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Why ‘evermore’ includes Taylor Swift’s best lyrics yet

Less than one year after the release of Taylor Swift’s Lover album, she chose to release folklore, her first album to be classified as alternative and one that has been at the top of the Rolling Stone chart for more consecutive weeks than any other album since the chart’s inception. Five months later, Swift released evermore that has had both fans and critics comparing her two latest albums both sonically and lyrically. The jury may be out, but perhaps Aaron Dessner, a collaborator on both folklore and evermore got it right on his Instagram post when he said evermore songs are “wilder and freer, sometimes in strange time signatures and darker hues, but very much a continuation of what [Swift and him] started with folklore.” 

While some may beg to differ, I believe evermore continues the dreaminess of folklore, but it’s this latest album’s lyrics that ground it in a way that proves it to be one of the greatest lyrical feats of Swift’s career. evermore shows Swift wandering not just deeper into the folklorian woods, but finding a lyrical haven there. 

To celebrate the stronghold Swift has built with evermore’s lyrics, here is the album’s tracklist along with my own favourite lines from each song.

willow

You know that my train could take you home

Anywhere else is hollow

I’m begging for you to take my hand

Wreck my plans, that’s my man

willow” is the lead single of evermore, so the catchier tune and more straight-forward lyrics make sense. The plucky guitar played alongside Swift’s voice that baits and switches between deep, low notes in the verses and higher notes in the chorus provide the perfect folk-y introduction to the album. 

These lines stand out in part due to the twinkling vocal run used on “hollow”, but also because of the juxtaposition Swift uses here. She wants her man to “take her hand”, but also “wreck [her] plans” which casts a charming and light-hearted tone against the song. The implications of what it means for a place to become “hollow” also seems significant. This reveals how longing for someone has the potential to not only change the one who desires, but the one who is desired, whether or not they reciprocate that pining.

champagne problems

You booked the night train for a reason

So you could sit there in this hurt

These lyrics took my breath away when I first heard them. Swift did it so right by placing these as the opening lines to this song about what it’s like to break someone’s heart. Although the stripped-back ballad is teeming with poignant lyrics, these lines seem most memorable because they thrust listeners immediately into the song, in media res. Plunging into the plot of the story, listeners wonder not only who the subject is, but what has transpired before this melancholy train ride. Listeners are swept up into a vivid story of a refused proposal and left there to read between the lines of the simple piano that dots each gem of a lyric.

gold rush

My mind turns your life into folklore

I can't dare to dream about you anymore

At dinner parties

Won't call you out on your contrarian shit

Perhaps I can’t move past the nod Swift makes to her preceding album, folklore, but these lyrics seem to encapsulate both the magic and mundanity of a relationship, or desired relationship. Alongside Swift’s reverberating vocals, the lines make commonplace things like dinner parties and t-shirts dreamy, highlighting the speaker’s ability to see magic in the every day, to become enchanted with people.

“My mind turns your life into folklore” is surface-level enticing but expands when appreciated by recognizing the art’s form: song. Swift asserts her song as its own kind of oral legend, making this line seem to me like a mirror of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” The sonnet’s couplet reads, “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, / So long lives this, and this gives life to thee”. It’s a self-referential moment that claims as long as the poem exists, so does its subject, even beyond death. Similarly, Swift has turned her own subject into folklore by putting them into a song, an oral telling that could be passed on for generations.

‘tis the damn season

If I wanted to know who you were hanging with

While I was gone I would have asked you

There's an ache in you put there by the ache in me

The first verse of this song is bitter, making it a perfect way to introduce the track’s wintery mood. The speaker’s statement, “If I wanted to know who you were hanging with while I was gone I would have asked you” is biting, only to be softened by the admission that “[t]here’s an ache in you put there by the ache in me”. These lines slide into the song’s preoccupation with the complexity of emotions that comes with seeing, desiring, and reminiscing about an old lover. The speaker has returned to their hometown for the holidays and is forced to confront lingering feelings for the person they once had a relationship with there. These lines reflect well the simultaneously cheerful and harsh title, “‘tis the damn season”. 

tolerate it

While you were out building other worlds, where was I?

Where's that man who'd throw blankets over my barbed wire?

I made you my temple, my mural, my sky

Now I'm begging for footnotes in the story of your life

Argued by some fans as the saddest song Swift has ever written, this piece chronicles a relationship that has soured so that the subject simply tolerates the speaker’s love. Told from the perspective of someone who feels inferior and child-like in comparison to their partner, the speaker admits that their love isn’t celebrated. The first-person perspective makes for a slightly unreliable narrator, as even they wonder if their projections are all in their head. These lyrics are from the bridge of the song and seem to serve as the pinnacle of agony for the speaker. These lines highlight this song as one of utter torture. Questions are posed one after another until the speaker slowly slides into settling for “footnotes in the story of [their partner’s] life”. “tolerate it” bears witness to the astonishing ways relationships change. 

no body, no crime

She says, “That ain’t my merlot on his mouth

That ain’t my jewelry on our joint account”

This is one of the most country-esque songs featured on evermore. It’s a ghostly song that reveals the suspected murder of a woman named Este by her unfaithful husband. It’s all told from the perspective of her friend, making the lyrics both easy to follow and deliciously entertaining. The entire song is studded with bold lines like these that make a grim story almost snappy. These lines reveal Este’s suspicions that her husband is having an affair. Swift’s ability to include dialogue in this song strengthens that undercurrent of steely friendship that ultimately makes up the theme of the song, more so than revenge or infidelity.

happiness

Tell me, when did your winning smile

Begin to look like a smirk?

When did all our lessons start to look like weapons pointed at my deepest hurt?

This song is strewn with lyrics I had the most difficulty choosing a favourite from. “All the years I've given is just shit we're dividing up” was a strong contender. Once again, Swift dives headfirst into the complexities of love. This track shows the speaker struggling with the end of a relationship where both people hurt and care for one another. It’s a chrysalis type song, with the speaker attempting to come to terms with who they are now that they’re single. They ask their former partner to tell them how they fell apart. In a similar strain to “tolerate it”, these lines beg for the answer as to why relationships change, why the speaker could pull “[their ex’s] body into [theirs] every goddamn night now [they] get fake niceties”. 

dorothea

And damn, Dorothea, they all wanna be ya

But are you still the same soul I met under the bleachers? 

This peppy song written from the perspective of a celebrity’s hometown friend or possibly lover, is chock full of honky-tonk piano and tambourines, as well as lyrics that push Swift’s storytelling abilities to new heights. The subject of the song, Dorothea is now famous and seen by the speaker nostalgically as they recount how “the stars in [her] eyes shined brighter in [their hometown of] Tupelo”. The energy of the song notably picks up along these lines that I’ve signalled out, propelled in part by the swear word and illustrating the history and passion the speaker has for Dorothea. Despite the fact that they assert they might never know if Dorothea is still the same, they croon again and again that they will always welcome them back to their side.

Similar to how the storylines of cardigan, august, and betty were connected on folklore, some fans argue ’tis the damn season and dorothea are connected, meaning Dorothea does eventually return to Tupelo around the holidays where she dreams of reconnecting with the speaker in this track.

coney island

If I pushed you to the edge

But you were too polite to leave me

Speaking of fan theories, it’s possible tolerate it is from the perspective of one person in a relationship, meanwhile coney island includes the response of the other person, that is, the parts sung by Matt Berninger from The National. Theories aside, coney island is a difficult song to pull apart as it combines two different perspectives and intricate lyrics. Both partners explore their own part in the relationship’s demise. These particular lines, sung by Berninger are soaked in guilt and remain thought-provoking because of the use of the word, “polite”. What is polite about staying with someone who pushed you to the edge, who perhaps didn’t treat you well? It’s one of many questions the lyrics of this track pose.

ivy

Crescent moon, coast is clear

Spring breaks loose, but so does fear

In my opinion, this track is one of the most underrated songs on the album. The speaker is having an affair and it pains them because, for some unknown reason, they won’t leave their original partner. The lines I’ve chosen are beautiful, not only for their use of nature imagery, but for the hope and despair that resides in them. It’s that push and pull of conflicting emotions that is threaded across the entirety of evermore. The speaker sees that it may be time to break free from her original relationship, but she sees the danger in that endeavour as well. Listen along with the banjo that spills over into the incredible bridge as Swift declares the situation is a “goddamn blaze in the dark” but also “the goddamn fight of [the speaker’s] life”.

cowboy like me

Now you hang from my lips

Like the Gardens of Babylon

With your boots beneath my bed

Forever is the sweetest con

Another painfully underrated song, cowboy like me is about two con artists who fall in love while frequenting hotspots of the rich. The song includes backing vocals by Marcus Mumford of Mumford and Sons. Told from the perspective of one of the con artists, the speaker explains the “skeletons in both [con artists’] closets” along with the scandalous ways each of them has “swindled” men and women for money. The hanging gardens of Babylon were one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, a tiered garden that has been rumoured to have existed in present-day Iraq. “Forever is the sweetest con” shows the sense of doubt the speaker feels about this relationship surviving, especially because of their histories. The track focuses on the way love can surprise us at the strangest moments, a recurring theme throughout the album.

long story short

Actually

I always felt I must look better in the rear view

Missing me

At the golden gates they once held the keys to

One of the songs that is more recognized as pop along with gold rush, this track sounds super fresh. It seems to describe some of the worst moments in Swift’s life that preceded her joyful relationship with her current partner, making this one of the most recognizably autobiographical tracks that Swift is known for. Most of the song is optimistic as she reflects on how far she has come, both individually and as a partner. These lines stand out for their utterly confessional tone though. The speaker realizes that perhaps she might be thought of as a better person in the aftermath of a relationship rather than while in it. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but these lines may be getting a dig at people who take others for granted, then realize what they’ve lost after the relationship has already ended.

Overall, this track is utterly hopeful and shakes away some of the bitterness that many other songs on evermore are steeped in. Swift sings, “no more keepin’ score now I just keep you warm and my waves meet your shore ever and evermore”.

marjorie

I should’ve asked you questions

I should’ve asked you how to be

Swift has showcased her lyrical genius in a variety of songs about her family members, many about her mom, Andrea Swift, and folklore’s epiphany about her grandfather’s experience in the war. marjorie is about Swift’s late grandmother, Marjorie Finlay an opera singer whose voice can be heard on the track itself as backing vocals. I wish I could copy and paste the entire bridge here because I think it’s one of the greatest bridges Swift has ever written. These lines, taken from that bridge reveal powerful regret. While Finlay passed when Swift was relatively young, that sense of regret after the passing of a family member is timeless. It shows Swift can write about more than romantic love, and in fact, most of the songs on this album do not clearly state they are about romantic love either, or heterosexual romantic love. The chorus of marjorie repeats, “what died didn’t stay dead”, making it simple and haunting.

closure

Don't treat me like some situation that needs to be handled

I'm fine with my spite

This track is wild, almost to the point of being chaotic with its strange time signature and clattering sounds. But there’s a method to the madness in this tune because it’s all anchored by the lyrics. The track explores a relationship gone awry where one person wants to make up somehow. The speaker denies that they need closure, especially closure on the other person’s terms who “treat[s] [her] like some situation that needs to be handled”. That sharp scrutiny on the part of the speaker makes for crystal-clear lyrics and spells out plainly that the other person’s request for closure is self-serving, “fake” and “oh so unnecessary”. The speaker is so precise in their judgment of the other person in these lines. Swift's ability to show how their hurt has boiled over into bitterness is gripping. I’m sick of the “crazy ex-girlfriend” stereotype, and this song shows what I believe to be a strong woman refusing to submit to an ex’s egotistical desire. Contrary to what some may believe, not everyone needs a specific kind of “closure”, especially if the person requesting it caused a lot of pain. 

evermore

Writing letters

Addressed to the fire

The title track, evermore is a sweeping piano ballad that features Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. Swift’s lyrics point to a time of utter despair when she thought “pain would be for evermore”. Vernon’s part in the bridge is similarly solemn, speaking of the “violence of the dog days”. The image of someone writing their thoughts knowing that they will never be spoken aloud is powerful and one of the lines from this album that has really lingered with me.

When Swift and Vernon come together in a call and response style, the song seems more hopeful. Swift thinks of the subject when she was shipwrecked. “In the cracks of light [she] dreamed of [them]” too. These small glimmers of hope reveal the possibility that what we think will last forever, is really only a moment in time. 

 

Swift has broken out of the pop mould she has been following since her full transition to it with her 2014 album, 1989, yet her hold on thought-provoking and memorable lyrics has always remained steadfast. evermore shows Swift at her most experimental and in this freedom, she’s gotten an even tighter grip on her lyrical talent. 

Emily Coppella is a writer, yoga student, and feminist from the GTA. She is currently studying English Literature and Language at Carleton University with a concentration in Creative Writing and a minor in Women and Gender Studies. Her poetry has been published by Coven Editions, In/Words, and has won 2nd place for the George Johnston Poetry Prize. Film, music, and social justice are some of her other passions.
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