Although Taylor Swift has released three massive albums since going full-on “pop” and conquering stadiums with 2014’s Grammy-winning 1989, she has tucked in quieter moments to counterbalance the radio-ready maximalism, often at the end of her full-lengths: think the swooning soft rock of 1989’s “Clean,” or the post-party piano ballad “New Year’s Day” closing out Reputation. On last year’s Lover, those unadorned gems shone even brighter on the track list, with songs like “The Archer,” “It’s Nice To Have a Friend” and especially the title track offering heartfelt declarations alongside singles like “ME!” and “You Need To Calm Down.”
With the surprise announcement of Folklore, a new full-length that was conceived in relative secret (and largely by herself, during the coronavirus pandemic), Swift has, for the first time in her career, foregone the traditional album rollout and returned with a new album in less than a year. Along with frequent collaborator Jack Antonoff, Aaron Dessner of The National is heavily involved as a co-producer and co-writer, and Bon Iver is the only featured artist; the cover art, meanwhile, is a greyscale shot of Swift dwarfed by the woods around her. Does this unexpected project represent a return to Swift’s singer-songwriter roots -- albeit one refracted through an indie-rock prism rather than her country beginnings -- and a chance for the quieter parts of her recent albums to take center stage?