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ONTD Original: Music Review... Taylor Swift: 'folklore'

Taylor Swift dropped a new album on Thursday, July 23, 2020 and I decided to write a review, tackling each song. I listened to the whole album first without lyrics and then with, and I listened to each song at least four times. I didn't read any other reviews (other than a few comments on ONTD, lol!) or backstories--unless otherwise noted--because I wanted to go into this with an unbiased opinion. Because I am wordy, I added a TLDR version after most track reviews.

UPDATE: So, I have been listening to this album A LOT since I first wrote this and my opinion has changed on a few of the tracks. I've updated a few of the reviews as you'll see below. I decided to provide the update since I'm posting my Taylor Swift Album Rankings and am linking to this post. Enjoy!

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the 1 - Beginning the album with this song I think was done for one reason alone and that's because of the uncharacteristic (for Taylor Swift) first line with the profanity ("I'm doing good, I'm on some new shit"). It's announcing that this is an all-grown up Taylor, world! There's nothing wrong with that, the issue for me is that this song really isn't representative of folklore as a whole. It's more upbeat, less dreamy and sets us up for a different kind of listening experience than we were going to get. Having "the 1" in the middle of the album to break up some of those slower tracks would probably have been a better idea to give a little jump in the mix.

As for the song itself, it's one of the best tracks on the album. It's a wistful take on a relationship that was a wild, wonderful ride, but it ended and she's taking the blame. There are no excuses, she admits that she has a tendency to push too much, go too far and that is what messed things up and she's still doing it. She imagines now that he has a great life, while she's all alone. The whole song keeps going back to the pensive refrain of what could have been so that bouncy up beat contrasts with the poignant lyrics. – 4

TLDR: It's a wistful take on wild, wonderful relationship that ended because she was a messy bitch. Despite taking all the blame, she still wonders what could have been. The sadness works because it's delivered with an up beat.

cardigan - I liked this song when I first heard it. After listening to it a few more times, I liked it a lot more. After listening to the second and third point of view of this song, "august" and "betty," I love it now. Take the lines: "chase two girls, lose one" and "you'd be standing in my front porch light" and listen to "betty" and there are the references to that narrator wanting to show up at "Betty's" party and stand on her front porch which he finally does and the "cardigan" is mentioned. A love triangle is also clearly referenced in that song. I also just like the song itself. I think it captures the heady feel of young lovers who desperately feel that love, that betrayal, wanting to make it better. And, yes, the bridge is gorgeous... including the "chasing shadows in a grocery line" because it brings to mind of how often people see someone who looks like someone we know in familiar places. I think it's a great line as are many lines in this song. – 4

Updated Review: This song has become one of my favorites. It's constantly in my head and I just love the wistful romanticism of it. In the love story trilogy, it's the one that stands best alone and is the strongest. I love the little details–the 'cardigan' of the title, the 'Peter losing Wendy,' 'shadows in the grocery line.' They all create this atmosphere and create this girl so perfectly in my mind. I can see her, I feel for her. I *want* her to be happy. I love her! I want that boy standing on her front porch and for him to make it up to her because it's what she wants. It's just a truly beautiful, uplifting song. I love it so much. – 5

TLDR: The first of a three-part trilogy, this captures the heady feel of a young lover who feels loved, was betrayed and believes that love will come back around. There are plenty of great lines in this one and this one is a grower that works even better being a part of that trilogy of songs. I love the little details that create this atmosphere and create this girl so perfectly in my mind. It's just a truly beautiful, uplifting song.

the last great american dynasty - When I first heard this, I LOVED it. I thought it was pretty awesome. I read it as society blaming a woman for the downfall of a man fucking up his own life. A guy can't stop partying, and the doctor blames his wife. A woman is enjoying life, and the town blames her and casts her as a mad, bad woman. It told the story of a woman who married the last son of a rich dynasty and he died because he was a hard, partying ass. And instead of casting the blame on him for dying because of his lifestyle, the doctor, the town, the world blamed the woman. And she was all 'fuck that shit' and lived her best damn life with the money that was left to her as his wife. And in the end, we find out that it was her singing the song saying, yup, I lived my best damn life, so screw you all! You was judging, but my life was good.

I loved that message. A woman being blamed while the man ruined his own life–because, yeah, how often does that happen?–but she decided to just let it roll off her back and live her finest life. And that beautiful, empowering message playing over this peppy beat was just delicious. I just loved it. And then... I found out this was based on a true story, and I actually read the lyrics and realized that I had missed a key lyric. The over-the-top cool stuff that I thought was adding an almost surrealistic spin was Taylor just literally listing biographical points, and that key lyric was that it wasn't the narrator singing the song all along it was Taylor talking about how she went and bought that house and making the final verse about how the townsfolk complained because she had parties there.

Uhm, OK. Yeah. Soooo, I still like the song. It's still got a great beat; it still tells the story of a woman who was blamed for a man's foibles and decided fuck it and lived her life to the fullest, but knowing the backstory , it's too on the nose and not really quite making that statement as fully and awesomely I originally thought. – 4

Updated Review: This song doesn't have the staying power I thought that it would sonically, so one one hand, I would knock it down for that, but on the other, just because my initial interpretation was wrong, well, that really shouldn't take away from the power of the message which is still key because it *is* a really great message. Women being blamed for living their best lives because of disapproving busybodies is nuh uh, screw that shit! I *love* that message, and did the song have the staying power I thought it would, I likely would have upped the rating. As it is, it stays at 4. – 4

TLDR: A bad-ass woman lost her husband, was blamed for it (pfft), pissed off her neighbors by choosing to live her best life and telling that woman's story in an upbeat tune is a lot of fun. The empowering message of a woman ignoring the haters and living it up is great, melodically it doesn't have the staying power that some of her other songs do.

exile - This is a beautiful song. It feels very similar to "The Last Time," a duet she did with Gary Lightbody from Red. I personally loved that and part of the reason that I loved it is because I thought that Taylor and Lightbody sounded so good together. Their voices just complemented each other's very well, his high voice blending beautifully with hers. It just worked. I can't say the same here. Bon Iver's voice is *so* strong and charismatic. It is nuanced and filled with such character and life. You can feel how lived in it is and so Taylor just sounds very pale next to him. She's drowned out.

I know that she's not the strongest singer and normally that really isn't an issue (at least not since her early albums). She's gotten much better, and I think she sounds lovely on every other track, but next to him, her vocal weakness stands out. When it's just her singing, that first verse of hers, she sounds lovely, but then they start singing together and--ooh, it's just not that good. The lack of character and strength to her voice is very apparent and that's all I can think of when I listen to this song. And it's a shame because it's a beautiful song. For the most part. It has the same issue that "cardigan" has in that it just kinda doesn't seem to have an ending. Hmm. – 3

TLDR: A gorgeous song with beautiful, if sad, lyrics is marred by the fact that Bon Iver has such a strong voice with character that doesn't pair well with Taylor who is drowned out by him.

my tears ricochet - This is the best track. It's just amazing. The lyrics, the imagery, the build-up of the melody, the way she sings the words, the delivery, the bite, the softness, the back and forth that reflect the love, the pain, the pettiness, all of it is reflected in every word, every note, all of it. This song is this album's masterpiece. I just... there is nothing about this that isn't just perfection. – 6

mirrorball - I just don't–this song is just a complete pile of piffle. It's pretty words thrown together over a pretty melody and is immediately forgotten once it ends. There's nothing there. And it makes no sense, nothing connects to anything. I mean, a mirror ball is related to a disco, but she's on her tallest tiptoes in her highest heels. And then there are horses and a circus and a tightrope and a trapeze, and masquerades with revelers, but no one is there. So they burned the disco and had a masquerade ball and brought in a circus and she wore high heels but still stood on her tallest tiptoes and... yeah, it's the end of the world. And through it all she's trying to fit in, but she's also trying to show someone every version of themselves, but also keep that someone focused on her. It. makes. no. sense. I like figuring songs out; I like putting them together... this one? Yeah, it makes no sense. It feels like random thoughts thrown together. I guess it's about the end of eras or relationships... and trying to stay together, focused, clear, I don't know, maybe if it was catchier for me and the analogies worked better? Clearly, I don't like this song. – 1

Updated Review: So after reading the comments (especially this one by joe_pwnz_pete), I gave the song a few more listens to with this meaning in and... I love it now. It is great. I love the idea of an entertainer (obviously in this case, Taylor) always striving to be the "IT" persona, trying to be the next big thing, stay on trend, keep eyes on them, and, yes, it's delivered so prettily with such pretty words and over such a pretty melody, oh, but there's such a melancholy to it that's really lovely. Especially when you get what it's about, which I clearly did not when I listened to it and reviewed it. So, thank you, ONTD! – 5

seven- I want to like this song more than I do. I love the idea behind it. I love the first verse and the chorus, but I feel like this is unbaked. It doesn't come together fully and like "cardigan" and "exile' it doesn't really have an ending, but even more so, it just stops. This one feels very unfinished. It's frustrating because I think that "seven" is a track that I could have adored and been one of my favorites of hers, but as it stands, it just really falls short. – 2

august - Oh, this is gorgeous, just gorgeous. Another upbeat, yet wistful track. This is the second point of view number in the love triangle that we were first introduced to in "cardigan." There are no references to that song here, but the line "Remember when I pulled up/And said 'Get in the car'" will come up in "betty." The track tells a story, obviously, and there are specific references, but they are general enough that they just help to paint a picture. Really this song is more about building the mood of the desperation and longing and memory for and of someone that was never yours. the "other" in a triangle and it succeeds in that. – 5

TLDR: A gorgeous song with an upbeat melody, but wistful lyrics. It's the second part of the love triangle song-trilogy. 'august' builds a mood of desperation, longing and the memory of the one that was never yours.

this is me trying - Here's another strong one, it would have been stronger had the ending hit, but like a few other tracks on folklore, it didn't, uhm, really have one. I'm just not happy about that. It's like they forgot that they need some kind of actual ending to quite a few of their songs. It's very weird. I know that as I get used to the songs that reaction will fade, but these first couple of times listening to them, I'm like: "Oh, it's over. OK, then. That just stopped." I was really, really enjoying this one, it's quite beautiful and then the last "At least I'm trying happened" and there was a bit of music left so I hoped it would have some build-up or something, but nope, it just faded out. So I was left unsatisfied which is really a shame because the lyrics are quite strong, the vibe is evocative, the rhymes are so good in this (as they are throughout the album), her vocals are lovely, the message is a great one. Again, everything about this song is fantastic... except the lack of an actual ending. Eh, I'll get used to it. – 4

TLDR: A strong song that would have been stronger had it a strong ending instead of just fading. The lyrics are powerful, the vibe is evocative, the rhymes are so good in this, her vocals are lovely, the message is a great one. Everything about this song is fantastic... except the lack of an actual ending.

illicit affairs - This song is brilliant, not quite as top-notch as "my tears ricochet," but lyrically it rises above. So much that I want to dissect this one a little deeper because the lyrics are so good. The specific detail in "Tell your friends you're out for a run/You'll be flushed when you return" is just amazing. It conjures up so much in two lines. She has a life, she has friends, but she's lying to them about the affair because she's ashamed but she can't stop seeing this guy. The second of the illicit, secret sex she's going to be having with this guy.

Another one: "What started in beautiful rooms/Ends with meetings in parking lots," because yeah, in the end, cheating is ugly and dirty. The chorus makes a change-up that's awesome, and both versions are fantastic in their own right: "that's the thing about illicit affairs and clandestine meetings and longing stares/it's born from just one single glance/but it dies and it dies and it dies/a million little times." You have the contrast between the affair being born, but then how it dies over and over and over, as it hangs on and on, which loops back to a line from the first verse: "Tell yourself you can always stop." Now, the second chorus change plays out as: "that's the thing about illicit affairs and clandestine meetings and stolen stares/They show their truth one single time/but they lie and they lie and they lie/a billion little times." Now, it's no longer a longing stare, but it's stolen because, the longing has been acted upon, and the contrast is between the truth and lies and we've grown from millions to billions. Truly great songwriting in this one, alas, I have to ding it because, *sigh* here we go again without a lack of a real ending. It just, you know, sorta kinda ends. Still overall, I truly, deeply love this one. And I will get used to its ending eventually. – 5

TLDR: Lyrically, this is the strongest track on the album. Taylor is able to conjure so much imagery and character with a few lines. The melody is strong, the vocals are good. The only issue... the faded, lack of an oomph of an ending. *sigh* And it really hurts on this one because this is *such* a spectacular song otherwise.

invisible string -So, yeah, Taylor has some great songs that are undeniably about Joe Alwyn ("Paper Rings," "Cornelia Street") this one, uhm, it's sweet. Yeah. Let's just leave it at that. OK, fine a bit more... this is one that should have been kept in her diary. – 2

Updated Review: It's the second line of the song that keeps this from being great for me. "Teal was the color of your shirt when you were 16 at the yogurt shop / You used to work at to make a little money." And I think it was that line that threw me off when I wrote my original review. No matter how many times I listen to the song, that's the line that always makes me cringe a bit. Everything else about it, I've decided that I do love. It's a sweetly beautiful song, all of the other connections and "invisible strings" work beautifully, but that line--ooh, it's just, frankly, it's just bad, and yes, that bad that it mars the overall song that much. Still, everything else I do really like. So It's good. Yeah, It's good. – 3

mad woman -I like this a lot, I don't love it, but I like it enough to think it's a great song. I think it will be a grower. I think. It also might be one that eventually just becomes something I skip. I'm not sure. I don't know. I've listened to this one about four times now. When I first heard it and three times doing this review now and it hasn't changed the dial in either direction. So yeah... Hey, at least, I feel like it has a true ending. There's that! – 4

Updated Review: This song has become something that I skip. I get the message, but there is a sameness about it that just doesn't do anything for me. It feels very much like she's repeating the same theme of 'my tears ricochet,' but it resonates so much more strongly in that one. "mad woman' just feels like a weak, pale imitation. Like, OK, yeah, been there, done that, Taylor. Moving on.... – 2

epiphany - Doing the review of this album I didn't want to read any other reviews or thoughts. I didn't want to know what Taylor had said about songs, etc. before I came up with my initial thoughts. I wanted to just have my own take on them. Well, listening to this one, starting with the soldier dying on the battlefield and the medic trying to save him and then going into a hospital and only able to touch patients through plastic before the reference of "twenty minutes to sleep" and the "dream of some epiphany," I saw where Taylor was going with this. The track is equating what is going on now with this global pandemic and the service that our doctors and nurses are providing and how they are putting their lives on the line with soldiers and servicemen at war.

This is a tricky thing to pull off, but I think she managed it quite well. I thought she did a beautiful job tying the two together. After listening to the song, I did a cursory glance on the Google-machine and this was her intention so she got that across quite well, I thought, and again, beautifully so. I really loved this one. There's an eerie, haunting quality that floats over the whole song that ties into the feeling of helplessness that anyone in the position she's singing about would be feeling... anyone trying to make sense of madness, of things that don't make sense. This is easily one of the top tracks on folklore. – 5

Updated Review: The only thing that I can say about this is that I wrote that this was "easily one of the best tracks on folklore." Now, I say it's very difficult for me to decide only if it's better than "my tears ricochet" or not. Because of "epiphany," this is the first album by Taylor Swift that I've given her two scores of 6, my highest "masterpiece" rating. – 6

TLDR: Equating what is going on now with this global pandemic and the service that our doctors and nurses are providing and how they are putting their lives on the line with soldiers and servicemen at war is a tricky thing, but I think that Taylor pulled it off and quite beautifully.

betty - And so we have the last point of view, "James." I didn't initially like this one that much, but coming off of "august" and cardigan" and it telling this story from all three sides, I love it. I like how there are three distinct styles, Betty's point of view in "cardigan" is hopeful, believing in love, knowing that James is going to come back. "august" is wistful, that narrator knowing that she never really had James more than as a summer fling. And sure enough, here in "betty," James thinks of that summer quite differently: "Like a figment of my worst intentions/She said "James, get in, let's drive."

We also find out that the whole thing started because James saw Betty dancing with another guy, silly stupid teenagers and their drama. There's also the juxtaposition from "cardigan" where Betty sings "When you are young, they assume you know nothing" many times while James repeats in this song, "I don't know anything." Finally, "cardigan," the first song in the trilogy ends with Betty saying she knew that James would be on her front porch, he'd come back to her and there he is, at the end of the last song in the trilogy, "betty," on her front porch. On its own, "betty" throws in a bunch of details that just seemed random and when I first listened to it, I was like OK? Teenage drama, that's nice, whatever. It's a cute song, with a jaunty melody, but not very memorable. However, when connected with "cardigan" and "august," the details mean something. They aren't random. There's a story here. All of that is really cool and when it all came together, I loved it. – 5

Updated Review: I still love "betty" as part of the whole trilogy, but on its own, yeah, it's just good. I way, way overestimated it because I loved the idea of the story coming to a climax and the "Standing in your cardigan!" and the callback to 'James, get in the car,' from "August." But, yeah, it's just, you know, good. – 3

TLDR: This is the final song in the love triangle trilogy. On its own "betty" throws in a bunch of details that just seemed random and as such it's a cute song, with a jaunty melody, but not very memorable. However, when connected with "cardigan" and "august," the details mean something. They aren't random. There's a story here. All of that is really cool and when it all came together, I loved it. But on its own, really, it's just a song about a boy (or girl, after all "James" is the name of Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively's daughter) who cheated on his/her girlfriend and wants to be forgiven.

peace - Yeah, this song is bad. It's like clichés and then, ooh, I'm gonna write some lyrics in the hopes that they'll become brand new wide-spread clichés. – 1

hoax - So this song describes a toxic relationship in sweet, sweet melodic tones and with beautiful, beautiful lyrics. God, this is so beautiful. Fans of fictional toxic relationships who acknowledge the fictional relationship they stan now have a theme song. "Your faithless love's the only hoax I believe in/Don't want no other shade of blue but you" and "My only one/My kingdom come undone/My broken drum/You have beaten my heart" ... ugh, this is painful, but so pretty! "You have beaten my heart!" God! – 5

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So, that is the album. Overall, I loved this. There were a few songs that didn't quite work for me. One that would have been higher ranked if only Taylor's voice worked better with the featured artist ("exile" with Bon Iver). Still, the majority of songs I ranked great or better, literally 11 out of 16. My ranking chart is as follows: Masterpiece - 6 | Awesome - 5 | Great - 4 | Good - 3 | OK - 2 | Bad - 1. Only five didn't score great or better after five listen-throughs. folklore is the best album I think that Taylor Swift has released since 1989. While I do think that Lover and Reputation have more worthy tracks than they get credit for, they also have more than a few duds. folklore is just lovely, taking advantage of her strong lyrical ability, her musical craftsmanship and how well she's able to tell a story through song. The biggest issue that I have with this album is how so many songs don't seem to have a real ending, they just kinda fade out, leaving them feeling a bit unfinished. That especially hurts "illicit affairs" because otherwise that song is incredible!

That said, with only just that one quibble, I think this is a strong album. I don't think this is Taylor's sound going forward and highly doubt this is what we are going to be hearing from her in the future, but a mix of this and her pop voice would be great. I mean, this type of sound with more of a pop vibe would give us songs more like the transcendent "Clean," which is one of her best ever. That would be a very good direction for Taylor Swift to go, in my opinion. And that is all this whole thing was... my opinion.

What do you think of folklore, ONTD? What are your favorite songs?

Source: All video links-Taylor Swift YouTube channel
Tags: music / musician, ontd original, review, taylor swift
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