The lockdown has considerably affected the music industry but Taylor Swift has dusted off her wings with an eighth album (almost) free of intermediaries and advisors, the only queen in her sales kingdom. "Folklore" is certainly the first big release recorded during this pandemic to enjoy such an echo, although its release was only announced a few hours before it could be listened to. Her tour being cancelled, the singer turned this vacant time into a short writing phase, working with Aaron Dessner from the indie rock band The National (who wrote the "beautifully epic" and "teary-eyed" lyrics on 11 tracks), the loyal Jack Antonoff (who also collaborated with Lana Del Rey) and Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver, who appeared on the duo "Exile").
One year after "Lover", her supposedly most personal album, which was not really impressive and which she buried herself, she found a sound more conducive to telling stories, returning to the essence of country music which had led her to knock on the doors of Nashville labels as a child with her demo of Dolly Parton covers. There, she explores a whole new path, with more delicate arrangements, classic guitar-piano formula, gentle muted beats, which almost never escape the mawkishness, precipitated by her always too slick voice. We quickly forget the bluette "Betty" and its harmonica, a rather unique Taylor Swift track since its 'explicit' tag for a "fuck" already panics the very impressionable world of fans and critics. In her solitary and sylvan wanderings underpinned by the album cover in black and white (Darkthrone style), Taylor Swift has summoned imaginary characters to carry heavier and "committed" messages than those she usually broadcasts, as with Rebekah on "The Last Great American Dynasty", an americana fresco as Lana Del Rey could sing, inspired by the former owner of her mansion. Or "Mad Woman", probably a settling of scores with her former super label Big Machine Records who wanted to confiscate her copyright.
In this maze of images, her collaborators create vicinal paths between bland pop and somewhat sophisticated folk, although her collaboration with Justin Vernon on "Exile" and its boring piano is one of the most embarrassing moments of the album. I largely prefer the pleasant idealistic work of "Seven" which indeed earned her the agog web headlines like "Taylor Swift goes indie!" or to be classified now in the Alternative category, as if there was some bottles of champagne to be opened at the idea of being downgraded to a category usually less profitable than mainstream pop where she was triumphing. On the new track "This Is Me Trying", Swift writes, in essence: "I've been having a hard time adjusting/I had the shiniest wheels, now they're rusting" or "They told me all of my cages were mental/So I got wasted like all my potential". Taylor Swift is proving to be more and more unbridled in this industry where her power allows her, at 30, all the liberties. We can only hope that one day she will create a more interesting folk album with more refined emotional touch, as she did on "Invisible String" which pulls her up. All this polarisation should not make us forget that other great folk artists have released much more powerful albums this year, starting with the live of Ichiko Aoba for those who will be ready to really travel to other shores.