There is so much I don’t know. Just reading the Wikipedia article on this album, I have come across all sorts stuff that mean nothing to me. So here goes.
This album can be described by four genres: “indie-folk”, “alternative rock”, “electro-folk” and “chamber pop“. What the hell is “chamber pop”? Well, apparently it’s sometimes abbreviated to ork-pop which is short for orchestral pop. This means that it is rock music but the emphasis is on melody and texture, often with strings and brass. I’m not sure why it is rock music if its name is chamber pop. Oh well. “Pet Sounds” by The Beach Boys is an example of chamber pop. Sean O’Hagan formed a group called the High Llamas in the Nineties and he claims that “Pet Sounds” could have foretold the future of popular music but rock musicians took over the genre with their emphasis on volume and individual virtuosity. Fleet Foxes are often described as producing chamber pop music.
“Folklore” is also described as adopting a rustic, cottagecore aesthetic. What the hell is “cottagecore“? Allegedly it is a Generation Z (people born between 1995 and 2009) subculture. It focuses on a return to basics, learning traditional skills such as baking, foraging and pottery. The purpose of following a cottagecore subculture is to reduce the stresses and anxiety of a modern, fast paced life and adopt an aspirational form of nostalgia into one’s belief systems. Cottagecore has been particularly popular with the LGBT and especially the lesbian and female bisexual community.
On “Folklore”, Taylor Swift has included many “Easter Eggs“. I do know what Easter eggs are – my Mum and Dad used to give them to me on Easter Sunday. One year, when my Mum was visiting her parents in Australia for a month, my Dad forgot to buy any Easter eggs for my sister or me and I can still remember that feeling of disappointment. Of course, this reference doesn’t mean that although it is a term derived from an Easter egg hunt whereby children search for hidden Easter eggs. In this context, an “Easter egg” refers to a hidden artefact in a work of art. The first Easter egg was hidden by the programmer of a computer game called Adventure in 1980. When a player moved over one particular pixel, the message “Created by Warren Robinett” appeared. Comics and DVDs can also contain hidden messages. Google likes to include examples of Easter eggs in the form of cultural references. For example, entering “askew” or “do a barrel roll” into a Google search leads to unexpected results. These are Easter eggs. Taylor Swift claims that one of the Easter eggs on this album is a connection between three songs. “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.” These songs appear to be “The 1”, “August” and “Betty”.
When describing the song one of the songs “My Song Ricochet”, the Wikipedia article quotes from a website called “Uproxx“. How the hell have I never heard of “Uproxx”? It is an entertainment and culture website that was founded in 2008 and geared towards Generation Y. Ah! That’s why I’ve never heard of it. I wasn’t born between 1980 and 1994. I’ve just had a look at it and it looks interesting. I’ve downloaded a list of the best Netflix series to watch like “Stranger Things” and “Masters Of None” which are two other things I’d never heard. So much to learn – so little time. I want to understand everything.
Now we come to the title of this album, “folklore“. I thought I understood what this meant but now I’m not so sure. The phrase seems to cover a lot of different aspects of life, for example, jokes, architecture, curses, weddings, fairytales, toasts, dances, toys, games and stories. It seems that the key element of a folklore artefact is that it is passed from one person to another orally rather than through a formal education in a school or a book or encyclopedia. What’s not clear from this Wikipedia article is whether the concept of folklore can be passed to other people through Wikipedia. When I was reading about Cecil Sharp yesterday, I came across an old dispute about the meaning of the term “folk”. There is discussion to be had here in the context of “folklore”; is a defining characteristic of “folk” that they are illiterate, poor and rural? It seems that the answers used to be yes, yes and yes but now the meaning has changed. It reminds me of one of Rob’s favourite points of contention when he hears someone on the TV introduce some “vox-pop” by saying that “what do the ordinary people of (e.g. Huddersfield) think of the latest pronouncement from the government?” What is an ordinary person? Have you ever met one? Have you ever met a group of folk? Have you ever said “I went for a walk around (e.g. Leominster) and struck up a conversation with some folk there”? Obviously, I would never say that because I never talk to strangers.
So much I don’t know. I mentioned this album in early August when I compared Taylor Swift’s voice to Nanci Griffith. I was reminded of it when one of my friends said that this is one of the best albums ever and Peter said a few weeks ago that he still plays it. I realised that I had unfairly dismissed it and listening to it again today, I have been charmed by it. Today, I haven’t really listened to the lyrics but simply enjoyed the lovely singing, interesting instrumentation and great melodies.
“Betty” has a memorable melody and the minimal version that she performed at the Country Music Awards recently transforms it into a folk song. Oh dear, there I go using that word “folk”. In the song, the singer (James) and Betty are both in school and James has been unfaithful to her. There is speculation that James is really Taylor Swift and the story may be a sapphic love story. (Another word I had to look up). It appears that one of the main reasons for this theory is that Taylor Swift was named after James Taylor. It must be true – it’s on the internet.
“Exile” features Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) singing one half the vocals in a rich deep baritone at first and changing to his more common tenor. The contrast between his voice and hers is stark and very effective. The only instrumentation is a piano and the video depicts the mood of the song perfectly. The song is a dialogue between two ex lovers rehashing the dissolution of their romance. It’s wonderful.
“Illicit Affairs” is another song about infidelity. “And 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.” It is another haunting song and, in my defence, it is not dissimilar to a Nanci Griffith song. There is a lot of instrumentation here but it’s all wonderfully understated in the first half of the song before it builds and builds towards the end.
“Cardigan” was the first single released from the album. In the video, she starts playing a piano, goes swimming in a lake and then puts on a cardigan which looks like it could have been worn by an effete nineteenth century cricketer. Apparently the cardigan is a metaphor for an old lover and, after the song was released, Taylor Swift sold replicas of the cardigan she wore in the video. Blimey. Things have changed. I don’t recall The Who selling replicas of “Pictures Of Lily” in the Sixties.
6 thoughts on “Folklore by Taylor Swift”
Fascinating, especially the insights some arcane aspects of contemporary culture! I really like this album: it’s melodic, uplifting and creative; all the things good pop music ought to be.
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I am absolutely delighted that you featured this fantastic record. Just great songs and lyrics backed up by subtle and beautiful production by Aaron Dessner from The National. Don’t be put off by her status as a huge star – this has everything a great record needs. It’s my album of the year.
So chuffed you went back to it Mick.
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