Why does Taylor Swift’s Folklore feel so familiar?

Taylor Swift’s surprise album feels like a hug from an old friend you haven’t seen in years: not exactly what you expected, but comforting all the same.

We didn’t see it coming. Maybe we should have. But we didn’t.

Taylor Swift is known for her carefully crafted album release strategies. She drops hints. She releases singles. She knows her fans enjoy a good-spirited scavenger hunt of sorts, and she hands them the clues with no hesitation.

But not this time.

Folklore, Swift’s eighth studio album, was announced on July 23 and released at midnight on July 24. Fans had less than a day to mentally prepare themselves for the emotional waves that always accompany new Taylor Swift music.

No one knew what to expect. Chances are, that was no accident.

Swift’s last two albums were dramatic, filled with fast-paced stories of whirlwind romances, reckless promises of revenge, and powerful statements of rebellion. They were empowering. They were loud. They had to be.

Folklore‘s music, accompanied by acoustic instrumentals and warm vocals that guide the listener slowly down each separate story’s path, is nothing like that.

It speaks of mistakes, but not harshly. It reminds you of pain, but always with the promise of hope. Lost loves, tragedies, broken hearts, wounded souls — it’s all there, as it always is in a Taylor Swift album. But it’s not here to tell you a story. It’s here to experience a story along with you.

It doesn’t tell you how to feel. It feels for itself first, and you have no choice but to follow.

Folklore feels like the comfort food your friend sets in front of you against your will when you’re having a bad day. She knows it will help; you know it will help. You don’t expect it to bring you to tears — it’s just food.

But it’s the familiarity of the ingredients, the way it warms you from the inside out the moment you taste it. It opens you up in ways you aren’t expecting. It catches you off guard, but in that way that feels like a gift instead of a curse.

Just because this collection of Swift’s work is comforting doesn’t mean it’s stale, though. It presents itself with a hint of familiarity that remains throughout each of its 16 tracks in a way that reminds you of two things: One, this is Taylor Swift, and two, Taylor Swift can and will evolve, because we all do. Yes — even you.

Stare at the greyscale cover art for long enough and you’ll forget the vibrant colors of Taylor Swift albums past. This not music you play at parties to drown out the awkwardness of casual conversation. These are not songs you scream out of the windows of your car as summer comes to a close. This music is gentle. Calm. It tells you what you need to hear, but you have to sit still to hear it.

And that’s how it pulls you in. It forces you to pay attention. It demands that you remember where you’ve been and shows you where you are going.

Folklore feels familiar because it tells the stories we keep to ourselves. We’ve repeated them in our own heads so many times that we know them by heart.

Taylor Swift songs have always known exactly how to reach inside of each of us and uncover the secrets we’ve refused to share. But this time she does it so softly, with such deliberate purpose, that you don’t realize she’s telling your story until the song is on its final chorus and you’re too immersed in it to protest.

Swift’s new album somehow, once again, aligns perfectly with the milestones of my life — yours too, most likely. This is the music that speaks to the once broken soul finally healed and revving up to roar. These are the words and melodies that speak to anyone ready to fly who’s still hesitant to spread their wings.

Folklore is, with each song that plays, Swift’s way of showing us it’s possible to be exactly who we’ve always wished we were without waiting for anyone else’s permission to transform. Her music is unapologetic, but content. Raw, but effortless.

It is exactly what we needed right now. It is the promise of better days when all of them seem gone. It is the story of the futures we can have as long as we keep fighting for our right to live them.

This is a new sound born out of a new era. But it’s still the same Taylor Swift you were hoping to meet again. Always here to tell you it’s okay to feel, because that’s how beautiful things are made.

Where does Folklore rank among your favorite Taylor Swift albums? Do you have a favorite song yet?