If you haven’t heard by now, Taylor Swift surprise-dropped her eighth studio album folklore last week. This is not another album review, that’s been masterfully handled by Craig Manning, this is a playlist for after you’ve gone deep with the album and are ready to explore the rest of her catalog.
A little after 8:00am on July 23rd, the announcement that a new album would be available at midnight was accompanied by the information that many of the songs had been written alongside The National’s Dessner brothers, Bon Iver was a co-writer and featured singer, and longtime collaborator Jack Antonoff rounded out the main group of writers. And as all new Taylor Swift eras are birthed with a fast-rising wave of excitement and anticipation, so was a new discourse sixteen hours before anyone ever heard the first piano note of the album.
This discourse, naturally, was that Taylor Swift, already one of the greatest living songwriters and storytellers, was going to make her masterpiece. As if she didn’t already have a minimum of two, if not three, masterpieces depending on who you asked. And she was doing this because she’d collaborated with these “indie” masters. (Don’t miss Anna Acosta’s adjacent piece to this discourse here, which also titled this playlist.)
I won’t lie and say that “exile” didn’t immediately catch my eye and curiosity with the Bon Iver feature. If you observe the greater discourse at large, and the days Bon Iver spent trending on Twitter, I wasn’t alone in this. If I had a nickel for every tweet or post I saw along the lines of “I usually don’t care for Taylor Swift, but I want to hear that Bon Iver song,” I could afford all eight deluxe editions of the vinyl. If you throw in The National fans coming in with similar statements about the Dessner brothers’ involvement, I could afford Loverfest tickets.
Now, I want to start off by saying that if you are finally paying attention to Taylor Swift because of Bon Iver and The National, welcome. As my fellow contributor Anna said, “You’re not late to the party. You’re just making an entrance.” But please don’t start and end your Taylor Swift party with folklore. In part, that’s why I devised this playlist with some help from Anna and Craig: to help new fans see how this album is quintessentially Taylor as she’s been since the very beginning, just distilled into this new, mature form.
For each track on folklore, I’ll be providing a song that relates thematically, lyrically, sonically, or maybe even all three. Though some singles do make an appearance from the “Country-era,” anything that would’ve garnered massive radio play (such as “Style,” “Wildest Dreams,” or “Lover” which would easily fit into this list) since she “turned pop” has been purposefully overlooked. Who hasn’t heard “Blank Space” or “Delicate” already—know what I mean?
Whereas Craig, Anna, and I wish we could stuff you in a chair and make you listen to Red front-to-back, and probably Speak Now, 1989, Fearless, Lover, and Reputation (well, maybe not Craig on this last one), here’s a collection of songs that span her career that I think you might enjoy if you enjoyed folklore. She’s got over one-hundred recorded studio songs, most ranging in the good to great category; I’m positive there’s more for you to enjoy in her catalog. Let’s dive in.
”Lightning In A Bottle” – A Taylor Swift Playlist
“Red” off Red — (“the 1”)
When it comes to wistful break-up songs that manage to capture all the emotions of the breaking and the nostalgia of the reminiscing, you’re hard-pressed to find one with better hooks than “Red.” While far more uptempo than “the 1,” they could easily be companion songs for the same relationship, just separated by a few more years of life experiences.
“All Too Well” off Red – (“cardigan”)
I shouldn’t have to include “All Too Well” in this playlist. It’s like being spotted a grand slam in Game 7 of the World Series. It remains her opus, and yet somehow still wildly unrecognized by the common music fan, even with the iconic Grammy performance.
Simply put, Taylor Swift can write about discarded pieces of clothing as vessels for emotion and storytelling better than anyone. Whether a scarf, cardigan, or a pair of forgotten gloves (“It’s Nice To Have A Friend”), the article is as important as the emotion in the story. It’s a moment of grounding.
“Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince” off Lover
“Getaway Car” off Reputation
Going to break my own “one song” rule here for “the last great American dynasty.” Narrative storytelling is one of Taylor’s lyrical styles that has dominated her albums from the start. Where “dynasty” turns a little more biographical, it’s hard not to compare it to previous songs where rebel women have a marvelous time throwing off the expectations of society.
“The Last Time” off Red – (“exile”)
“The Last Time” is the fight and make-up that happened before the moment in “exile.” While “exile” will become the standard of her features, of which she only has done a few, this one is often overlooked on Red due to “Everything Has Changed” with Ed Sheeran getting the single treatment.
“Clean” off 1989 – (“my tears ricochet”)
This was one of the most difficult to pair, after all, it’s not every day an artist writes a break-up song with a record label executive. A much more mature successor to “Look What You Made Me Do,” “my tears ricochet” ends with a note of sadness and yet also freedom. 1989’s “Clean” also operates in this space.
“Dancing With Our Hands Tied” off Reputation — (“mirrorball”)
Where “mirrorball” is the slow dance after last call, “Dancing With Our Hands Tied” revels in the immediacy of dancing and living in every beat of every song knowing it won’t last. Taylor knows that the world will try to become any lover of hers and herself, but she’s “still trying to keep you looking at me.”
“Never Grow Up” off Speak Now — (“seven”)
This is another song that proved difficult as “seven” leans into the tradition of folk storytelling. I landed on choosing a song that also invokes the feelings of childhood, though from a pretty different perspective.
“Tim McGraw” off Taylor Swift — (“august”)
“Tim McGraw” is the song that introduced Taylor Swift to the world, and still remains one of her best (in my opinion). “august” continues this style of looking back on summer love that she began writing about over a decade ago, also reminiscing on Deanna Carter’s “Strawberry Wine.”
“The Archer” off Lover — (“this is me trying”)
With these two songs, “The Archer” could easily be the moment Taylor is talking to herself before knocking on the door to give the speech of “this is me trying.” Many of their lyrical ticks match-up in imagery as well.
“The Moment I Knew” off Red (Deluxe Edition) — (“illicit affairs”)
“And you know damn well, for you, I would ruin myself a million little times.” A bonus track, “The Moment I Knew” is the exact moment the affair comes crashing down.
“Daylight” off Lover — (“invisible string”)
“Bad Blood” call-out aside, “invisible string” continues using one of her favorite lyrical devices, the use of color, to embody emotions and solidify scenes. “Daylight,” a direct sequel to “Red,” shows another use of this.
“You’re Not Sorry” off Fearless – (“mad woman”)
Taylor Swift took a long time to come around on her strength and what she’s allowed to say. Just look at 2019’s “The Man” compared to the entire discourse around her love life for the previous decade. However, the little moments were always there. See: “You’re Not Sorry.”
“Ronan” as a non-album fundraising single — (“epiphany”)
It’s hard to explain how beautiful the story comparisons of her grandfather’s war and a modern day nurse overlap in “epiphany,” but if you’re hear you’ve heard how lush it is despite having an absolutely devastating story. “Ronan” is written from portions of a mother’s blog posts after she lost her young son to cancer.
“Mine” off Speak Now — (“betty”)
When it comes to stories of young love told in soaring pop-country, there’s no one better. “Mine” (or “Sparks Fly,” my ride or die) embodies this in the best ways.
“New Year’s Day” off Reputation — (“peace”)
Both “New Year’s Day” and “peace” are some of the most vulnerable songs that Taylor has ever written. They both encapsulate the deep, insecure emotions of being so deeply in love but unsure if you’re worthy of the relationship.
“Afterglow” off Lover – (“hoax”)
Another song seemingly about her break-up with Big Machine Records, “hoax” tells the story of the slighted. “Afterglow” is a song from the perspective of the slighter.