"I used to put all these parameters on myself...why don’t I just use the damn word I want to use in the song?”

Claire Harmeyer
Nov 13, 2020 @ 11:36 am

If we could turn back the clock to pre-pandemic life, we probably would. However, something we love dearly wouldn't have existed pre-pandemic—or ever—if we weren't all forced into coronavirus-caused quarantine, and that something is Taylor Swift's surprise eighth studio album, Folklore.

Swift wrote the 16-track album while in isolation in Los Angeles last spring, and anyone who has heard the whimsical, fantastical sound knows it's a leap from Tay's 2019 smash, Lover. So...why, you might ask, would Folklore be MIA if not for quarantine? As Swift says, the lack of pressure and creative freedom in quarantine allowed her to throw all of her typical songwriting rules out the window.

In Rolling Stone's first edition of its new series "Musicians on Musicians," Swift spoke with Paul McCartney about Folklore and his album McCartney III, which was also created while in isolation this year. In their candid conversation, Swift revealed that though she began writing lyrics over instrumentals that the National's Aaron Dessner emailed her while in quarantine, she never expected to write a full album.

"I had originally thought, 'Maybe I’ll make an album in the next year, and put it out in January or something,' but it ended up being done and we put it out in July," Swift told McCartney. "And I just thought there are no rules anymore, because I used to put all these parameters on myself, like, 'How will this song sound in a stadium? How will this song sound on radio?'

"If you take away all the parameters, what do you make? And I guess the answer is Folklore."

Although we're fans of the parameters Swift placed on her previous albums (because they gave us, well, hits for the ages), we also love the lack of parameters she gave herself when making Folklore. The raw, emotional sound is one of her best yet, as are the winding and specific lyrics.

"I was using words I always wanted to use—kind of bigger, flowerier, prettier words, like “epiphany,” in songs," Swift said. "I always thought, 'Well, that’ll never track on pop radio,' but when I was making this record, I thought, 'What tracks?'"

"Nothing makes sense anymore. If there’s chaos everywhere, why don’t I just use the damn word I want to use in the song?”

There's no denying that the melodies and lyrics on Folklore take on the persona of a simpler, more romantic time. Swinging barefoot above the trees and stealing kisses in gardens are the vibe of this album, and we want to stay inside this magical world forever. It turns out, that was kind of Swift's goal—if she had one—while writing Folklore.

"There’s so much stress everywhere you turn that I kind of wanted to make an album that felt sort of like a hug, or like your favorite sweater that makes you feel like you want to put it on," she told McCartney. "Like a good cardigan, a good, worn-in cardigan. Or something that makes you reminisce on your childhood."

Ahem, we see what you did there, Taylor. (And we're still waiting for our cardigans to arrive in the mail, BTW.) Nonetheless, Swift continued to describe her desired aesthetic for the album.

"I think sadness can be cozy," she explained. "It can obviously be traumatic and stressful, too, but I kind of was trying to lean into sadness that feels like somehow enveloping in not such a scary way—like nostalgia and whimsy incorporated into a feeling like you’re not all right. Because I don’t think anybody was really feeling like they were in their prime this year. Isolation can mean escaping into your imagination in a way that’s kind of nice."

If there's anything we could all use during 2020, it's an escape from reality. Folklore allows us to do just that: escape into a world of prairies, buttoned-up nightgowns, and memories of playing with our childhood best friend.

Thank you, Taylor, and—we thought we'd never say this, but—thank you, quarantine, for bringing us one of our favorite albums of 2020 at a time when we really needed something to be excited about.