I was talking to some friends over the weekend about how you could design an entire college course on the past 15 years of Taylor Swift Criticism, and the Folklore part of the syllabus would cover how critics and self-professed Swiftie cynics have all been tripping over themselves to grudgingly admit that ok I guess she is good? — an angle that, idk, especially when it comes to examining female pop culture, is kind of boring?? So to fulfill Deez Links’ duty to the discourse, I turned to the #1 most serious Swiftie I know: my friend Celia Ampel, to get the unabashedly dedicated fan’s take on the surprise album, and here’s what she said:
For those of us who miss Taylor Swift’s Joni Mitchell phase, when she learned the Appalachian dulcimer and wrote spare, haunting deep cuts like “Sad Beautiful Tragic,” Folklore has been our hope against hope for nearly a decade.
Taylor has been an emotionally evocative lyricist since she was a teenager, but certain Johnnies-come-lately — or those who’ll only listen to her lyrics once they’re run through the Ryan Adams Man Translator — seem to think “ME!” represents the apex of her capabilities. Those of us who scream-sang along to Fearless every day while driving to high school in a hand-me-down Volvo know she’s always had a pure songwriting showcase inside her. But I was prepared to wait until the twilight of her commercial viability, decades hence, to hear it.
Then came quarantine. Now, with stadium tours out of the question, it’s clear that her Blue was always just under the surface, apparently needing only three or four months to spill out onto the piano fully formed. The album highlights old strengths, such as her ability to evoke the entire fallout of a relationship in a throwaway line (“I knew you’d linger like a tattooed kiss/I knew you’d haunt all of my what-ifs”). She still knows how to draw in her fans with diary details about intra-celebrity drama and romances (“Cold was the steel of my axe to grind for the boys who broke my heart/Now I send their babies presents” is a clear reference to the second-hottest Jonas Brother).
But there are also newer skills on display. Finally, she’s exploring new perspectives, telling us stories about World War II soldiers and the eccentric former owner of her Rhode Island mansion, and exploring broken relationships from multiple perspectives rather than a single, scorched-earth view. To me, her autobiographical love songs are actually the weaker songs on the album. (Re: “Invisible Strings”: How is the fact that “Bad Blood” played on the radio once in Joe Alwyn’s cab a “sign,” rather than just something that happened to every person in the Western world during the summer of 2015?)
It has a sleepy section in the middle — why involve Jack Antonoff if he’s going to contribute lullabies? — but overall it’s a masterpiece and a rich text to analyze during these soul-dulling months at home. If “You Need to Calm Down” led her to Antoni from Queer Eye, and Antoni led her to The National, which led to Aaron Dessner co-creating so many of these exquisite songs, then the journey was entirely worth it.
—Celia Ampel (she’s not on social media, bless her, but she did co-write a book you can buy!!)
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