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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

Never miss a thing!

It’ll be fascinating to see what kind of art flows from this strange year. But Taylor Swift’s surprise eighth album Folklore – released last week to five-star reviews – could be one of the first, significant contributions.

Though it’s not about the pandemic, it’s emerged assuredly from within it – without the usual pressure of having to write songs to fill a stadium tour imminently. Duly liberated, Swift has created a collection of quietly powerful, stripped back songs, signalling a shift in style and a deepening of artistry.

The sound is spacious, mesmerising, and it comes with a sharpening way with words: ‘If I’m dead to you, why are you at my wake?’ she asks in ‘My Tears Ricochet’.

It’s her story-telling that helps to set her apart. ‘The Last Great American Dynasty’ is a tribute to the eccentric heiress Rebekah Harkness, whose lavish parties drew flak. Swift helps you to empathise with someone you might never, otherwise, have dared (or bothered) to. That’s a gift.

Three songs, ‘Cardigan’, ‘August’, and ‘Betty’ tell the story of a teenage summer love triangle, from the perspective of each character… and it’s moving to hear the awkwardness of James, learning to say sorry to the girl he’s betrayed.

I hope my 16-year-old son listens, with care. I hope my 15-year-old daughter draws deep from the emotional honesty of a creative woman, as she sings along. And I’m so glad my 10-year-old girl has recently picked up a guitar, all because of Swift. Influence comes in many ways.

Me? I’m grateful there’s an artist we can agree on, as a family. But I’ve felt especially touched by ‘Epiphany’, which is a direct reference to the pandemic, albeit that it starts with her wounded grandfather in World War Two, and the shock of that confusing time…

We jump to today, and ‘to something med school / did not cover / Someone’s daughter, someone’s mother / Holds your hands through plastic now’ as a nurse on the new frontline tries to snatch 20 minutes’ sleep between shifts.

‘You dream of some epiphany’, she sings, so movingly: ‘Just one single glimpse of relief / To make sense of what you’ve seen.’

She doesn’t mention God, but the best art often doesn’t have to. For me, it’s an unresolved psalm. And listening now, I’ve goose-bumps. It evokes our time, painfully, gorgeously: this struggle to breathe, to sleep; this standing alongside; this hoping, praying.

Brian Draper
For details about Brian’s work, visit www.briandraper.org


Brian Draper

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