Everybody calm down. She’s great, she’s a manipulative genius. This is an objectively great album—not perfect, but very good, a good event in my 15 year loving Taylor Swift passion project. A lot of people are describing folklore as Taylor Swift’s genre turn back to country—following the pop-rock peak of Red—but let’s be real. Swift is a multi-millionaire and everything from here on out is just repetition with difference.
folklore is good repetition with difference. Upon initial listen, “illicit affairs” stands out for that third verse, a true return to form that just…peters out. If Marxist critic Raymond Williams’s The Country and the City tells a sentimental story about capitalism that moves from country to city, then Swift’s oeuvre fucks up this dialectic—her capitalist bildungsroman always trending backwards.
folklore’s images are not contemporary; they’re about high school, “homeroom, “riding on my skateboard,” “dancin’ in your levi’s / drunk under a streetlight,” “meet me behind the mall,” you get it. This is all so much historical fiction:
Bill was the heir to the Standard Oil name and money
and the town said, “How did a middle-class divorcée do it?”
Love the explicitly middle-class references, the middle-class nostalgia—that’s classic Taylor. Who else could commodify the cardigan just so? folklore is late capitalist totality, the anthem cradled inside the indie.
And while I am interested and appreciative of the whole endeavor here, her best work remains when she gets personal. I’m sorry, I don’t make the rules. Her industry is autofictional confession. Or, to quote Sylvia Plath, “[she] eat[s] men like air.” If you’re not following this, then you probably just don’t “get” “Tay.”
Anyway, I’m in it for the long haul. Always have been. Really great stuff, this folklore. Very promising. But we can all stop exemplifying it. No need to call this “the best yet.” That’s not really the point, if the point is our broader interest in the Taylor Swift project, which is the sentimental commodification of a branded female subjectivity that is as pleasurable as all sentimental capitalization is.
Jane Hu: in it for the long haul.