by Claire Jones
I was stunned and disoriented when the world, and specifically the US, shut down back in March. As a college student, it felt like my world had ended, as my school shut down and I had to readjust to life at home away from friends and teachers that I loved. For months I was left reeling, struggling to process not only my emotions but also my life. I felt out of touch with the people around me, out of step with reality, and like a ghost in my own life. Then, unexpectedly, Taylor Swift dropped her eighth alum, folklore, out of nowhere.
Folklore was a shock to Swifties everywhere. We had less than twenty-four hours to prepare ourselves for this album, unlike the months of piecing together clues that we were used to. The first time I listened to it, I started crying before the first song was over and proceeded to cry for the rest of the album. But, when it was over, for the first time in months, I felt like I could breathe again. Over the next month, while listening to this album over and over again, I was finally able to put emotions that I had been feeling all summer into words.
As I mentioned before, I started crying during the very first song. One of my favorite things about Taylor’s music is that, while she is clearly writing about romantic love more often than not, her songs can be interpreted and related to in many different ways. While Taylor may have been nostalgic about a past romantic relationship in “the 1,” I found myself thinking about a potential friendship that had been interrupted by the pandemic. When we were sent home for spring break in March, I am sure that I was not the only college student who had no idea that I wouldn’t get to go back for the rest of that semester. I was left dazed and devastated when my school moved to online courses. I not only missed the friendships that I had, but I mourned the one that could have been. The relationship I had begun forming, that could have lasted a lifetime, but now may never reach that potential. Listening to Taylor singing about how “it would’ve been fun / if you would’ve been the one” was equally heart-wrenching and relieving.
During the first half of the semester, I had begun to grow closer to someone I met back in one of my writing classes freshman year. While we had known each other casually for a time, we didn’t start to really have a friendship until sophomore year, when we bonded over matters of faith and a shared our love of literature. Having that relationship interrupted before that closeness could really be cemented was incredibly painful. Losing a friendship that I was beginning to treasure in the chaos of a national shutdown was very heard to process. When I heard “the 1,” I knew that I had found a way to express one of my greatest sorrows from the pandemic, but naming it just brought the raw grief back to the forefront of my mind. I will always grieve losing that potential friendship, the what could have been, but hearing “the 1” helped me to realize that life didn’t have to end, and I could still find relationships that would be every bit as fulfilling. After all, “you could have been the one” implies that someone else now is. That is a comfort.
The next song that really hit me was “exile,” the fourth track. If I had to pick just one song to describe the last five months or so, “exile” would be one of the top contenders. I was surprised that I related to this song as much as I did. However, the truth that “exile” showed me was I felt as if I were in exile from my own life. Between cancelled plans, quarantine, and all the new rules to remember, I spent the summer feeling like a stranger in my own life, despite being back with my parents and siblings. Perhaps one of my biggest problems was my very vivid imagination. One of the most meaningful lyrics to me was “I think I’ve seen this film before, and I didn’t like the ending.” I had read too many history books about epidemics and plagues and their effects. Unfortunately, I had no trouble placing myself into those situations, which was not helpful to my stress levels. I didn’t need to dwell on all the horrible things that were happening or could happen but being trapped inside my house made it very difficult to focus on anything else.
I also recognized myself in other lyrics from the chorus. “You’re not my homeland anymore, so what am I defending now?” hit me hard. While I was back home with my family, in truth, my college has become my home in the past few years. As an introvert, I have only a few very important relationships in my life, and several of those are friends from college. It was a struggle to feel grounded when communicating with my best friends was reduced to sporadic texting. I felt lost and purposeless. “Exile” helped me put this feeling into perspective. Once I had identified it, I was able to begin to move past it.
The third track that stood out to me was “seven,” interestingly enough holding the seventh spot on the track list. “Seven” is a reminisce back on past childhood adventures, when life was simpler. At one point, Taylor asks “are there still beautiful things?” When I heard this, it felt like Taylor had reached into my heart, plucked out all of my emotions, and crafted them into this short poignant lyric. Much of my anxiety could be boiled down to this simple question. In a world like the one we have experienced since March, a world of uncertainty and lies, death and oppression, are there still beautiful things? Can there still be beautiful things? As a writer and a poet, beauty is something that I rely on, that I actively seek out in whatever way possible, that I strive to create. This past summer, it felt almost impossible to find beauty. Fortunately, for me “seven” held the answer I had been searching for. Taylor says that “though I can’t recall your face / I still got love for you.” This lyric was like a light bulb moment for me. Even if I couldn’t experience it myself, even if I couldn’t remember it clearly, beauty was still there. I still loved it even when I wasn’t in the midst of it. I just had to have faith that I would find the beautiful things again.
Another track that I related to was “august,” the eighth track on the album. “August” tells the story of a relationship that never really existed. For me, the most powerful lyric came in the bridge, unsurprisingly, since spectacular bridges are one of the trademarks of a great Taylor Swift song. Taylor describes the sensation of “living for the hope of it all.” Hope was an emotion that I struggled with throughout the summer. On the one hand, it was hard to hope when it seemed like the world was falling apart around us, what with political and civil unrest alongside the pandemic. On the other hand, I needed hope to survive in a world of uncertainty on every level possible. I would make bargains with myself: if I can just make it to the end of this month, everything would go back to normal. “Living for the hope of it all” indeed.
The last song that really affected me was “this is me trying.” If any song could have beaten “exile” as the song that described my summer most accurately, it would be “this is me trying.” Almost all of the lyrics in this song felt descriptive of my emotions and circumstances, but I’ll only talk about a few. The very first lines, “I’ve been having a hard time adjusting / I had the shiniest wheels, now they’re rusting / I didn’t know if you’d care if I came back” were a breath of relief. When school—and really life—moved online, I felt like all of my momentum had stalled out. I felt disconnected from everyone and everything, like I was listening and seeing life happen from underwater. But like Taylor sings in the chorus, “I just wanted you to know that this is me trying.” I knew that on the surface it looked like I wasn’t really processing well, which truthfully, I wasn’t for a time. However, that didn’t mean I wasn’t trying to move on, to be hopeful, to find some sort of firm ground. This is something that everyone can relate to both this past summer and during this new school year: in our own way somehow, “at least I’m trying.” In the bridge (once again, she’s really a master at writing bridges), Taylor says “it’s hard to be at a party / when I feel like an open wound / it’s hard to be anywhere / when all I want is you.” Party or not, it was hard to go anywhere this summer without feeling like I was reopening wounds that had just started to close. All I wanted was time with friends, a sense of normality, to be able to go and hang out without thinking about it. While that never happened, there were a few times when I was able to see one of my close friends, carefully social-distanced of course. It wasn’t perfect, but we were trying.
This summer was hard. Processing the emotional repercussions of a pandemic is hard. However, naming and acknowledging your emotions and hurt is the first step on the pathway to healing. Through folklore, I was able to start this journey. I am incredibly thankful that Taylor chose to write this album and to drop it when she did. She helped me find the beautiful things in life once again.