When Taylor Swift announced her new quarantine-made eighth studio album, folklore, all signs pointed to a moody, curl-up-next-to-a-warm-fire-with-your-Lover-in-a-log-cabin kind of musical aesthetic.
But when the album finally dropped and fans started to listen to the first two tracks, paired with the Swift-directed music video for "cardigan," social media erupted in what can only be described as a massive, collective freakout: Wait — is this a breakup album?
There has been nothing that would signal that trouble was afoot. Just last August, Swift released Lover, an album through which many of its 18 tracks would convince you that the singer and her actor boyfriend of three years, Joe Alwyn, are doing just fine — more than fine, in fact. On top of that, thanks to fans' thorough dissection of Swift's folklore announcement posts and a lot of sleuthing, many speculated that Alwyn had co-written two songs on the album under a pseudonym.
But from folklore's opening song, "the 1," Swift had fans questioning everything they had assumed. In the chorus, she sings, "But we were something, don't you think so? / Roaring twenties, tossing pennies in the pool / And if my wishes came true / It would've been you." She then follows up with the wistful song with "cardigan," which describes both the warm and painful nostalgia of young love. "To kiss in cars and downtown bars/Was all we needed/You drew stars around my scars/But now I'm bleedin'," Swift sings.
The Swift-helmed video was “overseen by a medical inspector, everyone wore masks, stayed away from each other, and I even did my own hair, make-up and styling,” according to the singer. It features the singer in a rustic cabin, playing a magical piano that she climbs into to enter a lush, idyllic forest. She then climbs inside the piano bench and finds herself lost at sea before climbing into the instrument again and finding her way back home.
Swift herself, while answering fan questions on YouTube during the video's premiere, described folklore as "wistful and full of escapism" as well as "Sad, beautiful, tragic." But the sheer melancholy of much of the album — especially compared with the love-drunk, saturated technicolor of Lover, and the fact that Swift's albums tend to be diaries of her real-life — struck fans as a message that she and Alwyn had called it quits.
Luckily, there are a few things assuaging Swifties' fears. Swift made it a point to mention when the album was first released that, true to its name, folklore is a mix of fantasy and reality. "Picking up a pen was my way of escaping into fantasy, history, and memory," she wrote on Instagram. "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." One of the songs is about her World War II-fighting grandfather, and others are about a "teenage love triangle." Fans believe the tracks "Invisible Strings" and "Peace" are Alwyn-dedicated love songs — the romantic interest in the former is a fro-yo shop worker, like Alwyn used to be growing up in London.
As usual, Swift both bares her soul while managing to keep things close to her chest, making things all the more (deliciously) tortuous for fans. But for our blood pressures' sakes, Taylor, maybe blink twice if you're okay?