Before December of 2020, Jordan Holmes (comedian, author, podcaster) had never, intentionally, listened to a Taylor Swift song. Then began The Swiftening, where Jordan decided to review every Swift album in order. So far, he has covered Swift’s 2006 debut, 2008’s Fearless, 2010’s Speak Now, and 2012‘s Red, 2014’s 1989, 2017’s reputation, and last year’s Lover, which we encourage you to check out if you haven’t already.
Also, for another opinion on folklore, we recommend you check out the review Matt Drufke wrote earlier this year.
And we have arrived at the fell year 2020, a year too close to now, a year brimming with sadness and terror and rage and the eighth studio album by Taylor Swift folklore, the obstinately lowercase’d collection of songs genre classified by Genius as:
A collection of words that I have boiled down to a specific genre that, once revealed, you will instantly recognize as correct and it will be added to the critics’ canon – “Rich Folk”.
The collection of genres that Genius applies to her album is fundamentally dissonant along class lines. Country, Folk, and (I’ll give them a pass here, what they actually mean is Troubadour but that word has faded to a long distant past I should have no knowledge of for I am not actually a spirit that feeds upon body after body, never dying, only finding a new host) “Singer-Songwriter” are genres for poor people.
Alternative Country (exists), Alternative Pop (does not exist, is just “Pop”), Folk Pop (also does not exist – the fuck would that sound like? Trampled By Turtles? That’s just Indie Bullshit), and Pop (exists), are music for rich people.
Yet another in a long list of pet peeves of mine is the usage of the word “real” before a genre. I don’t appreciate it. It’s inaccurate; obviously if you need to use the word “real” there is something that exists with which to compare it to, meaning it is real. The word that “real” is replacing in this example, poorly, is “pure”, a genre undiluted by the oft-times beneficial influence of other genres.
Alternative Country is “real” Country, but “Alternative” really means Country + Pop + Christian Rock. Adding adjectives to pure genres is just algebraic notation. Go back further, applying the same principles, and we can continue to derivate what is now considered “pure”. For example, “Folk” is just what happened when Celtic music went South and added the Blues, on its way back up added Jazz in the Appalachians, and when it got back home to Ellis Island, it became “Folk”. “Rock” is what happened when the Blues went West for some Cool Jazz, then to the MidWest for Irish Fight Songs, then back home South. Music evolves like the species, no one invents a new genre, music spreads until it mutates and eventually it’s something different enough to be new.
“Country” is simpler still, it’s the unholy result of the horrors the Irish inflicted upon the Blues.
Now, what makes genres like “Folk” and “Blues” and “Jazz” and so on and so forth pure – therefore better by default – is that they are made by Poor People Who Are Sad. This is not to say that rich people cannot make listenable music, only that they can never create anything pure. (There is, of course, a subset of “poor” known as the “afflicted”. The “afflicted” can make pure music regardless of how much wealth they may accumulate for they are beyond mortal ken)
You may ask, “Jordan, what do you mean by ‘rich’? Isn’t that arbitrary? Isn’t all music ultimately made by people with the leisure time necessary to make it and isn’t leisure time the real measure of wealth in human history? Aren’t all artists rich in comparison (and aren’t all successful artists the kids of someone more famous…)?”
I shall assuage you, I hear your criticisms, but in this circumstance I am absolutely being arbitrary as I have been this entire God. Damn. Time. I get it, you almost certainly like this album. It can be emotionally resonant at times and as I insult it, I am not insulting or demeaning the emotional connection you may have with this album.
In fact, I give you a rare pre-review(a word? No), is folklore listenable? No. It’s fine. It’s Rich Folk.
What I am going to do for the next, dear god I don’t know how long it will wind up being, is recommend the pure sounds of folklore that Swift Richie-Richified.
A brief note, something to keep in mind: Folk music (as we call it) traces its origins to Celtic music, and Celtic music – Irish in specific – is Sad. The happiest Irish songs end with a wedding and begin with the English murdering your entire family.
Good Folk music is sad, especially when it’s happy.
Folklore begins with “The 1”, the song begins with two piano chords and a swing, the lyrics begin with Taylor fucking Swift saying some bullshit like, “I’m on some new shit” to which, just, fuck off, you’re Taylor fucking Swift; you don’t get to say bullshit like, “I’m on some new shit”. Like beautiful, well-adjusted people doing standup comedy – this isn’t fucking for you.
Let us explore Folk music. As I said, Folk music’s deepest roots are in Celtic music, and the most important thing about Celtic music is sadness no matter the cost.
An Innis Aigh is a song about loving one’s home and country, how beautiful it is, and how it can sustain one’s life and guarantee a perfect afterlife and it sounds so God. Damn. Sad! Jesus Christ!
Rich folk can be happy, rich folk can write a bouncy little tune about how you miss your ex, but pure Folk is about reminding you of the inevitability of death, even in love songs to Ireland.
“cardigan” is a song that proudly does not end.
It is as boring as it is endless.
Good Folk music, or good “singer-songwriter” music as Genius likes to say, is mercifully and beautifully short. “Sprained Ankle” by Julien Baker is tight, focused, affecting, and, referring back to rule one, it reminds you of your mortality.
Remember, death comes to us all and is always at our heels; why would you listen to music that doesn’t beat an aptly dead horse at every opportunity?
By word count, “cardigan” comes in around 330 (clocking in around 6 minutes) and “Sprained Ankle” around 100 (~2 minutes). Julien Baker evokes emotion in 1/3rd the words and the time that Swift could not dream of.
In NBA terms, Julien Baker has a PER on par with Lebron.
I would like “cardigan” to give me a refund of cash or time or whatever, because I feel I have been bamboozled. The middle part of the song isn’t even there!
With regards “the last great american dynasty” and to my thesis:
This song is about how obscenely wealthy Taylor Swift is and how cool it is that she owns the house of an obscenely wealthy person. Rich folk.
Now, to how poor people feel about “dynasties”.
Fuck Rebekah Harkness. Her money was inherited from her dead husband who got it from owning Standard Motherfucking Oil. Fuck. Rebekah. Harkness.
I am not necessarily endorsing the IRA.
I think Justin Vernon had to be fucking with Swift when he sent her his vocals. The first verse is a parody of Justin Vernon’s sound. Bon Iver and Volcano Choir both see Vernon playing around with the limits of a vocoder, and it’s precisely because of that I have to assume he knew what the hell he was doing and he was either adamant about making it sound hilariously uncanny or he knew that no one would call him on it; I don’t know which is funnier, I love it.
This song is fine, it gets moving after the first verse, I guess Vernon chickened out on doing the whole track like he was in the witness protection program giving an interview to CBS, but there are two glaring flaws: one, obviously there are no references to mortality, and two, the song is simply too short.
This track by Robert Glasper, for example, clocks in at 10 minutes – the correct length for a song – and the lyrics are so obsessed with mortality they fucking died.
“Jordan,” you might say at this point, “you said there were two problems with the song, one of which is in direct opposition to a complaint you had earlier, and the other is unaddressed whatsoever! How can you be this much of an asshole!?”
I agree with you! I just don’t know how better to signal that I am not taking this seriously. This is an emotional subject for people, please do not be mad that I don’t like Taylor Swift. She’s garbage, but I think you’re all great people.
For “my tears ricochet” from Genius:
“Swift shared via Instagram that “my tears ricochet” is about an “embittered tormentor showing up at the funeral of his fallen object of obsession.” She revealed in a YouTube livechat that it was the first song she wrote for folklore.”
That’s right, we’re in a classic reverse Mark Twain situation, with muted/echoed/tuned up/tuned down vocals that are meant to express emotion because her actual voice cannot. The song is essentially one crescendo and then one decrescendo with absolutely no catharsis. It’s like riding a gentle wave of tidal sewage.
Something I absolutely do not believe and will not defend if pressed upon, vocal effects for pop stars are essentially the same as PED’s in baseball and should be disqualifying.
All I’m saying… neither Hank Aaron nor Shirley Horn needed vocal effects.
I’m from Chicago so I assumed “mirrorball” is about The Bean. “mirrorball” is not about The Bean.
With that out of the way, “mirrorball” is about the death of the performance industry. I am very sad for Taylor Swift, who has half a billion dollars, because she will not be able to perform in stadiums this year. That is disappointing. “mirrorball” does a very good job of lamenting while at the same time musically reminding you that Taylor Swift is and will always be rich and unaffected by your poor people problems.
For the poors, Open Mike Eagle did it right. I feel more emotion when Open Mike says, “It’s October, and I’m tired” than I have felt listening to any Taylor Swift song ever.
Open Mike Eagle is not a half-billionaire and is therefore capable of doing something only the poor can do, “have human emotions.”
Track 7 is “seven” or my preferred spelling:
This is a song about Swift as a child standing by, doing nothing, as a close friend is… I guess consistently beaten to shit by said friend’s dad? Ok.
I do appreciate that, though Swift is the hero of all of her songs, in none of them does she act heroic. She does not stick her neck out for others in these songs.
Something reminded me of the song “Shallow Grave” by Tallest Man On Earth, and I couldn’t figure out why, musically they’re not that similar, so I went to the lyrics to see if something was reminiscent and not really, but I found this:
And I thought, yea, that’s exactly what “Shallow Grave” could be about NatureIsSeekingRevenge. It’s not, but it sure could be. And then I forgot what I was looking for, so I rewatched Se7en.
Freeman’s picture is the same in both posters but Pitt’s is flipped and I cannot 7ee any7thing else wh7en I clo7se my ey7es.
All right, well, now I’m furious. I’m all the way up to “august”, track 8, thinking I’m going to breeze through this whole shebang, and what do I read on Genius? This shit:
“The song describes an ill-fated summer romance, similarly to Swift’s earlier works like 2006’s “Tim McGraw.” Fans believe it’s the second part of folklore’s “Teenage Love Triangle,” told from the point of view of the girl James cheated on Betty with. The storyline is preceded by “cardigan” and followed by “betty.”
Get the fuck out of here. I’m supposed to give a shit about characters in three songs? *checks track listing* Are you telling me she wrote a triptych and put them at 2, 8, and 14 on the track list? What a faux-interesting thing to do!
Let’s talk about an actually interesting thing to do and that is writing an hour and ten minute long jazz guitar-driven prog rock opera based around an Italian children’s book. Written by Masayoshi Takanaka, The Rainbow Goblins is interesting! But hey, it’s just a jazz guitar-driven prog rock opera, you’re probably sure it was released as an album and then never mentioned again.
Wrong again, motherfuckers!
That’s right, writing a 3 song story about some bullshit love triangle (no one is reminded of their own mortality by the way) is bullshit. Writing about 7 fucking goblins going hard on a Rainbow? Yea, you’re goddam right it’s great. Poor people have imagination. RIch people have a hard time moving beyond the synechdoche of bedsheets.
Track 9, “this is me trying” narrowly missed being on the Drive soundtrack by ten years. Let’s hear what Mikael Wood for the LA Times had to say about “this is me trying”:
“Swift seems off her metaphor game in the ungainly “Cardigan,” but she’s utterly on point in this mournful orchestral-pop dirge: “You’re a flashback in a film reel on the one screen in my town,” she sings — as sharp a rendering of regret as any we’ve heard from her.”
I think he meant that as a compliment, but if that’s as sharp a rendering of regret as any we’ve ever heard from her… yeesh.
And how about P. Claire Dodson from Teen Vogue:
“Though the sounds may be different on folklore, Taylor’s concise couplets are in signature form. “They told me all of my cages were mental/So I got wasted like all my potential,” she sings on the “this is me trying,” a cinematically ‘80s anthem for doing the best you f*cking can.”
I think the “f*cking” in that sentence is supposed to be applying a rah-rah life-is-tough-but-we-are-strong sense of support to “this is me trying”, but I would counter that if you have half a billion dollars, you should try f*cking harder.
This… is someone trying.
“illicit affairs” tackles the idea of infidelity, which she first discussed on 2006’s “Should’ve Said No.” In the decade since she released “Should’ve Said No,” Swift’s conception of infidelity has changed from one of blanket condemnation to a significantly more nuanced and sympathetic take recognizing both “the dwindling, mercurial high” that infidelity can bring but also the heartbreak that it inevitably results in.”
Ok, hmmm… Let’s go take a look at “Should’ve Said No,” from Genius:
First off, it is really, really fucked up that this kid’s picture is on Genius. That should be illegal or something.
Second, yea, her position on infidelity changed. She obviously went to the outside-the-home-bone-zone in the intervening ten years, duh, probably John Mayer (although I don’t even know if you can cheat on John Mayer; not cheating, maybe it’s more like escaping).
But we don’t have a picture of the guy she cheated on and the guy she cheated on him with, now do we? No. Instead, a sixteen-year-old’s picture is everywhere to see, forever marking him as the guy who cheated on Taylor Swift and she never apologized once for forever making him the guy who cheated on Taylor Swift in highschool.
Once again, in “invisible string”, Taylor Swift sings the word “pretty” which, by my count, puts her total number of career PPA (“pretty”s per album) to 102.9, putting her on world record pace. She’ll overtake the current world record of 1065, held by The Rolling Stones (or I may have fallen asleep with Beast of Burden on repeat), in 2 more albums. Good luck to her, and I will be waiting with baited breath.
I have few quibbles with “invisible string”, nice little love song, fairly good imagery.
That said, I despise anastrophe from anyone not named ee cummings (because I hate anastrophe from that asshole), so don’t fuckin’ “Bold was the waitress” me, douchewad.
I also despise the usage of thread as an apostrophe for the Fates. Let us not forget our Theogony! Remember, the Moirai give mortals their fates at birth, both the good and the bad, and they punish even the gods for failing to abide by the law. The Three Who Are One have the fell shears that cut the thread of your life, so please, I would suggest you speak of the Fates by their names!
Clotho! Lachesis! Atropos! I call upon thee to punish Swift for her disrespect!
While we wait for them to arrive, Zola Jesus can help you feel, not just hear, that fate is a cold, cold thread.
Oh no! Taylor Swift is maaad. On “mad woman”, Swift goes so far as to drop her second f-bomb! Watch out! I am afraid of how mad she is!
I would like to draw attention to this Variety review; listen to this shit!
“As for actual bad blood? It barely features into “Folklore,” in any substantial, true-life-details way, counter to her reputation for writing lyrics that are better than revenge. But when it does, woe unto he who has crossed the T’s and dotted the I’s on a contract that Swift feels was a double-cross.”
The only people afraid of the woe of uncrossed T’s and undotted I’s are the poor regular-ass fucks who have their goddam pictures on the internet for being unfortunate enough to fuck with Swift in high school.
No music reviewer can use “woe”. In fact, only one man has ever used “woe” properly. I give you E.L. Doctorow, an excerpt from Billy Bathgate:
AND FUCK WOE TO ANYBODY WHO GOT IN HIS WAY! Woe comes to people who get in the way of rum-runners, ya get me?
To Swift, don’t forget to pick up your feelings.
“epiphany” apparently draws from grandpa Swift’s experience in War. My grandpa has experience in War and he told me there’s only One song about War.
Or he would’ve if he had any idea the song existed.
We have “Fuck” number threeeeeee!!!!!!
Swift explained the plot of “betty” a song about James on country radio, according to Genius, they might have made that shit up, honestly:
“[James] has lost the love of his life basically and doesn’t understand how to get it back…Everybody makes mistakes, everybody really messes up sometimes and this is a song that I wrote from the perspective of a 17-year-old boy. I’ve always loved that in music you can kinda slip into different identities and you can sing from other people’s perspectives. So that’s what I did on this one–and I named all the characters in this story after my friends’ kids.”
First, Swift is a terrorist. Leave your friends-who-should-no-longer-be-your friends’ kids alone!
Second, I do appreciate the idea that Swift is trying to write from the point of view of a 17-year-old boy, but, uh, I was once a 17-year-old boy who did indeed happen to be heartbroken over the loss of a girlfriend I alienated with my actions; let me give you some personal experience – I imagine many people will assume I am going to make a simple dick joke here, pretending that 17-year-old lovesick boys aren’t the whiniest, piniest, losers on the planet, au contraire – Swift nailed the excused stalking aspect of this type of boy. Oh yea, prior to, like, a week or so ago, young men were allowed – never mind, they still are – to stalk young women at will with implicit permission. Many people, including Swift, misconstrued a very fucked up dangerous situation that has ended with violence an alarming percentage of the time.
No, the best you’ll get from a 17-year-old is something like Dang!
“Sure I regret losing you, ‘cause of stuff I absolutely did, but, and I know this will sound a little strange given our current circumstances, but I am purely sustained via pussy, so perhaps we can fuck instead of, I don’t know, whatever it is you’re mad about?”
Musically, “betty” is utter garbage. Do not try to convince me otherwise. I was raised on Christian music because (*long shiver*) – for reasons, whatever, don’t ask me – anyways, I can smell that shit from a mile away and you can use “fuck” in a song but it’s Christian-ass shit music.
I was fooled by Switchback when I was young, I won’t be fooled again.
The penultimate song, “peace”, is mistaking peace for boredom; the song is very boring. Grey Reverend and Cinematic Orchestra’s version of “To Build A Home” is actually peaceful and succeeds in every way “peace” fails. Listen to it. It’s super good. Then go find Grey Reverend, he’s incredible. His music is infinitely better and he is also not a half-billionaire.
“hoax” is a disingenuous, manipulative song and I don’t buy it. This is fake. Remember at the beginning when I was all, self-righteously, “uhhh, I don’t use the word ‘real’ because I’m such a cool guy who’s just above it all, man, I’m outside the system!” well I changed my mind.
Swift is fake shit. I don’t buy this song whatsoever. What makes a singer good is not tone quality, but expression, and this is the milque-iest of toasts.
I don’t even want to put a single song here, I want to just list 100 ridiculously talented artists who should have – oh hey, if you split Swift’s money up equally, they’d all have 3.31 fucking million dollars – more fame and attention. Instead dickwads from Variety are talking up this shit album. Could all of you please stop letting her get away with this shit!
If folklore had been released by anyone but Taylor Swift – anyone – note-for-note, pitch for pitch, you’d have never heard of it and you wouldn’t miss it.
As always, I refuse to review the Deluxe version so we have reached the end of folklore. Is folklore listenable? I already told you. Very anticlimactic. I know I hated this album, but as I understand, there are and will be more.
I guarantee I will meet them with an open mind because I am going to drink the sounds of folklore out of my ears forever and ever. Good night.
Jordan Holmes is a Chicago comedian, author, podcaster, and one of the twenty best humans of all time. We love him very much. Every Monday & Friday, you can hear him on a new episode of Knowledge Fight, a podcast devoted to exposing the lies of Alex Jones. You can read (or listen) to his debut novel, The Quiet Part Loud, by going here.