Released on Friday, the album features 16 tracks that take listeners on a journey from losing the one you love ("The 1") to crying a puddle of tears over them (looking at you, "Exile") to screaming "F**k you, forever" ("Mad Woman"). And while the 30-year-old singer leaves most of her music open to interpretation, it wouldn't be a true Swift album without a few Easter Eggs sprinkled in.
"One thing I did purposely on this album was put the Easter eggs in the lyrics, more than just the videos," Swift said while chatting with fans live ahead of the album's release. "I created character arcs and recurring themes that map out who is singing about who. For example, there's a collection of three songs I refer to as 'The Teenage Love Triangle.' These three songs explore a love triangle from all three people's perspectives at different times in their lives."
While there's been plenty of discussion on social media over which songs and people Swift is actually referring to, the most popular theory is that the three characters are "Betty" (the title of track No. 14), James and Inez. Fans speculate that "Betty" is told from the point of view of James, while "Cardigan" is Betty's song and "August" is from Inez's perspective. And because Swift has such a close connection with Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds, some Swifties are convinced that she based the names off their real-life daughters.
Even more interesting is the fact that Swift's Rhode Island mansion was formerly owned by a woman named Rebekah West Harkness, who went by the name of Betty. Some fans believe "The Last Great American Dynasty" was written about that home, and inspired by the love story of Harkness and her second husband, William.
"There goes the maddest woman this town has ever seen," Swift sings on the track. "She had a marvelous time ruining everything."
Swift shared on Twitter that Folklore is the result of her imagination "running wild" in isolation amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"It started with imagery. Visuals that popped into my mind and piqued my curiosity," she explained. "Pretty soon these images in my head grew faces or names and became characters. I found myself not only writing my own stories, but also writing about or from the perspective of people I've never met, people I've known, or those I wish I hadn't."
"A tale that becomes folklore is one that is passed down and whispered around. Sometimes even sung about. The lines between fantasy and reality blur and the boundaries between truth and fiction become almost indiscernible," she continued. "Picking up a pen was my way of escaping into fantasy, history and memory. I've told these stories to the best of my ability with all the love, wonder and whimsy they deserve. Now it's up to you to pass them down."
Still, that explanation hasn't stopped Swifties from believing that some of the songs still hold personal meaning to the pop star. In "Invisible String," for example, Swift sings, "Cold was the steel of my axe to grind. For the boys who broke my heart, now I send their babies presents." Some believe that's a nod to her ex, Joe Jonas, who is expecting his first child with wife Sophie Turner.
Many fans also argue that Folklore feels like "a breakup album," which got them questioning whether Swift has called it quits with her longtime boyfriend, Joe Alwyn. As of April, the two were still quarantining together, but many of the lyrics on this album seem to share a theme of heartbreak.
On the first track ("The 1"), for example, Swift sings, "And if my wishes came true, it would've been you. In my defense, I have none, for never leaving well enough alone. But it would've been fun, if you would've been the one."
Then, in a track called "Hoax," Swift sings about a partner's "faithless love" being "the only hoax" she believes in.
"My only one, my kingdom come undone. My broken drum, you have beaten my heart," she continues. "Don't want no other shade of blue, but you. No other sadness in the world would do."
"Illicit Affairs" also hits deep with its gritty details of infidelity, and lyrics like, "What started in beautiful rooms ends with meetings in parking lots."
"Why did she have to make the saddest song the best?" one fan asked after hearing it for the first time, with another writing, "OK, but wait, is she trying to tell us someone cheated?!?!?"
As some fans were investigating a potential split, others suggested that their love is actually stronger than ever, and that Alwyn helped Swift co-write the album under the pseudonym of William Bowery. The mysterious name is credited as a songwriter for two songs on Folklore, but when you do a quick Google search for the moniker, no legitimate results seem to pop up.
Paparazzi pics taken in 2016 reveal that Swift and Alwyn were spotted at the Bowery Hotel in New York City toward the start of their romance. On top of that, when fans searched Alwyn's Wikipedia page, they discovered that he is the great-grandson of English composer and musician William Alwyn. Hence, according to their theories, William Bowery is actually Joe Alwyn.