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I was just as surprised as everyone else when Taylor Swift announced she’d written and recorded a brand new album during #QuarantineLife! I’ll admit, she kinda fell out of favor with me after Reputation: her new, wrathful persona didn’t appeal to me, and I’ve stuck with her old music ever since. (Red is still her finest work, in my opinion.)
But when Folklore* dropped, I was THRILLED. Just the name intrigued me, along with the soft, folksy album artwork that hinted at more tender, thoughtful songs. I wasn’t disappointed. While some of the songs still don’t promote anything virtuous or healthy (“Illicit Affairs” comes to mind), and I DO listen to the “Clean” version, there are some really wonderful songs on this album!
Let’s start with “Exile”* the story of two exes who see each other not long after the disintegration of their romance. He’s hurt and confused, still clueless as to why the relationship failed. She, by contrast, is frustrated: she feels she had no choice but to throw in the towel.
You didn’t even hear me out (You didn’t even hear me out!)
You never gave a warning sign (I gave so many signs!)
All this time
I never learned to read your mind (Never learned to read my mind!)
I couldn’t turn things around (You never turned things around!)
‘Cause you never gave a warning sign (I gave so many signs!)
While this is a morose song, it’s an important, truth-full one. “Exile”* forces the listener to face his or her own fears about conflict and ask, Where have I “walked out the side door” in my relationships, romantic or otherwise? What might’ve happened if these two had communicated? What if they hadn’t ‘always walked a very thin line’ with each other? It exposes the consequences of not being honest with yourself or with others–and for that reason alone, it’s a valuable song. But it’s also a stunningly beautiful piece–one of the best melodies on the whole album.
“Seven”* deals with a relationship of a very different stripe: childhood friendship. This one sparked a lot of nostalgia for me. My own childhood friends and I have drifted apart as we’ve grown up and pursued our own dreams and careers. I think that’s natural and normal–yet we still look back on all our shared memories with great affection.
Sweet tea in the summer
Cross your heart, won’t tell no other
And though I can’t recall your face
I still got love for you
Your braids like a pattern
Love you to the Moon and to Saturn
Passed down like folk songs
The love lasts so long…
“Seven”* awakens fond memories of sitting cross-legged in my best friend’s bedroom, chatting over our American Girl dolls…muggy evenings playing riotous games of Tag and Capture the Flag…and those crazy, unfiltered days “before I learned civility.” It’s bittersweet, and I often miss the carefree innocence of childhood, but I still love those sweet souls to the Moon and to Saturn.
“Invisible String”* is a celebration of romance that blossoms under unexpected circumstances. The invisible string refers to an ancient Japanese myth about the Red String of Fate–but the redeemed imagination can easily connect the metaphor to God’s providence, and the way He uses time and trials to bring us right where He wants each of us to be.
A string that pulled me
Out of all the wrong arms, right into that dive bar
Something wrapped all of my past mistakes in barbed wire
Chains around my demons
Wool to brave the seasons
One single thread of gold
Tied me to you
“Invisible String”* is my favorite song on Folklore! I love the different descriptions of time (“curious,” “mystical,” “wondrous”) and its different functions: it gives no apparent compasses or signs, but it cuts open and it heals fine, and it “gives the blues before purple-pink skies.” It’s definitely a “Soulmate” song–and I suppose, in a way, I do believe God gives us soulmates. They just don’t always have to be romantic.
(That said, I did plop this song right into my Super-Duper OTP Playlist, so make of that what you will 😉 )
Lastly (because I don’t have time to review every song I like), let’s look at “Epiphany”* Taylor’s tribute to her grandfather, who fought in World War II at Guadalcanal, and to the healthcare workers of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Invisible String” may be my favorite, and “Seven” may tug at my heartstrings, but “Epiphany” is the first song of Taylor Swift’s that actually made me cry.
Only twenty minutes to sleep
But you dream of some epiphany
Just one single glimpse of relief
To make some sense of what you’ve seen
With you I serve, with you I fall down, down
Watch you breathe in, watch you breathing out, out…
The soft melody yields, in the last moments, to a plucked string that sounds like a heartbeat. The first time I heard it, tears sprang to my eyes. Global disasters and family catastrophes have come so hard and fast this year, I haven’t always wanted to look my own feelings about them in the face. It’s easier to hold them at a distance. But “Epiphany”* kindly brought those feelings to the forefront, and that was probably a good thing.
And that’s the beauty of honest but gentle words like the ones Taylor Swift gave us in at least some of Folklore’s tunes. It proves, once again, that dark days are often the breeding ground for some of the most comforting and genuine art.