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Taylor Swift’s “Folklore” Songs Ranked And Decoded

By Alex Clark·· 10 min read
Taylor Swift Folklore songs ranked and decoded

Taylor Swift’s eighth studio album “Folklore” was just released with no warning, and it ended up being the best thing to happen amidst a worldwide pandemic.

Taylor’s instincts were right to release new music suddenly and bring us some sunshine amidst the perpetual rainstorm that is 2020. I’ve been a Swiftie since “Speak Now,” and was ready and waiting for “Folklore” to drop so I could listen to each song, break down my favorite lyrics, and decode their meanings. 

These are the album’s 16 songs ranked in order from my most favorite to my least favorite, and as a diehard Taylor Swift fan, what I think they’re about.

1. August

Fave lyric: “To live for the hope of it all, cancel plans just in case you’d call.”

Everything about this song is perfect. The melody, the way it sounds like a moody ‘90s alternative love song...It’s cinematic, haunting, and romantic all in one. I’ve already listened to it 20 times. The story she paints with her lyrics here is one of teenagers involved in a summer love that wasn’t meant to be. “Meet me behind the mall” and “Will you call me when you’re back at school” is so pure and relatable. I think we’ve all had a summer romance that we wished would have gone the distance. For some reason, when I listen to this I get early 2000s Abercrombie flashbacks. IYKYK.

2. Invisible String

Fave lyric: “And isn’t it just so pretty to think, all along there was some invisible string tying you to me?”

I picked up some subtle Fleetwood Mac vibes in this one. Maybe it’s wishful thinking but I would like to think, “Bad was the blood of the song in the cab on your first trip to LA” means "Bad Blood" played in Joe Alwyn’s (her boyfriend of four years) cab when he came to LA for the first time. 

There are so many neat insights into their relationship in this song. She really pulled back the privacy curtain on this one. “Cold was the steel of my axe to grind for the boys who broke my heart. Now I send their babies presents.” One of her most famous exes that came to mind for me in this lyric was Joe Jonas, who is currently expecting his first child with his wife, Sophie Turner. She definitely had an axe to grind with Jonas after he notoriously dumped her over the phone, but her new love has wrapped all of her past mistakes in barbed wire and put chains around her demons. She feels like she’s grown out of that grudge-holding phase of her life. I love how a constant theme in “reputation,” “Lover”, and now “Folklore” is how safe Alwyn makes her feel.

3. This Is Me Trying

Fave lyric: “And my words shoot to kill when I’m mad, I have a lot of regrets about that.”

Through Taylor’s songs over the years, I feel like she’s let us in on a little secret — she’s kind of a stubborn hothead in relationships. I’ve always really appreciated this honesty from her, especially because I think I fight the same way.

On track 9 of the “Red” album titled “Stay, Stay, Stay,” she says, “I'm pretty sure we almost broke up last night. / I threw my phone across the room at you.”

I love how a constant theme in “reputation,” “Lover”, and now “Folklore” is how safe Joe Alwyn makes her feel.

On track 15 of the “Lover” album, titled “Afterglow,” she reflects, “I blew things out of proportion, now you're blue / Put you in jail for something you didn't do / I pinned your hands behind your back, oh / Thought I had reason to attack, but no.”

In “This Is Me Trying,” she mulls over whether or not she should reach out to an ex, and ends up working up the courage to go see him and find out if there's any possibility for reconciliation. More stand-out lines are “They told me all my cages were mental, so I got wasted like all my potential” and “It’s hard to be anywhere these days when all I want is you. / You’re a flashback in a film reel on the one screen in my town.”

4. Cardigan

Fave lyric: “You drew stars around my scars, but now I’m bleeding.”

This song was so hard to choose just one favorite lyric from! This is the epitome of what makes a perfect Taylor Swift song to me. Unbelievably picturesque storytelling that paints a picture so vivid in your head you can watch it like a movie as you listen. I also loved the Peter Pan shout-out with “Peter losing Wendy,” and the line, “But I knew you. / Dancing in your Levi’s drunk under a streetlight, I knew you. / Hand under my sweatshirt, baby, kiss it better, right.”

5. Peace

Fave lyric: “Your integrity makes me seem small. You paint dreamscapes on the wall. I talk shit with my friends. It’s like I’m wastin’ your honor.”

What I think she’s saying in this song is that she feels that her boyfriend Joe is out of her league and that he is the most honest, principled person she knows. She wants to know if he’d still love her and stand by her knowing that as long as they’re together there will never be “peace” because drama and attention will always follow her and her life. ALSO CAN WE PLEASE TALK ABOUT HER HINTING AT BEING READY TO HAVE BABIES?!

6. My Tears Ricochet

Fave Lyric: “I didn’t have it in myself to go with grace, Cause when I’d fight you’d tell me I was brave.”

Taylor says that this track was the first one she wrote for the album and that she wrote the song alone. My hunch is that this song isn’t about a relationship in a romantic sense but actually her relationship and falling out with Big Machine Records and Scooter Braun. “You wear the same jewels that I gave you as you bury me” seems to scream evidence of this. She made BM rich, then after they made all of their money they still stabbed her in the back. “I didn’t have it in myself to go with grace, / and you’re the hero flying around saving face. / And if I’m dead to you, why are you at the wake?/ Cursing my name, wishing I stayed.” If that’s not about some contract negotiation drama, I don’t know what is.

7. Exile (feat. Bon Iver)

Fave lyric: “You’re not my homeland anymore, so what am I defending now? You were my town. Now I’m in exile seein’ you out.”

I don’t really find myself interested in this song until the duet starts about halfway through. Then it really picks up. The piano is beautiful. It could be a devastating breakup song or an ode to her “cancellation” following her Kimye feud in 2016.

I see a lot of parallels lyrically between this album and “Red."

8. Mirrorball

Fave lyric: “I’m still on that tightrope, I’m still trying everything to keep you laughing at me.”

I see a lot of parallels lyrically between this album and “Red,” and honestly, in a pandemic, this is exactly what Swifities deserve. “You'll find me on my tallest tiptoes / Spinning in my highest heels, love / Shining just for you” is a total glow up of Red’s “Begin Again”: “You didn’t like it when I wear high heels but I do.”

9. The 1

Fave lyric: “We never painted by the numbers, baby, but we were making it count.”

This is in my top 3 for album opener songs from her. “Mine,” and “...Ready For It?” round out the list. This song could be about exhuming her most high-profile relationship in her 20s with Calvin Harris to see why it didn’t work out. She mentions “digging up the grave another time,” and in the video for “Look What You Made Me Do,” there’s a gravestone for Nils Sjöberg, which we learned later was Taylor’s pseudonym for the writing credit on Calvin’s song “This Is What You Came For” with Rihanna. There could be some closure that she needs from this relationship.

10. Mad Woman

Fave lyric: “What did you think I’d say to that? Does a scorpion sting when fighting back? They strike to kill, and you know I will.”

I can’t decide if this is another self-reflective song about her temper or possibly one about Hillary Clinton losing in 2016. Honestly, I could see it being a little bit of both.

11. Illicit Affairs

Fave lyric: “You showed me colors you know I can’t see with anyone else.”

Written as if she’s embroiled in a secret affair, Taylor proves that even though she’s been in a serious committed relationship for years now, that won’t stop her from being able to write heated and passionate lyrics about love and love lost. “And you know damn well, for you I would ruin myself a million little times” is absolute FIRE.

Even though she’s in a serious committed relationship, she can still write passionate lyrics about love lost.

12. The Last Great American Dynasty

Fave lyric: “I had a marvelous time ruining everything.”

By far the cutest song on the album where Taylor tells us all about a woman named Rebekah Harkness who used to live in her Rhode Island mansion. We’ve seen the photos of Taylor’s famous star-studded parties she’s hosted there, but now we know Rebekah was the OG! “Filled the pool with champagne and swam with big names,” “blew all their money on the boys and ballet,” and how after a feud with her neighbor she “stole his dog and dyed it key lime green.” Definitely trying to find a Rebekah to party with ASAP!

13. Seven

Fave lyric: “Sweet tea in the summer, cross my heart won’t tell no other.”

Taylor writes about her childhood in Pennsylvania, which is where she lived before moving to Nashville, Tennessee to pursue a career in music. I get the feeling that this song might be written to someone she knew and was friends with when she was little.

14. Epiphany

Fave lyrics: “With you I serve, with you I fall down.”

This song is a beautiful tribute to her grandfather Dean who landed at Guadalcanal in 1942. She had mentioned in her liner notes that she posted on Instagram that for several songs on the album she wrote them from the perspective of different characters. Some she’s met, and some she’s never known. The way she can write about this with such clarity as if she saw it herself really speaks to her talent as a songwriter: "Keep your helmet, keep your life, son. / Just a flesh wound, here's your rifle. / Crawling up the beaches now."

15. Hoax

Fave lyric: “Don’t want no other shade of blue but you, no other sadness in the world would do.”

This is the most mysterious song on the album. There are theories that it’s about her and Joe breaking up, or about Jake Gyllenhaal, but even I don’t feel confident yet in making a firm decision either way!

16. Betty

Fave lyric: “I don’t know anything, but I know I miss you.”

The harmonica is not really my fave. She’s definitely on theme with the folksy vibes here. This is one of the songs she talked about where she’s writing from the perspective of a character and, honestly, “Betty” just doesn’t do it for me.

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