The Fatherly Turntable

Remember When Taylor Swift Made A Dad Rock Album?

Taylor Swift will never stop dropping records that make a bajillion dollars. But, for dad rock apologists, it’s still Folklore all the way.

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There’s a new Taylor Swift album out called Midnights, but for people of a certain age, the goal is to keep knowledge about Swiftie-online discourse on a need-to-know basis only. And for that demographic of indie rock parents who love vinyl (probably dads who fit the stereotypes of this brilliant Mcsweeney’s article), there’s only one Taylor album: Folklore.

Midnights seems fine, but it feels like the same old Taylor who was being “22” and sort of depressed at a party, in a way that feels glamorous and fundamentally not relatable to anyone over 35. Taylor Swift has no obligation to be relatable to anyone who is “old,” by the way. But two years later, it’s shocking that for a brief moment, Taylor was relevant to dads who love craft beer and vinyl reissues of obscure albums from the National. Basically, the kids can have Red and Midnights, but the over-35 with kids crowd will still love that album where she was singing about buying a house. Let’s reminisce about Folklore, shall we, fellow olds?

“I had a marvelous time, moving in everything,” Taylor sang in the catchy outro of “the last great american dynasty.” 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 still listen to this album while mowing the lawn, 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 was clearly trying to make a Folk album with Folklore or something that resembled 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 of Folklore 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, Folklore was a Taylor Swift album where Swift admitted to fans of Dad Rock that she loves The National and Bon Iver so much that she straight-up collaborated with them during quarantine. It was not the edgiest thing Taylor Swift had 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 and my daughter is now five) then Folkore is the only album for you.

Ever since roughly 2014, I’ve been of the opinion that Taylor Swift was specifically making music for people who were not me. The 2022 release of Midnights reinforces that belief. As a 41-year-old father who went to see The National live in concert this summer, stood in the back with another dad friend for the two-thirds of the show and left before the encore so we could have a quieter beer, I think it’s healthy I don’t “get” Taylor Swift.

I’ve always directly attributed the fact that Taylor Swift gets more and more popular to the fact that I’m aging. I know other people in their late 30s to late 40s get me here. It’s like Taylor Swift singing a 10-minute song about a scarf is something written by aliens. Even 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, which Oasis brother was having the better comeback. (Which, honestly, is probably Liam at this point.)

Taylor Swift in 2022, in Nashville.

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Anyway, the point is, dad rock folks (of all genders) have tried to understand Taylor for over a decade now. For this demographic, Midnights will continue to seem like sounds from another dimension. It’s not for us. This only makes the existence of Folkore and its less-than-perfect sequel, Evermore, like rapidly receding nostalgia. For a brief moment, it seemed like Taylor Swift was getting old, along with the rest of us. Folkore was like an album-length sequel to the Iron & Wine song “The Trapeze Swinger,” and at that moment the olds felt seen. But then we blinked, and the moment was gone.

Perhaps the lockdowns of 2020 were a great equalizer in terms of generational divides. For a second, Folklore and Evermore felt like a ceasefire between Gen-Z and everyone else. Now, Midnights is here, and everything seems more or less how it was in 2014. This is fine, of course. We’re old and we’re supposed to feel old. It’s how it goes. Swift has to do her thing. And yet, hope springs eternal, that one day, she might remember the brief moment where she ruled not only the hearts of her most devoted stans but the bewildered dad rock fans, watching from the sidelines.

You can still get Folklore on vinyl. It’s awesome.

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