Taylor Swift shocked fans on Thursday, July 23, when she announced that her new album “Folklore” would be released a few hours later on midnight, July 24. It’s the first surprise album from the artist, who usually teases her big releases with one or two advance singles. But this album still comes with a lead single, “Cardigan,” along with a new music video that premiered online concurrent with the album’s release (watch it above). Is it her best lead single yet? Scroll down to vote in our poll at the bottom of this post.
As a teenager, Swift released the song “Tim McGraw” in advance of her 2006 self-titled debut album, though her second single “Teardrops on My Guitar” was a bigger hit. Then she released “Love Story” ahead of her second album “Fearless,” and it became one of the biggest hits of her career (certified eight-times platinum to date). Other songs got the plaudits from that album, though: “You Belong with Me” was nominated for Record of the Year at the Grammys, and “White Horse” won prizes in country categories.
“Fearless” was a blockbuster that won Album of the Year, which made Swift the youngest artist ever to win that award at age 20 (until Billie Eilish prevailed earlier this year when she was 18). So there was a lot of pressure to follow that up, which she did with “Mine,” the first single off her next album, “Speak Now.” It was also a major hit, though again it was another song from that album that got the awards: “Mean” won her two Grammys in country categories.
She started dabbling in pop with her next album “Red,” and that creative evolution was evidenced in the lead single “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” which was another Grammy nominee for Record of the Year. It was also the first single of her career to reach number-one on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.
Then came her full-blown pop crossover with the album “1989,” which was her second to win Album of the Year at the Grammys. That made her the first artist to win that award twice as a lead artist. It was preceded by the single “Shake it Off,” an ode to brushing off your haters that became a ubiquitous ear worm. Commercially, it was another milestone: her first diamond-certified single (10-times platinum or more).
She hit back against her detractors again with “Look What You Made Me Do” from her following album “Reputation.” That song was also a chart-topper and a big hit, though it was more divisive than most of her previous hits. To launch her next album, “Lover,” she turned away from grievances and back to the romantic themes that made her a star with “Me!” featuring Brendon Urie.
And now comes another love song, “Cardigan,” which was produced and co-written by Aaron Dessner, a member of the rock band The National who has also worked with Mumford and Sons and Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon. Along with the rest of Swift’s album “Folklore,” it was written in isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Where do you think it lands in the history of her lead singles? Vote below.
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