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The Taylor Swift ‘Folklore’ Exit Survey

Is this her most adult album ever? Is it a quarantine-defining work of art? And why do all musicians venture into the woods?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

While we’ve been binging Tiger King in quarantine, apparently Taylor Swift was making an entire new album. The singer announced her eighth album, Folklore, just one day before its release on Friday. Which gave us hardly any time to get hyped, but now that the music is out, there’s plenty of time for that.


1. What is your tweet-length review of Folklore?

Cory McConnell: I regret to inform you that Jack Antonoff keeps making good music.

Katie Baker: [Lowers voice to a whisper.] I … I want it on vinyl.

Juliet Litman: This collection of would-be Postal Service covers builds to a trio of Taylor classics at the end of the record.

Nora Princiotti: More of a tweet-length review of my personality but: Why do I always get stressed about albums from this person who has never made an album I do not like?

Andrew Gruttadaro:

Kate Halliwell: Great album that would hit 300 percent harder in sub-50 degree weather. Get back to me in three months.

Alyssa Bereznak: Summer has been canceled. If you need me I will be making pumpkin pie and carving my and my cat’s initials into the base of a giant redwood tree in an oversized sweater.

2. What is your favorite song on the album?

Halliwell: “Betty,” because being continually queerbaited by Taylor Swift is an honor and a privilege that I take very seriously.

Litman: “Peace” is going to be a beaut on stage, and everyone has a “Betty” in their lives.

Princiotti: I have “August” on repeat but “Mad Woman” is iconic.

Baker: I will almost certainly have a new answer to this in an hour/day/week, but for now I’ve probably re-listened to “Exile” the most.

McConnell: Right now it’s “Mirrorball.” The jangly, damn-near shoegaze-y instrumentation is the perfect lush backdrop to Taylor’s delivery of this bittersweet, deprecating ballad. It hits like a slow-dance requiem for the canceled proms of 2020. Between this, “August,” and last year’s “The Archer,” alternate-universe-’80s-pop-icon-Taylor has become my favorite of her modes.

Bereznak: “August,” which I suspect is about her brief romance with Conor Kennedy, and gorgeously captures the bittersweet nostalgia of a summer fling.

Gruttadaro: Maybe “Mirrorball.” Either way, Folklore is more of an overall success than a handful of highlights.

3. What is your least-favorite song?

Princiotti: This question is rude.

Bereznak: I guess if you pressed me I would say “Seven,” but unlike Reputation and Lover, Folklore is devoid of cloyingly poppy singles that feel like Billboard bait. I commend her for it.

Gruttadaro: “Invisible String,” which would be better if sung by José González or something.

Litman: I can’t distinguish most of the songs in the middle of the album, so it’s those.

McConnell: “Betty” is a nice marriage of her country-radio roots and her more “adult” 2020 songwriting style (I can feel the gust from the whiplash of parents hearing her say “fuck”), but sonically it sticks out like a sore thumb.

Baker: I don’t have one yet because a lot of them sound the same to me and blend together, but I think that’s the point.

Halliwell: “Seven” and “Epiphany,” because BTS called dibs long ago and I refuse to associate those titles with another artist.

4. Bon Iver + Taylor Swift—what say you?

Gruttadaro: She’s really doing a Bon Iver thing here—it’s legit funny when his sequencer noise thingamajig kicks off “Peace”—so it’s good that she preempted that criticism by having him on the album. Taylor, always thinking ahead.

Princiotti: It was inevitable, but it’s immediately one of her best partnerships—which are not always a strength for her.

Baker: I agree with everything stated in this Twitter exchange:

Bereznak: A nice collab. Better than the jolting Brendon Urie sitch on “ME!” But I prefer solo Taylor to a duet any day.

McConnell: I wasn’t sold until the bridge, but hoo boy. When that hits, we get full-throated, Repave-era Justin Vernon, and the results are undeniable. As jarring as it is to hear their voices together, and to hear Vernon sing his least opaque lyrics ever, these are two absolute titans of the breakup song game at the peak of their powers.

Halliwell: I can only care about so many things, and I draw the line at Bon Iver.

5. Why do musicians love going into the woods?

McConnell: I assume that’s where the Dessners live, I don’t know.

Princiotti: Taylor gravitates to any setting appropriate for gnomes or lost princesses or other fairy tale drama. I, however, cannot speak for Justin Timberlake.

Bereznak: It’s an easy metaphor for going “back to the basics,” which is inevitably something high-profile pop stars end up doing to get away from industry types and paparazzi and synthesizers and whatever else it is musicians are escaping these days. But we’ve seen these sojourns crash and burn. Woodsian interludes only truly work if that artist has the emotional capacity to fully contemplate their experiences (a.k.a. therapy). Taylor has clearly done the work. That, combined with her already supernatural songwriting ability, resulted in the best album she’s ever made.

Gruttadaro: Surely, the only way to show growth and maturity is to leave your SoHo loft and wade through the timbers in your big-ass coat. (Related: Taylor Swift says the S-word so many times on this album!!!)

Halliwell: A safe, socially distanced outdoor activity? I finally get the appeal. Sign me up for the next camping trip.

Litman: Taylor has been on a conscious path to align with her Tennessee home, versus the New York days of 1989. The further remove into the woods feels like an act of identity declaration that, frankly, works for me.

Baker: [Takes bong hit.] So, when you think about it, it’s the birds who are the real musicians out here on this big ol’ blue marble, and we humans are just here trying to put together the best remix. [90-second coughing fit.] Hey, you ever heard of shinrin-yoku?


6. What is the best analogy on Folklore? The worst?

Gruttadaro: Hang on, did I catch multiple cardigan lyrics on this album?

Bereznak: “August slipped away like a bottle of wine.” Her simplest analogies are always the best.

Baker: The best song-length analogy is “The Last Great American Dynasty” and I now find myself really looking forward to Swift writing a thinly-veiled, blind-item-rich novel one day. Conversely, I don’t know whether this counts as an analogy, and is maybe more weird than worst, but this morning I learned, per E!, that two of the characters in the song “Betty” share names with Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds’s daughters … and that fans are wondering whether she has given a hint toward a third? So random. “BFF Fun Fact” indeed!

Halliwell:

“You’ll find me on my tallest tiptoes
Spinning in my highest heels, love
Shining just for you”

The whole “Mirrorball” analogy is great, but expecting me to believe that any woman over 5-foot-10 is having a great time in her highest heels is just a step too far.

McConnell: “Mirrorball’ and “Invisible String” are pretty effective song-length analogies. As far as stuff that doesn’t work, it’s not an analogy, but I did laugh at the mention of “the bus stop” within a minute of the album starting. Under no circumstances do I believe Taylor Swift is taking an actual bus anywhere, or spending any time in the proximity of bus stops.

Princiotti: Best: “I can see us twisting in bedsheets / August slipped away like a bottle of wine, ’cause you were never mine.” It’s lovely, and it’s also something she’d never have written earlier in her career when booze and sex were off-limits topics.

Worst: “Does a scorpion sting when fighting back?” Nitpicky, but isn’t the sting sort of the entire fight for a scorpion? Whatever. Song slaps.

7. Will Folklore be the defining album of quarantine? And is that a good thing?

Princiotti: Yes, unless Rihanna decides she’s sold enough shoes.

Bereznak: Seeing as I was already clawing my walls and desperately making my way through all of Dave Matthews Band’s live album collection reaching for some sappy well of adolescent profundity, I would say that yes, Taylor’s contemplative masterpiece of an album about lost loves arrived right on time. Whether it becomes the defining album of quarantine probably depends on how long quarantine lasts, and yeah, I refuse to think about that.

McConnell: It’s surely the most polished quarantine album. For my stimulus money, Charli XCX’s How I’m Feeling Now is a more interesting and layered quarantine pop experiment, but Taylor’s reach and ability to create pop culture moments is undeniable. So if it’s up to the teens, then yes—and it is always up to the teens.

Litman: I don’t think so. There’s a lot to love for the Taylor heads and some beautiful instrumentation, but this album already feels like it’s from a different phase of quarantine. It sounds like the dismal days of April, lacking the rage and frenzy that has come to define the more recent months.

Halliwell: It will not—we were sad-bopping to Future Nostalgia in the true summer peak of worldwide quarantine. But when we’re still stuck inside through the fall … then it will be Folklore’s time to shine.

Gruttadaro: I’m not even sure such a thing exists. We’re all doing our own thing, getting through this hellscape in our own specific ways, and time is such a fluid concept that moments like this one disappear in an instant. I may not even remember my name a week from now, let alone a 16-song album.

Baker: This is Sigma Oasis erasure, man!

8. In your estimation, what does Folklore do for Taylor Swift’s current standing?

Halliwell: Great things, honestly. I liked Lover but this is much more my speed. And the fact that she supposedly created the whole thing in four months of quarantine … well, it makes all those King Lear tweets hit a little different.

Princiotti: It cements that, as long as she’s focused on her songwriting, she is not to be underestimated.

Baker: I used to kind of make fun of her but then secretly listen to “London Boy” on repeat. Now I will probably make less fun of her (while still smirking at the ~*~lower case song titles~*~ because I refuse to abandon my values!!!) while listening to “London Boy” AND Folklore on repeat.

Gruttadaro: I’m on the record that Reputation was bad and overproduced on purpose so that people would start clamoring for “stripped down Taylor.” I thought Lover was gonna be when she cashed in that bet, but she was even smarter and more patient than that, extending the bit even further. Now, just as we began abandoning the hope that that Taylor would ever return, she unleashes it. Flawless execution; a scary level of forethought.

McConnell: This album feels like a progression in songwriting, and Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff’s production complements that growth while also feeling perfectly engineered for listeners who have been locked inside for nearly five months. It’s her first album that doesn’t sound like it was designed to pack stadiums, and a welcome change of direction.

Bereznak: Taylor Swift is a very talented marketer, hit-maker, and performer, but her strength has always been in her storytelling. Earlier songs like “Dear John” and “All Too Well” plucked all these palpable personal details from her romances and wrapped them up into devastatingly earnest ballads. (I still think of her scarf shoved into the corner of a Gyllenhaal household drawer.) Most of my past Swift cynicism was derived from the fact that the story she was telling on Reputation felt deliberately inauthentic. Those of us who watched Miss Americana have some context for those artistic liberties, and a few regrettable decisions between the years 2016 and 2017. Lover was her triumphant return to herself, and Folklore is evidence of her growth as both a songwriter and a person. It’s absolutely a vote of confidence toward her future as a musician. If only she’d go full-on country next time …

Litman: Taylor Swift is stuck in a pattern: The fans will see the authenticity, and the naysayers will see the artifice. Taylor’s work is, to me, a masterful amalgam of both forces.

9. Where does she go from here?

Gruttadaro: OMG to the altar maybe?!?!?

Baker: Hopefully to get out the vote!!! Dare to dream.

Halliwell: Nowhere. Stay inside, Taylor. Or in the woods.

Bereznak: I hope she continues making music at a wild clip. Opening up a fresh batch of great songs from her is like being showered with confetti. Or in this case, fragrant pine needles.

Princiotti: Given that this album sounds more “adult” than her earlier work, it feels like the transformations will be more subtle going forward. But she’ll always have a few tricks up her sleeve. I’m still hoping she links up with “All Too Well” cowriter Liz Rose again.

McConnell: The doomsday clock of “Taylor Swift appearing on a the National album” is now two minutes to midnight. I’m ready.

Litman: Wherever it is, I hope it maintains the level of cursing on Folklore.