So, maybe you were never into Taylor Swift. But you were intrigued by Folklore, and somehow it’s become your quarantine soundtrack.
Would you like the rest of her discography? Where should you begin?
Folklore is an album of stories, of (as Swift’s liner notes explain) “fantasy, history and memory,” crafted with some of her finest lyrics to date. But Swift has been writing fine songs for a long time.
If you haven’t ventured far into her albums, and if you’ve only heard the biggest radio hits, consider this a crash course on what to listen to from Swift’s back catalog. The “deep cut” definition here is a little liberal: They’re all older Swift selects, but one or two suggestions that made this list were singles, at some point. It’s worth listening to them for the first time, or again, post-Folklore.
If You Like “The 1,” Listen to “Holy Ground”
Trade the rosé for a cup of joe and look back fondly on that one young love you’ve probably over-romanticized with this track off Red. If you’re partial to the serene vibe of Swift’s Folklore opener, her upgraded 2019 performance for BBC’s Radio 1 Live Lounge is the version of “Holy Ground” you’ll want to play first. Without the album recording’s pop-rock pulsing drum beat, it’s driven purely by her wistful lyrical flow.
If You Like “Cardigan,” Listen to “Cornelia Street”
Like “Cardigan,” “Cornelia Street” is grounded in very specific vignettes of a relationship, where high heels on cobblestone (and the High Line) make way for bare feet in the kitchen (on a West Village street). The songs are both reminiscent and heart-wrenching, in their own way. If you’ve shed a tear or two listening to the Folklore track, brace yourself for the bridge of this Lover highlight, where she doesn’t lose the guy — but her fear of losing him is almost as hard.
If You Like “The Last Great American Dynasty,” Listen to “Starlight”
“The Last Great American Dynasty” is Swift storytelling at its best, intertwining the history of socialite Rebekah Harkness with her own history: She’s the one who inevitably bought Harkness’ salt box house on Rhode Island’s southern coast. Years earlier, for Red, Swift penned “Starlight,” a tale of young love in the 1940s on the New England boardwalk, inspired by an old photograph of Robert and Ethel Kennedy — a tune that also happens to be anchored by a “marvelous” lyric.
If You Like “Exile,” Listen to “Out of the Woods”
Swift has a handful of duets in her archives, but none quite compare to the emotive, Bon Iver-assisted “Exile.” If you’re moved by their work, you might also have feelings for 1989’s “Out of the Woods,” where Swift was walking a fine line trying to fix things in a fragile love affair. Dig up her excellent Grammy Museum performance from 2015 to get to the roots of it.
If You Like “My Tears Ricochet,” Listen to “All Too Well”
“All Too Well” and “My Tears Ricochet” are both track five on their respective albums (Red and Folklore), and they’re also both violently, and viscerally, emotional. If you like a song that sets a scene, you’ll respect how “All Too Well” plays out like a movie: the crisp autumn air on that road trip, mom bringing out the photo albums with stories about their past (“thinking your future is me”), nighttime waltzes by the glow of the refrigerator and the life of that storied scarf. The original should not to be missed, but Swift’s startling performance at the 2014 Grammys might make you feel like she did when writing the song.
If You Like “Mirrorball,” Listen to “…So It Goes”
In a way, Swift seems to play the enchantress in both the shimmery “Mirrorball” and Reputation’s sultry “…So It Goes.” Lyrically, these songs present a sense of illusion, and an overwhelming feeling of being caught up in a moment — in a bar, or out on the dancefloor. “When I get you alone, it’s so simple,” she sings.
If You Like “Seven,” Listen to “Safe & Sound”
“Safe & Sound,” Swift’s selection from 2012’s The Hunger Games soundtrack featuring the Civil Wars, was a precursor for the protective, folky feel of “Seven,” where she sings, “I think you should come live with me/ And we can be pirates/ Then you won’t have to cry/ Or hide in the closet.” On “Safe & Sound,” she promises, “You’ll be all right/ No one can hurt you now/ Come morning light/ You and I’ll be safe and sound” — and its music video even has the haunting, cabin-in-the-woods vibe of Folklore.
If You Like “August,” Listen to “Cruel Summer”
Is Folklore’s “August” actually the Cruel Summer from this Lover standout? If you’re into that hazy, hot, haunting summer affair — “said, ‘I’m fine,’ but it wasn’t true” — you’ll want to give them both a play. Listen to them back-to-back: Meetings behind the mall roll into the waves of sneaking through garden gates.
If You Like “This Is Me Trying,” Listen to “The Archer”
“The Archer,” another Lover track, has a few things in common with “This Is Me Trying.” They’re both pretty distinctly Jack Antonoff productions, they both feel like interludes (with abrupt endings that come before you’re ready for them to be over) and they’re both strikingly self-aware.
If You Like “Illicit Affairs,” Listen to “Dancing With Our Hands Tied”
There’s an earnestness about “Dancing With Our Hands” tied that’s echoed in “Illicit Affairs,” about the heaviness of loving someone in secret — whether that works out in the end or not. Swift’s live, acoustic take of this gem from Reputation, which she brought to the stage on her stadium tour in support of the album, is especially good.
If You Like “Invisible String,” Listen to “It’s Nice to Have a Friend”
Everything happens for a reason in these Lover and Folklore tales. These warm Swift stories — one about someone who’s been there all along, and another about someone you’ve always been tied to, even though it took time for all the good things to fall into place — will make you feel like it all will work out the way it’s supposed to in the end. “Isn’t it just so pretty to think?”
If You Like “Mad Woman,” Listen to “Dear John”
The Mad Woman speaks. “Dear John” has one of the most scathing one-liners of Swift’s career: “Don’t you think 19’s too young to be played by your dark, twisted games?” The Speak Now ballad sounds nothing like “Mad Woman,” but there’s a fury about it that fans of the writing behind the Folklore song might welcome. The subject of “Dear John” may very well have been one in a long line of those to “poke that bear ’til her claws come out.”
If You Like “Epiphany,” Listen to “Soon You’ll Get Better”
“Some things you just can’t speak about,” Swift sings in “Epiphany.” In the deeply personal and beautiful “Soon You’ll Get Better,” she takes 3 minutes and 21 seconds to speak of the things that are so hard to say out loud as she, in desperation, prays for good health. The Lover song has a lyric that is eerily applicable to the pandemic-era Folklore song: “This won’t go back to normal, if it ever was.” Swift performed it live only once, from home, for the One World: Together at Home virtual concert that raised funds for healthcare workers in their fight against the coronavirus.
If You Like “Betty,” Listen to “Fifteen”
The plucky “Betty” is probably more country than “Fifteen,” a single that was actually released to country radio back in 2009 — so if you’re not so sure you’ll be able to get into Swift’s “country” days, sit back and give this one a try. If you can relate to the teenage perspective of “Betty,” hear out this high school freshman pouring out some pure Fearless feelings. It’s especially emotional when it’s live and fans who’ve been right there with her are belting out the words, too. (Does Betty give James another chance? Well, keep in mind: “When you’re 15 and somebody tells you they love you, you’re gonna believe them.”)
If You Like “Peace,” Listen to “Afterglow”
The lyrics of “Peace” and “Afterglow” share a maturity that comes with time: “Our coming-of-age has come and gone,” Swift sings on her Folklore admission. If the content of “Peace” appeals to you, so might that of the Lover song, both of which have her weathering the storms. On “Peace,” she’s honest about those unsettling feelings that can remain in a longterm relationship, and on “Afterglow,” she’s figuring out how to apologize when she’s wrong.
If You Like “Hoax,” Listen to “False God”
Does the “blind faith” of “False God” lead the way for the “faithless love” of “Hoax”? Fans of the dark (and slightly jarring) Folklore closer that’s been described as a “bookend” for the album might find something to like about the big mood of this Lover track.
If You Like “The Lakes,” Listen to “You Are in Love”
There’s beauty in the bonus track. Folklore’s poetic “The Lakes” and 1989’s “You Are in Love” each put into words love that’s as pretty as a picture, the kind that has no place for the noise from the outside world. “You understand now why they lost their minds and fought the wars/ And why I’ve spent my whole life trying to put it into words,” Swift sings.