Taylor Swift, Folklore and the Mad Woman

Taylor Swift’s music has always evolved with each of her albums as she experimented with new sounds, from country to hip-hop, along with her extremely personal lyricism.
Taylor Swift
Source: Taylor Swift Folklore Concept cover

Taylor’s music strategies are meticulously planned with extravagant albeit cryptic announcements months prior to release. “Most of the things I had planned this summer didn’t end up happening,” “But there is something I hadn’t planned on that DID happen”, Swift wrote in a post before announcing her surprise eighth studio album Folklore, which absolutely no one expected.

Announced less than 24 hours before its release, Folklore sees swift letting go of her earlier glossy pop sound to a more stripped-down, honest, and acoustic aesthetic that combines folk music, indie, and chamber pop. The album’s concept radiates cottage core elements with the album photos showing her wandering in the woods in greyscale as she dives deep into the woods of escapism. The album went on to win the Album of the Year at the 2020 Grammys.

“The lines between fantasy and reality blur and the boundaries between truth and fiction become almost indiscernible.” “A tale that becomes folklore is one that is passed down and whispered around. Sometimes even sung about…”. “Gossip and legend. Someone’s secrets written in the sky for all to behold. Now it’s up to you to pass them down.” Folklore, at its core, is storytelling.  Stories of fictional characters based on people she met, she hopes to meet and some she wishes she never did.

Taylor Swift has always been a brilliant songwriter and one of the most confessional musicians but Folklore is her most poetic album yet. Rich with imagery, motifs, and themes as well as some literary references, the songs are written from the perspectives of different characters, at different times of their lives.

One of the most interesting motifs and recurring themes in the album is that of the “invisible string” and the “mad woman”. Many have made parallels of the songs with the classic 19th century novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. “Isn’t it just so pretty to think / All along there was some / Invisible string tying you to me,” and, later on: “One single thread of gold / Tied me to you”, Swift sings in the chorus of the song “Invisible String”, describing her life before she met her current beau Joe Alwyn and how the string connected them over the years.

The line echoes the words of Mr. Rochester’s confession to Jane in the novel, “I have a strange feeling with regard to you: as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly knotted to a similar string in you. And if you were to leave, I’m afraid that cord of communion would snap. And then I have a notion that I’d take to bleeding inwardly”.

 Now as much as romantic it sounds; the song is cleverly paired with the track “Mad Woman” which comes next in the queue in Folklore. The idea of “Mad Woman” or “Mad Woman in the attic” used in a lot of 19th-century literature such as The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Turn of the Screw by Henry James, and of course Jane Eyre, where Mr. Rochester’s wife Bertha is kept locked up in a chamber and deemed insane.

The depiction of these “hysterical” women has often been argued as to how women were considered not of sound mind and couldn’t make decisions if they failed to fulfill the patriarchal and domestic ideals set up for them by men. Swift sings in “mad woman”, “What a shame she went mad/ You made her like that”.

Another track “the last great American dynasty”, tells the story of 20th-century socialite Rebekah Harkness (In pic), one of the richest women in American history and the earlier inhabitant of Taylor’s Rohde Island home. Harkness was the gossip of the town and blamed for her husband’s Bill Harkness, the heir to Standard Oil, death and her subsequent decisions garnered scrutiny from tabloids and became infamous for not fitting in. “She was a woman who was very, very talked-about, and everything she did was scandalous. I found a connection in that” Taylor said on her inspiration behind the song. 

These tracks on Folklore present the stories of how women from past and present times are discredited for their work how it affects their perception both by the women themselves and the society. Taylor Swift’s life had always been given unfavorable press coverage and her public conflict with first Kanye West and then Scooter Braun as they took credit for her works highlight her themes of songs. Folklore carries some of the best songs Swift has ever worked upon and its poetic nature and ambiguity leave much food for thought as well as listening delight.

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Written By: Aakriti Bhandari

Editor and Team Lead: Ashutosh Sharma

Sources for the article:





About The Author(s)

Chemistry major with self-proclaimed good taste in Books and Music.

Aakriti Bhandari photo
Aakriti Bhandari
Part time literature major and a full time K-pop enthusiast.
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