Last year, we used our AI to chart Taylor Swift’s music journey from a Country singer to a Pop star. Her recent albums 1989, Reputation and Lover were tagged as Pop and Electronic with elements of Hip-Hop and R&B splashed throughout.
So when Taylor dropped her latest album, folklore, in July, everyone was caught by surprise. Not only was it released without any pre-release promotion, it represented yet again a new direction in terms of sound. The album has been lauded on Rolling Stone as a “total goth-folk album” with “no pop songs at all”. On Pitchfork and in TIME Magazine, it’s been categorised as an “indie album” and this tends to be the general mindshare regarding her new album.
My first impressions are similar – the overall feel of the album sounds somber, nostalgic and I can definitely hear the Indie sound everyone is talking about. But one of my concerns is, do I come at this with listener bias? Am I swayed by common beliefs? Is this really Indie, or is it Indie for Taylor?
For starters, when we examine the moods in this album, I’d say the tags generated by our AI are all within expectations - romantic, relaxed and sad, which sway more to the negative of the emotional spectrum.
The album could be seen as a reflection of Taylor herself. Given that she wrote it in isolation, it’s hardly a surprise:
However it’s the examination of the genres when things get interesting. Although the general belief is that Taylor Swift has produced an Indie album, our AI - trained by listening to millions of tracks and can “listen” for anywhere up to 1,500 datapoints per track - has largely categorized the album as Pop, with elements of Contemporary Pop.
There are a handful of tracks such as illicit affairs and exile that are tagged as Folk, but the prevalence of Indie isn’t as strong as critics of the album have made out. In fact, this is me trying is the only track tagged primarily as Indie. According to our AI, around 30% of the tracks on the album are identified as having some elements of Indie.
So is folklore really an Indie album? Our AI doesn’t seem to think so - and it listens without bias. It doesn’t know who Taylor Swift is, what she has produced before, or how her sound has evolved. It listens to every single track as a piece of audio in its own right and compares it to the millions of tracks it has listened to in the past. It recognizes that this album is Pop and Contemporary Pop, with elements of Folk, Indie and Electro Pop.
Taylor Swift might not be in the same lane as Bon Iver or Kurt Vile, but she continues to expand her title as a Pop princess who takes inspiration from many influences and genre styles.
There is one thing however, that we can all agree on – it’s a brilliantly produced album that reflects yet another development in the ever-evolving sound of Taylor Swift’s musical journey.