• Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The definitive ranking of Taylor Swift's 'Folklore' songs, one year after the album's surprise release

·21 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
taylor swift folklore album cover
Taylor Swift's "Folklore" album cover was photographed by Beth Garrabrant. Taylor Swift/Republic Records

17. "The Last Great American Dynasty"

rebekah harkness watch hill RI
Rebekah Harkness dancing at her estate in Watch Hill, Rhode Island in 1964. Jack Mitchell/Getty Images

Ahlgrim: "The Last Great American Dynasty" was delightful upon first listen, but lost a chunk of magic with each revisit. Around my sixth or seventh run through "Folklore," I began to habitually skip it.

One year ago, I'll admit I was charmed by the song's hilarious details (a pool full of champagne; a dog dyed key-lime green), its linguistic connection to "Mad Woman," and the bridge's cheeky twist. The songwriting is actually quite delicious.

However, that's true of every song on "Folklore," so it's kind of moot. And there are only so many times I can listen to a wealthy white woman praise another wealthy white woman and bask in their shared symbol of vast wealth.

Did you have a marvelous time, Taylor? Did you drink marvelous shooters, and listen to marvelous music, and then just sit around and soak up each other's marvelousness?

Larocca: Before you come for us for putting "The Last Great American Dynasty" last, first consider that something had to be in this position — and when it comes down to it, there are only so many times it can be played before it feels as if you're politely listening to someone rehash the same tired story you've heard them tell before.

Now, is the story good? Of course. This song is an exemplary display of Swift's songwriting prowess: it's brimming with winking details and crystal-clear imagery that transports you right to the singer's front lawn in Watch Hill, Rhode Island.

But since the shine wore off, I no longer find myself itching to take the same sonic walkthrough of a multimillionaire's mansion over and over again.

16. "Epiphany"

taylor swift folklore
"Epiphany" is the 13th track on "Folklore." Beth Garrabrant

Ahlgrim: In our first-listen review, we filed "Epiphany" under "background music." Despite countless tweets urging me to reconsider this opinion, I stand by it. The song is conceptually fascinating and practically dull.

Larocca: Had we made this ranking when the album came out, "Epiphany" would have been dead last. But it slowly eclipsed "The Last Great American Dynasty" as it transforms for the better with repeated listens whereas the other track loses its edge.

"Epiphany" is the artsiest Swift has ever ventured with her music. This Enya-inspired atmospheric track explores themes of loss, tying an invisible string directly from the experiences of war to that of a medical worker in a global pandemic.

It's not the type of song that bodes well for casual listeners, or anyone looking to find Easter eggs about Swift's life. But if you step back and take it all in, listening to "Epiphany" is like gazing at a portrait in a museum. It takes a moment for your brain to make some sense of what you've seen.

After a while, new colors, details, and textures emerge to paint this glorious landscape.

15. "Mad Woman"

taylor swift folklore mad woman
"Mad Woman" is the 12th track on "Folklore." Taylor Swift/YouTube

Ahlgrim: Interestingly, I thought "Mad Woman" was one of the best cuts on "Folklore" when I first heard it. But while I will always appreciate Taylor Alison Swift snarling "f--- you forever," I do believe the song's initial shock value was stronger than its core gravity.

Witch hunts, self-fulfilling sexist prophecies, female betrayal, the loss of innocence — this is well-worn terrain in Swift's discography. "Mad Woman" is a thrilling entry in that canon, but one of the least creative or thematically unique songs in this particular tracklist.

Larocca: I stand by what I wrote of "Mad Woman" in our review. But I haven't developed any additional take on this song in the 365 days since to justify it being any higher on this ranking.

Actually, that's a lie — I have come to view "Mad Woman" as the track that lets me know the killer six-song run from "Mirrorball" to "Invisible String" has ended and I need to start it again.

14. "Exile" (featuring Bon Iver)

taylor swift cardigan music video
"Exile" is the fourth track on "Folklore." Taylor Swift/YouTube

Ahlgrim: "Exile" is haunting and masterfully constructed. It starts with a classic "he said, she said" story, each side told separately, but slowly collapses into conflict — what essentially sounds like a run-in between exes who still can't hear each other.

What's weird is how peaceful and elegant they still sound in dissent. Bon Iver's voice blends handsomely with Swift's, but I almost wish they were less harmonic. There's no real tension.

The instruments build dramatically towards the end, promising a crescendo or catharsis, but the song never quite gets there. It leaves me wanting more. Maybe that was on purpose — maybe these characters will be forever suspended in yearning, always wanting more from each other.

Larocca: This is where ranking these songs starts to get tough for me. I know multiple people who would label "Exile" among their top three on "Folklore" and I almost feel like I'm letting them down by putting it at No. 14. Almost. (Sorry, mom.)

The gentleness of Swift's voice balances the husk in Justin Vernon's beautifully. There's a quiet push-and-pull between them reminiscent of a tide's relentless ebb and flow on the coastline.

But that's all it is: a sleepy back-and-forth between two ill-fated lovers as they fight against the gravitational pull that put them into motion in the first place. With no hope of climax or resolution, "Exile" has nowhere else to go.

13. "Hoax"

taylor swift cardigan music video
"Hoax" is the 16th track on "Folklore." Taylor Swift/YouTube

Ahlgrim: Pretty much every line in "Hoax" is beautiful and devastating. I still don't really get how it's not a true story. I know Swift and Joe Alwyn didn't break up, but this song had me terrified. It's so damn convincing.

However, I must admit that now we have "The Lakes" as the album's true closer, there is a part of my brain that treats "Hoax" like an extended interlude — a stopover of sorts, between the story's emotional climax and conclusion.

Like, sorry about this, but "Peace" is when Harry Potter kills Voldemort, and "The Lakes" is the epilogue. Some cool and important stuff happens in between, but that's not what you think of right away.

Larocca: I used to believe "Hoax" had little to offer, especially since "The Lakes" swooped in as the new closing track.

However, that changed when the phrase "My broken drum / You have beaten my heart" tattooed itself across the forefront of my mind for so many days that it led to my own sleepless night as I scribbled down percussion-themed imagery into a "Hoax"-esque poem of my own.

That's the beauty of Swift's lyricism: Even when you feel you've figured a song out, you find a new shade of blue tucked in between the bridge and the outro.

"Hoax" is sad and subtle. It's sneakily brilliant. It's still not the best song on this album.

12. "Betty"

taylor swift betty acm awards
Taylor Swift performing "Betty" at the 2020 ACM Awards. Taylor Swift/YouTube

Ahlgrim: "Betty" is just so charming. It's so fun. That's really my whole opinion about it. I love it. It's certainly not the most clever or enthralling song on the album, but it's adorable.

Though I maintain that it would've been better if the characters were explicitly gay.

Larocca: Despite being part of the album's love triangle storyline, this Bob Dylan-inspired ditty sticks out as the least "Folklore"-y of all the "Folklore" songs — made all the more apparent when nestled between the more subdued "Epiphany" and "Peace."

The majority of the song gets by on being cute, but it does have a great payoff after narrator James shows up at Betty's party to ask "Will you have me? / Will you love me? / Will you kiss me on the porch / In front of all your stupid friends?"

I can't help wanting to scream the lines "Standing in your cardigan / Kissin' in my car again / Stopped at a streetlight / You know I miss you" every time I hear them. The little nod to "Cardigan" just does it for me.

11. "Illicit Affairs"

taylor swift folklore illicit affairs
"Illicit Affairs" is the 10th track on "Folklore." Taylor Swift/YouTube

Ahlgrim: "Illicit Affairs" is not one of my most-played songs on "Folklore," but it rarely fails to give me chills. It has one of those classic Swiftian bridges that I'll never be able to shake: "Don't call me 'kid,' don't call me 'baby' / Look at this godforsaken mess that you made me" is one of the most hardcore couplets Swift has ever written.

Larocca: "Illicit Affairs" often gets overlooked in the discussion around "Folklore" because, even though it's only barely the shortest track, it has a blink-and-you'll-miss-it quality to it.

There isn't a traditional build-up — instead, Swift pulls you in with repetition on lyrics like "it dies, and it dies, and it dies a million little times" or pitch changes at the end of lines like "that you picked out just for him" and "a dwindling mercurial high" before releasing you back to your reverie.

But suddenly then you're screaming "Don't call me 'kid,' don't call me 'baby' / Look at this godforsaken mess that you made me" without even knowing when you began to unravel.

10. "The Lakes"

taylor swift folklore the lakes
"The Lakes" is the 17th bonus track on the deluxe version of "Folklore." Taylor Swift/YouTube

Ahlgrim: "The Lakes" is a dream for people like me, afflicted with Melodramatic Main Character Syndrome.

I, too, want auroras and sad prose. I, too, would like to bathe in cliffside pools and contemplate how mankind was set adrift in an absurd world. With my calamitous love! And insurmountable grief! These lyrics are trying to kill me!

Larocca: "The Lakes" is so poetic that I sometimes feel unworthy of hearing Swift croon "Is it romantic how all my elegies eulogize me?" And yet, I would be filled with insurmountable grief if anyone tried to fix the Matrix glitch that brought the 21st century its very own Lake Poet.

The only critique I can give this song is I genuinely wish Swift didn't bring smartphone imagery into the narrative. "I'm not cut out for all these cynical clones / These hunters with cell phones" and "A red rose grew up out of ice frozen ground / With no one around to tweet it" cast an embarrassing cloud over this otherwise remarkable song.

9. "My Tears Ricochet"

taylor swift folklore my tears ricochet
"My Tears Ricochet" is the fifth track on "Folklore." Taylor Swift/YouTube

Ahlgrim: I'm still awed by the sheer finesse of this metaphor.

Only Swift could stitch together a classic breakup narrative, an imagined tale of a woman's nemesis at her funeral, and real details of her fallout with Big Machine Records — without making it sound clumsy or overwrought. In fact, it's quite the opposite.

The title alone is a gorgeous, evocative phrase that very few songwriters would dare build into a song.

Larocca: Upon its release, I predicted "My Tears Ricochet" would "age like a fine wine." So far, it has — and was made all the more delicious by its "Long Pond Studio Sessions" version.

I remain in awe of Swift's ability to bake a word like "ricochet" into her lyricisim so effortlessly, but every line here has presented itself as a stroke of poetic genius — especially, "And I can go anywhere I want / Anywhere I want, just not home / And you can aim for my heart, go for blood / But you would still miss me in your bones."

The line "You know I didn't want to have to haunt you" also gets stuck in my head from time to time, as if I'm being personally haunted by it.

8. "Seven"

taylor swift as a child
"Seven" is the seventh track on "Folklore." Taylor Swift/YouTube

Ahlgrim: "Seven" might be Swift's best vocal performance on the album. She immediately launches into a whispery high register that's both innocent and somewhat spooky, simultaneously warm and melancholic. It sounds like a spell.

Swift's delivery also perfectly compliments the song's nostalgic premise — particularly the blunt, naive brilliance of its best set of lyrics: "And I've been meaning to tell you / I think your house is haunted / Your dad is always mad and that must be why."

Larocca: Every moment of "Seven" is pure magic: the serene sway of the melody; the ease in Swift's voice as it glides over the backing piano; the scansion of "Sweet tea in the summer / Cross my heart, won't tell no other;" the sneaky double entendre that presents itself when "I hit my peak at seven feet" is split into two separate breaths.

It has everything you could ever want in a song, and yet it's only No. 8 on this list because it has seven more mature older sisters to compete with.

7. "Cardigan"

taylor swift cardigan music video
"Cardigan" was released as the lead single for "Folklore." Taylor Swift/YouTube

Ahlgrim: I may have been traumatized by Swift's previous string of lead singles ("Shake It Off," "Look What You Made Me Do," "Me!") because I think I was subconsciously scared to love "Cardigan." For too long, I failed to realize how it's one of the album's most expressive, enchanting moments.

"Cardigan" has sneakily become one of my most-played songs in Swift's discography. It feels cozy and well-worn, like your favorite movie or a recurring dream — or, indeed, like an old cardigan. It also boasts one of Swift's best couplets to date: "Leaving like a father / Running like water."

Larocca: If Swift is Ivan Pavlov, I am her dog that's been classically conditioned to believe her lead singles will be among the weakest tracks on their respective albums. This is so ingrained in me at this point that I still can't get into the original production of "Cardigan."

Thankfully, she cast the song in a soft glow when she recorded the "Long Pond Studio Sessions." I've had that version on heavy rotation in the past few months.

The stripped-back production allows for the songwriting to take center stage — and the lyrics on "Cardigan" are Elite with a capital "E." Especially the bridge: "But I knew you'd linger like a tattoo kiss / I knew you'd haunt all of my what-ifs / The smell of smoke would hang around this long / 'Cause I knew everything when I was young."

I know Callie beat me to it, but I need to emphasize how ingenious Swift is for packing a cutting observation about unavailable men into a single couplet: "Leavin' like a father / Running like water."

6. "Invisible String"

taylor swift willow music video
"Invisible String" is the 11th track on "Folklore." Taylor Swift/YouTube

Ahlgrim: I'm not saying this is what makes a song great, but "Invisible String" is the normie favorite. This is the one my friends (who do not identify as Swifties) always mention as a "Folklore" standout, the one I put on a playlist for my mom and sing in the car with my sister. It has an undeniable, widespread charm that's not dissimilar to the string Swift describes: a magical, connective force.

Larocca: I'm going to let my initial review stand on this one: "'Invisible String' is a rosy, wide-eyed ode to love. The plucky guitar paired with Swift's soft vocals is a sound I want to live in, which is fitting since this track feels like coming home."

It's just so pretty.

5. "This Is Me Trying"

taylor swift folklore long pond sessions
Taylor Swift discussing "This Is Me Trying" in "Folklore: The Long Pond Sessions." Disney+

Ahlgrim: "This Is Me Trying" has perhaps the sharpest, most absorbing premise on the entire album.

"I've been thinking about addiction, and I've been thinking about people who — if they're either suffering through mental illness or they're suffering through addiction, they have an everyday struggle," Swift explains in "Folklore: The Long Pond Sessions." "No one pats them on the back every day, but every day they are actively fighting something."

As cowriter Jack Antonoff astutely notes, "It's a very isolating feeling, which I think is funny because it actually is the thing that binds all of us. We're all doing our best and feeling like it's not even close to good enough."

He adds: "Not driving off the cliff is an act of trying."

Indeed, "This Is Me Trying" is imbued with intense strokes of empathy, the sonic equivalent of an outstretched hand. By writing from the perspective of a character in crisis, Swift side-stepped the trap of an oversimplified "inspirational" anthem. The song's plot points and details may seem alien on paper — yet its emotional core is palpable, realistically complex, and deeply moving.

Larocca: "This Is Me Trying" is what happens when you turn gifted kid burnout into a song, and as a former gifted kid and current adult dealing with burnout, it stings like alcohol on an open wound. It hurts as it heals. It makes no judgment for the state you're in; all it needs you to understand is "this is me trying."

4. "Mirrorball"

taylor swift folklore long pond
Taylor Swift performing "Mirrorball" in "Folklore: The Long Pond Sessions." Disney+

Ahlgrim: "Mirrorball" is one of the most intimate songs on "Folklore," written by a born entertainer whose life has been treated like spectacle.

The song is exquisite in its simplicity, a sparkly sheen that masks the sadness beneath. Swift promises to glisten and shine, to turn her pain into art, all too aware of her own absurdity.

But celebrities aren't the only jesters, shape-shifters, or try-try-triers, and Swift remains all too aware of that, too. She's not accusatory. Instead of basking in her own fame and self-pity, she creates a space for understanding, a shelter for the ordinary urge to be loved.

Larocca: Swift has spent 15 years offering up her vulnerability for public consumption and she's still trying everything to keep you looking at her.

"Mirrorball" is an intimate assessment of Swift's inate ability to mirror the emotions of anyone who shows up on her dance floor. She'll always be there, shimmering beautifully while breaking into a million pieces.

But the brilliance of "Mirrorball" is it does exactly what it's describing: it offers its listener yet another way to reflect inwardly. Who amongst us hasn't felt like all they do is try, try, try?

3. "Peace"

taylor swift folklore long pond sessions
Taylor Swift discussing "Peace" in "Folklore: The Long Pond Sessions." Disney+

Ahlgrim: "Peace" is a deeply special song, exploring love from the perspective of someone who's hard to love — or, at least, someone who feels like they're hard to love. It's desperation, it's madness, it's a small fire in a cave while a storm rages outside.

It's also the natural progression of "Delicate," one of Swift's god-tier songs. She started by whispering to her lover in a dive bar, terrified to scare him away: "Is it cool that I said all that?" Now, she knows he doesn't scare so easily, but the stakes are higher: "Would it be enough if I could never give you peace?"

These are deceptively simple questions, alive with love and terror. Most people would never have the strength to ask in private, let alone share these intimacies with the world — but Swift is not most people.

Larocca: If Peace isn't in your personal top three, I'd bet money that you're an earth or water sign, or mentally well. I am neither.

Let me explain: for those of us who like astrology, it perfectly encapsulates the chaotic anxiousness air and fire signs exude in their relationships. This isn't even a reach; Swift contrasts her Sagittarian energy throughout the song with that of her Pisces-born boyfriend Joe Alwyn. ("But I'm a fire, and I'll keep your brittle heart warm / If your cascade ocean wave blues come.")

And for those of us who have ever suffered from a mental illness, it nails the fear that someone you love won't be able to handle your ups and downs once your coming-of-age has come and gone.

But it's the juxtaposition of these feelings of anxiety with Aaron Dessner's serene backing instrumentals that makes "Peace" truly ascend to its level of greatness. This contrast simulates a partner calming you down from a panic attack, reassuring you that you don't need to give them peace to be enough.

1. "August" (TIE)

taylor swift grammys
Taylor Swift performing "August" at the 2021 Grammy Awards. TAS Rights Management 2021 via Getty Images

Ahlgrim: I have written extensively about my feelings for "August," so allow me to simply paraphrase them here: This song is a masterpiece. No notes.

Larocca: Callie and I didn't have to debate much when it came to this ranking — we even had the same top two, just in different orders. After a year of trying to convince each other, we decided neither one of us was going to concede and we went with a tie.

And it works, because I've come to view "August" as a sort of precursor to our other No. 1 pick. "August" succinctly sums up the feeling of reflecting on the one who got away, especially if "The 1" wasn't someone who was ever really yours to lose.

I guarantee after the song ends, the lines "Back when we were still changin' for the better / Wanting was enough / For me, it was enough / To live for the hope of it all" will linger on your skin like a fading suntan in September.

When it comes to a perfect song, you'll never need anything more.

1. "The 1" (TIE)

taylor swift cardigan 2
"The 1" is the opening track on "Folklore." Taylor Swift/YouTube

Ahlgrim: We simply wouldn't allow ourselves to pick between "August" and "The 1," two of the best songs in Swift's discography and, honestly, in history. It's called self-care.

However, "The 1" is powerful in a very different way than "August." While the latter lives in the clouds, an abstract palace of yearning, "The 1" is grounded and tactile.

The song's power lies in its delicate one-liners that evoke moments of longing, regret, and insecurity. "But we were something, don't you think so?" is the kind of thing you'd type at 3 a.m., your finger hovering over the "send" button, only to delete it moments later.

By singing such moments into existence, Swift helps us feel less alone.

Larocca: In the past year, I found out Spotify considers the same songs from different iterations of an album as separate tracks. I learned this because I have listened to "The 1" so many times off both the standard and deluxe versions of "Folklore" that it now ranks at No. 1 and No. 3 on my list of most-listened-to tracks of all time. (Sandwiched between them is "August.")

But don't get me wrong — I'm not embarrassed by this stat. It speaks to just how deeply this song has burrowed into my psyche over the past 12 months. My Spotify Wrapped showed it happened quickly too; I hit my 100th listen within six days of its release. It's one of the greatest songs I've ever heard.

I can't even begin to list the ways "The 1" has emotionally scarred, and healed, and scarred me again for life. Every listen presents a new way for a different line to pierce a dagger through my heart.

The second I hear those very first piano notes, I'm transported to an imaginary bus stop or my college dorm room; three blocks from my apartment, or a dark movie theater playing trailers before the main event. Anywhere I've ever felt like a ghost or a shell, deeply entrenched in thought about what could've been if one thing had been different.

I don't have the space to dissect every verse, so I'll just highlight one that breaks my soul in two every time: "I have this dream you're doing cool s--- / Having adventures on your own / You meet some woman on the internet and take her home."

Read the original article on Insider