Taylor Swift’s New Album Is Something Totally Different — But What Does folklore Mean?

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Just when we thought nothing could surprise us anymore, Taylor Swift once again proved that she can do the impossible: this time, by announcing the release of a brand new album, called folklore, day-of. But while this is a unprecedented move for the star, what remains the same is the amount of questions fans still have.
Releasing a surprise album is a move that's both so Swift and unlike Swift at the same time. She usually takes her time milking the build-up to her albums by sharing mysteriously coded social media posts, dropping Easter eggs in interviews, and releasing a radio-friendly pop single with a lot of build-up and fanfare. But she also is not one who would sit around and twiddle her thumbs during a pandemic, so it makes sense that she's been busy. But even before theories about individual songs and their hidden meanings circulated on social media, Swift's announcement posed one initial pressing question: what does folklore mean anyway?
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The word "folklore" itself has two main meanings: one being the traditional customs preserved among a community, like stories, legends, songs, sayings, dances, and popular beliefs. Examples of American folklore, for instance, include historical tales of Betsy Ross sewing the first American flag, or Davy Crockett exploring the country's wild frontier. But it also includes tall tales like the giant lumberjack Paul Bunyan, or The Lone Ranger. The stories can be based on truth or be wild stretches of the truth — the accuracy of the stories isn't really the point. It's about any commonly known narrative that has contributed to the shaping of a culture and its core belief systems. It can also apply to a sub-culture, like Hollywood folklore (the "Superman Curse").
The other meaning of folklore is a belief that's been widely circulated and well-known without any supporting evidence. For example, the immediate health risks of cell phones and computers. Again, the validity of the belief isn't what's important: it's that many people in a culture are simply aware of it (or even believe it).
In this context, Swift's choice for her newest album title starts to make a little more sense. We're living in an unprecedented time as we contend with the global COVID-19 pandemic, but also politically and socially. In difficult and scary times, our core belief systems are being tested and coming more prominently into discussion and scrutiny. And Swift has made it clear that she's not afraid to share her thoughts, feelings, and criticisms about what's going on in the world right now.
While it's still too early to say exactly what Swift is getting at without explanation or hearing the album, fans have pointed out that folklore is lowercase just like Swift's sixth studio album, reputation. So if nothing else, we can likely look forward to some tea.

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