To put it plainly, I just can’t stop listening to the new albums which Taylor Swift released in 2020. To try and put it more poetically, the worlds in which Swift submerges us for the albums’ two hours runtime has brought so many fans across the globe out of their quarantines and into a forest of fantasies. In the age of Instagram, the folksy aesthetics of the releases could have made them feel simply like an homage to cottagecore, but the multi-faceted landscapes which Swift introduces us to shows that there’s a lot more substance behind it all than that.
Strangely, for a year in which the world has transposed itself online, Swift encouraged her fans to opt for limited physical editions of her albums, with bonus tracks that only came onto streaming platforms later – folklore even had eight limited edition cover designs. The wide array of promotional images paired with both releases gave us the pastoral dreamland we’ve all been imagining during the year of being locked in our homes.
However, not all of the lyrics reflect this vibe: ‘dancing in your Levi’s / drunk under a streetlight’ doesn’t particularly scream the natural sublime now, does it? Olivia Stowell suggests that this ‘friction in temporality between the album’s visuals and lyrics suggests myth,’ with the stories of the past always reappearing in the present, but, for me, it tells us more about the accessibility of Swift’s songwriting. At a time when most of us can’t escape to our cabins deep in the woods (read: go further than our daily walk around the block), dancing in our jeans is all we’ve got. But, pair this lyric with the folk sound of cardigan and the images of the folklorian woods, and we’ve found an escape. Contemporary lyrics that resonate with us gen Z-ers run parallel to the imagery of worlds that we can only fantasize about at the moment, making everything feel just a little bit more in our reach.
However, this does not mean that there is no reference to nature, but quite the opposite in fact. One standout is the ‘Windemere peaks’ on the lakes, a clear tribute to the Romantic poets who hid there. It is evermore, though, which has more clear-cut pastoral landscapes in the forms of ivy and willow – in these, Swift merges what she does best (love songs!) with images of the rural idyll.
The albums are a product of the pandemic, but they also allow a break from it – through her writing, Swift shows us what escapism really means. The mixture of her classic contemporary pop lyrics combined with her branching out into vivid natural imagery is exactly what fans needed at this time of isolation. These albums are designed for solo listening: we can sit and look out the window dreaming about the landscapes Swift builds for us. Yet, equally, when this nightmare comes to an end, these collections are going to be songs that fans bond over together, for evermore.