It’s been an amazing journey for singer-songwriter Taylor Swift. She was just 16 when her first album was released in 2006. That self-titled album was Country, and a huge success. Two years later, her Fearless album was an even bigger breakthrough and won the Grammy for Album of the Year. Her impressive string of successes and awards continued into 2019. By then she had seven multi-platinum albums, with six-in-a-row debuting at #1 on Billboard’s album chart. (Update November, 2021: Swift now has 10 albums in-a-row debuting at #1)
Over those 13 years, Taylor Swift became the most consistently successful Pop Star in the world, and had some of the highest-grossing tours. Then in early 2020 the pandemic hit. Swift and other artists were forced to cancel major tours, costing them millions of dollars. What was Taylor Swift to do?
On July 23rd, 2020 Taylor surprised the world by announcing she had completed a new album in less than three months, and was releasing it the next day!
As surprising as the announcement was, the album itself, Folklore, was even more surprising. It’s not a highly produced Pop album, rather it’s a much more minimalistic recording with an Indie vibe. Critics are calling it Taylor Swift’s best album.
You might wonder why an old Classic Rock guy like me is even paying attention to music by Taylor Swift. My wife and I decided to watch a Taylor Swift concert from her Reputation tour that was available on Netflix, and also her Miss Americana documentary. It was obvious she is very talented, so we bought Folklore.
Most artists deliver their best work in the first few years of their popularity, and then trail off from there. Taylor Swift has given fans her best album after 14 years of staggering success. Folklore became her 7th straight album to debut at #1. In just one week, it became the most popular album of 2020, with the biggest first week since her own Lover album came out less than a year earlier.
Billboard’s album ranking combines actual sales with streaming, but if you look at sales alone, Folklore sold more that week than the other top 50 albums combined!
Update: Folklore spent 6 consecutive weeks at #1 on Billboard’s Top 200 album chart, and then came back for two more (8 total) non-consecutive weeks at the top. That’s the longest at #1 for an album in four years. Folklore is also the only album to actually sell over a million copies in 2020. The next closest sold less than half as much. Both Billboard and Rolling Stone named Folklore the #1 album of 2020 based on actual sales and streaming. Taylor Swift is the only artist to have the top-selling album of the year five times.
Update: On March 14th, 2021…Taylor Swift’s Folklore was named “Album Of The Year” at the Grammy Awards.
Credit for the album’s success also goes to Aaron Dessner of the Indie Rock band The National. Dessner co-wrote eleven of the songs, and assisted with production. He started working with Taylor Swift at the end of April. That’s when he sent her several instrumental tracks as song starters. He says a few hours later, about 3 A.M., Swift sent back the completed song…”Cardigan”. They spent almost three months working remotely back-and-forth to finish the project.
On Folklore, Taylor Swift sings many of the songs in third-person as a storyteller, rather than the autobiographical style she has often used. For example, three songs introduce characters that form a love triangle. “Betty” tells the story from the perspective of 17-year-old James. He lost Betty by impulsively cheating on her with another girl. “Cardigan” tells the same story from the perspective of a grown up Betty looking back on her early lost love. Usually the “other woman” is ignored, but here she gets her own song, “August”. The album is filled with quality songs like these with good melodies and very clever and insightful lyrics.
Maybe the pandemic was a great excuse for Swift to do an album with much less production. By getting away from the pressure of putting out another album with big arena-ready Pop songs, she has freed herself to do Indie/Alternative or whatever style works for the “adult” portion of her career. It may or may not have been a calculated move, but it was brilliant.
Taylor Swift has released a video of her entire album. She performs the songs live in a small studio. The film is called The Long Pond Studio Sessions. It’s available to view on Disney+, and the audio is on streaming services.
And now…Another album! Taylor Swift announced today (12/10/20) a “sister” album to Folklore called Evermore.
The full album (minus bonus tracks) was released 12/11/20, two days before her 31st birthday. It’s not an album of leftovers from Folklore. It’s another collection of high quality songs in a similar style, and with expanded instrumentation.
Sales and streaming of Evermore made it her 8th album in a row to debut at #1 on Billboard’s Top 200 albums (during 2021, she added two more albums that debuted at #1, for a total of 10). The single “Willow” went to #1 on the Hot 100 singles chart, while the song “No Body, No Crime” debuted at #2 on the Hot Country chart. All 15 tracks on the album made it into the top 18 songs streaming on Spotify. First week album sales surpassed one-million worldwide, and streaming surpassed a half-billion!
The popularity of Evermore actually pulled Folklore back up to the #2 position on the Album Sales chart. It’s an extreme rarity for an artist to hold the top two positions. Surprise: Evermore returned to #1 in June, 2021 when the Vinyl album was released. It sold over 102,000 copies, which blows away the old record of 40,000 copies since official vinyl sales began being counted 30 years ago.
There is no third album planned, but she has continued working with the same songwriter/musicians on her re-recorded albums.