The last time I listened to an entire Taylor Swift album was 2008. My family was spending the summer in Chicago and Fearless was the only CD in my sister’s car. So, naturally, it wore many repeats on its sleeve. I don’t listen to Taylor Swift, and I never have. I have heard her music, but never gone out of my way to do so. But this, more importantly, meant that she’s simply always been “there” in my life, always lurking, much like any sitting U.S. President or Kanye West. (Although we see who’s having the last laugh now.)
This is an article by someone who is a non-Swiftie. I could care less about her pop music crossover, who she’s dating, or her feud with Kanye. That’s all secondary to me. Not even secondary, it’s the LAST thing I think about. What led me to listen to Folklore the night it was released is still unbeknownst to me, but I’m glad I did. And I don’t mean that lightly: I love this album so much. And I’ve never been happier to say that I love an album this much.
It makes you rethink why you were told to dislike her in the first place. Her career trajectory was always something occurring in the background, something I never paid much attention to. And while the ego trips and changes in attitude appearance I’m sure drove tabloids (let’s give them something to talk about!), you can now tell that, musically, she’s arrived at a point where she now sees different sound pallets as tool sets, different muscles to exercise. We can talk about the Bon Iver collaboration, or how the National produced the record or how members of Beirut are credited as songwriters, and while I’m a fan of all those artists, I almost don’t think about any of that. I don’t even hear her singing. It all feels true, of course, because it feels as if you’re feeling time itself. You feel the intangible effects it has on you. It’s funny how time makes everything different – the ruined relationships, the past mistakes, the regrets – you don’t realize it originally, because your so immersed in your problems, but your relationship with past events changes over time. It’s an album that forces you to put your life into context, and in doing so, rearranges the musical geography in your brain.
Apparently, there’s a series of songs on the album that tells the different points-of-view of a love triangle, but I give up on trying to figure out the meanings of the names or who’s saying what or the name of Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively’s baby, because I don’t care about those answers. Instead, I focus on the fleeting images instilled in my mind – a girl apologizing on a porch, behind-the-mall hookups, showing up to a party you know damn well you weren’t invited to – it all seems ethereal. These images themselves already incite a backstory.
And, as one does, we begin to see our own lives reflected in these songs. These songs can belong to anybody (see “Mirror ball,” a song about reflecting the different shades of yourself back at you.) It points out how much your heart has expanded since traumatic events. For me, it’s only been a year, but I can already see the half-life of those emotions. This album makes you see what’s outside the tunnel, it shows you what time is capable of: treating emotions, healing wounds that will never go away but age gracefully as regrets turn into fond memories. Time never *truly* heals everything, but changes your perspective of the past.
And, in turn, you learn how to say goodbye to the person you’ve become. These songs are about becoming better versions of yourself. We never truly change as humans, but make modifications of the original model, in hopes to become better versions of ourselves. And then knowing that, in time, this new version of yourself will also require a goodbye, and then that’ll lead to another goodbye, and another… all leading up to the greatest goodbye of all.
But I could keep going. I keep finding things to talk about and digest within this album because it all just feels so intimate. Yes, she made this album in quarantine, but that doesn’t mean we have to be productive as well. If this album tells us anything, it’s that this is a time to reflect, not to create. Trying to make a work of art during this time feels so self-indulgent. Rather, we should take time to just sit and feel the quiet outside. Once we’ve had a moment to sink everything in, maybe then we will be able to make something truly meaningful and of stature. We will come out just a little wiser and stronger, and won’t feel this knee jerk reaction to “create” something. Because just like Swift, we know we’ve had better summers in the past, and we know we’ll have better summers again. But this album points you in the direction of how to make thoughtful use of this summer: maybe it’s the time we’ve needed to reflect.