Taylor Swift: still in the same forest?

While Taylor Swift breaks new sales record in the USA, previously owned by Whitney Houston, with her album Folklore, it was time for us to come back to the musical reasons for this success.

“Are we out of the wood? “(” Are we out of this forest? “) Asked Taylor Swift in 2014 on her country-to-pop transition album, 1989. Six years later and a few million albums sold, it is still a forest in which the singer appears on the cover of her new album and once again a transformation that it comes to accompany. From her clumsy, over-emotional teenage country in her early days, she had grown to that of a pop star with undisputed mastery of the charts. Now, after three records in these conquering hues, here she is taking the more tortuous paths of a music labeled “indie” performed entirely in quarantine, where according to her words, her “imagination has wandered freely”, and where cold orchestrations, piano and Acoustic or electric guitars are the predominant musical colors.

New employee: new horizons?

This is partly the sign of the arrival of a new collaborator at his side, of which the American music media have made big business: Aaron Dessner, founding member and composer of the indie-rock group The National. A collaboration to say the least unexpected for the super star, more accustomed to the great Pop gurus like Max Martin (Britney Spears, Ariana Grande, etc…). It is not besides the only unexpected presence since Bon Iver, another recognized independent rock singer, comes the time of a duet (“Exile”) to lend his cavernous voice.

The music is then more attenuated, even sometimes oppressive by its scattered notes, and thus leaves more room for the singer’s voice. The latter, frail and sweet, is far from the vocal power of some of its rivals, but imposes itself precisely by its own characteristics. A confessional tone, as if she were reading the contents of her diary in a low voice, and sometimes spontaneous inflections, whether they show enthusiasm or despair, instead of the prowess of the great divas.

Taylor Swift: Still the Same After All?

But, despite this musical change, Taylor Swift does not cheat many people. It is still the same dreamy teenager, who wrote musical confessions in her diary, locked in her adult body. Because, the reason for her success and the loyalty of her fans is that, even if Swift nuances, even changes, her formula with each album, she does it without ever alienating what about her charmed them, in the first place. That is to say, this vulnerability erected into a combat weapon as well as this gaze full of candor in the face of human emotions. Which are expressed by lyrical flights worthy of romantic poets, whose parentage she also claims in the last title “the lakes”, where she asks her loved one to bring her “to the lakes where all the poets went to die ”(“ to the lakes where all the poets went to die ”). In the same idea, a form of melancholy seems to coat all the titles where more often than usual, she speaks in the past tense: of the first title “the 1” and its “the greatest loves of all time are over now “(” The greatest loves in history are all over now “) to” seven “, a regretful reminiscence of a childhood friend whose name she has forgotten.

The real change then is not so much to be found in the music, as in the lyrics themselves. Thus, what is unheard of here is the erasure of an egocentric “I,” which until then reigned supreme over his discography. In fact, it is this ability to put herself in the shoes of others than herself that seems to us a sign of maturity, more than her desire to move away from the musical conventions of pop. Exemplary of this new trend, a triptych of songs, which she nicknames “the teenage love triangle”, composed of “Cardigan”, “August” and “Betty”, where she adopts alternately the prospect of a teenage girl lamenting the adultery of her lover, of the latter’s lover of a summer night and finally of the deceiver in search of redemption himself. While in the only title loaded with the shadows of the news, “Epiphany” she first slips into the shoes of a soldier during World War II, then of caregivers during the Covid epidemic, carrying out thus a parallel between the two fronts.

It is then astonishing, that it was necessary to go through the isolation of the confinement, the withdrawal into oneself, so that this so public personality, manages to project itself in the lives of others than itself. Taylor Swift then emerges from this forest both still similar to herself but with an empathy that we did not know her before.

© Beth Garrabrant: album cover Folklore – Taylor Swift