The phantom pang of missing someone before you ever meet them is an emotion worthy of its own word. That fated feeling of love and the passage of time is the theme that runs between Carly Rae Jepsen’s smash hit “Call Me Maybe” and the National’s antisocial romance “Slow Show”; it’s also the kind of thing Taylor Swift might write about. One of the loveliest tracks on folklore, the surprise album the singer-songwriter made primarily with the National’s guitarist Aaron Dessner, stands out for a strangely similar reason: a thread connecting two strangers that exists long before either realizes it’s there. “And isn’t it just so pretty to think/All along there was some/Invisible string/Tying you to me,” she sings on the delightfully plucky “invisible string,” simultaneously recalling famous lines from Jane Eyre and The Sun Also Rises.
folklore will forever be known as Taylor Swift’s “indie” album, a sweater-weather record released on a whim in the blue heat of this lonely summer, filled with cinematic love songs in search of a film soundtrack. There are those who already dislike folklore on principle, who assume it’s another calculated attempt on Swift’s part to position her career as just so (how dare she); meanwhile, fans will hold it up as tangible proof that their leader can do just about anything (also a stretch). While it’s true that folklore pushes the limits of Swift’s sound in a particular, perhaps unexpected direction, her reference points feel more like mainstream “indie” homage than innovation, taking cues from her collaborators’ work and bits of nostalgia.
At its best, folklore asserts something that has been true from the start of Swift’s career: Her biggest strength is her storytelling, her well-honed songwriting craft meeting the vivid whimsy of her imagination; the music these stories are set to is subject to change, so long as it can be rooted in these traditions. You can tell that this is what drives Swift by the way she molds her songs: crammin