Words: Hannah Mylrea and El Hunt
And just like that, with very little teasing and absolutely no promotional campaign, Taylor Swift has released her new record ‘Folklore’. Written during lockdown, the pop star’s eighth album sees her take a trip to a metaphorical cabin in the woods where she collaborated virtually with The National and Bon Iver. The result is an astonishing collection of indie-folk gems.
And, as with any Taylor album, there are hidden meanings aplenty for Swiftie sleuths to unearth. Answering questions during the video premiere for lead single ‘Cardigan’ Swift explained that for this album she “put the Easter eggs in the lyrics more than just the videos”, explaining that she “created character arcs & recurring themes that map out who is singing about who”.
Here we go deep on all the things you may have missed on your first listen to ‘Folklore’.
Alongside working with Jack Antonoff, The National’s Aaron Dessner and Bon Iver, there are also two co-writing credits for the mysterious William Bowery. Give the name a quick Google, and it’s difficult to find any information about who this enigmatic songwriter could be. this has led fans to speculate that “William Bowery” could be a pseudonym. Swift has used them in the past (she was credited for her work on ‘This Is What You Came For’ under the name Nils Sjöberg), so fans are wonder who could be behind the moniker (the most popular theories are that it could be her brother, Austin Swift, or boyfriend, Joe Alwyn).
The Teenage Love Triangle
Swift says she hid Easter eggs in the lyrics on this album. One example of this is “The Teenage Love Triangle”, three songs that Swift says “explore a love triangle from all 3 people’s perspectives at different times in their lives”. The general consensus seems to be that the three songs in this trio are ‘Cardigan’, ‘August’ and ‘Betty’. The characters involved seem to be called James, Betty and Inez. ‘Cardigan’ is from Betty’s point of view, ‘August’ from Inez’s and ‘Betty’ from James’.
i think i got the trio of songs that make up the teenage love triangle
— cay🦝 (@BURNlNGTEARS) July 24, 2020
Cardigan – Betty's point of view
August – Inez' point of view
Betty – James' point of view
TS is a genius ❣ https://t.co/fewW3cmkxn
— Always, Gracey ❄ (@alwaysgracey) July 24, 2020
Is Betty the name of Blake Lively’s third child?
Look, this one is a bit of a wild leap, but, on ‘Betty’, Swift names the characters Inez and James. These are coincidentally the names of Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds’ eldest two daughters. Betty is the third character named, so fans are speculating as to whether that’s the name of the couple’s youngest child (which they’ve not yet publicly revealed). It does seem like a stretch – but Swift is a close pal of the couple, and their eldest daughter James was featured on Swift’s sixth album ‘Reputation’ (she provided the intro on ‘Gorgeous’).
Rebekah Harkness and Holiday House
On ‘The Last Great American Dynasty’, Swift tells the story of a woman who married the heir to Standard Oil and lived in a home called ‘Holiday House’, following her life over the course of several decades. Fans have picked up on the fact the song isn’t a fictional tale – instead it depicts the life of Rebekah Harkness, a patron of the arts who received harsh criticism from the media. Swift has an unusual connection to Harkness, too: she bought ‘Holiday House’, the Rhode Island home Harkness used to live in and which is referenced in the song, back in 2013
Was the ‘Lover’ house teasing the colour palette for ‘Folklore’?
In the music video for ‘Lover’ (the title track of Swift’s last album), Taylor and her love interest are seen in several different rooms in one big house. A popular fan theory at the time was that each of these seven rooms related to a different one of Swift’s past albums; but if you look carefully there’s a smaller, eighth room in the middle of the house. The colours make it look like it’s been run through a sephia lens, which mimics the palette used on ‘Folklore’. Was Swift dropping hints about her next era?
Y’all remember how Taylor Swift put an easter egg in Lover MV? 😭
— Jose | Folklore out (@Jose_Tohidi) July 23, 2020
— Sadie Esplin (@thatsadie) July 24, 2020
Taking Style tips?
The video for single ‘Cardigan’, filmed during COVID-19, was released yesterday – aka the 10th anniversary of One Direction‘s formation. people have been quick to spot that Swift’s music video for ‘Cardigan’ shares more than a couple of similarities with Harry Styles’ own soggy video for ‘Falling’. In both visuals, the respective musicians’ pianos take a bit of a beating and end up immersed underwater. The two artists also sport variations of a similar outfit – there’s a lot of frilly lace happening. Fans have previously speculated that ‘Falling’ was partly about the pair’s brief relationship way back in 2012 – and considering that ‘Folklore’ spends so much time looking back on youth, it makes sense that Swift would reflect the parallel back at old Hazza.
‘Invisible String’s ‘Bad Blood’ throwback
In music, there are few things more delicious than a pop star doing one of the following: 1) singing their own name (see: Britney Spears, Madonna, Rihanna) and 2) name-dropping one of their own greatest pop bangers. On ‘Invisible String’ Taylor Swift does the latter, lyrically nodding to her 2014 hit ‘Bad Blood’. “Bad was the blood of the song in the cab on your first trip to LA,” she sings. What could it all mean? Perhaps it’s a reference to being in a more settled place: wild, destructive love no more.
Easter eggs? What Easter eggs?
Ordinarily, Taylor Swift is pop’s very own Easter bunny – she absolutely loves hiding easter eggs. The roll-out of her seventh album ‘Lover’ was particularly masterful, with a trail of hints and clues starting an entire year before it finally came out. It was a very different case, as we’ve seen, with ‘Folklore’. This latest record’s sound nods back to certain threads from Swift’s 2012 album ‘Red’, and is perhaps some of Swift’s most intimate work. Since ‘Red’ was made before 2014’s ‘1989’, the album that turned her into a world-dominating pop megastar, perhaps the message is that Swift simply wants a little more normality in her life.