Why Taylor Swift’s Folklore is a Tribute to Her Fans


Swift posing for the signature black and white Folklore publicity photos.

Lucy Roberts, Editor

Taylor Swift was just 16 when her first studio album was released. Self-titled and featuring an exaggerated country drawl, references to faith, and a song with the iconic lyric “I hate that stupid old pickup truck you never let me drive”, the album marked Swift’s ascent into super-stardom. Now, fourteen years later, Swift’s recently released album folklore explores a fictional teen love triangle, negative female representation in media, and the way relationships can change for the better even after they’ve ended. 

So what happened?

As any Swift fan can tell you, each of Taylor’s eight studio albums has been accompanied by a different aesthetic, style of music, and era of Swift’s career. But by 2016, however, after five albums of albums featuring at least a bit of country-pop, Swift’s role as the award-winning, ever-present American sweetheart had been twisted into that of a manipulative sellout who didn’t deserve her wealth or success. 

After taking a three-year hiatus from music, which included a year-long period where Swift didn’t leave her house and was not photographed by paparazzi, a controversy with Kanye West also caused a severe attitude shift of Swift’s media coverage. 

After a decade of incredible success, Swift had become a target of relentless hatred over social media. In addition to all of this, Swift was in the midst of a lawsuit with an ex-radio host who had sexually assaulted her, which also fueled the narrative that Swift was made every decision out of the need for attention and monetary gain. 

To add a final dramatic twist on Taylor’s downfall, Taylor’s label, Big Machine Records, was acquired by Scooter Braun. Swift signed the contract that granted Big Machine ownership of all of her music when she was just 15, meaning she never agreed to work with Braun, who also works with other artists, including Kanye West. When speaking out about the injustice of this, Swift was accused of being unfairly protective of her own music. 

Swift’s 2017 album, the first after her hiatus and aptly titled Reputation, was the first to address how she had been mistreated by media sources looking for a place to put misogyny and jealousy of Swift’s success. Swift ultimately made the album to address these concerns, but also included several references to her budding relationship with Joe Alwyn, a British actor whose relationship with Swift was the first to not be publicized for over two years. 

In 2019 came Lover, an ode to Alwyn, her newfound relationship with the media, and finally reaching a point where she was comfortable in her own skin. 

And finally came her most recent album, folklore. Stylized with lowercase titles, slow, melodic ballads, and a complete lack of promotional marketing, the album marked the most dramatic shift in Swift’s music she’s ever produced. 

When you hear the album for the first time, especially if you weren’t particularly fond of the mega-popular pop anthems played on radios everywhere over the last 15 years, you may be in complete shock. The album is in fact gorgeous, but it’s nothing like her other music. As someone who’s been listening to Taylor Swift for the better part of my life, there’s a good chance that I’ll like anything she releases. But this shift, at least for me, represents an admiration and appreciation for the fans who’ve stayed beside her through everything. This is an album for us and if other people don’t like it, that is absolutely fine. 

One criticism I’ve often heard about previous albums is something along the lines of it’s too ‘pop’ sounding or every song is about a boy or whatever quam a critic might use to generalize almost two decades worth of discography. And while I don’t agree, I do understand where these people are coming from. But folklore’s quiet, contemporary melodies (and their commercial success) proves that even when Swift isn’t producing music for the masses, she’s still massively successful. 

The only plan Taylor has formally announced for the future is re-recording her first five albums, which is exciting on its own. But given the incredible cultural moment that folklore has created, there’s no doubt in my mind that there’s a new era coming, for Swifties and non-Swifties alike.