Taylor Swift's Folklore Album Lyrics Decoded: Love, Loss and a "Mad Woman"

Taylor Swift has dropped her eighth studio album, Folklore. Read on to take a closer look at the hidden messages in her lyrics.

By Jess Cohen Jul 24, 2020 11:35 AMTags
Watch: Taylor Swift Announces Surprise 8th Album "Folklore"

Taylor Swift's eighth studio album has arrived

That's right, the superstar singer dropped Folklore at midnight on Friday, July 24. This album marks Swift's first entry into the alternative genre, as her previous albums were categorized as pop or country. Ahead of its release, Swift described Folklore as "wistful and full of escapism" as well as "sad, beautiful, tragic." Swift also said it's "like a photo album full of imagery, and all the stories behind that imagery."

Sharing more insight into the album, the Grammy winner told fans, "In isolation my imagination has run wild and this album is the result, a collection of songs and stories that flowed like a stream of consciousness. Picking up a pen was my way of escaping into fantasy, history, and memory. I've told these stories to the best of my ability with all the love, wonder, and whimsy they deserve. Now it's up to you to pass them down."

On this album, Swift collaborated with Aaron DessnerBon Iver and Jack Antonoff, whom she called her "musical heroes."

Fascinating Facts About Taylor Swift

The 30-year-old star also dropped a major Easter egg about her new tracks, sharing that "there's a collection of 3 songs I refer to as the Teenage Love Triangle. These 3 signs explore a love triangle from all 3 people's perspectives." Those three songs appear to be "Cardigan," along with "August" and "Betty."

Let's take a closer look at the lyrics on Swift's new album, Folklore.

"The 1": In the first track on the album, Swift reflects on a lost love, singing, "I'm doing good, I'm on some new s--t/Been saying 'yes' instead of 'no'/I thought I saw you at the bus stop, I didn't though."

She later points out, "I guess you never know, never know/And if you wanted me, you really should've showed/And if you never bleed, you're never gonna grow/And it's alright now."

"But we were something, don't you think so? Roaring 20s, tossing pennies in the pool," the lyrics continue. "And if my wishes came true/It would've been you/In my defense, I have none/For never leaving well enough alone/But it would've been fun/If you would've been the one."

Swift wonders if just one thing in the relationship had been different, would they still be together?

"Cardigan": Swift told fans of the album's second track, "The song is about a lost romance and why young love is often fixed so permanently within our memories. Why it leaves such an indelible mark." Lyrics to the song include, "And when I felt like I was an old cardigan/Under someone's bed/You put me on and said I was your favorite."

Swift later sings, "To kiss in cars and downtown bars/Was all we needed/You drew stars around my scars/But now I'm bleedin'."

"The Last Great American Dynasty": Swift references her house in Watch Hill, Rhode Island, in the lyrics to this song, as well as its previous owner. The singer's home was previously owned by composer Rebekah Harkness, who passed away in 1982. "Rebekah rode up on the afternoon train, it was sunny/Her saltbox house on the coast took her mind off St. Louis," Swift sings, referencing the composer's hometown.

"Exile" (featuring Bon Iver): This song features some of the most powerful and heartbreaking lyrics on the album, delivered beautifully by Swift and Iver. "I think I've seen this film before/And I didn't like the ending," Swift sings on this track. "I'm not your problem anymore/So who am I offending now? You were my crown, now I'm in exile, seein' you out/I think I've seen this film before/So I'm leaving out the side door."

"My Tears Ricochet": Swift told fans on YouTube that this was the first song she wrote for this album, noting that she wrote it alone. This track, produced by Antonoff, is the fifth song on the album, a spot Swift is known to reserve for some of her most heartfelt ballads.

"August": In this song, Swift appears to explore the idea of losing someone that was never really yours to begin with. "But I can see us lost in the memory/August slipped away into a moment in time/'Cause it was never mine," Swift sings. "And I can see us twisted in bedsheets/August sipped away like a bottle of wine/'Cause you were never mine."

"Invisible String": Eagle-eyed fans have noticed that Swift might be referencing her ex, Joe Jonas, in the lyrics to this song. "Cold was the steel of my axe to grind/For the boys who broke my heart/Now I send their babies presents," Swift sings, a possible nod to Joe and Sophie Turner, who are currently expecting their first child together. Turner has previously shared that she's a T.Swift fan and the stars appeared together on The Graham Norton Show in 2019.

The song also could be a possible reference to her relationship with current beau Joe Alwyn, as Swift's lyrics mention a three-year anniversary as well as a dive bar. As fans may know, Swift and Alwyn were first spotted together in late 2016, meaning they've recently celebrated their third anniversary together. Previous Swift lyrics have confirmed that the stars met in a bar.

In "Invisible String," Swift sings also hints at a possible relationship update, "A string that pulled me/Out of all the wrong arms, right into that dive bar/Something wrapped all of my past mistakes in barbed wire/Chains around my demons/Wool to brave the seasons/One single thread of gold/Tied me to you."

"Mad Woman": Could this be Swift's reference to the battle over her album masters? Swift definitely means business. "What did you think I'd say to that? Does a scorpion sting when fighting back?" Swift sings. "They strike to kill, and you know I will/You know I will."

"What do you sing on your drive home? Do you see my face in the neighbor's lawn?" she continues. "Does she smile? Or does she mouth, 'F--k you forever?'"

"Epiphany": In Swift's liner notes, posted on Instagram, she talks about writing from the prospective of different characters, including people she has never met, people she wishes she never met and people she's known. In those notes, Swift mentions her grandfather, Dean, "landing at Guadalcanal in 1942." Swift appears to reference her grandfather's experience in her song "Epiphany," singing, "Keep your helmet, keep your life, son/Just a flesh wound, here's your rifle/Crawling up the beaches now."

"Betty": In this track, Swift seems to be singing from the perspective of "James," explaining to "Betty" about rumors she might've heard from "Inez." The lyrics state, "You heard the rumors from Inez/You can't believe a word she says/Most times, but this time it was true/The worst thing that I ever did/Was what I did to you."

BFF Fun Fact: James and Inez are the names of Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds' two daughters. Could Betty be the name of the couple's third child?

Beth Garrabrant

Folklore is out now!