Music Features

What Is Cottagecore and What Does It Have to Do With Taylor Swift's 'folklore'?

Taylor Swift's "folklore" breaks down time, threading personal mythologies with nonlinear storytelling, embedding raw personal emotion into fictional stories.

Taylor Swift Folklore

After months of isolation, Taylor Swift released a surprise album, shifting the world on its axis.

Swift has always been a master of narrative and image, and true to form, folklore is as curated as any Swift album, albeit in completely new way. Though the album has inevitably been branded as too saccharine for navel-gazing folk and indie purists, it seems likely that this album will represent a fork in the road between pre and post-COVID pop.

In the promotional photos, Swift wears soft-looking sweaters and stands in forests, wrapped up in a black and white filter. In the album's first video, "cardigan," she leans over a moss-drenched piano, riding the waves of different elements.

Taylor Swift - cardigan (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com

In the music, Swift does what she does best—she tells stories—but she wraps them up in arrangements as delicate as forest lichen, spinning them in fairy lights and sending them out on the river in little boats. The songs are beautifully complex, both lyrically and musically, but they sound effortless and simple. With production from The National's Aaron Dressner, Jack Antonoff, and an enigmatic figure named William Bowery who may or may not be Joe Alwyn, folklore is an enviably gorgeous departure into a sleepy alternate universe.

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Dixie Chicks Return with First New Music in 14 Years, "Gaslighter"

"Gaslighter" is a return to form for the country trio.

Philippa Price

The Dixie Chicks are back, sharing the lead single from their first album in 14 years.

In 2006, the iconic country trio of Natalie Maines, Emily Robison, and Martie Maguire turned their anger into their biggest hit to date—and they're still not ready to back down. Today, the Dixie Chicks make a welcome return with "Gaslighter," the title track from their forthcoming comeback album.

"Gaslighter" holds no prisoners, spelling out a spouse's habitual lies. In true Chicks fashion, the lyrics lean on real-life occurrences: "We moved to California and we followed your dreams / I believed in the promises you made to me / Swore that night 'til death do us part / But you lie, lie, lie, lie, lied," Maines sings. By the arrival of the chorus, the subtle bluegrassy tune erupts into a full-blown barnburner, with the work of coveted producer Jack Antonoff giving the song a full, layered effect. "You're such a gaslighter / Denier," the band sings in unison. "Repeating all of the mistakes of your father...You're sorry but where's my apology?"

"Gaslighter" is a return to form for one of country's most resilient artists.

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Reigning weird white women Lana Del Rey, Grimes, and Brit Marling sat down to have a conversation for Interview Magazine, and the result was as futuristic and multidimensional as you might expect.

Grimes, who's in the midst of promoting her forthcoming album Miss_Anthropocene, spoke to Del Rey about everything from ancient religions to artificial intelligence and beyond. Their conversation revolved around artmaking, womanhood, and fame in the Internet age; and like their art, it was characteristically inscrutable. When Del Rey asked if Grimes' work was inspired by personal experience or "the overculture," Grimes launched into a discussion of ancient Egyptian gods and anthropomorphization. "If you think about it, god-making or god-designing just seems so fun. The idea of making the Goddess of Plastic seems so fun to me," she said.

Lana Del Rey and Grimes: Variations on Femininity, Faith, and Critics

Though they're both creative spirits who play with religious symbols and cultural iconography, Grimes and Del Rey are known for representing femininity in different ways (and for dating problematic men). While Del Rey has been linked to classic archetypes of femininity, Grimes' early work seemed to present a futuristic, androgynous image. "On my last record, I was in this gender-neutral mindset," Grimes told Del Rey. "I was an asexual person. F*ck my sexuality. F*ck femininity. F*ck being a girl. I was having this weird reaction to society where I just hated my femaleness. It was like, to be a producer, I felt like I had to be a man."

Consequence of Sound

But Grimes' next album seems like it will lean deeper into feminine and goddess archetypes, while Del Rey's latest, Norman F**king Rockwell, found her comparing herself to great male artists and challenging those who labeled her work as artificial.

Both were full of surprises and were critical of the press, which have always viciously criticized each of them in turn. "In terms of what I'm writing, in my personal life I have to be really, really happy," said Del Rey, contradicting thousands of critics in one fell swoop. They also lamented outrage culture, with its tendency to pluck headlines from interviews and its preference for catchy misinformation at the price of nuance.

Timothysacchenti.com

Grimes and Brit Marling: On Politics, Artificial Intelligence's Impending World Domination, Capitalism, and Hyperobjects

In the second part of the interview, Grimes spoke to Brit Marling, another futurist whose recently-canceled show, The OA, presented an alternative mode of storytelling and connected technology to environmentalism to the multiverse theory. Together, the two lamented how their work and visions sometimes wind up being incompatible with reality.

Like their work, their conversations spiraled through various dimensions, though one could only imagine what they'd speak about off the record. "We're always negotiating the cost versus the craziness, which is why we always end up editing ourselves," said Marling, hinting at dimensions left unseen.

Both expressed appreciation for the mind-bending nature of each other's work, and Grimes quickly dove back into history and archetypes. "In the medieval times, when literacy was at its lowest, everything got really symbolic, like the cross. Nuance got lost," said Grimes. "I feel like we're going back to a time like that, where everything is symbolic. No one reads past a headline because our attention spans are so short. The same symbols are being fed to people, and they're gathering completely opposite meanings from them, and it's creating chaos."

Marling pulled things towards the politics of the present. "The American flag means one thing to one group of people, and one thing to another," she said. "To one, it's a metaphor for freedom. To another, it's an image of oppression. That duality of symbolism applies to so many things. But we live in an increasingly complex time where it's hard to grasp things in symbols. We're having to deal with all of these hyperobjects. Climate change is a hyperobject that people cannot wrap their minds around, because, among other things, it involves a contemplation of time that is off the scope of the human body. We're at a moment when we need nuanced, layered thinking more than ever, and somehow the moment is being met with a real shrinking away from context or depth."

Collider

They also discussed artificial intelligence and its impending world domination, a favorite topic of Grimes'. "There will eventually be a sentient technology that is smart enough and strong enough and has access to take everyone's sh*t, and then can make anyone do whatever it wants," said Grimes. "I might be wrong, and I might be aggrandizing here, but I feel like this might be one of the most important times in history. Especially in the last two years, it feels like we've walked right up to the edge between the old world and the new world. It's like before the pyramids and after the pyramids. We're at a 'pyramids got built' moment. We're going to be digitizing reality and colonizing space simultaneously, which may be two of the craziest things that will have occurred in the history of humanity. It's going to happen while we're alive and while we're young, which is nuts."

Marling has previously written about the need for a better story, one that unifies the scattered threads of our era and critiques hero worship, but the idea that artificial intelligence might write this story is definitely a threat to all of this. She replied, "If the objective of art has often been to be a lighthouse in the dark, to say, 'Hey, come this way,' or to expose fraudulent things for what they actually are, what does it mean if something other than human beings is authoring that force of rebellion?" A valid point—though on the other hand, what if artificial intelligence could improve upon some of the flaws that define the human condition, such as our general inability to understand what asexuality actually is?

Grimes returned to a topic she'd addressed with Del Rey. "We're always looking for our maker: 'Who is our god? Who created us?' What's interesting is, for AI, we are their god," she said. "That will be the first intelligent being that knows its creator, and knows everything about us."

Marling proposed that maybe AI isn't our worst fear—maybe something else is already controlling us. "Capitalism, even if there wasn't corruption, is a model that doesn't work for most people, because its only goal is the increase of profit, which means that there's somebody at the top of the pyramid and most people at the bottom who get paid less than their work is worth for profit to be extracted," she said. "I think part of the reason there's been so much climate change denial is that if you acknowledge that this economic system leads to ecological ruin, you have to acknowledge in the same breath that it's broken. Right now, we put value in growth, and everything is just endless, ridiculous growth, even though we're on a finite planet with dwindling resources and more people every day. Let's say, just for a moment, you put the value on caregiving."

"I was just thinking the other day how much I didn't appreciate my mom growing up," said Grimes. "I remember thinking, 'Why did you wake me up for school? This b*tch. F*ck.'"

There's only one conclusion to be drawn here. Lana Del Rey, Grimes, and Brit Marling should collaborate on a visual concept album with an interactive artificial intelligence component that crafts a new story outside the bounds of capitalism and neoliberalism and that motivates everyone to fight climate change, promote ethics in Silicon Valley, and call their mom.

Dixie Chick fans rejoiced this morning when Natalie Maines revealed that the bluegrass icons will release their first album in 10 years.

Titled Gaslighter, the album is currently being mixed, and the title alone suggests that the Dixie Chicks will resume the aggressive and poignant political commentary that got them all but banned by Country music conservatives.

"Our last album was the most personal and autobiographical we'd ever been," Maines explained of the band's previous effort, Taking the Long Way, which won 5 Grammys in 2007, including Album of The Year and Song of the Year. "This one is, like, 10 times that." The announcement comes after the band made a surprise appearance on Taylor Swift's new album, Lover. Maines also announced that the group will embark on a national arena tour in 2020.

The Dixie Chicks' timing could not be better. With the political climate the way it is, their aggressive political commentary is more welcomed than ever before. As excitement builds for Gaslighter's release, let's take a look back at some of the Dixie Chicks' most bad-ass moments and pray that more spectacle and camaraderie is to come in the new year.

"We're Ashamed That the President of the United States Is from Texas"

Probably one of Dixie Chicks most highly discussed controversies, on March 10, 2003, nine days before Bush's invasion of Iraq, Maines addressed an audience during a Dixie Chicks performance in London. "We don't want this war, this violence," she said, "and we're ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas." The statement, which didn't even offend Bush and in hindsight seems completely PC compared to the nonsense that spews from our current president's mouth, sparked multiple boycotts of the band across the country, with talk show hosts denouncing the trio as problematic and radio stations blacklisting their music. The trio bit back and went on to record Taking the Long Way, which nearly swept the 2007 Grammy awards. Maines did issue an apology to President Bush, but later said she was proud of her original statement.

MUSIC

Lana Del Rey's Comments to Ann Powers Are Cruel—Though Not Unreasonable

The review was incisive, but Del Rey seems to have missed the point—unless that was her intention.

Lana Del Rey has a problem with music critics.

That's a central theme of her song "Mariners Apartment Complex," the fourth track on her new album, Norman F**king Rockwell. Though Del Rey has stated that the song is about a past relationship, "Mariners" could also easily apply to the unforgettable Guardian story in which she told an interviewer that she "wished she was dead already," leading to vitriol from critics and fans alike.

"You took my sadness out of context," she sings. "I ain't no candle in the wind." Now, with a new wave of reviews as fuel, she has some new inspiration for her next album (White Hot Forever is supposedly coming out within the next year or so).

According to Ann Powers, the song "Mariners Apartment Complex" is "four and a half minutes of gospel-inflected transcendence in which her pastiche is so perfectly constructed that it becomes flesh." While not exactly praise, this statement does encapsulate the transformative, hyperreal quality that has always made Del Rey's music so magnetic to listen to.

Del Rey didn't feel the same way, however. She recently attacked Powers in an incisive series of tweets, which ultimately served to reaffirm the point that Powers was trying to make.

It's likely that Del Rey's comments were written out of pain, as negative reviews hurt, especially when they attack art that you've poured your soul into. And yet, it's unfortunate that two of the most brilliant writers around today had to clash so unpleasantly. Del Rey's comments led Powers to take a break from social media to take her dog "for a long walk" —and that's just sad for everyone except the dog.

Maybe Powers could have dialed back the personal attacks, but so could Del Rey. With all that's going on in the world, we could at least hope for a little more context.

I want to preface the rest of this with a statement not unlike the one Powers made in her eloquent, rigorous review of Norman F**king Rockwell: Like Powers, I am a diehard Lana Del Rey fan. I think she's an absolute genius, and she's inspired me perhaps more than any other contemporary musician.

One of the many reasons I've loved her so much is because of how she's withstood criticism, and how much she's grown over the years while refusing to deviate from her values and vices of choice. Truly, you'd think she would've developed an immunity to critics by now, given what she's been through—the SNL disaster, the music-blog years that painted her as the devil incarnate, making her an "early sacrifice to the music gods," as The New York Times wrote. All the criticism she has weathered makes her continued output all the more impressive. Though she has a history of making exquisitely angry comments on the Internet, her tweets about Powers are still surprising.

In response to Powers' review, Del Rey tweeted, "Here's a little sidenote on your piece – I don't even relate to one observation you made about the music. There's nothing uncooked about me. To write about me is nothing like it is to be with me. Never had a persona. Never needed one. Never will."


There's a lot to unpack there. Firstly, does Del Rey really not relate to a single observation Powers made in her 3,600-word review, in which she referenced some of Lana's obvious influences, i.e. David Lynch's dream science and Joni Mitchell's flower-child ideals?

Though it's critical, nothing about Powers' review is lazy or incorrect. If anyone is equipped to meet the complex challenges of Del Rey's catalogue and ongoing evolution, it's Powers—one of the most famous and knowledgeable music critics around. Powers acknowledges Del Rey's refusal to promote "self-empowerment" but also recognizes the nuances of this choice, exploring the merits of what happens when women tell true stories about themselves. (Perhaps she went too far in describing Del Rey's perception of love as "guileless"; but objectively, Del Rey rarely sings about healthy relationships).

Though Norman F**king Rockwell has been widely lauded (Pitchfork gave it a 9.4), Powers' review is full of wisdom, and ultimately it's hard to understand why Del Rey chose to attack this review out of all of them. Her tweets also beg the question: How on Earth did she survive the endless backlash that erupted over her purported inauthenticity during her early days?

It's possible that she did not consider those other reviewers worth addressing, whereas she actually read and took Powers' words to heart. If so, then it's understandable that she'd be hurt, especially if the review came from someone she respects. Still, some things don't add up, like Del Rey stating she "never had a persona."

She has never had a consistent persona, perhaps. Perhaps all her music did come from a place of deep honesty and self-reflection, which she used to craft very real experiences and thoughts into poetry and song—but her entire act and legacy is built around a cinematic and larger-than-life vision, and her rich and dreamlike music reflects that. That vision is what makes fans follow her every move. It's what defines most great artists, that element of performance that cuts through and creates something real, if only in its distortion.

The fact that Del Rey chose to attack Powers' review is ironic, but actually, it aligns neatly with the point that Powers is trying to make. Powers argues that Del Rey's music is defined by juxtapositions, half-formed thoughts, and observations that swirl together to create a vision of "emotion's actuality."

Indeed, a lot of Del Rey's music can seem shallow, until the floor falls away and you realize just how deep she's gone. As Powers writes, Del Rey achieves these illusions by using a technique called slippage, which means utilizing ideas and imagery that "[step] away from an authentic or even consistent narrative." The same thing could actually be said of Del Rey's vindictive tweets.

Through slippage, a common theme in surrealism and noir, "you'll find characters morphing into monsters for a moment, or being absorbed into rips in the time-space continuum," writes Powers. "These baffling scenes affect the viewer because they express the ways stress and a trauma can reconstitute a person's internal life." Arguably, this could describe all of art. Art is never a perfect mirror image of life; how could it be? It's always a way of converting a person's unique perception into sounds and images.

Perhaps Powers' mistake was this: In the review, she acts like an all-knowing authority on Del Rey's inspirations and intentions, and makes judgments about Del Rey as a person, rather than exploring Del Rey's persona as it has been perceived by the public. She seems to equate Del Rey's public persona—and the way that her music resonates and refracts artistic legacies and cultural values—with Del Rey's actual self.

It's very possible that the real Lana Del Rey is a completely genuine person who has never intentionally put on a show of artifice in her life and who has never intentionally channeled Andre Breton or used her music to process trauma. Perhaps she believes that her gift to the world is the "warmth I live my life with," as she wrote, and her fans would agree, and there's nothing wrong with that.

In the end, one thing that Powers gets right about Del Rey is that nothing about her is ever really as it seems. She evades snap judgments and precise analysis. Lyrics that seem shallow at first can take on cosmic significance, and black-and-white perspectives can shift form over time. American dreams can morph into nightmares or show their bloody underbellies. Del Rey can be sweet and violent, submissive and powerful; she can see her music and herself one way, and the world can see her another. That's part of her magic. That's what makes her music feel connected to something divine. There is always a gap between divinity and the real world we live in, just like there's a gap between how we see ourselves and how others see us.

So, in that spirit, perhaps Del Rey's comments weren't impulsive or unmerited. Del Rey is well aware of her complexities. Her Twitter bio is the Walt Whitman quote, "Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself; I am large - I contain multitudes." Perhaps Del Rey realized that Powers was equating her actual self and her process with her public image (though really, with Lana, who knows?)

After all, you'd never view a book as an exact representation of its author's identity, though they are connected. You'd analyze the work first, and Powers' review admittedly doesn't do that much deep musical analysis—but, then again, neither does most modern criticism. That's the nature of being a public figure in today's world. Your persona cannot be separated from your work, and as long as your work is being seen and heard, you will always be projecting a persona.

Lana Del Rey's music is whatever you want it to be.

For some, it's a collection of repetitive, glossy pop songs told from a subservient female perspective. For others, it's gospel for the modern era, an encapsulation of all the dread and wonder that comes from living in a world on the brink of the apocalypse. For others, it's transcendent and empowering, some of the best music of the modern era.

Lana Del Rey's Norman F**king Rockwell is all of the above, depending on your state of mind. It's both shallow and profound, high on delusions and yet piercingly self-aware. It is repetitive in parts, with some of the songs sounding rather similar, and it's also clearly reminiscent of Del Rey's previous works. The luxurious trip-hop beats and sharply whispered lyrics pull from Born to Die, with tracks like "Cinnamon Girl" (arguably one of the strongest on the album) recalling the chorus of "This Is What Makes Us Girls." The man she's singing about could be the same violet-pill-popping junkie who inspired Ultraviolence, though more likely it's an amalgamation of her many different men, most of whom seem to be both self-absorbed and deeply depressed. There's the stoned, beachy haze of Honeymoon and the political edge of Lust For Life.

lana del rey norman rockwell album BrooklynVegan


Like all of Del Rey's music (and also like ogres), Norman F**king Rockwell has innumerable layers. Each song could be about a romantic lover, sure. But behind all the brokenhearted melancholia there's a clear sense of independence and power. This is on full display in "The Best American Record," which finds Del Rey recalling her early ambitions, and in "Love song," where she sings, "In your car / I'm a star / and I'm burning through you." And of course, "Mariners Apartment Complex" (one of the album's strongest) directly addresses criticism, ending with Del Rey repeating, "I'm your man" as synthesizers smolder.

Overall, this may be Del Rey's most mature and opulent album yet. Some of these songs possess the expansive ambition and theatricality of Fleetwood Mac and David Bowie and the trippy grain of Jefferson Airplane, but they also defy direct comparisons to any body of work but her own. Her voice sounds stronger than ever, soaring effortlessly above producer Jack Antonoff's excellent production.

Antonoff's work is also a standout in itself; he layers dozens of sounds and perfectly mixes them so that each bell, violin, horn, and guitar peal shines through in their own way, resisting even a hint of muddiness. Each track feels fully developed, meticulously orchestrated and high-drama. Slipping into them can feel like stepping into a hot tub or, maybe more accurately, feeling the edible kick in as you fall into a hot spring on the edge of a cliff in Big Sur. To fully appreciate Del Rey's music, you have to surrender to it, let it take hold like a drug.

This is partly why Del Rey has such a devoted legion of fans who cling to her every move, tracing her influences and visuals with the reverence of disciples or cult members. If you let yourself fall into the Lana Del Rey universe, there are endless labyrinths to be followed—her innumerable artistic influences range from esoteric scientists and religious thinkers to, on this album, the Beach Boys and Bon Iver. There are also her countless unreleased tracks, most of which can be found on YouTube, which reveal the artist's obsessive devotion to her craft. In some ways, Norman F**king Rockwell feels like the culmination of this long, tumultuous career.

Del Rey and Antonoff have mixed almost all of Del Rey's older work together to create a psychedelic dreamworld built on pop chords, flickering echoes, and radiant strings that come together to take the desperation that has always characterized Del Rey's music to new heights. This is noticeable on "California," where Del Rey begs a struggling lover or friend to come back to America. "I'll throw a party," she says. "We'll dance till dawn." These lyrics are sung out with overwhelming angst, over a cluster of grinding synthesizers, giving sonic life to the complex feeling of wanting nothing more than to save someone you love, while knowing that you can't do much other than distract them and love them to the best of your flawed abilities.

The same idea could be applied to the way that Del Rey talks about her own emotional state. Her music has always painted sadness in a seductive light to some extent, which may not always be the best blueprint to follow—and yet on this album, even more than ever, Del Rey practices a kind of radical acceptance of her own emotions and desires. All feelings, kinks, and mistakes have always been safe in her universe, and nothing goes too far. "You don't have to be cooler than you really are," she whispers.

Lana Del Rey's music has always felt like a release. Her world is one where sadness can coexist with love and pride, where hope can coexist with resignation. There's an emptiness at its core, but she surrounds it with so much theatricality and mythology, with images of neon lights and beaches, endless parties and passionate fantasies, that the sadness edges on euphoria at times. That's partly why Del Rey's fans love and relate to her so much, and why she's poised to become the definitive scorer of the apocalypse. This is the perfect music to listen to as you lament your latest heartbreak, or scroll through meaningless Instagram feeds for hours, or watch a hurricane speed towards Florida in real time.

As with everything that Del Rey has created, despair never sounded more beautiful. Here, it sometimes even sounds like freedom.

Norman F*cking Rockwell!