way too close reads

What Is Every Song on Taylor Swift’s folklore Actually About?

A lowercase girl album, like a lowercase girl, signifies ambivalence, nonchalance, and unfortunately, a Trojan horse of emotional terrorism. Photo: YouTube

Last night I dreamt I was dashing through thorny brush in a black forest, bloodying my legs in desperate search of a clearing in the trees. I awakened screaming and panting, only to realize — it wasn’t a dream. I’d moved permanently into the woods to stream Taylor Swift’s eighth studio album folklore where it deserved to be streamed: in the wilderness.

Thursday morning, July 23, Swift announced a surprise album and music video were set to drop that Friday at midnight. Now, after a grueling night of listening, weeping, memeing, and baring my teeth at a puma that got into my meat supply, I’m ready to discuss. But first, some housekeeping: It must be noted that each song on folklore and the album title are stylized in lowercase letters. As a lowercase girl myself, the significance of this cannot be understated.

A lowercase girl texts and posts in lowercase letters so as to appear relaxed; we are the antithesis of thirst, having been terrorized by love lost so many times that we can no longer bear to even seem like we care enough to text you with proper capitalization. Other noted lowercase girls include Lykke Li and Ariana Grande, and Swift and folklore sit on the shoulder of such chill giants. A lowercase girl album, like a lowercase girl, signifies ambivalence, nonchalance, and unfortunately, a Trojan horse of emotional terrorism. Knowing that, let’s talk about every song on folklore.

“the 1”

We open with an emotionally devastating blast to the face. “the 1” is a playful yet melancholic doom fantasy of what could’ve been, in which Swift muses, “it would’ve been fun, if you were the one.” Personally, I believe folklore is a PsyOp, and “the 1” is the first blow of a 16-piece psychological attack intended to break every last person who hasn’t yet been broken by quarantine. “the 1” is just oiling you up for your own annihilation.


Released with a music video at midnight Friday, “cardigan” is adorable, and yet, again, hurtful to specifically me: “And when I felt like I was an old cardigan, under someone’s bed, you put me on and said I was your favorite.” Here’s what I believe: I believe that “cardigan” is not just about hurting me personally but is also a lesbian answer to Chris Evans’s cable-knit sweater in Knives Out. As a lesbian with zero interest in Chris Evans, I felt very left out of the sweater discourse last year, and no queer woman should EVER be left out of sweater discourse. “cardigan” is not only the official sweater of bisexuality (they’re versatile) but the first of many queer-coded songs on folklore.

the last great american dynasty

Some have theorized that “the last great american dynasty,” and its mention of a woman from St. Louis, is about Swift’s former BFF and rumored ex-girlfriend, Karlie Kloss, who was raised in St. Louis. There’s also this lyric, “Rebekah gave up on the Rhode Island set forever / flew in all her Bitch Pack friends from the city / filled the pool with champagne and swam with the big names,” inspired by St. Louis-born debutante Rebekah Harkness, who married the heir to Standard Oil. But you might remember this lyric from Swift’s “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things,” which was also rumored to be about her “friendship” breakup with Kloss: “It was so nice throwing big parties / Jump into the pool from the balcony / Everyone swimming in a champagne sea.” A connection?? Possibly. But for me, the most interesting thing about this song is Swift’s refusal to capitalize “american” in the title, which is explicit proof that Taylor Swift is a communist. Fuck Marsha Blackburn! ACAB, comrade!!

exile” (feat. Bon Iver)

Okay, what’s weird to me is that the “B” and the “I” are still capitalized in “feat. Bon Iver,” despite every other letter on the album being lowercase. As a lowercase swiftie, this is displeasing to me. bon iver: Do you think you’re better than Taylor? You’re better than her album theme, her artistic vision, her ten Grammys? You’re better than all lowercase girls??? “exile” is weepy and cinematic in all the right ways, but the presence of a man on any Taylor Swift album is jarring enough. The added blow of bon iver’s blatant disrespect for lowercaseists (also known as anti-capitalists) is enough to push me over the edge.

“my tears ricochet”

“my tears ricochet” is everything. “my tears ricochet” is my personality, my religion, my scripture. “my tears ricochet” is the “Delicate” of folklore. It’s what “All Too Well” is to Red. When Taylor said, “And if I’m dead to you, why are you at the wake?” I threw my copy of The Bell Jar in the trash. When Taylor said, “You know I didn’t want to have to haunt you, but what a ghostly scene,” I wrote a scathing review of The Poltergeist on Amazon. When Taylor said, “You wear the same jewels that I gave you, as you bury me,” I launched my great-great-grandmother’s jewels into the sea. These texts, these films, these heirlooms? They’re no use to me now. There is just “my tears ricochet.”


The emotional terrorism continues: “I’ve never been a natural, all I do is try, try, try, I’m still on that trapeze, I’m still trying everything to keep you looking at me, because I’m a mirrorball.” This was very hurtful to me, a mirrorball. Yes, this song is likely about Swift feeling like she needs to mirror every version of herself that the public wants her to be, but it’s more likely about my own personal insecurities, my impostor syndrome, and my insatiable need for approval. The PsyOp is working — and I’m not gonna lie— being isolated in the woods without internet or any real life skills for the past 24 hours … isn’t helping either.


You know what I didn’t need to stew about in my self-isolation echo chamber of trauma? The scars of my youth. “seven” is about the pureness of childhood friendship: “I think your house is haunted / your dad is always mad and that must be why / and I think you should come live with me / and we can be pirates, / then you won’t have to cry / or hide in the closet.” Like, I don’t need this right now. I don’t need to remember what it was like to have my youth ripped from my throat years ago or be to nostalgic for childhood emotional wounds. I’m good. This song is beautiful — but I’m good.


In a note to her fans, the inventor of forests wrote that folklore is a storytelling album for which she allowed her imagination to run wild while in isolation. By this point in the album, it’s clear that Swift is doing what many of has have done during pandemic: dissociating. While we’re all stuck in weird, dark apartments (Swift not included), the only vacations we’re afforded are the ones where we leave our bodies and live in stories, old journals, happy memories of beaches and sun-kissed romance and getting summertime wine-drunk. “august” is that fugue state: It’s beautiful, evocative, a successful astral projection.

“this is me trying”

After the high-octane Kids Bop feel of Lover, it’s relieving to hear Swift return to more haunting instrumentations. “this is me trying” has swirling strings, subtle horns, and — not an instrument— but can I just say, Taylor is becoming a reverb bitch. Both “this is me trying” and “The Archer” from Lover sound like they were recorded in a musty locker room. This one goes out to all the reverb lesbians — I know you’re out there.

“illicit affairs”

So, there is a theory, one that’s probably correct, that “illicit affairs” is one of three songs Swift referred to in a YouTube comment as “The Teenage Love Triangle.” All three songs are written from each person in the love triangle’s POV: “illicit affairs” being from the POV of girl who the boy cheated with, “betty” being from the POV of the boy, and “cardigan” being from the POV of Betty. I, however, cannot read, and thus do not have to accept this as canon (more on why, and more on “betty,” in a bit). Anyway, “illicit affairs” is about how having an affair and lying kills you “a million little times.” But as the meme goes, “I ain’t reading all that. I’m happy for u tho. Or sorry that happened.”

“invisible string”

This is everything I want out of a Taylor Swift song: strings being plucked, colors being painted, and the saccharine imagery of an “invisible string” pulling two unwitting strangers together. Taylor Swift invented String Theory, which if you didn’t know, is the scientific theory that soul mates are bound together by one invisible Swiftian String. Cut to: me in a ball on my floor, emotionally mangled, happy-sobbing about how grateful I am that the Swiftian String brought me and my girlfriend together.

“mad woman”

Female rage anthems like Alanis’s “You Oughta Know” and the Chicks’ “Goodbye Earl” blazed the scorched-earth trail for a song like “mad woman” to exist. You can feel Swift’s low-burbling fury leaking through her teeth when she sings, “What do you sing on your drive home? Do you see my face in the neighbor’s lawn? Does she smile? Or does she mouth, ‘Fuck you forever?’” This is one of Swift’s best songs and a literal misandrist anthem, but my fear is this: remember when we found out “You Oughta Know” was about … Joey from Full House? I’m worried we’re going to find out “mad woman” is about, like … Rainn Wilson. Praying it’s not.


If “my tears ricochet” is to folklore what “Delicate” was to reputation, then “epiphany” is to folklore what “It’s Nice to Have a Friend” was to Lover, in that it’s the haunted doll hiding in your closet of the album. “epiphany” sounds like a choral arrangement of hexed porcelain dolls and is about witnessing trauma. In Swift’s liner notes, she wrote about her grandfather Dean “landing at Guadalcanal in 1942.” Fair warning: You only need to hear “epiphany” once for it to escape through a cracked mirror, stick to your skin, and sleep next to you in bed each night like an eldritch spirit.


All of the blood in my body turned to stone at my first listen of “betty,” which SEEMS to be about Swift’s romance with a girl named “betty,” until she drops the name “James,” and then we’re meant to assume the song is from the perspective of this “man” named “James.” That doesn’t matter to me because, like I said, I can’t read. But sure, let’s pretend for a second that “betty” is from “James’s” POV. Some have mused that Swift was named after James Taylor, and thus James is her, and that Elizabeth is Karlie Kloss’s middle name, and thus Karlie is Betty. Some have noted that Swift used the names of her friend Blake Lively’s kids, James and Inez, who are both girls, for this song. I don’t care about that. Here’s what I care about: You know what’s gay? Creating a fictional male character and wearing him like an outfit to sing a song about kissing a girl. I don’t ever want to hear a woman singing about another woman, only to feel duped, like I’m waking up in Black Swan and have hallucinated all of the steamy lesbianism. For my full thoughts on “betty” please check out my book “betty” which will be released in 70 volumes over the course of the next 40 years. Betty. BETTY.


IMO “peace” is about feeling like you’re simultaneously too much and never enough and wanting to be with somebody but knowing you’ll ruin their life by self-sabotaging and it’s also about romanticizing toxic and messy relationships and creating fantasies out of doom and gloom and heartbreak. Or something. It’s getting dark out and my meat supply ran out three days ago.


The PsyOp of incepting people on the brink of madness comes to a sweeping close in “hoax,” in which Swift finally punted me off the bridge of sanity. “hoax” is a song about heartbreak that rips your guts out, sort of like when you rip the guts out of a bear, clearing space in its body so you can sleep between its ribs because you’re trapped in an icy tundra without shelter. This is what happens in The Revenant, I think — as far as folklore aesthetics go, I identify as more of a Nell bitch than a Revenant slut. Woods-inspired art works best when helmed by queer (or queer-coded) women (@nobody in particular @Justin Timberlake).

Stream folklore, folx!

What Is Every Song on Taylor Swift’s Folklore About?