Earlier this year, Taylor Swift gave us less than 24 hours notice for her surprise eighth studio album, folklore. Nearly five months later, she did exactly the same thing. No one saw it coming. Described by Swift as “folklore’s sister record”, evermore was released with less than 24 hours notice just over a week ago. “To put it plainly,” she writes, “we couldn’t stop writing songs.”
To explain the timing of evermore’s release, Swift spoke of her birthday & the holiday season- impacted by Covid-19: “I wanted to surprise you with this the week of my 31st birthday. You’ve all been so caring, supportive & thoughtful on my birthdays & so this time I wanted to give you something! I also know this holiday season will be a lonely one for most of us & if there are any of you out there who turn to music to cope with missing loved ones the way I do, this is for you.”
Pre-release, evermore’s uncanny resemblance to folklore seemed to promise an album of ‘b-tracks’ – songs which didn’t make the cut for the initial record. Of course, Swift’s bonus tracks for her previous albums are often fan favourites; her so-called ‘b-tracks’ shouldn’t be assumed to be lacking in the song-writing department. In fact, Rolling Stone ranked a bonus track at number two out of all 173 of Taylor’s songs! However, Swift’s presentation of evermore as solely a gift for her fans, as well as the album sharing folklore’s aesthetic (as opposed to her preferred practice of adopting dynamic “one-off eras”), down to its font, seemed to support the idea that evermore was simply folklore, but part two.
I’ve never been happier to be proven wrong.
Unsurprisingly, Swift – masterful & particular with her words – hit the nail on the head by calling evermore “folklore’s sister album”. evermore shares everything that makes folklore great: Swift’s greatest song-writing to date, indie/folk/country undertones, & an increasing emphasis on fictional storytelling. Yet, it’s a severe injustice to imagine evermore as being anything but a masterpiece in its own right. After all, the two records are sisters, not twins.
Let’s delve into some of my favourite tracks from the 15-track album (not including its two deluxe tracks, not available via streaming):
‘tis the damn season
Not unlike her sibling, evermore includes a story which is told by more than one perspective. Here, ‘tis the damn season & dorothea intersect. They tell the story of Dorothea, who escapes her small country town to the clutches of Los Angeles, & her high-school sweetheart who’s been left behind.
‘tis the damn season sees Dorothea return at Christmas, only to reunite with the boy who has remained, if only for a weekend. But, both parties are well aware she has to leave. It’s an angsty, early-twenties romance that you may find yourself clinging to. Its instrumentals alone will have ‘tis the damn season featured in a coming-of-age film in the future, & you can quote me on that. Fans are citing this song in their excuses to text their old flames/flings upon returning home for Christmas, & I’m sure Swift’s screaming “that’s not the point!”, but alas. Sometimes you need to get your heart broken again.
Lyrics worth mentioning: “And the heart I know I'm breakin' is my own / To leave the warmest bed I've ever known.”
Swift is known to put her most vulnerable tracks as number five, & evermore is no different. It might also be worth mentioning that this was the only song I cried to on my first listen. ‘Track 5 syndrome’ is here & she’s taking no prisoners.
tolerate it features a doting wife’s plea to her cheating husband: “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.” If there was ever a song to make me, a Christian girl who used to dream of getting married in her early twenties, scared of commitment, this is it. Watching your love & (deteriorating) marriage being merely tolerated, instead of treasured, is a nightmare Swift perfectly captures in four minutes.
Swift mentioned that this was the last song written on evermore – only a week before its release, to be exact. It comes as no surprise that happiness is one of (if not the) most mature songs she’s ever written. Its opening lines (“Honey when I’m above the trees / I see this for what it is”) perfectly encapsulates what’s to come: a healthy & honest perspective on a heartbreak. Swift acknowledges the good & the bad of a relationship, & her role played in its failing: “No one teaches you what to do / When a good man hurts you /And you know you hurt him too.” For years, critics of Swift have called her out for ‘playing the victim’. No more.
Historically, Swift’s songs that discuss cheating happen to be her best. But for the first time (explicitly, at least), Swift sings in the perspective of the cheater. Or does she? Fans are mostly tied between ivy portraying a love affair (some believing it to be sapphic), or a sad story of a narrator who cannot move past her husband’s death, viewing a new relationship as infidelity.
Pitchfork’s Sam Sodomsky describes ivy as “a knotty fairytale […] in the storybook setting of Swift’s early work”, & I’m relieved that I’m not the only one who imagines some sort of enchanted forest alongside this masterpiece. But despite its folky, dream-like instrumentals, ivy’s lyrics are anything but whimsical. They’re real & raw & painful – words I never thought I’d type in sympathy of a (supposed) adulterer.
Lyrics worth mentioning: “My pain fits in the palm of your freezing hand / Taking mine, but it's been promised to another / Oh, I can't / Stop you putting roots in my dreamland.”
cowboy like me
I saw a fan compliment cowboy like me’s final chorus; it was something along the lines of “it scratches an itch in my brain”. & they’re right. This song was initially confusing to me on my first listen, but it accidentally got stuck on repeat one day & I haven’t been able to stop listening to it since. We learn of two con artists who earn their living by making older, richer people fall in love with them. Instead, they end up falling for each other.
Nothing I say could truly live up to the beauty this lullaby radiates. Just find a starry sky & listen to this song. I’m serious.
Lyrics worth mentioning: “Now you hang from my lips / Like the Gardens of Babylon / With your boots beneath my bed / Forever is the sweetest con.”
long story short
long story short is one of Swift’s two-track return to pop that folklore pointedly skipped. But, it just fits. Swift summaries her first six studio albums (albums seven & onwards are speculated to revolve exclusively around Swift’s long-term boyfriend) succinctly: “long story short, it was the wrong guy.” Its bridge sees long story short’s music & production almost stripped away entirely. She addresses her younger self, & her lyrics are too special to not share: “Past me / I wanna tell you not to get lost in these petty things […] / and he's passing by / Rare as the glimmer of a comet in the sky.”
With Swift’s love life becoming one of the mainstream media’s favourite focuses (which only encouraged a decade’s onslaught of slut-shaming), long story short feels like letting out a breath you didn’t realise you’ve been holding. Swift, after years of searching, has found what she’s been looking for. There are no games, “no more tug of war”. Instead, she “just know[s] there’s more.” Stability, for once, is given the romanticisation it deserves.
A touching tribute to her grandmother, Swift has placed marjorie as evermore’s track 13, mirroring folklore’s homage to her grandfather (epiphany, also track 13). Swift’s open letter (one mostly tinged with regret) to her late grandmother is incredibly touching & poignant. But the last minute is what sets this track apart; if you listen closely, old recordings of Marjorie’s hauntingly sweet melody (captured from her opera-singing days) can be heard between Swift’s words. Here we have two incredibly talented women in collaboration: one deceased, previously unknown to the world; the other a global star, crowned Artist of the Decade.
marjorie is simultaneously the most personal song from Swift’s album, as well as the most accessible for her listeners. Whilst the trials of 2020 will one day be over, the loss of loved ones is a tragedy that will sadly remain. But we, like Swift, can “know better.” Our loved ones live on through their legacy. They’re “alive, so alive.” They’re “still around.”
* * *
At the time of writing this article, it’s been nearly two weeks since evermore was released. My favourites that we’ve just explored together were not necessarily favourites from my initial listen, & in another two weeks they will have changed again. & that’s Swift’s greatest strength – I am yet to encounter a single song of hers that hasn’t been a favourite at some point in time. As her listeners evolve & their circumstances change, her music (from her debut album to evermore) develops with them.
I’m sure I’m not alone amongst Taylor Swift fans when I say that both folklore & evermore have been my saving grace for these last few months. To my surprise (I thought I didn’t mind being alone), national/regional lockdowns paired with extended periods of isolation became close to destructive. Art – music, film, writing – for the first time became a splintering raft instead of shiny lifejacket. It was keeping me afloat, sure, but it was also taking over my life, & not in a good way. I was becoming a shell, numbly choosing to press ‘keep watching’ instead of maintaining relationships & just doing something.
Swift’s surprise isolation projects have offered me something far more powerful: they inspire me to become & create, instead of passively intake. Without increasing the dramatics further (and I’m sorry!), I feel like these albums have helped me reach a turning point. I am renewed. I go to sleep excited for the next day. I am becoming creative again, & happier as a result. If that isn’t art, I’m not sure what is.
folklore & evermore’s numerous glowing reviews from respected critics speak for themselves. So, what would I like to add to the discussion? Perhaps you could just do me a favour: take your time with these albums. They’re growers. They inspire. They speak. They’re siblings that you’ll be glad to know. Just trust me.
Words By: Megan Clayton
Edited By: Dasha Pitts-Yushchenko