwork of the "Hide And Seek" edition of Folklore, which some suspected to be the title of a new album after Evermore; Swift denied the claim and stated that she did not reveal Folklore's title to anyone until just before its release, instead used "Woodvale" as a code name. The word was included in an artwork as a reference, but was accidentally printed in the final products.[102]

Aesthetic and fashion

Reflecting its lyrical motifs of escapism,[103] Folklore sees Swift embracing a rustic,[52] nature-focused,[95] cottagecore[98][104] aesthetic for the project, moving away from the "technicolor carnival" of its predecessor, Lover (2019).[105] The music video for "Cardigan" expands on cottagecore, and starts with Swift sitting at a vintage piano in a cozy cabin in the woods, wearing a nightgown. The video features a moss-covered forest and a waterfall-producing piano. Swift also sold replicas of the "folklore cardigan" that she wore in the video—a cream colored cable knit, with silver embroidered stars on the sleeves' chunky elbows, and navy blue piping and buttons—on her website.[98]

W Magazine regarded the cardigan the "piece de resistance" of the aesthetic, and thought that the eight cover artworks of Folklore have Swift "frolicking through the woods like a cottagecore queen".[106] Irish Independent wrote that Swift became a "rural tunesmith communing with the birds and the trees", dressed up in a bulky "Clancy Brothers-style" Aran sweater.[107] RTÉ thanked Swift for putting cardigans "back on the map once more".[108] Noting that Swift's album eras have been defined by their own color scheme, fashion and cultural motifs, Teen Vogue described Folklore as simple, neutral-toned wear, with the cardigan helping in understanding the sentimental role clothing plays.[109] Cottagecore faced resurgence on the internet after Swift embraced the aesthetic,[110] with a surge in the sales of hand-knitted Aran sweaters in Ireland and the US.[111]

Comparing it with her past albums, The Guardian characterized 1989 (2014) as sleek and suave, Reputation (2017) as gothic and dangerous, and Lover as jovial and pastel-hued, whereas Folklore is the monochrome tale of a songwriter returning to folksy roots.[64] Refinery29 dubbed the aesthetic as Swift's return to her "truest self",[98] and compared the singer's new look to that of a "classic English Rose".[112] Vogue found Swift opting for a pastoral palette, and drew parallels to the music video of Swift's 2012 single "Safe & Sound".[86] Beats Per Minute deemed the aesthetic reminiscent of works by painters Grant Wood, Andrew Wyeth, and Lionel Walden, especially Wood's American Gothic.[99] Vulture defined Folklore as "an eerie black-and-white indie period horror film" that pays homage to various cult classic films, especially A24 horror films, with its songs evoking visuals that allude to films and horror.[105] The album's aesthetic has been compared to the visuals in several films, including Ivan's Childhood (1962), Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), The Blair Witch Project (1999), Pan's Labyrinth (2006), The Babadook (2014), The Witch (2015), The Beguiled (2017), Woodshock (2017), The Lighthouse (2019), Midsommar (2019) and Little Women (2019).[105][113][98][86]

Release and promotion

Folklore marked the first time Swift strayed away from her traditional extended album rollout, instead opting to release the album suddenly due to her intuition; she stated that "if you make something you love, you should just put it out into the world". Swift first announced the album on her social media 16 hours prior to its release.[114] It was released to all digital music platforms at midnight on July 24, 2020; limited-edition deluxe CDs and vinyls featuring eight different alternate cover artworks only available during the first-week, were sold on Swift's website exclusively.[1] The standard edition ("In the Trees", stylized in all lowercase) CDs of Folklore were released to retail on August 7, 2020,[115][116] while "Meet Me Behind the Mall" (stylized in all lowercase) CDs were made exclusively available at Target.[2] The formerly physical-exclusive Folklore deluxe edition, featuring the bonus track "The Lakes", was released to digital and streaming platforms on August 18, 2020.[37]

Starting on August 20, 2020, a limited number of autographed Folklore CDs were delivered to various independently owned record stores across the US and Scotland to support small businesses during the pandemic.[117][118] Swift mailed replicas of her "folklore cardigan" to celebrity friends and well-wishers.[119] She released four six-song compilations of Folklore tracks on streaming platforms, explaining "the songs on Folklore fit together in different groups and 'chapters' based on how they fit together thematically". The Escapism Chapter, The Sleepless Nights Chapter, The Saltbox House Chapter and The Yeah I Showed Up at Your Party Chapter (all stylized in all lowercase) were released on August 21, August 24, August 27, and September 21, 2020, respectively.[120] Swift's ninth studio album, Evermore, is a sequel to Folklore. The singer dubbed them as sister albums.[121]

Singles

"Cardigan" serves as the lead single of Folklore.[122] Its release was accompanied by an official music video posted to Swift's YouTube channel, directed by Swift and produced by Jil Hardin. Both were released July 24, 2020, alongside the album.[7] It was serviced to US pop and adult pop radio formats on July 27.[123][124] The song debuted at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, becoming Swift's sixth chart-topper and second number-one debut.[125] Billboard noted an unique radio roll-out employed for Folklore, in which few of its tracks were simultaneously promoted to multiple radio formats. While "Cardigan" impacted pop and adult contemporary radio,[126] "Exile" was sent to adult alternative radio on August 3, 2020, which had initially peaked at number 6 on the Hot 100,[127][125] whereas "Betty" was promoted to country radio on August 17, 2020,[128] after arriving at number 6 on the Hot Country Songs chart.[129] "The 1" impacted German contemporary hit radio on October 9, 2020;[130] "The 1" reached number 4 on the Hot 100.[125]

Film and live album

A documentary concert film, titled Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions, was released on November 25, 2020 through Disney+. It was directed and produced by Swift, and sees her performing all 17 tracks of Folklore in an intimate setting at Long Pong Studio, New York, and sharing the stories behind the songs, accompanied by Antonoff and Dessner.[18] Alongside the premiere of the film, Swift's third live album, Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions (From the Disney+ Special), containing the acoustic versions from the film, was released to music streaming platforms.[131][132]

Critical reception

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
SourceRating
AnyDecentMusic?8.5/10[133]
Metacritic88/100[134]
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic4/5 stars[135]
Chicago Tribune3.5/4 stars[136]
The Daily Telegraph5/5 stars[53]
Entertainment WeeklyA[87]
The Guardian5/5 stars[47]
The Independent4/5 stars[137]
NME4/5 stars[41]
Pitchfork8.0/10[44]
Rolling Stone4.5/5 stars[51]
The Sydney Morning Herald 5/5 stars[48]

Folklore received widespread acclaim from music critics, who praised its emotional weight and introspective songwriting,[138] dubbing it as Swift's most subdued and sophisticated body of work yet.[139] At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized score out of 100 to ratings from publications, the album received an average score of 88 based on 27 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".[134] Folklore is widely regarded as a pioneering album of 2020,[140] and is the best-reviewed album of Swift's career.[141]

Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone lauded Swift's songwriting abilities that brought out her "deepest wit, compassion, and empathy", making Folklore her most intimate album so far.[51] Also noting the vivid, well-crafted storytelling filled with imagination and American imagery, Pitchfork's Jillian Mapes considered the album a mature step in Swift's artistry while retaining her core as a celebrated songwriter.[44] Mark Savage of BBC classified Folklore as an indie record dealing with nostalgia and mistakes that resonate with the times.[142] Katie Moulton from Consequence of Sound appreciated Swift's maturity in the album, particularly the employment of third-person perspectives that had been uncommon on her previous works.[85] Others who were impressed with the album's lyricism include The Daily Telegraph's Neil McCormick,[53] i's Sarah Carson,[55] and The Sydney Morning Herald's Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen,[48] all of whom gave the album full-score ratings. Describing the album as a bold attempt, Hannah Mylrea of NME praised Swift's ability to evoke vivid imagery with her songwriting, but found the 16-song run to be sluggish in places,[41] and listed it amongst the best autumnal records of all time.[143]

Several reviewers welcomed Swift's new musical direction. In the words of Chris Willman from Variety, the album is a reminder Swift is among the few pop stars who are willing to experiment with different musical styles.[43] The Guardian's Laura Snapes complimented the album for being both the most cohesive and the most experimental among Swift's releases.[47] Entertainment Weekly's Maura Johnston deemed the album a bold move for a pop star like Swift to challenge its audience.[87] Roisin O'Connor of The Independent praised the album's "exquisite, piano-based poetry" which she found unconventional for Swift's catalog.[137]

AllMusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine was positive towards the album but felt its musical styles are not "precisely new tricks" for Swift.[135] Sharing the same view, Annie Zaleski of The A.V. Club deemed the album not completely experimental, but still showcased a new aspect of Swift's artistry.[91] In his Substack-published "Consumer Guide" column, Robert Christgau was most impressed and touched by youth-themed "Seven" and "Betty" than the more adult songs, which he summarized as "melodically fetching, lyrically deft pop songs that are fine as far as they go". He singled out "The Last Great American Dynasty" as the only intolerable song for how it reminds him "all too much of Taylor Swift the showbiz plutocrat".[144] In a mixed review, The New York Times critic Jon Caramanica praised Swift's songwriting but felt the album is burdened by "desolate" and "overcomposed" indie rock.[145]

Year-end lists

Numerous publications listed Folklore in their rankings of best albums of 2020, including number-one placements from several. The tracks "The 1",[146] "Cardigan",[147] "The Last Great American Dynasty,[148] "Exile",[149] "Mirrorball",[69] "Seven",[150] "August",[151] "This Is Me Trying",[152] "Invisible String"[153] and "Betty"[154] were also named amongst best songs of 2020.

Folklore on year-end lists
Critic/Publication List Rank Ref.
AllMusic Best of 2020 N/A
Favorite Pop Albums of 2020 N/A
American Songwriter Top Albums of the Year N/A [157]
Associated Press Top Albums of 2020 8 [158]
The Atlantic The 16 Best Albums of 2020 N/A [159]
The A. V. Club The 20 Best Albums of 2020 6 [160]
Banquet Records Albums of the Year 2020
7
BBC The Best Albums and Songs of 2020 N/A [162]
3 [163]
The Beaver County Times Best Albums of 2020
8
Billboard Top 50 Best Albums of 2020 1 [6]
The 25 Best Pop Albums of 2020 N/A [165]
The Boston Globe Top 12 Best Pop Albums of 2020
N/A
Chorus.fm Top 30 Albums of 2020
2
Clash Albums of the Year 2020 13 [168]
Complex The Best Albums of 2020 13 [169]
Consequence of Sound Top 50 Albums of 2020 27 [170]
The Daily Pennsylvanian Favorite Albums of 2020 N/A [171]
DIY DIY's Albums of 2020 7 [172]
Dork Albums of the Year 2020 8 [173]
The Economist The Best Albums of 2020 N/A [174]
Entertainment Weekly The 15 Best Albums of 2020 5 [175]
Esquire The Best Albums of 2020 N/A [176]
Esquire (UK) The 50 Best Albums of 2020 18 [177]
The Evening Standard Best albums of 2020 N/A [178]
Exclaim! 50 Best Albums of 2020 22 [179]
Financial Times Best 10 Albums of 2020 9 [180]
Fresh Air Best Albums of the Year
5
Gaffa The 20 Best Foreign Albums of 2020 10 [182]
Gigwise The Gigwise 51 Best Albums of 2020 3 [183]
Glamour The 30 Best Albums of 2020 N/A [184]
Good Morning America The 50 best albums of 2020 7 [185]
GQ Best albums of 2020 9 [186]
The Guardian The 50 Best Albums of 2020 9 [187]
Herald Sun The Best Albums of 2020
N/A
Hot Press Albums of 2020: The Top 10
6
HUMO Best Records of 2020 11 [190]
Idolator The 70 Best Pop Albums Of 2020 2 [191]
Independent The 40 Best Albums of 2020 10 [192]
Insider The 20 Best Albums of 2020 1 [193]
The Irish Times The Best International Albums of 2020
4
Journal Star 100 Best Albums of 2020 9 [195]
Jutarnji list The Best Foreign Albums of 2020 10 [196]
The Line of Best Fit The Best Albums of 2020 Ranked 32 [197]
Los Angeles Times The 10 Best Albums of 2020 1 [198]
Mandatory Top Albums of 2020
6
The Mercury News Top 10 Albums of 2020
2
Metacritic The 40 Best Albums of 2020 8 [201]
Best Albums, By Year 2020 12 [202]
Best of 2020: Music Critic Top 10 Lists 3 [203]
Metro Times Best New Music of 2020
2
Mojo The 75 Best Albums of 2020 31 [205]
Mondo Sonoro The Best International Albums of 2020
26
musicOMH Top 50 Albums Of 2020
2
The Nation The Best Albums of 2020 N/A [208]
NBHAP 50 Best Albums Of 2020 23 [209]
The New York Times Jon Pareles' Best Albums of 2020 4 [210]
Lindsay Zoladz's Best Albums of 2020 11
The New Yorker Sheldon Pearce's 30 Favorite Albums of 2020 N/A [211]
NJ.com The 50 Albums That Saved Us From 2020 1 [212]
NME The 50 Best Albums Of 2020 2 [213]
The Observer Scene's Best Albums of 2020 4 [214]
Official Charts Company Best Albums and Songs of 2020
N/A
OOR End List 2020 18 [216]
Our Culture Mag The 50 Best Albums of 2020 4 [217]
Paste The 15 Best Pop Albums of 2020 N/A [218]
People The Top 10 Albums of 2020 2 [219]
The Philadelphia Inquirer Top Pop Music Albums 6 [220]
Pitchfork The 50 Best Albums of 2020 29 [65]
The Plain Dealer Best Albums of 2020 5 [221]
PopBuzz The 20 Best Albums of 2020 2 [222]
PopMatters The 60 Best Albums of 2020 17 [45]
The 25 Best Americana Albums of 2020 10 [223]
PopSugar The 50 Best Albums of 2020
16
RNZ 2020 Top 20 Albums 20 [225]
Rolling Stone The 50 Best Albums of 2020 1 [226]
The San Diego Union-Tribune Best Pop Albums of 2020
8
[227]
Scoop Best Music Of 2020 N/A [228]
Shondaland Best Music of 2020 N/A [229]
Slant The 50 Best Albums of 2020 4 [230]
Slate The Best Albums of 2020 11 [231]
The Music Club, 2020 2 [232]
Sonic 2020's Best Albums 17 [233]
South China Morning Post The Best Albums of 2020
1
Spectrum Culture Top 20 Albums of 2020
12
Star Tribune Jon Bream's Top 10 Albums
5
Stereogum The 50 Best Albums Of 2020 5 [237]
Tampa Bay Times The 10 best albums of 2020 5 [238]
Time The 10 Best Albums of 2020 1 [40]
Time Out The 15 Best Albums of 2020 N/A [239]
Under the Radar Top 100 Albums of 2020
45
Union Bulletin Top-10 albums of 2020 1 [241]
Uproxx The Best Albums and Songs of 2020 1 [242]
The Best Pop Albums Of 2020 1 [243]
USA Today The 10 Best Albums of 2020 1 [244]
US Weekly 10 Best Albums of 2020 1 [245]
Variety Chris Willman's Best Albums of 2020 1 [246]
Andrew Barker's Best Albums of 2020 4
Večernji list Top 10 Foreign Albums of 2020 6 [247]
Vice The 100 Best Albums of 2020 97 [248]
Vogue The 20 Best Albums of 2020 2 [249]
Vulture The Best Albums of 2020 N/A [250]
Wales Arts Review Our Favourite 50 Albums Of 2020 9 [251]
What Hi-Fi? 20 of the Best Albums of 2020 N/A [252]
Wonderland The Best Albums N/A [253]
Yahoo! Entertainment Overall Best Albums of 2020
2
Young Hollywood The Best Albums of 2020
5

Awards and nominations

Folklore and its tracks received five nominations at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards, winning Album of the Year. It made Swift the first woman in history to win the top prize thrice, and the fourth artist overall.[256] 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 Swift the most nominated female artist ever in the latter category with five nods. "Exile" contended for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.[257][258]

At 2020 American Music Awards, Swift 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,[259] extending her record as the most awarded artist in the show's history with 32 American Music Awards.[260] It also marked the third consecutive year Swift was crowned the Artist of the Year, and sixth overall—the first and only artist to achieve it.[261]

Awards and nominations for Folklore
Organization Year Award Result Ref.
Guinness World Records 2020 Most day-one streams of an album on Spotify (female) Won [262]
BreakTudo Awards 2020 Album of the Year Nominated [263]
People's Choice Awards 2020 The Album of 2020 Nominated [264]
American Music Awards 2020 Favorite Pop/Rock Album Nominated [259]
Danish Music Awards 2020 International Album of the Year Won [265]
Apple Music Awards 2020 Songwriter of the Year (Folklore) Won [266]
NetEase Annual Music Awards 2020 Top Western Album Won [267]
Top Folk Music Album Won
Gaffa Awards 2021 International Album of the Year Nominated [268]
Grammy Awards 2021 Album of the Year Won [269]
Best Pop Vocal Album Nominated
Japan Gold Disc Awards 2021 Best 3 Western Albums Won [270]
Juno Awards 2021 International Album of the Year Pending [271]
IHeartRadio Music Awards 2021 Pop Album of the Year Pending [272]

Commercial performance

The biggest opening day on Spotify for an album in 2020, Folklore amassed over 80.6 million global streams on the platform in its first day of release, which earned it the Guinness World Record for the most opening-day streams for an album by a female artist, breaking the former record by Ariana Grande's Thank U, Next.[262] "Cardigan" placed first on global Spotify chart with 7.742 million plays—the biggest first day for a song by a female artist in 2020.[273] The album also broke the Apple Music record for the most-streamed pop album in 24 hours with 35.47 million streams,[274] and the Amazon Music indie/alternative record.[275]

Republic Records reported that Folklore sold around 1.3 million units worldwide on its opening day and over two million units in its first week.[276][277] Rolling Stone noted how the album's streams are "far more evenly spread" amongst its tracks unlike other 2020 albums.[278] Spotify listed Swift as 2020's second most-streamed woman on the platform, after Billie Eilish.[279] She was also the year's top streamed act on Amazon Music across all genres.[280] By the end of 2020, Folklore sold 2 million pure copies globally. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry named it the year's best-selling album by a female artist,[281] while Swift was the best-selling soloist and female artist of 2020.[282]

United States

On-demand first-day streams for Folklore was 72 million in the US, a record surpassing Thank U, Next (55.9 million).[278] The album sold more than 500,000 units—including 400,000 sales—in its first three days of release alone, becoming the first album since Swift's own Lover (2019) to move half a million units in a week.[283] Folklore debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and topped it for eight weeks, becoming the longest-reigning number-one album of 2020. Opening with 846,000 units, consisting of 615,000 pure sales and 289.85 million on-demand streams, it marked the largest sales week and streaming figures of 2020 (surpassing Juice Wrld's Legends Never Die) and the largest since Lover. Folklore's first-week sales alone were enough to make it the year's best-selling album, surpassing BTS' Map of the Soul: 7. Swift became the first woman to have seven albums debut at number one on Billboard 200, and tied Janet Jackson for the third-most chart-topping albums.[284] Eclipsing Eminem, she was the first act in Nielsen SoundScan history to have seven albums each sell 500,000 copies or more in a week,[284] and the first woman since Barbra Streisand to have six albums spend multiple weeks at number one.[285] The album earned Swift her first entry on the Alternative Albums chart, topping it and marking the biggest debut in its history.[286]

American indie-folk band Bon Iver is featured on fourth track "Exile", which critics picked as an album highlight. It was one of the best-charting songs of Folklore.

Folklore became 2020's fastest album to move a million units.[287] It became the longest-running number-one album by a woman on Billboard 200 since her own Reputation,[288] and the first to spend its first four weeks atop Billboard 200 since Adele's 25 (2015);[289] Swift became the first act in 21st-century to have six albums each spend four weeks atop the chart.[290] She also became the first solo/female artist (after The Beatles) to have five albums each top the chart for six weeks or more.[291][292] Billboard attributed the album's long reign at number-one to its timing, pandemic-suited songs and Swift's ability to connect with listeners.[293] The album made Swift surpass Whitney Houston as the woman with the most weeks atop Billboard 200 ever (47 weeks).[294] By October 2020, Folklore surpassed one million pure copies sold in the US, becoming the only 2020 album to do so and Swift's ninth project to reach the mark.[295] When Evermore topped the Billboard 200, Folklore rose to number three with 133,000 units, making Swift the first act to have two albums each move 100,000 units in the same week since Prince in 2016,[296] and the first woman ever to chart two albums simultaneously in the top-three.[297]

All of its 16 tracks debuted simultaneously on the Billboard Hot 100, giving three top-10, five top-20, and 10 top-40 hits. The lead single "Cardigan" debuted atop the chart, becoming Swift's sixth number-one single, making her the first act to debut atop both Billboard 200 and Hot 100 in the same week. She also was the first act to debut two songs in the top-four and three songs in the top-six simultaneously, as "The 1" entered at number four and "Exile" at number six. It increased Swift's sum of top-10 hits to 28, including 18 top-10 debuts. Folklore was her second consecutive album to chart all of its tracks simultaneously on the Hot 100, following Lover.[298] Swift became the woman with the most simultaneous Hot 100 debuts ever (16 debuts), breaking her own record set by Lover, and surpassed Nicki Minaj as the woman with the most Hot 100 entries, with a total of 113.[299] 11 of the tracks charted on Hot Rock & Alternative Songs, setting the record for most top-10 entries by an artist, with eight.[286]

On the 2020 Billboard Year-End charts, Swift was the top female artist of the year, for the fifth time in her career. She was the only woman inside the top-10 of the year-end Billboard 200 albums list.[300] Swift or Folklore further ranked at number one on the year-end Top Album Sales, Tastemaker Albums, Alternative Albums, Hot Rock & Alternative Songs Artists, and Billboard 200 Female Artists charts. 11 tracks from Folklore landed on the year-end Hot Rock & Alternative Songs chart—the most for any artist or album.[301] Swift ranked as US Spotify's most streamed female artist of 2020,[279] and was the year's most consumed artist, totaling 3.5 million units (including 1.3 million sales).[302] The best-selling album of 2020 in the U.S., Folklore earned 2.3 million units consisting of 1.276 million pure sales.[303][304] The album made Swift the first act to have the best-selling album of a calendar year for five times, following Fearless (2009), 1989 (2014), Reputation (2017) and Lover (2019).[305]

Overseas

In Canada, Folklore opened at number-one on the Billboard Canadian Albums as Swift's seventh consecutive number-one album, and spent four weeks atop the chart. All of its 16 tracks debuted simultaneously on the Canadian Hot 100 chart, with "Cardigan", "Exile", and "The 1" arriving in the top-10.[306][307] Folklore landed at number 9 on the 2020 Top Canadian Albums year-end list; Swift was the only woman with two albums inside the top-15, with Lover at number 13.[301]

In the UK, Folklore debuted atop the Official Albums Chart, selling 37,000 copies, besting Eminem's Music To Be Murdered By for the biggest digital sales week of 2020. It became Swift's fifth consecutive number-one album, making her one of only five female artists to score at least five chart-toppers in the country—following Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Barbra Streisand, and Celine Dion—and the first female artist to do so in the 21st century.[308][309] Becoming Swift's first album to spend multiple weeks atop the chart, Folklore remained at number one for three consecutive weeks.[310] On the UK Singles Chart, "Cardigan", "Exile", and "The 1" opened at numbers six, eight and ten, respectively, taking Swift's UK top-ten hits total to sixteen[311] and made her the first woman in UK history to concurrently debut three songs in top-10.[312] Folklore is the UK's most downloaded album of 2020.[313] Upon its vinyl release, the album topped the Official Vinyl Albums Chart.[314]

In Ireland, Folklore arrived at number one on the Irish Albums Chart, scoring the country's biggest opening week of 2020 and outperforming the rest of the top-five combined. Swift became the first female solo artist with five Irish number-one albums in the 21st-century. Folklore stayed at the top for four weeks, becoming Swift's longest-running Irish number-one album. The tracks "Exile", "Cardigan" and "The 1" kicked-off at the third, fourth and seventh spots on the Irish Singles Chart, respectively, bringing Swift's career total top-ten hits to fifteen.[315][316][317] Folklore is 2020's longest-running number-one album of Ireland, and the year's most downloaded.[318] The album reached number one in many other European territories, including Belgium, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Norway, and Switzerland.

In China, the album sold more than 200,000 copies in its first six hours of availability and around 740,000 copies in its first week, instantly becoming the best-selling and fastest-selling album of 2020 by a western act.[319][320] Folklore was certified Diamond by QQ Music, making Swift the first western act to have four albums—with Reputation, 1989 (2014) and Lover—reach the milestone.[319] It was the platform's most streamed English-language album of 2020.[321] In Malaysia, Folklore spawned nine top-20 hits on the RIM Singles chart, with "Cardigan", "Exile", "The 1", "My Tears Ricochet" and "The Last Great American Dynasty" entering the top 10.[322] In Singapore, 14 tracks from the album landed on the RIAS Singles chart, 11 of which reached the top 20 and five in the top 10.[323]

In Australia, Folklore entered atop the ARIA Albums Chart; it was Swift's sixth album to do so, giving her more chart-toppers in the country in 2010-2020 than any other act.[324] Its 16 tracks entered the top 50 of the ARIA Singles Chart together, breaking the all-time record for the most debuts in one week, previously held by Post Malone and Ed Sheeran. "Cardigan" became Swift's sixth number-one hit there, while "Exile", "The 1", "The Last Great American Dynasty" and "My Tears Ricochet" reached top-10; Swift became the act with the most Australian top-ten hits of 2020.[325] Folklore topped the chart for four consecutive weeks; it is Swift's longest-running Australian number-one album since 1989, the only 2020 album to top the chart for more than two weeks,[326][327] and the country's best selling album of 2020 by a woman.[328]

In New Zealand, Folklore launched at number one on the Official Top 40 Albums chart and spent two weeks at that spot.[329][330] "Cardigan", "Exile", and "The 1" charted in the top-10 of the New Zealand singles chart, and "The Last Great American Dynasty" placed thirteenth.[331] On the 2020 year-end albums list by RMNZ, Folklore appeared at number 7, with its predecessor Lover at number 22, making Swift the only woman with multiple albums inside the top-25.[332]

Legacy

Folklore was contextualized as a lockdown project upon release,[333] and earned a reputation as the archetypal quarantine album.[334] The Guardian opined that Folklore was a respite from chaotic events, converting dark emotions into something beautiful.[64] The Daily Telegraph called it "an exquisite, empathetic lockdown triumph".[53] NME wrote the album will be remembered as "the quintessential lockdown album" that "felt like the perfect accompaniment for the weird loneliness" of 2020.[335][213] Echoing similar sentiments, Insider stated that Folklore would be known as "lockdown's one true masterpiece".[193] Rolling Stone predicted that the album may go down in history as "the definitive quarantine album" for providing comfort and catharsis "just when we needed it most".[226]

Billboard proclaimed that it would be cherished as one of Swift's most influential albums for transcending the unprecedented times and freeing listeners from a monotonous, socially distant life.[6] Uproxx noted how Folklore changed the tone of music in 2020,[336] and added that its impact on the year's cultural landscape "can't be measured".[242] Clash credited Swift with softening the tragic start of 2020s, by using a "wintery album released smack in the middle of summer" that "forces us to slow down and take stock of where we are now in love and life".[337] In a list awarding the most creative works that shaped quarantine, Vulture labeled Folklore as 2020's "Best Breakdown in Musical Form": An album that speaks to loneliness, rich with "the kinds of thoughts we try to keep to ourselves".[338] Vogue also listed the album amongst the best moments of lockdown culture.[339]

The Week called Folklore "the first great pandemic art" for setting "a high bar" for future pandemic projects.[340] In agreement, Financial Times called it "the first great lockdown album",[341] while Hot Press termed it "the first great album of the lockdown era".[189] Judging from its acclaim and commercial success, Tom Hull concluded that Swift "caught the spirit of the times" with Folklore's "long, pleasant, intricate songs".[342] Billboard named Folklore and Evermore as the best examples of innovative albums from artists who were compelled to amend their creative process during the pandemic, and highlighted Swift's unconventional approach in creating Folklore.[343] Yahoo! wrote Swift became the voice of 2020 by touching "the core of a cultural crisis" with two albums that embody the sensation of a historic pandemic, and pondered whether "we will be able to listen to Folklore and Evermore without being reminded of 2020".[140]

Folklore was the most popular album of 2020 on Genius.[344] Swift was also 2020's top searched artist on the platform, with her lyrics amassing 31 million total views.[345] In January 2021, Hayley Williams of Paramore released her second studio album, Flowers for Vases / Descansos, which she described as her Folklore.[346] Phoebe Bridgers suggested that her next record could be inspired by the album.[347] Critics noted influences of Folklore in Olivia Rodrigo's debut single "Drivers License".[348][349] Spanish singer-songwriter Zahara released a song titled "Taylor" in tribute to Swift, crediting her work, including Folklore, for providing the impetus to compose music again following months of isolation.[350]

Track listing

Credits are adapted from the album's liner notes.[351]

Folklore – Standard edition
No.TitleWriter(s)Producer(s)Length
1."The 1"Dessner3:30
2."Cardigan"
  • Swift
  • Dessner
Dessner3:59
3."The Last Great American Dynasty"
  • Swift
  • Dessner
Dessner3:51
4."Exile" (featuring Bon Iver)Dessner4:45
5."My Tears Ricochet"Swift4:15
6."Mirrorball"
  • Swift
  • Antonoff
  • Antonoff
  • Swift
3:29
7."Seven"
  • Swift
  • Dessner
Dessner3:28
8."August"
  • Swift
  • Antonoff
  • Antonoff
  • Swift
4:21
9."This Is Me Trying"
  • Swift
  • Antonoff
  • Antonoff
  • Swift
3:15
10."Illicit Affairs"
  • Swift
  • Antonoff
  • Antonoff
  • Swift
3:10
11."Invisible String"
  • Swift
  • Dessner
Dessner4:12
12."Mad Woman"
  • Swift
  • Dessner
Dessner3:57
13."Epiphany"
  • Swift
  • Dessner
Dessner4:49
14."Betty"
  • Swift
  • Bowery
  • Dessner
  • Antonoff
  • Swift
4:54
15."Peace"
  • Swift
  • Dessner
Dessner3:54
16."Hoax"
  • Swift
  • Dessner
Dessner3:40
Total length:63:29
Folklore – Deluxe edition[37]
No.TitleWriter(s)Producer(s)Length
17."The Lakes"
  • Swift
  • Antonoff
  • Antonoff
  • Swift
3:32
Total length:67:01
Folklore – Japanese special edition (Bonus DVD)[352][353]
No.TitleDirector(s)Length
1."Cardigan" (music video)Swift4:35
2."The 1" (lyric video) 3:32
3."Cardigan" (lyric video)Swift4:01
4."The Last Great American Dynasty" (lyric video) 3:52
5."Exile" (featuring Bon Iver) (lyric video) 4:47
6."My Tears Ricochet" (lyric video) 4:17
7."Mirrorball" (lyric video) 3:30
8."Seven" (lyric video) 3:30
9."August" (lyric video) 4:24
10."This Is Me Trying" (lyric video) 3:16
11."Illicit Affairs" (lyric video) 3:12
12."Invisible String" (lyric video) 4:14
13."Mad Woman" (lyric video) 3:59
14."Epiphany" (lyric video) 4:51
15."Betty" (lyric video) 4:56
16."Peace" (lyric video) 3:55
17."Hoax" (lyric video) 3:42
Total length:68:33

Compilations

Folklore: The Escapism Chapter[354]
No.TitleWriter(s)Producer(s)Length
1."The Lakes"
  • Swift
  • Antonoff
  • Antonoff
  • Swift
3:32
2."Seven"
  • Swift
  • Dessner
Dessner3:28
3."Epiphany"
  • Swift
  • Dessner
Dessner4:49
4."Cardigan"
  • Swift
  • Dessner
Dessner3:59
5."Mirrorball"
  • Swift
  • Antonoff
  • Antonoff
  • Swift
3:29
6."Exile" (featuring Bon Iver)
  • Swift
  • Bowery
  • Vernon
Dessner4:45
Total length:24:02
Folklore: The Sleepless Nights Chapter[355]
No.TitleWriter(s)Producer(s)Length
1."Exile" (featuring Bon Iver)
  • Swift
  • Bowery
  • Vernon
Dessner4:45
2."Hoax"
  • Swift
  • Dessner
Dessner3:40
3."My Tears Ricochet"Swift
  • Antonoff
  • Swift
4:15
4."Illicit Affairs"
  • Swift
  • Antonoff
  • Antonoff
  • Swift
3:10
5."This Is Me Trying"
  • Swift
  • Antonoff
  • Antonoff
  • Swift
3:15
6."Mad Woman"
  • Swift
  • Dessner
Dessner3:57
Total length:23:02
Folklore: The Saltbox House Chapter[356]
No.TitleWriter(s)Producer(s)Length
1."The Last Great American Dynasty"
  • Swift
  • Dessner
Dessner3:50
2."August"
  • Swift
  • Antonoff
  • Antonoff
  • Swift
4:21
3."The 1"
  • Swift
  • Dessner
Dessner3:30
4."Seven"
  • Swift
  • Dessner
Dessner3:28
5."Peace"
  • Swift
  • Dessner
Dessner3:54
6."Betty"
  • Swift
  • Bowery
  • Dessner
  • Antonoff
  • Swift
4:54
Total length:23:57
Folklore: The Yeah I Showed Up at Your Party Chapter[357]
No.TitleWriter(s)Producer(s)Length
1."Betty" (Live from the 2020 Academy of Country Music Awards)
  • Swift
  • Bowery
Swift5:12
2."The 1"
  • Swift
  • Dessner
Dessner3:30
3."Mirrorball"
  • Swift
  • Antonoff
  • Swift
  • Antonoff
3:29
4."The Last Great American Dynasty"
  • Swift
  • Dessner
Dessner3:50
5."Invisible String"
  • Swift
  • Dessner
Dessner4:12
6."Cardigan"
  • Swift
  • Dessner
Dessner3:59
Total length:24:14

Notes

Personnel

Credits are adapted from Pitchfork[17] and the album's liner notes.[351]

Musicians

  • Taylor Swift – lead vocals (all tracks), songwriting (all tracks), production (tracks 5, 6, 8-10, 14, 17)
  • Aaron Dessner –  production (1–4, 7, 11–16), songwriting (1–3, 7, 11–13, 15, 16), piano (1–4, 7, 11–16), acoustic guitar (1, 7, 11, 12, 16), electric guitar (1–4, 11–14, 16), drum programming (1–4, 7, 11, 12), Mellotron (1, 2, 11, 13, 15), OP-1 (1, 4, 16), synth bass (1, 16), percussion (2–4, 7, 11, 12, 14), bass (2, 3, 7, 11, 12, 14, 15), synthesizer (2–4, 7, 11–13, 15), slide guitar (3), keyboards (3), high string guitar (14), field recording (15), drone (15)
  • Bryce Dessner – orchestration (1–4, 7, 11–13)
  • Thomas Bartlett – synthesizer (1), OP-1 (1)[a]
  • Jason Treuting – percussion (1)[a]
  • Yuki Numata Resnick – viola (1, 2, 7, 11, 12), violin (1, 2, 7, 11, 12)
  • Benjamin Lanz – modular synth (2)
  • Dave Nelson – trombone (2, 13)[a]
  • James McAlister – drum programming (2, 11), beat programming (12), synthesizers (12), hand percussion (12), drums (12)[a]
  • Clarice Jensen – cello (2, 7, 11–13)[a]
  • Rob Moose – orchestration (3, 16), violin (3, 4, 16), viola (3, 4, 16)[a]
  • JT Bates – drums (3, 7, 13)[a]
  • Justin Vernon – lead vocals (4), songwriting (4), pulse (15)[a]
  • William Bowery – songwriting (4, 14)
  • Jack Antonoff –  production (5, 6, 8–10, 14, 17), songwriting (6, 8-10, 17), live drums (5, 6, 8–10, 14, 17), percussion (5, 6, 8–10, 14, 17), programming (5, 6, 8–10, 17), electric guitars (5, 6, 8–10, 14, 17), keyboards (5, 6, 8–10, 17), piano (5, 17), bass (5, 8–10, 14), background vocals (5, 6, 9, 10, 17), acoustic guitars (6, 8, 14), B3 (6, 14), organ (9), Mellotron (14)
  • Evan Smith – saxophones (5, 8–10, 14, 17), keyboards (5, 8–10, 17), programming (5), flute (8, 17), electric guitar (8, 10), accordion (10), background vocals (10), clarinet (14, 17), bass (17)
  • Bobby Hawk – strings (5, 8, 9, 17)
  • Bryan Devendorf – drum programming (7)[a]
  • Jonathan Low – synth bass (8)[a]
  • Mikey Freedom Hart – pedal steel (10, 14), Mellotron (14), Wurlitzer (14), harpsichord (14), vibraphone (14), electric guitar (14)
  • Kyle Resnick – trumpet (13)[a]
  • Josh Kaufman – harmonica (14), electric guitar (14), lap steel (14)[a]

Additional instrument recording[b]

  • Kyle Resnick – viola (1, 2, 7, 11–13), violin (1, 2, 7, 11–13)
  • Bella Blasko – modular synth (2)
  • Lorenzo Wolff – strings (5, 9)
  • Mike Williams – strings (8, 17)
  • Jon Gautier – strings (8, 17)
  • Benjamin Lanz – trombone (13)

Technical

  • Jonathan Low – recording (1–4, 7, 11–16), mixing (1–4, 7, 8, 11, 15–17)
  • Aaron Dessner – recording (1–4, 7, 11–16), additional recording (2, 11)
  • Laura Sisk – recording (5, 6, 8–10, 14, 17), vocal recording (1–3; Swift on 4; 13, 15, 16)
  • Jack Antonoff – recording (5, 6, 8–10, 14, 17)
  • Bella Blasko – additional recording (2)
  • Justin Vernon – vocal recording (Bon Iver on 4)
  • John Rooney – assistant engineering (5, 9, 14)
  • Jon Sher – assistant engineering (5, 9)
  • Serban Ghenea – mixing (5, 6, 9, 10, 12–14)
  • John Hanes – mix engineering (5, 6, 9, 10, 12–14)
  • Randy Merrill – mastering (all tracks)

Design

  • Taylor Swift – wardrobe styling, hair and makeup, packaging creative and art direction
  • Beth Garrabrant – photography
  • 13 Management – packaging design, project support and coordination
  • Republic Records – project support and coordination

Charts

Certifications and sales

Certifications for Folklore, with pure sales where available
Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[404] Gold 35,000double-dagger
Denmark (IFPI Denmark)[405] Gold 10,000double-dagger
Japan 14,000[406]
New Zealand (RMNZ)[407] Platinum 15,000double-dagger
United Kingdom (BPI)[408] Gold 100,000double-dagger
United States (RIAA)[409] Platinum 1,276,000[304]
Summaries
Worldwide (IFPI) 2,000,000[281]

double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

Release history

Release dates and formats for Folklore
Region Date Format(s) Edition(s) Label Ref.
Various July 24, 2020 Standard [410]
United Kingdom August 4, 2020 CD Deluxe EMI [411]
Various August 7, 2020 Republic [116]
Japan CD [412]
Special Edition [352]
Various August 18, 2020
  • Digital download
  • streaming
Deluxe Republic [37]
August 21, 2020 "The Escapism Chapter" [354]
August 24, 2020 "The Sleepless Nights Chapter" [355]
August 27, 2020 "The Saltbox House Chapter" [356]
September 21, 2020 "The Yeah I Showed Up at Your Party Chapter" [357]
November 25, 2020 Live version (Long Pond Studio Session) [413]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Seven alternate covers for limited-edition physical copies were sold direct-to-consumer,[1] including a now Target-exclusive cover.[2]
  1. ^ Released to US alternative radio only
  2. ^ Released to US country radio only
  3. ^ Released to German contemporary hit radio only
  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l This performer is also credited with recording their instrumentation.
  2. ^ Several performers are also credited with recording their own instrumentation, as noted in the 'Musicians' section.

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