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Taylor Swift Releases New Album, 'Folklore'


Taylor Swift stands in a forest. The photo's black and white, and it's foggy. She's wrapped up in a big coat dwarfed by tall trees. She's looking up. That is the visual we got when Taylor Swift surprise-announced a new album yesterday. It came out at midnight, and it's called "Folklore."


TAYLOR SWIFT: (Singing) But I knew you, dancing in your Levi's, drunk under a streetlight.

SHAPIRO: This is a different sort of record from the singer-songwriter superstar - more acoustic piano and guitar, fewer Top 40 radio bangers. NPR music critic Ann Powers has listened to the album a few times already, and she is here with us. Hi, Ann.


SHAPIRO: So what's your first impression of this album? It sounds subdued for Taylor, right?

POWERS: It is subdued, but it's still expansive. And it's especially interesting as a kind of sonic experiment from an artist who always has taken risks with her sound. I think this is a really interesting case of an artist taking advantage of a very difficult situation. It's not the right time for her to make pop bangers, so she has gone inside. She has made a very introspective record, a very lyrically complex record and, also, given us a new sound.

SHAPIRO: But even though everybody's in lockdown, including her, she mentions some collaborators whose contributions really come through when you listen to the album.

POWERS: It's so important when you think about Taylor Swift to think of her as a collaborator. I know we all think she is pouring songs out from, you know, the bottom of her heart, but she always works with other people and, particularly, producers to expand her sonic palette. A few of the cuts show her partnering with her usual producer, Jack Antonoff. But the most interesting collaborator on this record is Aaron Dessner, a composer and producer whom you might know from his band The National. Aaron Dessner lives in the space where classical music connects with indie rock connects with pop. And he and Taylor exchanged music and lyrics and co-wrote many of the tracks on this record. It's such a great new space.

SHAPIRO: Well, let's listen to one of those Aaron Dessner collabs. What's one of them that we can play?

POWERS: I'm fascinated by the track "Epiphany," in which Taylor takes the perspective of a soldier on the battlefield.


SWIFT: (Singing) Keep your helmet. Keep your life, son. Just a flesh wound. Here's...

POWERS: This is not the usual Taylor Swift confession, and it's not the usual sound for her, either.

SHAPIRO: On the whole, the lyrics to this sound much more consistent with past Taylor Swift than the sound of the album does, right? It's still very introspective. It's still about her breakups - familiar themes here.

POWERS: Well, Ari, you just have to ask - like, how long will she be writing heartbreak songs?


POWERS: I mean...


SWIFT: (Singing) But it would've been fun if you would've been the one.

POWERS: Taylor Swift will always be Taylor Swift. She will always...


POWERS: ...Work in the first-person. That's her metier. But, Ari, she's going beyond that. She does inhabit different characters here. And, also, the way she's inhabiting the first-person has changed - for example, the song "Mad Woman."


SWIFT: (Singing) Every time you call me crazy, I get more crazy. What about that? And when you say I seem angry, I get more angry.

POWERS: That is a feminist statement and connects with the longtime thought within feminism that women who act out of line are often considered crazy. It shows a new maturity and expansive awareness in Taylor's writing that's been coming for a long time, but I think it reaches a new level here.

SHAPIRO: So this is her eighth studio album. Where do you fit it into the rest of her discography?

POWERS: Everyone's saying "Folklore" is an artistic triumph for Taylor Swift. It is also a canny commercial move, I have to say. I mean, she's 30 years old. She's not an ingenue anymore, and she is needing to find the frame that will fit her for the next phase of her career. She probably wouldn't love the phrase adult contemporary, but this is a very adult sound. I think it can take her in a lot of great new directions.


SWIFT: (Singing) I want you to know...

SHAPIRO: NPR music's Ann Powers on the new album from Taylor Swift called "Folklore." Thank you.

POWERS: Thank you so much, Ari.


SWIFT: (Singing) ...Every version of yourself tonight. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ann Powers is NPR Music's critic and correspondent. She writes for NPR's music news blog, The Record, and she can be heard on NPR's newsmagazines and music programs.