Folklore (Taylor Swift album)

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Folklore
A greyscale picture of a young woman standing in the woods
Digital and streaming standard cover.
Limited-edition physical copies were issued with eight alternate covers.
Studio album by
ReleasedJuly 24, 2020 (2020-07-24)
Recorded2020
Studio
Genre
Length63:29
LabelRepublic
Producer
Taylor Swift chronology
Live from Clear Channel Stripped 2008
(2020)
Folklore
(2020)
Taylor Swift studio album chronology
Lover
(2019)
Folklore
(2020)
Singles from Folklore
  1. "Cardigan"
    Released: July 27, 2020
  2. "Exile"
    Released: August 3, 2020
  3. "Betty"
    Released: August 17, 2020

Folklore (stylized in all lowercase) is the eighth studio album by American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift, released on July 24, 2020, through Republic Records. A surprise album announced without pre-release promotion, Folklore was written and recorded while in isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Categorized as an indie folk, alternative rock, electro-folk, and chamber pop record, the album marks a departure from the upbeat pop sound of Swift's preceding studio albums to stripped-down tunes driven by piano and guitar, with production from Aaron Dessner, Jack Antonoff and Swift herself. Folklore portrays what Swift called "a collection of songs and stories that flowed like a stream of consciousness" rising out of her imagination. It manifests vivid storytelling from largely third-person narratives that detail heartbreak and retrospection.

Upon release, Folklore received widespread critical acclaim, with emphasis on its sonic coherence, relaxed atmosphere and poetic lyricism. It broke numerous records on streaming services, including the Guinness World Record for the biggest opening day for an album by a female artist on Spotify. The album sold two million copies in its first week globally, 1.3 million of which were sold on its first day. "Cardigan" was released as the lead single from the album on July 27, 2020. "Exile", featuring American indie-folk band Bon Iver, became the second single, while "Betty" is scheduled to be the third single.

The album reached number one in Australia, Canada, Belgium, Ireland, New Zealand, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and several other territories. In the United States, Folklore debuted atop the Billboard 200 chart with 846,000 units moved, garnering Swift's seventh consecutive number-one album in the country and marking the largest sales week for an album in 2020. All sixteen tracks of Folklore debuted simultaneously on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, with "Cardigan" entering the chart at number one, giving Swift her sixth number-one single in the US. It made her the first act in history to debut at number one on both the Billboard 200 and Hot 100 charts in the same week. "The 1" and "Exile" debuted at fourth and sixth spots on the Hot 100, respectively.

Background

Swift announced Folklore as a surprise release on her social media accounts sixteen hours before its launch.[1][2][3][4][5] The album was released eleven months after Swift's seventh studio album Lover (2019), the fastest turnaround for a Swift studio album, beating the one year and nine months gap between Reputation and Lover. Swift announced that the music video for "Cardigan" would debut at the same time as the album's release.[2]

During the YouTube premiere countdown to the music video for "Cardigan", Swift revealed that the album lyrics contained many of her Easter eggs: "One thing I did purposely on this album was put the Easter eggs in the lyrics, more than just the videos. I created character arcs and recurring themes that map out who is singing about who... For example, there's a collection of three songs I refer to as the Teenage Love Triangle. These three songs explore a love triangle from all three people's perspectives at different times in their lives".[6] She referred to the album as "wistful and full of escapism. Sad, beautiful, tragic. Like a photo album full of imagery, and all the stories behind that imagery",[7] described "Cardigan" as a song that explores "lost romance and why young love is often fixed so permanently in our memories,"[8] and named the self-written track "My Tears Ricochet" as the first song she wrote for the album.[7]

Conception and recording

Swift was scheduled to begin her Lover Fest concert tour in April 2020 in support of her seventh album Lover (2019),[9] but the plans were shelved due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.[10] While in isolation, she let "[her] imagination run wild", stating that Folklore "started with imagery" and "visuals that popped into my mind and piqued my curiosity".[11] She "poured all of [her] whims, dreams, fears, and musings" into song, and reached out to her "musical heroes" to collaborate with.[12]

According to Jack Antonoff, with whom Swift worked on five songs from the album, he worked from New York City while engineer Laura Sisk recorded Swift's vocals from Los Angeles. Antonoff compared the writing process of "Mirrorball" and "August" to that of "Out of the Woods" from 1989 (2014); he sent tracks to Swift, who returned them with completed lyrics.[13]

In late April, Swift approached Aaron Dessner, guitarist of the American indie rock band the National, to co-write some songs remotely. Swift had previously met the National on an episode of Saturday Night Live in 2014, and she attended one of their concerts in 2019, where she talked to Dessner and his twin brother Bryce.[14] Dessner worked on eleven of the album's sixteen tracks with Swift over the next several months, while Swift wrote the remaining songs with Antonoff, William Bowery, and Bon Iver.[15]

Man playing an electric guitar on a music festival stage.
Swift collaborated with Aaron Dessner on eleven songs on the album.

Dessner remarked that he "thought it would take a while for song ideas to come" and "had no expectations as far as what we could accomplish remotely", but was pleasantly surprised that "a few hours after sharing music, my phone lit up with a voice memo from Taylor of a fully written song—the momentum never really stopped."[16] Swift and Dessner "were pretty much in touch daily for three or four months by text and phone calls".[14] The first song Swift and Dessner wrote was "Cardigan", which was based on one of Dessner's sketches called "Maple".[16] "Cardigan" was followed by "Seven", then "Peace";[17] the latter was done with one vocal take.[14]

After a few weeks, when Swift and Dessner had written "six or seven" songs, Swift explained her concept of Folklore to Dessner.[17] She also told Dessner about ideas she had earlier worked on with Antonoff, adding that she thinks both bodies of work fit well together for an album.[16] Other songs Swift and Dessner wrote include "The Last Great American Dynasty", "Mad Woman", and "Epiphany". For "The Last Great American Dynasty", Dessner arranged an array of electric guitars inspired by Radiohead's album In Rainbows (2007), which Swift wrote the lyrics to while Dessner was out for a run.[16] Dessner composed the piano melody for "Mad Woman" with his earlier work on "Cardigan" and "Seven" in mind.[17] On "Epiphany", Dessner slowed down and reversed the sounds of different instruments to create a "giant stack of harmony", and added piano for a "cinematic" sound.[16]

The last two songs Swift wrote for the album were "The 1" and "Hoax", the first and last songs on the album respectively. They were both written with Dessner, with Swift writing both in the span of a few hours.[16] Speaking about his collaboration with Swift, Dessner commented, "There's a palpable humanity and warmth and raw emotion in these songs that I hope you'll love and take comfort in as much as I do."[18]

Swift wrote two songs with Bowery, "Exile" and "Betty". Dessner developed a draft of "Exile" with Swift singing both the male and females parts of the duet.[17] Swift and Dessner ran through candidates for the duet partner, and Swift liked the voice of Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, who is one half of the experimental indie folk rock band Big Red Machine along with Dessner.[14] Dessner sent the song to Vernon, who liked the song, then added his own lyrics and sang his part.[16] "Betty" is the only song on the album worked on by both Dessner and Antonoff; Swift used Bob Dylan's album The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963) as a reference point,[17] while also drawing from Dylan's later album John Wesley Harding (1967).[16] Bowery appeared to have no online presence, and may be a pseudonym.[19][20]

Folklore was written and recorded under secrecy. Near the end of the process, Dessner reached out to regular collaborators, including the National bandmates, to provide instumentation from remote.[17] Dessner's brother Bryce wrote orchestration for several songs, while the National's drummer Bryan Devendorf performed the drum programming on "Seven".[21] Dessner kept Swift's involvement confidential from his collaborators and his daughter until Swift's announcement.[14][22] While filming the music video for "Cardigan", Swift wore an earpiece and lip-synced to the song as a safeguard against the song leaking out.[23] According to Dessner, Swift's label was unaware of the album until "hours" before its launch.[14]

Music and lyrics

A tale that becomes folklore is one that is passed down and whispered around. Sometimes even sung about. The lines between fantasy and reality blur and the boundaries between truth and fiction become almost indiscernible. Speculation, over time, becomes fact. Myths, ghost stories, and fables. Fairytales and parables. Gossip and legend. Someone's secrets written in the sky for all to behold. In isolation my imagination has run wild and this album is the result, a collection of songs and stories that flowed like a stream of consciousness. Picking up a pen was my way of escaping into fantasy, history, and memory. I've told these stories to the best of my ability with all the love, wonder, and whimsy they deserve. Now it's up to you to pass them down.

— Swift in the primer for Folklore, Billboard[11]

Composition

Folklore has been described as an indie folk,[9][24][25] alternative rock,[9] electro-folk,[26] and chamber pop[26][27] album with elements of indie rock,[28] electronica,[29] dream pop[30] and country.[9] Devoid of any pop songs,[31] it marked Swift's departure from the contemporary pop sound of her previous works.[26] The album consists of cinematic,[16] down-tempo ballads[32][26] with an "earthy", lo-fi production and elegant melodies that together lend a modern spin on traditional songcraft, largely built around "nearly neo-classical" instrumentals, such as: soft, sparse and sonorous pianos, moody, picked and burbling guitars, fractured and glitchy electronica,[5][32][33][27] throbbing percussions,[24] mellow programmed drums and Mellotron,[26] sweeping orchestrations[27] with "ethereal" strings[30] and "meditative" horns.[34] The album does not completely avoid "digital beats, plush synths" characteristic of Swift's pop music, but instead "dials them down until they are an almost invisible texture".[32] Rolling Stone noted that the vibe of Folklore resembles that of "Safe & Sound", Swift's single for the Hunger Games film soundtrack (2012).[31]

Lyrics and themes

Compared to much of Swift's older discography, the songwriting on Folklore reflected Swift's "deepening" self-awareness,[5] formed "vivid" storytelling[9] that showed a "higher degree of fictionalization" and was less "self-referential".[26] The songs explore points of view that diverge from Swift's life, including third-person narratives.[34] The imaginary narratives described in Folklore include a scandalous old widow hated by her whole town, a scared seven-year-old girl with a traumatized best friend, a ghost watching her enemies at her funeral, recovering addicts, and a fumbling teenage boy. Three of the tracks—"Cardigan", "August" and "Betty"—depict a love triangle between three fictitious characters: Betty, James and an unnamed woman, with each of the three songs written from the perspective of each of those characters in different times in their lives.[31] Commenting on the maturity of the album's lyrical execution, NPR's Ann Powers compared the album to releases by other artists when they were thirty years old, such as: The Rolling Stones' Exile on Main St. (1972), Joni Mitchell's Court and Spark (1974), Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life (1976), Elliott Smith's Either/Or (1997), and PJ Harvey's Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (2000).[35] Many songs on Folklore incorporate cinematic imagery in their lyrics.[36]

Songs

The opening track, "The 1", is driven by a danceable,[37] "bouncy"[29] arrangement of trickling piano, minimal percussion and electronic accents. Swift casts herself as someone reminiscing on a past love in the song, confessing that that she wishes they could have been soulmates.[9] The slow-burning "Cardigan" is folk[38] and soft rock[39] ballad driven by a stripped-down arrangement of a clopping drum sample and moody atmosphere.[40][41][42] In the song, Swift sings from the perspective of a fictional character named Betty, who recalls the separation and enduring optimism of a relationship with a boy named James. Swift mentions Peter Pan and High Line in the song, and uses cardigan as a metaphor for a "lingering physical memento" of the relationship.[24][43] "The Last Great American Dynasty" features a glitchy alternative production with classical instruments.[9] The highly descriptive song tells the story of Rebekah Harkness, the founder of Harkness Ballet, who previously owned Swift's Rhode Island "Holiday House". The song details how Harkness married into an upper-class family, was hated by the town and blamed for the death of her then-husband and heir to Standard Oil, William Harkness, and the fall of his family's name. Swift compares Harkness to herself, drawing parallels between the harsh criticism Harkness received to that of which Swift received throughout her career.[44][42]

"The Last Great American Dynasty", the third track on Folklore, tells the story of Rebekah Harkness (pictured above) who previously resided in Swift's Rhode Island mansion.

The soaring fourth track, "Exile", is a melancholic duet with Bon Iver, fusing Swift's soft "honeyed" vocals with Justin Vernon's low "growling" baritone, over dramatic strings, serving as an unspoken conversation between two former lovers.[9][45][46] The "weepy" song[47] begins with a plodding piano, advancing into a climax of chorused vocals, synths[9][24][25] and "glorious" harmonies.[30] It has drawn comparisons to Swift's 2013 single "The Last Time".[48] Sung from the perspective of a deceased lover's ghost, "My Tears Ricochet" reflects on the tension and toxicity of a past relationship, employing funereal imagery. The self-written song encompasses twinkling music box instrumentals, reverberated ad-libs in the bridge, and a vocoder-effected chorus.[9][36] "Mirrorball" is a folk-tinged jangle-pop and dream pop song with a nervous dance-floor sensibility, swirling vocals, jangly guitars and pedal steel,[6][9][49] that build "like the swell of waves before they crash against the shore".[50] The song sees Swift manifesting herself as a disco ball, specifically pertaining to its reflective quality, promising the listeners to reveal every facet of themselves. It explores Swift's ability to entertain other people through her music, by sacrificing her vulnerability and sensitivity. The song is also interpreted as a "saccharine declaration of romance".[28][25][47][36]

In "Seven", the nostalgic seventh track, Swift delivers "lustrous" vocals, reminiscing about a friend from her childhood in Pennsylvania, whom she cannot fully remember but still has fond memories of, over an intimate and resonant production set to high piano flurries and strings.[29][51][52][47][53] The escapist song sees her hinting at the friend's queerness and urges them to run away with her to India.[43][36] "August" is a gloomy pop rock and dream pop ballad that captures the "summer fling between two young lovers"—a naive girl who is seen holding on to a boy that "wasn't hers to lose"; later in the album, the bou is revealed to be James. The song features Swift's light and breezy vocals reflecting summer, "yo-yoing" vocal yelps, seeing her grieve and yearn over the relationship. Its subtle but "grandiose" production is driven mostly by acoustic guitar, shimmering vocal reverb and Swift's "perfectly-timed" key changes.[24][30][42][53][36] "This is Me Trying" documents accountability and regret, where the narrator admits feeling "inadequate", with references to alcoholism.[36] The production slowly progresses into a "wracked" orchestral grandeur surrounding Swift's "ghostly" vocals drenched in reverb.[29][47] Over a stripped down arrangement, finger-plucked strings and soft horns, "Illicit Affairs" narrates infidelity and highlights the measures the disloyal protagonist has to carry out in order to keep the affair between a man and herself a secret.[25][30][47]

The banjo-driven eleventh track, "Invisible String", is a "candid glimpse" into Swift's current love with British actor Joe Alwyn, detailing the "invisible" connection between the individuals that "they weren't aware of until they met", alluding to Red thread of fate, an East Asian folk myth. The song's airy folk production consists of acoustic riff and thumping vocal backbeats.[9][54][52][55][36] Swift references Centennial Park, Nashville and her 2015 hit "Bad Blood" in the song.[53][43][36] "Mad Woman" tackles "the taboo associated with female rage",[36] with snark remarks at sexism, taking aim at Scott Borchetta, the founder of Swift's former record label Big Machine Records, and Scooter Braun, whose company acquired the label and Swift's older catalogue. Exhibiting sombre and a sarcastic tone,[25][24] the song is a "real moment of vituperation",[26] narrating the story of a "misfit widow getting gleeful revenge", with references to witch hunts.[42][36] The ambient "Epiphany" is an ethereal hymn that depicts the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic, paying homage to the healthcare workers. Swift portrays doctors and nurses as "soldiers on beaches",[24][25][28][36] comparing them to her military veteran grandfather, Dean, who fought in the battle of Guadalcanal (1942) in World War II, and empathizes with their trauma of seeing death and having to reconcile with that to continue serving the affected. Her "reverent" and "angelic" vocals in the song are supported by "glacial" piano.[54][42][36][26]

The fourteenth track, "Betty", is the tale of the relationship narrated in "Cardigan", but in the perspective of the cheating boyfriend James, who had a "summer fling" with the female narrator of "August". James apologizes for his past mistakes but does not fully own up to them, citing his fear of crowds and Betty's "wandering eye" as excuses, setting forth his irresponsibility. The track is a folk rock and country song with intertwining harmonica.[9][25][24][42][47] The characters in the song—Betty, James and Inez—are named after the daughters of actors Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively.[56] In "Peace", Swift warns the subject of the challenges that come with them being a part of her life. Over a lush guitar, Swift dissects the effects of her hectic superstardom on her relationship. The minimalistic production spotlights Swift's soulful vocal performance.[24][47][53] "Hoax", the closing track, is a quiet piano ballad that details a flawed but lasting relationship, ending the album on a despondent note of "hopeful sadness".[42][16][57] The physical bonus track, "The Lakes", is a string-laden midtempo song that introspects on Swift's semi-retirement in Windermere, the largest lake in England, located in its Lake District; the location is also mentioned in "Invisible Strings". Fantasizing a red rose growing out of tundra "with no one around to tweet it", Swift imagines a social media-free utopia in the song,[6][26][36] with references to depression, Wisteria flowers and William Wordsworth, the 19th-century English poet known for his Romantic writings.[57]

Artwork and aesthetic

Cover artwork

The photos for the album, shot by photographer Beth Garrabrant,[58] are characterized by a grayscale, black and white filter.[59][60] Swift styled herself for the photoshoot, including her own hair and makeup. The digital cover artwork depicts Swift in a misty forest with a morning fog in the distance, standing alone, wearing a long, double-breasted plaid coat over a white prairie dress, gazing "in awe" at the height of the trees meadow. On the backside cover, she stands turned away from the camera, wearing a slouchy flannel-lined denim jacket slumped around her arms, and a white lace frock, with two loose braided buns low towards her nape, similar to the American Girl doll Kirsten Larson.[61][62][63][64]

Aesthetic

Folklore sees Swift embracing a rustic,[60] unadorned, nature-focused,[59] woodsy,[65] cottagecore[62][66] aesthetic for the project. The music video for "Cardigan", the lead single of the album, expands on this aesthetic and starts with Swift sitting at a vintage piano in a cozy cabin in the woods, wearing a nightgown. The video features a moss-covered forest and a piano producing a waterfall. Accompanying the album release, Swift also sold replicas of the cardigan—a cream-colored cable knit, with silver embroidered stars on the sleeves' chunky elbows, and navy blue piping and buttons—that she wore in the video, on her website.[62]

Refinery29 wrote, "Swift's return to her truest self—both musically and stylistically—in Folklore is a sign of the times. Ones filled with prairies dresses and a merch cardigan".[62] Vogue opined that Swift opted for a pastoral palette, combining cottagecore and tall trees, and drew parallels between the album's aesthetic and the music video for Swift's 2012 single "Safe & Sound".[25] Beats Per Minute deemed the aesthetic as reminiscent of works by painters Grant Wood, Andrew Wyeth and Lionel Walden, especially Wood's American Gothic.[64] The imagery and fashion of Folklore has welcomed comparisons to that of films such as The Beguiled (2017),[67] The Witch (2015),[67] Midsommar (2019)[25][67] and Little Women (2019).[62]

Release and promotion

Folklore marked the first time Swift strayed away from a traditional album rollout, instead opting to release the album suddenly because "[her] gut is telling [her] that if you make something you love, you should just put it out into the world". Swift first announced the album on her social media, 16 hours prior to its release.[68] It was released to all digital music platforms at midnight on July 24, 2020; eight limited-edition deluxe CDs and vinyls were also made available during the first week only, all of which featured different cover artwork and photos.[69] The CDs are scheduled to be released on August 7, 2020.[70] In addition, Swift sent replicas of the cardigan she wore in the music video for "Cardigan" to celebrity friends and supporters such as Jennifer Hudson, Kesha, Troye Sivan, Tan France, Martha Hunt, Jonathan Van Ness, Loren Gray, and Kobe Bryant's daughter Natalia.[71]

Singles

American indie-folk band Bon Iver is featured on "Exile", the second single from Folklore.

Folklore generated three singles, with "Cardigan" serving as the lead single.[72] Its release was accompanied by a music video directed by Swift and produced by Jil Hardin on July 24, 2020, which was released on YouTube alongside the album and lyric videos for each track.[2] It was serviced to pop and adult pop radio stations on July 27.[73][74] The same day, limited edition versions in digital, CD, 7-inch vinyl, and 12-inch vinyl formats were released for purchase on Swift's official website. The voice memo that Swift originally sent to Dessner on April 27, 2020 after receiving his instrumental tracks for what would become "Cardigan"—in which Swift describes her songwriting process and sings alternate lyrics a cappella over the track—was included in the limited edition single.[75] The song debuted at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, becoming Swift's sixth chart-topper and second number-one debut.[76]

"Exile" was released as the second single to adult alternative radio formats on August 3, 2020.[77] It peaked at number six on the Hot 100.[76]

"Betty" is scheduled to become the third single from the album, to country radio formats, on August 17, 2020.[78]

Critical reception

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
SourceRating
Album of the Year86/100[79]
AnyDecentMusic?8.4/10[80]
Metacritic88/100[81]
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic4/5 stars[82]
The A.V. ClubB+[54]
Consequence of SoundA–[49]
The Daily Telegraph5/5 stars[32]
Entertainment WeeklyA[51]
The Guardian5/5 stars[29]
NME4/5 stars[9]
Pitchfork8.0/10[27]
Rolling Stone4.5/5 stars[31]
The Sydney Morning Herald 5/5 stars[30]

Folklore received widespread acclaim from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream publications, the album received an average score of 88 based on 26 sources, indicating "universal acclaim"; it is the highest score for any of Swift's albums.[81]

Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone lauded Swift's songwriting abilities that brought out her "deepest wit, compassion, and empathy", making Folklore her most intimate album so far.[31] Also noting the vivid, well-crafted storytelling filled with imagination and American imagery, Pitchfork's Jillian Mapes considered the album a mature step in Swift's artistry while retaining her core as a celebrated songwriter.[27] Mark Savage of BBC classified Folklore as an indie record dealing with nostalgia and mistakes "that chimes perfectly with the times".[83] Katie Moulton from Consequence of Sound appreciated Swift's lyrical maturity on the album, particularly the employment of third-person perspectives that had been uncommon on her previous releases.[49] Others who were impressed with the album's lyricism include The Daily Telegraph's Neil McCormick,[32] i's Sarah Carson,[24] and The Sydney Morning Herald's Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen,[30] all of whom gave the album full score ratings. Describing the album as a bold attempt, Hannah Mylrea of NME praised Swift's ability to evoke vivid imagery with her songwriting, although she found the 16-song run to be sluggish in places.[9]

Various reviewers welcomed Swift's new musical direction, though not universal. In the words of Chris Willman from Variety, the album is a reminder that Swift is among the few pop stars who are willing to experiment with different musical styles.[26] The Guardian's Laura Snapes complimented the album for being both the most cohesive and the most experimental among Swift's releases.[29] Ellen Johnson of Paste favorably likened Folklore to Swift's 2012 studio album Red, as both showcased Swift's musical shift and experimentation,[28] and Entertainment Weekly's Maura Johnston deemed the album a bold move for a pop star like Swift to challenge its audience.[51] Roisin O'Connor of The Independent praised the album's "exquisite, piano-based poetry" which she found unconventional for Swift's catalog.[50] AllMusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine was overall positive towards the album, but felt that the new musical styles of the album not really "precisely new tricks" for Swift.[82] Sharing the same viewpoint, Annie Zaleski from The A.V. Club deemed the album not completely experimental, but still showcased a new aspect of Swift's artistry.[54] In a mixed review, The New York Times critic Jon Caramanica praised Swift's songwriting but felt that the songs occasionally end up burdened with formulaic, cliched indie pop that turned out to be "frail and unversatile".[52]

Commercial performance

United States

On the US Spotify chart, Folklore accumulated over 44 million streams in its first day, surpassing Ariana Grande's previous record of 31 million for Thank U, Next (2019). The album's sixteen tracks occupied the top 16 spots; "The 1" placed first with 4.175 million streams, setting a record for the biggest first-day song debut by a female artist.[84] Overall, on-demand streams for Folklore surpassed 72 million in the US on its first day, breaking the female record formerly held by Thank U, Next (55.9 million).[85] The album sold more than 500,000 album-equivalent units—over 400,000 of which were pure—in its first three days of release alone, becoming the first album since Swift's Lover (2019) to move at least 500,000 units in one week.[86]

Folklore debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 with 846,000 album-equivalent units, consisting of 615,000 pure sales and 289.85 million on-demand streams, marking the largest weekly sales and streaming figures of 2020 (surpassing Juice Wrld's Legends Never Die) and the largest since Swift's own Lover (2019). Folklore's first-week pure sales alone were enough to make it the year's top-selling album in the US. With a total of seven Billboard 200 number-one entries, Swift tied with Janet Jackson for the third-most number-one albums and became the first female artist to have seven albums debut at number one. She was also the first act in Nielsen SoundScan history to have seven different albums each sell at least 500,000 copies in a week, breaking her tie with Eminem.[87] Folklore earned Swift her first appearance on the Billboard Alternative Albums chart, entering at number one and marking the biggest debut in its history.[88] In its second week on the Billboard 200, Folklore moved 135,000 units, a decrease of 84% from the previous week, and remained at the top for a second consecutive week. It is the longest running number-one album by a female artist on the chart in 2020.[89]

All 16 tracks of Folklore debuted simultaneously on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, including three top-10, five top-20, and 10 top-40 entries. The lead single "Cardigan" debuted atop the chart, becoming Swift's sixth Hot 100 number-one single and making her the first artist to debut at number one on both the Billboard 200 and Hot 100 in the same week. She also became the first act to debut two songs in the top four and three songs in the top six simultaneously, as "The 1" entered at number four and "Exile" at number six. This increased Swift's total of top-10 hits to 28, including 18 top-10 debuts. Folklore was her second consecutive album to chart all of its tracks simultaneously on the Hot 100, following Lover.[90] With the 16 charted songs, she surpassed Nicki Minaj as the woman with the most Hot 100 entries of all time with a total of 113 entries.[91] Eleven tracks from the album made it on the Hot Rock & Alternative Songs chart, setting a new record for most top-10 entries by an artist, with eight.[88]

Other markets

In Canada, Folklore debuted atop the Canadian Albums Chart, giving Swift her seventh consecutive number-one album in the country. All sixteen tracks of the album debuted simultaneously on the Canadian Hot 100 chart, with "Cardigan", "Exile", and "The 1" entering the top ten.[92]

In the United Kingdom, Folklore debuted atop the Official Albums Chart, selling 37,000 copies and surpassing Eminem's Music To Be Murdered By for the biggest digital sales week of 2020 in the country. It became Swift's fifth consecutive number-one album in the UK, making her one of only five female artists to score at least five chart-toppers in the country—following Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Barbra Streisand and Celine Dion—and the first female artist to do so in the twenty-first century.[93][94] On the UK Singles Chart, "Cardigan", "Exile", and "The 1" opened at numbers six, eight and ten, respectively, taking Swift's UK top-ten hits total to sixteen[95] and making her the first woman in UK history to debut three top-ten songs simultaneously.[96] In its second week, Folklore remained at number one, becoming Swift's first album to spend more than one week atop the chart.[97]

In Ireland, Folklore debuted at number one, scoring the country's biggest opening week of 2020 and outperforming the rest of the top five combined. Swift became the first female solo artist to chart five number-one albums in Ireland in the twenty-first century. The tracks "Exile", "Cardigan" and "The 1" debuted at the third, fourth and seventh spots on the Irish Singles Chart, respectively, bringing Swift's career total top-ten hits to fifteen.[98]

Folklore debuted at number one in Belgium, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Norway and Switzerland, in the top five in Austria, the Netherlands, Scotland, Spain, Sweden and Lithuania, and in the top ten in Hungary, Germany, Iceland, Italy and Japan. In China, the album sold nearly 720,000 copies in its first week and immediately became the best-selling western female album of the year.[99]

In Australia, Folklore debuted at number one on the ARIA Albums Chart. It was Swift's sixth album to do so, giving her more chart-toppers in the country than any other artist between 2010 and 2020.[100] Moreover, each of the album's sixteen tracks entered the top 50 of the ARIA Singles Chart, breaking the all-time record for the most simultaneous debuts in one week, with "Cardigan" becoming Swift's sixth Australian number-one hit;[101] "Exile", "The 1", "The Last Great American Dynasty" and "My Tears Ricochet" entered the top-ten, making Folklore Swift's first album since 1989 (2014) to earn five top-ten hits in Australia and Swift the artist with the most top-ten hits of 2020 in Australia thus far. In its second week, Folklore remained at the top, becoming Swift's longest running number-one album in the country since Reputation.[102] In New Zealand, Folklore opened at number one.[103] "Cardigan", "Exile", and "The 1" charted in the top ten of the New Zealand singles chart, and "The Last Great American Dynasty" placed thirteenth.[104]

Worldwide

Globally, Folklore amassed over 80.6 million streams on Spotify within its first day of release, earning a Guinness World Record for the most opening-day streams for an album by a female artist.[105] It also claimed eight of the top 10 spots of the global Spotify chart, with "Cardigan" at the top with 7.742 million streams, marking the biggest single-day play count for any song released in 2020.[84] The album also broke the Apple Music record for the most-streamed pop album within 24 hours, with 35.47 million streams.[106] According to Republic Records, Folklore sold approximately 1.3 million units worldwide on its opening day[107] and over two million units in its first week.[108]

Hugh McIntyre of Forbes noted how Folklore seemed to be "outperforming" its predecessor Lover in its first week despite having no pre-released singles; several tracks from Folklore accumulated bigger streaming totals than any of the campaigned, "intensely-hyped" singles from Lover.[109] Music critic Tom Hull said that, "judging from download counts and reviews", Swift has "caught the spirit of the times" with Folklore's "long, pleasant, intricate songs".[110]

Track listing

Credits are adapted from Pitchfork.[21]

Folklore track listing
No.TitleWriter(s)Producer(s)Length
1."The 1"Dessner3:30
2."Cardigan"
  • Swift
  • Dessner
Dessner3:59
3."The Last Great American Dynasty"
  • Swift
  • Dessner
Dessner3:51
4."Exile" (featuring Bon Iver)
Dessner4:45
5."My Tears Ricochet"Swift4:15
6."Mirrorball"
  • Swift
  • Antonoff
  • Antonoff
  • Swift
3:29
7."Seven"
  • Swift
  • Dessner
Dessner3:28
8."August"
  • Swift
  • Antonoff
  • Antonoff
  • Swift
4:21
9."This Is Me Trying"
  • Swift
  • Antonoff
  • Antonoff
  • Swift
3:15
10."Illicit Affairs"
  • Swift
  • Antonoff
  • Antonoff
  • Swift
3:10
11."Invisible String"
  • Swift
  • Dessner
Dessner4:12
12."Mad Woman"
  • Swift
  • Dessner
Dessner3:57
13."Epiphany"
  • Swift
  • Dessner
Dessner4:49
14."Betty"
  • Swift
  • Bowery
  • Dessner
  • Antonoff
  • Swift
4:54
15."Peace"
  • Swift
  • Dessner
Dessner3:54
16."Hoax"
  • Swift
  • Dessner
Dessner3:40
Total length:63:29
Physical bonus track[111]
No.TitleWriter(s)Producer(s)Length
17."The Lakes"
  • Swift
  • Antonoff
  • Antonoff
  • Swift
3:32
Total length:67:01
Japanese special edition bonus DVD[112][113]
No.TitleDirector(s)Length
1."Cardigan" (music video)Swift4:35
2."The 1" (lyric video) 3:32
3."Cardigan" (lyric video) 4:01
4."The Last Great American Dynasty" (lyric video) 3:52
5."Exile (featuring Bon Iver)" (lyric video) 4:47
6."My Tears Ricochet" (lyric video) 4:17
7."Mirrorball" (lyric video) 3:30
8."Seven" (lyric video) 3:30
9."August" (lyric video) 4:24
10."This Is Me Trying" (lyric video) 3:16
11."Illicit Affairs" (lyric video) 3:12
12."Invisible String" (lyric video) 4:14
13."Mad Woman" (lyric video) 3:59
14."Epiphany" (lyric video) 4:51
15."Betty" (lyric video) 4:56
16."Peace" (lyric video) 3:55
17."Hoax" (lyric video) 3:42
Total length:68:33

Notes

Credits

Credits are adapted from Pitchfork[21] and the album's liner notes.[114]

Personnel

Musicians

  • Taylor Swift – lead vocals (all tracks)
  • Aaron Dessner –  piano (1–4, 7, 11–16), acoustic guitar (1, 7, 11, 12, 16), electric guitar (1–4, 11–14, 16), drum programming (1–4, 7, 11, 12), Mellotron (1, 2, 11, 13, 15), OP-1 (1, 4, 16), synth bass (1, 16), percussion (2–4, 7, 11, 12, 14), bass (2, 3, 7, 11, 12, 14, 15), synthesizer (2–4, 7, 11–13, 15), slide guitar (3), keyboards (3), high string guitar (14), field recording (15), drone (15)
  • Bryce Dessner – orchestration (1–4, 7, 11–13)
  • Thomas Bartlett – synthesizer (1), OP-1 (1)[a]
  • Jason Treuting – percussion (1)[a]
  • Yuki Numata Resnick – viola (1, 2, 7, 11, 12), violin (1, 2, 7, 11, 12)
  • Benjamin Lanz – modular synth (2)
  • Dave Nelson – trombone (2, 13)[a]
  • James McAlister – drum programming (2, 11), beat programming (12), synthesizers (12), hand percussion (12), drums (12)[a]
  • Clarice Jensen – cello (2, 7, 11–13)[a]
  • Rob Moose – orchestration (3, 16), violin (3, 4, 16), viola (3, 4, 16)[a]
  • JT Bates – drums (3, 7, 13)[a]
  • Justin Vernon – lead vocals (4), pulse (15)[a]
  • Jack Antonoff –  live drums (5, 6, 8–10, 14, 17), percussion (5, 6, 8–10, 14, 17), programming (5, 6, 8–10, 17), electric guitars (5, 6, 8–10, 14, 17), keyboards (5, 6, 8–10, 17), piano (5, 17), bass (5, 8–10, 14), background vocals (5, 6, 9, 10, 17), acoustic guitars (6, 8, 14), B3 (6, 14), organ (9), Mellotron (14)
  • Evan Smith – saxophones (5, 8–10, 14, 17), keyboards (5, 8–10, 17), programming (5), flute (8, 17), electric guitar (8, 10), accordion (10), background vocals (10), clarinet (14, 17), bass (17)
  • Bobby Hawk – strings (5, 8, 9, 17)
  • Bryan Devendorf – drum programming (7)[a]
  • Jonathan Low – synth bass (8)[a]
  • Mikey Freedom Hart – pedal steel (10, 14), Mellotron (14), Wurlitzer (14), harpsichord (14), vibraphone (14), electric guitar (14)
  • Kyle Resnick – trumpet (13)[a]
  • Josh Kaufman – harmonica (14), electric guitar (14), lap steel (14)[a]

Technical personnel

  • Jonathan Low – recording (1–4, 7, 11–16), mixing (1–4, 7, 8, 11, 15–17)
  • Aaron Dessner – recording (1–4, 7, 11–16), additional recording (2, 11)
  • Laura Sisk – recording (5, 6, 8–10, 14, 17), vocal recording (1–3; Swift on 4; 13, 15, 16)
  • Jack Antonoff – recording (5, 6, 8–10, 14, 17)
  • Bella Blasko – additional recording (2)
  • Justin Vernon – vocal recording (Bon Iver on 4)
  • John Rooney – assistant engineering (5, 9, 14)
  • Jon Sher – assistant engineering (5, 9)
  • Serban Ghenea – mixing (5, 6, 9, 10, 12–14)
  • John Hanes – mix engineering (5, 6, 9, 10, 12–14)
  • Randy Merrill – mastering (all tracks)

Additional instrument recording[b]

  • Kyle Resnick – viola (1, 2, 7, 11–13), violin (1, 2, 7, 11–13)
  • Bella Blasko – modular synth (2)
  • Lorenzo Wolff – strings (5, 9)
  • Mike Williams – strings (8, 17)
  • Jon Gautier – strings (8, 17)
  • Benjamin Lanz – trombone (13)

Artwork and release

  • Taylor Swift – executive production, wardrobe styling, hair and makeup, packaging creative and art direction
  • Beth Garrabrant – photography
  • 13 Management – packaging design, project support and coordination
  • Republic Records – project support and coordination

Studios

Main recording locations

  • Long Pond (Hudson Valley, New York) – recording (1–4, 7, 11, 13–16), synth bass (8)
  • Kitty Committee (Los Angeles, California) – recording (5, 6, 8–10, 14, 17), vocals (1–3; Swift on 4; 13, 15, 16)
  • Rough Customer (Brooklyn, New York) – recording (5, 6, 8–10, 14, 17)
  • Electric Lady (New York City) – recording (5, 9)
  • Conway (Los Angeles, California) – recording (5, 9)

Additional recording locations

  • Biarritz, France – orchestration (1–4, 7, 11–13)
  • The Dwelling (New York City) – synthesizer (1), OP-1 (1)
  • Princeton, New Jersey – percussion (1)
  • Buffalo, New York – viola and violin (1, 2, 7, 11–13), trumpet (13)
  • La Gaîté Lyrique (Paris, France) – additional recording (2)
  • Stuttgart, Germany (on tour with the National) – additional recording (2)
  • Bone Hollow (Accord, New York) – trombone (2, 13)
  • Los Angeles, California – drum programming (2, 11), beat programming (12), synthesizers (12), hand percussion (12), drums (12)
  • Brooklyn, New York – cello (2, 7, 11–13), orchestration (3, 16), violin and viola (3, 4, 16)
  • Salon (Saint Paul, Minnesota) – drums (3, 7, 13)
  • April Base (Fall Creek, Wisconsin) – Bon Iver vocals (4), pulse (15)
  • Pleasure Hill (Portland, Maine) – saxophones (5, 8–10, 14, 17), keyboards (5, 8–10, 17), programming (5), flute (8, 17), electric guitar (8, 10), accordion (10), background vocals (10), clarinet (14, 17), bass (17)
  • Restoration Sound (Brooklyn) – strings (5, 9)
  • Cincinnati, Ohio – drum programming (7)
  • Sound House (Lakeland, Florida) – strings (8, 17)
  • Hook and Fade (Brooklyn, New York) – pedal steel (10, 14), Mellotron (14), Wurlitzer (14), harpsichord (14), vibraphone (14), electric guitar (14)

Mixing and mastering locations

  • Long Pond (Hudson Valley, New York) – mixing (1–4, 7, 8, 11, 15–17)
  • Mixstar (Virginia Beach, Virginia) – mixing (5, 6, 9, 10, 12–14)
  • Sterling Sound (New York City) – mastering

Charts

Chart performance for Folklore
Chart (2020) Peak
position
Australian Albums (ARIA)[115] 1
Austrian Albums (Ö3 Austria)[116] 2
Belgian Albums (Ultratop Flanders)[117] 1
Belgian Albums (Ultratop Wallonia)[118] 3
Canadian Albums (Billboard)[119] 1
Czech Albums (ČNS IFPI)[120] 1
Danish Albums (Hitlisten)[121] 1
Dutch Albums (Album Top 100)[122] 2
Estonian Albums (Eesti Ekspress)[123] 1
Finnish Albums (Suomen virallinen lista)[124] 1
French Albums (SNEP)[125] 12
German Albums (Offizielle Top 100)[126] 8
Hungarian Albums (MAHASZ)[127] 7
Icelandic Albums (Tónlist)[128] 8
Irish Albums (OCC)[129] 1
Italian Albums (FIMI)[130] 8
Japan Hot Albums (Billboard Japan)[131] 8
Lithuanian Albums (AGATA)[132] 2
New Zealand Albums (RMNZ)[133] 1
Norwegian Albums (VG-lista)[134] 1
Scottish Albums (OCC)[135] 2
Spanish Albums (PROMUSICAE)[136] 2
Swedish Albums (Sverigetopplistan)[137] 3
Swiss Albums (Schweizer Hitparade)[138] 1
UK Albums (OCC)[139] 1
US Billboard 200[140] 1
US Top Alternative Albums (Billboard)[141] 1

Release history

Release dates and formats for Folklore
Region Date Format(s) Edition(s) Label Ref.
Various July 24, 2020 Standard [142]
United Kingdom August 4, 2020 CD Deluxe Virgin EMI [143]
Various August 7, 2020 Republic [70]
Japan CD Standard [144]
Special Edition [112]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l This performer is also credited with recording their instrumentation.
  2. ^ Several performers are also credited with recording their own instrumentation, as noted in the 'Musicians' section.

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