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Taylor Swift’s Folklore

1,718 words

Author’s note: Tomorrow marks one year of my writing for Counter-Currents.

Folklore is Taylor Swift’s eighth studio album. It joined the hallowed halls of other so-called “isolation records” on July 24, 2020, in a surprise release that has begun to mark the production of America’s pop stars during this absurd period of COVID-19 restrictions. Swift described the album as arising from her “stream of consciousness,” allowing her “imagination” to take charge of her writing process. (I’m not sure how else music is written, but I digress.) Folklore, therefore, is tinged with a certain kind of self-importance and pseudo-confessional quality, an album put together during a time of great reflection that should have some kind of underlying weight and maturity to it.

Folklore’s reception was generally very positive, earning 4 stars from NME, 4.5 from Rolling Stone, an A- from Consequence of Sound, and 3.26 from the notoriously picky users of Rate Your Music.

Folklore taps into an aesthetic that has rather unfortunately been called “cottagecore,” a safe place for young women with all their feminist inclinations to indulge in fantasies about some kind of self-affirming agrarianism — a “reclaiming” of rural spaces from traditional social mores, remade into a queer haven. These fads, Swift’s album a part of it, are indicative of a troubling trend in pop culture. Those who make tastes know the tide of populism and anti-modernism is strong among the youth, a natural consequence of their lives generally being terrible. The appeal of a pseudo-traditional aesthetic — one defanged of any profound social critiques, leaving room for all manners of liberal contradictions — is understandable, but perverse in its implications. Dr. Kevin MacDonald called the album implicitly white. He’s not entirely wrong, but that just makes the whole thing even worse; one would think that whites would have better things to indulge in in the mainstream than nods at lesbianism set in small-town America, but we’re apparently so far gone as a society that this isn’t the case.

Swift’s “reinvention” into the patron saint of this pressure-valve aesthetic came in the form of pillaging the playbook of mid-to-late 2010s indie pop music, with the female-forward likes of Warpaint and Dirty Projectors coming through alongside the atmospherics of groups like Animal Collective. There is nothing actually new or interesting on this record; its sonic “consistency” is achieved by the repeated use of the same stale drum sounds and patterns (including an obligatory trap-influenced beat) and the same stale pseudo-metaphorical prose of Swift. Had this album come out in 2017 under any other name than Taylor Swift, it would have enjoyed a moment on alternative radio formats for a solid year, then totally vanished from the spotlight. Like all pop music, one can immediately discern Swift’s antecedents and note that she somehow managed to do the same things in a far less compelling way.

Melodically speaking, Swift’s voice frequently makes use of the same tired tropes of the last decade disguised in tenderness. More than once, Swift whoops her words, falls into an almost-rap cadence, and her piano compositions rely more on the notion that they’re quaint than being actually quaint.

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In typical fashion for her, her lyrics dwell upon a comfortable brand of white feminism that simultaneously seeks empowerment while decrying her own victimization. Consider “The Last Great American Dynasty” alongside “Illicit Affair” or “Mad Woman.” All at the same time, Swift paints a picture of a woman victimized, whether it is in her own hilariously hubristic self-comparisons to Rebekah Harkness of Standard Oil fame or in the anger directed at a man with whom a female narrator is having an affair with. Subjects like these are ideally handled with grace, or at least with personal experience tempered by reflection; of course, Swift is a famous woman, so none of these things are in order. It is enough for her simply to cry about it, yet pretend that she has risen above the whole ordeal.

Swift is attempting to call upon a maturity within her that simply does not exist, relying instead upon her tenure in the pop music industry and her lip service paid to orthodox talking points to convince us that we should listen to what she has to say. Swift’s songwriting style is consistently marked by a lamentation of imagined abuses committed against her and her subsequent personal growth, which would be fine if it happened once, but it becomes far less convincing and appealing when it is repeated across several albums. One has to ask if Swift is worth paying any attention to if she continues to make the same mistakes with men and her identity. Knowing what we know, however, it makes perfect sense that perpetual victimhood is a guaranteed formula for success in the pop music world.

Grating, too, is Swift’s awful bastardization of the concept of a folk melody. The closest we get to anything resembling the musical traditions of old America are her lukewarm descriptions of Pennsylvania, a land coated in a saccharine mockery of Americana and feel-goodness that seem at odds with Swift’s own cosmopolitanism. One might wonder if this is some kind of attempt at reconciling her seemingly idyllic childhood with her ideas now, but tracks like “Seven” and “Betty” — one of 3 tracks devoted to a running theme of a sexually-confused teenage love triangle — use the warmth of old America as a springboard for brain poison about queerness and the heavy burden of adulthood.

The only “folklore” to be had on Folklore is the weaving of relatively recent developments in bluegrass-influenced pop music with the invented history of deracinated white people desperate for a struggle of some kind. Swift and her fanbase don’t have much to complain about, so something has to be made up — the folk legends of Swift’s time have become disgraced heiresses blowing their fortune on dance studios and genderbent, politically correct teenage love sagas. Of course, these things are all going to be praised as brave and risky on the part of Swift, precisely because these things have no real artistic merit beyond their status as pseudo-taboos meant to be broken in performative displays of wokeness. Does Swift really have any recollection of a childhood friend that fits perfectly into place with today’s insanity about gender, or is such a thing an obvious invention? I think we know the answer.

It’s notable that Swift elected to set much of this album in rural Pennsylvania where she grew up. The decision makes sense on a surface level, since this album’s mood is ostensibly influenced by nature and closeness to the Earth and spirituality. Dig deeper, though, and one can discern an ugly ingratefulness in the album’s themes and narratives. Swift’s home was built by men who feared God, raised families, and handed the paradise down to their children. In return, the liberated Swift has decided she has no use for these people — the idyllic Pennsylvania of her youth is better populated by more modern types, the children who seek to do nothing that their ancestors did, yet claim the land they cultivated as their own. It is the ultimate form of entitlement.

Much of this album is plainly forgettable — specifically, the tracks that do not grab one’s attention with their obvious cultural messaging. Opening track “The 1” sets the sonic mood for the entire album, with few diversions; those that come are typically in the form of an absent rhythm section. “August,” also part of the love triangle suite, is notable only for the curious inclusion of what sounds like a fuzz bass. “This is Me Trying” trots out the same drum sounds as every other track. If one isn’t paying attention to the tracklist, it is easy to mistakenly believe the whole record is an indistinguishable blob. The ordeal drags on for quite some time, too; Folklore clocks in at a hefty 1 hour, 3 minutes.

I’m not particularly upset about this record’s inherent mediocrity. I am more upset that this is what is being sold to white youth, hailed as the cream of the crop of music. It would be one thing if a pop album were chock-full of filler, but when the same filler is called an artistic masterwork, it quickly changes from forgettable to aggravating. Folklore is the spontaneous assemblage of anything good in white music from the last decade into the safest possible package, almost as if a neural network were handed Stuff White People Like and then told to write an album based on it.

There is no longer a cutting edge in American popular music, but the little effort that is granted towards the sorry institution is usually found in the dark corners of hip-hop and its various offshoots. Folklore is insulting because it is a blatant example of just how little energy actually needs to be expended in order to sate a horde of brainless white consumers. Combine Swift’s tepid feminism with the leftovers of last decade’s era of interesting music, and we get a record that appeals to as many as people as possible while saying absolutely nothing at all. Folklore tells no tales of a folk, nor does it tell a tale of any kind; the characters and themes present in this record are inventions, one-dimensional portrayals of the ideals, grievances, and romanticizations of a person who has no ties to the land but those which either make her money or famous. This is the music of a dying people relishing in the idea that they’re pissing off their parents in the process.

It is humiliatingly clear that the white-appealing music of the day is composed of scraps taken from the recycling bin of cultural fads, more talented musicians, and production methods perfected in the 1990s. If that is the case, then we ought to consign these albums back to the very same place that they came from: the trash.

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  1. John Wilkinson
    Posted August 7, 2020 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    “You’re just a hater and an incel!”

    -every white female 20something feminist Taylor Swift fan on Twitter

  2. Vehmgericht
    Posted August 7, 2020 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    Of course I would never listen to such pap, but from the review it seems this artiste is severely at risk of being a ‘Becky’, if not in fact a ‘Karen’.

    In fact, in the light of BLM, we must ask ourselves: should white people be taking time off from self-flagellation to make music at all?

    Or they if must, should it not be only as junior partners in collaboration directed by a Person of Color (and produced by a suitable industry insider, of course)?

  3. Andy
    Posted August 7, 2020 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    CC has been falling since a couple of years, and now we can say that’s finished: intellectual masturbation about obscure topics, book reviews of texts no one care about, and clever articles about musical albums of Billie Eilish and Taylor Swift. Even false flag operations and controlled opposition sites have better content than this shite.

    The reason the jews and their lackeys are winning is not because they are better, but because the ones fighting [sic, lol] them are just cowards, hobbysts, kooks, and fags.

    The jews won, the White race is pretty much finished, and it deserved. If a people is not willing to do what has to be done in order to secure its existence and future for his children then it deserves nothing more than death.

    • Scott Weisswald
      Posted August 7, 2020 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

      So what is your suggestion?

      • Stephen Phillips
        Posted August 7, 2020 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

        I would like to know also, but I’m not holding my breath for any response any time soon. Simple negativity doesn’t help anyone.

      • Posted August 7, 2020 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

        The Christian doctrine of equality with its current offshoots in liberalism and Marxism is the main cause of so-called anti-racism and self-hatred and of today’s mixed-race multicultural society. It is useless to revive any racial or popular consciousness and to defend ourselves against massive immigration of non-Europeans without first fighting and removing the legacy of Christianity. ”- Tomislav Sunic

      • Posted August 8, 2020 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

        I doubt he was being sincere. This seems more like trolling with the intent of demoralization. If he really meant it, though, then he’s an armchair general.

        Really, if someone doesn’t like an article here about pop culture, the right answer is to find something else to read or do. The wrong answer is bitching about it.

        • Posted August 8, 2020 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

          i also have a little doubt about it, but this is just a suggestion. Regarding Pop music today, the vast majority do not like it, I think they are a bit “Africanized” due to the influences that rap brought.

    • John Wilkinson
      Posted August 7, 2020 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      Precisely what are YOU doing to save white people?

      Posting diatribes on the internet isn’t saving anything or anyone.

      • Swizzle
        Posted August 9, 2020 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

        Hear, hear!

        • Limehouse
          Posted August 10, 2020 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

          Thank you for writing “Hear! Hear!” I spend a lot of time on an SJW site/blog (please don’t ask; I care about the subject matter). They usually write “Here! Here!” when there’s occasion to write what you did.

    • Nikandros
      Posted August 7, 2020 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

      Pop culture critique is just one of many tactics. I don’t think anyone here thinks that’s all we have to do to win. And every once in a while, one of these reviews goes viral and introduces a bunch of new people to the site.

    • Trevor Goodchild
      Posted August 8, 2020 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

      I said something before, but they didn’t post it. After consideration, I would say that many influential lefty sites post movie and book reviews that don’t necessarily have direct political content, other than a vague bias. Many times, such as in the New Yorker, these types of articles are the only ones worth reading for the conservative. Why should not dissident right websites follow similar practices, if we have hopes of competing with and replacing such periodicals? Some of the best film reviewers I know of come from the dissident right. I would call Trevor lynch, the Soiledsinema website, and a certain anonymous poster at Unz, by far the best film critics I know of, oh, adding myself to that list in typical humility. Scott is now a good music reviewer. People will see how cool we are and flock to our banner.

  4. Posted August 7, 2020 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    I really want to like Taylor Swift, but I just can’t get there. It sounds like she went off on the wrong direction with this one.

  5. Bartleby
    Posted August 7, 2020 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    I mean I’ve HEARD of this particular “entertainer.” Scott, congrats on your one year mark.

  6. Archer
    Posted August 7, 2020 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    I thought it was ok. The lyrics were pretty good for what it is. It’s sort of on some border zone between pop country and indie pop. She’s marketing her looks too, clearly. Triple threat: lyrics pretty sings

    What are Scott’s good pop groups, I would like to know? Perhaps a song list.

  7. Randall
    Posted August 7, 2020 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    “This is the music of a dying people relishing in the idea that they’re pissing off their parents in the process.”

    ^^This in a nutshell. I’m glad someone picked apart ol’ Tay-Tay’s attempt to reclaim “rural spaces from traditional social mores.”

    As soon as you mentioned “stream of consciousness,” I already knew that the music was degenerate. [based on my reading of poetry that was created from stream of consciousness- its horrible]

    Imagination is indeed required, but the imagination needs to be developed and structured into a [musical] pattern – one that speaks to [white] Europeans.

    Even the greatest musical improvisers [which one would think is a ‘stream of musical consciousness’] always have a premeditated plan in their approach to improvising.

  8. Right_On
    Posted August 7, 2020 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    I’m in the wrong demographic to enjoy Taylor Swift’s pap. But I did take a listen to some of her material on YouTube (a billion hits and rising) when that 4chan spoof first took off claiming the “alt-right” considered her an Aryan pop queen. It didn’t make me a fan but did give me a chuckle.
    Nice looking though. Goebbels would have hit on her.

  9. Belt Of Orion
    Posted August 7, 2020 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    I understand – but still hate – the phenomenon of an established star getting good reviews for later albums.
    Bob Dylan is a brilliant example of this. Same for Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Madonna, etc. All these people had a moment when they shone pretty brightly off the back of a few good songs or a good album or two, and then trundled on for decades putting out very boring music but getting glowing reviews because they are established names.

    I think this is what we are now seeing with early 2010s stars like Taylor Swift, but also Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Kanye West, and others. I think these music stars should retire after a while, like athletes do.

    • Crack-a-toe-a
      Posted August 9, 2020 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      Boy, Belt of Orion, if you have never read Rock and the Pop Narcotic by Joe Carducci, do it pronto! It answers your question. Short answer: Rolling Stone. Long answer: all music journalists are young, nonmusical, naive, inexperienced, ignorant, and completely indoctrinated with antiwhite groupthink (that’s being generous!). Maybe some smart ones will eventually see through the logrolling (i.e., the corrupt relationship between record companies and journalism) and leave for other fields, but most won’t and are happily coopted. Even back in the 80s, as Carducci notes, Rolling Stone ignored current music and promoted the children of baby boomer heroes like Julian Lennon and Ziggy Marley. Whatever you think of their parents, that nonentities like that were promoted in favor of their potent contemporaries like Husker Du or Bad Brains should tell you something.

  10. Berk
    Posted August 8, 2020 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

    This album is the definition of “middle-of-the-road” elevator muzak.

    (I did listen to most tracks on Youtube).

  11. Alexandra O.
    Posted August 9, 2020 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything by Taylor Swift, because ‘pop’ hasn’t been in my sights since my early twenties. I listened to ‘alternative’ music for 11 years (2005-2017) when I worked in a high-rise office overlooking Los Angeles, and could listen to KCRW all day, with my desk tucked behind some filing cabinets, next to a floor to ceiling window. Best working situation ever. The only group I remember really loving was Radiohead, though they’re pretty much gone now. Then, I moved out to the musical abyss of the suburbs, due to Hispanics taking over 75% of the San Gabriel Valley and pushing me ever east, where I can only tune in to KUSC Classical all day, which fits my newfound — thanks to the anti-whites –White Privilege Realization Process! Wow, I never knew how great I was and how very privileged until I read “White Fragility” and others of that ilk, and ended up here at CC. Whole new world here, and classical music fits it perfectly for me. Thanks for letting me know that now even a White Princess like Swift is telling young girls, obliquely of course, that it’s OK to be lesbian. There’s no end to the nastiness out there.

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