Taylor Swift's New Album Is Not-So Secretly Dad Rock

Ryan Britt

My knowledge of the online discourse surrounding Taylor Swift’s new album, Folklore is slim, and frankly, I want to keep it that way. While I’m vaguely aware that hardcore Taylor fans (apparently named Swifties?) have divined some kind of secret narrative that may or may not involve an LBGTQ love triangle (good for them!), what stuck out to me is that the third song on the album — “the last great American dynasty” — sounds like it’s about Taylor Swift buying a house.

“I had a marvelous time, moving in everything,” she sings in the catchy outro. Which honestly, okay, Taylor Swift, we’re gonna do songs about unpacking boxes in new houses away from the big city? You have my attention. I can’t prove that Swift made a Dad Rock album on purpose, but considering I listened to this whole thing while mowing the lawn this morning, I think that scientifically proves Folklore is a Dad Rock album.

On the fourth track, “exile,” Swift reaches back to 2007 and reminds us of the days when dudes like me were making meticulous playlists on the click-wheel first-generation iPods, where we had to be careful to not just have everything on those playlists be Outkast, the Strokes or Bon Iver. On “exile,” Bon Iver himself duets with Swift in a song that feels like it would fit perfectly on a She & Him record, or that one Pete Yorn and Scarlett Johansson album that I listen to sometimes and mistakenly think it is She & Him, because I got it on LimeWire, I think?

Look, Swift is clearly trying to make a Folk album here, or something that resembles a chilled-out version of a Folk album after it’s been run through the sieve of Taylor Swift’s pop aesthetics. Calling it Dad Rock isn’t fair, because the genre probably doesn’t exist and the guy who coined the term wishes he’d never said it. But, the problem is, with tracks like “my tears ricochet” I can honestly imagine it as a song on an album from The National instead of a Taylor Swift album. And…that makes sense because all 11 tracks were co-written by freaking Aaron Dessner, a guy who is in The National and co-writes their songs with singer Matt Berninger.

Okay, so shit, this Taylor Swift album is basically like Swift admitting to fans of Dad Rock that she loves The National and Bon Iver so much that she straight-up collaborated with them during quarantine? This is not the edgiest thing Taylor Swift has done by a lightyear, but if you’re the kind of person who plays The National’s “Looking For Astronauts” for your three-year-old toddler (hi, it’s me again) this Taylor Swift album feels like it was made for you.

It’s a bewildering feeling, to be honest because ever since roughly 2014, I’ve been of the opinion that Taylor Swift was specifically making music for people who were not me. I’ve never had a problem with this because as a soon-to-be 39-year-old father who loves jamming out to The National while reading old Kurt Vonnegut paperbacks, I figured it was good and healthy that I didn’t “get” Taylor Swift.

I’ll just say it. Up until this moment, I’ve never understood why Taylor Swift was as popular as she is, and I’ve directly attributed that fact to getting older. In 2014, when I was 33, I think barely understood why people liked “Shake It Off.” I remember people really talking a lot about the album Red in 2012, but you know, I was hanging out in NYC bars that shuttered their doors years ago, debating with people about yes, The National, but also, which Oasis brother was having the better comeback. (It’s always Noel, by the way.)

Anyway, the point is, I haven’t tried to understand Taylor Swift for a long time, but now randomly, she suddenly understands me. Folklore isn’t blowing my mind, but what is blowing my mind is how much I like it. The album is like Taylor Swift covering National songs you’ve never heard because that’s almost literally what it is. But, it’s also like an album-length sequel the Iron & Wine song “The Trapeze Swinger,” and, when you get to track 7 on Folklore (titled “seven”) you’ll see what I mean.

Folklore is out now for digital download on Apple’s iTunes and other online music spots. But, for Dad Rock fans like me, Taylor Swift is releasing limited-edition vinyl LPs starting on July 30. Here’s how to get yours.

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