While the rest of us cycled through random hobbies between completed Netflix series, Taylor Swift embarked on a fantastical journey through a year that never was.
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In July, the musical phenomenon released her eighth studio album, folklore, practicing escapism while bending axes of fact and fiction. On Friday, December 11, she astounded us all with surprise follow-up, evermore. The 15 track collection (complete with 2 bonus tracks on Deluxe edition) elucidates Swift’s artistic liberation during a moment of global upheaval.
Birth order matters here. If folklore is the archetypal older sister— a careful, yet hopeless romantic—then evermore is the bold, scrappy younger one. The record throws caution to the wind, baring secrets with little shame. Yet, its soundscape reflects the imitative patterns a younger sister can’t help but follow faithfully.
“In the past I’ve always treated albums as one-off eras and moved onto planning the next one after an album was released,” Swift posted. “There was something different with folklore. In making it, I felt less like I was departing and more like I was returning.”
Sonically, evermore is a welcomed companion piece. Swift returned to the studio with folklore’s starting lineup: Aaron Dessner, Jack Antonoff, Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), and William Bowery, who has since been identified as a pseudonym for her boyfriend, Joe Alwyn.
Their established cohesion delivers an evolving aesthetic. July’s folklore was bound into a lush woodland fairytale, establishing a phantasmal motif. Her latest, evermore, is a Yuletided extension of the wistful wonderland. Except here, golden hour is cut short and wintery weather looms overhead.
Novel collaborations further immerse her into the indie-esque atmosphere. She dips her toes in with a duet with The National on “coney island”, and snuck in backing vocals from Mumford & Sons’ Marcus Mumford on “cowboy like me.” The HAIM sisters infuse a pop-rock punch into the reminiscent, “no body, no crime.”
Her lowercase styling, carried over from folklore, embodies a certain casualty to her stripped-down approach. Swift’s songwriting for both collections, however, is her most intimate entangling of storylines yet. Subdued subjective perspectives illustrate the songwriter’s coming-of-age.
The acclaimed reaction to folklore inspired a deeper dive into mythmaking.
“Before I knew it there were 17 tales, some of which are mirrored or intersecting with one another,” Swift announced.
From the beginning, plots converge. Her enchanting visualization of the opening track, “willow” picks up where “cardigan” left off. Swift, drenched from her oceanic voyage, revels blankly in the warm glow of a rustic cabin.
A golden thread, tethered in an alternate reality existing within the back of her piano, leads her back down the rabbit hole. She returns into the fold, emerging through the twisted roots of a bowed willow tree without hesitation. The illuminated twine threads her through a saga. This time, when she returns to reality, she’s not alone.
She told fans, “willow is about intrigue, desire, and the complexity that goes into wanting someone. I think it sounds like casting a spell to make someone fall in love with you.”
Swift also revealed storylines she sowed throughout the collection.
Track 11, “cowboy like me,” tells the story of “two young con artists who fall in love while hanging out at fancy resorts trying to score rich romantic beneficiaries.” Mumford’s sultry vocals insulate the illustrious scene.
She then described “the one where longtime college sweethearts had very different plans for the same night, one to end it and one who brought a ring.”
By the first chorus of track 2, it’s painstakingly apparent how “different plans” play out. The piano-driven “champagne problems” details a rejected marriage proposal from the perspective of a sure protagonist who takes responsibility for the heartbreak. Maintaining empathy for the fallout, she shrugs off the fury of his family and friends—“she would have made such a lovely bride/ too bad she’s fucked in the head.”
Ironically, Swift co-wrote this disenchantment ballad with her boyfriend, Alwyn.
The artist then introduced a new character, “dorothea.” In Swift’s words, she’s “the girl who left her small town to chase down Hollywood dreams.” She teases what happens when Dorothea “comes back for the holidays and rediscovers an old flame.”
By sharing, Swift ties track 4, “tis the damn season” to track 8, “dorothea.”
The fateful hometown reunion of old flames, “’tis the damn season,” is the all-too-familiar night before Thanksgiving narrative. The lyrics surmount rising emotions until her revealing bridge. The narrator, presumably Dorothea, reveals “the only soul who can tell which smiles I’m faking,” and “the warmest bed I’ve ever known.”
In the wake of “betty,” listeners can’t help but pore over the voice behind “dorothea.” Swift employs the same narrative devices in both songs. Each reflects longingly on past relationships with the titular characters.
Parallels intersect, making it abundantly clear that Dorothea is the Tupelo-fleeing, stardom-seeking character from “’tis the damn season.”
Both penned with Aaron Dessner, the mirrored songs revive folklore’s inter-tangled love triangle. Swift told fans “there’s not a direct continuation of the betty/james/august storyline, but in my mind, Dorothea went to the same school as Betty, James, and Inez.”
The country-pop bubble gum ideals of romance that defined the genre-spanning artist’s early records are long-dimmed. A more sage Swift highlights “The ‘unhappily ever after’ anthology of marriages gone bad,” that star in her ninth studio album.
The cast includes infidelity (“ivy”), ambivalent toleration (“tolerate it”), and even murder (“no body, no crime”).
To the passive ear, “ivy” eases effortlessly into this woodland aesthetic. Cryptic coverings, disguised as folksy embellishment, tiptoe around the conflict: a stolen romance. Swift meticulously employs whimsical metaphors that would fill the Grimm Brothers with pride. From the perspective of one of the perpetrators, it chronicles the affair as a fairytale. Against ticking instrumentation, realistic consequences appear to inhibit the possibility of a happy ending.
Ambivalence settles into track five— the slot Swift infamously reserves for her most heart-wrenching tunes. The narrator reckons with swelling resentment toward an aloof partner. Crippled by the impending doom, the character refuses to break the silence. Instead, the lyrics are an internal debate, screamed into a pillow.
The dismal plot could overlay plenty of mismatched matrimonies. But lines like “You’re so much older and wiser than I,” fueled royal rumors about Diane and Charles being an inspirational source.
Finally, Swift wields her true-crime obsession into her storytelling on “no body, no crime” (ft. HAIM).
Like a 2006 Taylor takes on The Chick’s “Goodbye Earl,” but make it L.A. pop-rock. Carrie Underwood should be flattered by the emulative construction. A slight deviation in the plot, Swift’s character is wreaking revenge on her best friend’s husband and framing the husband’s mistress for the murder.
Aaron Dessner and Swift render a “realization that maybe the only path to healing is to wish happiness on the one who took it away from you,” with the aptly titled track, “happiness.”
Swift, who turns 31 on December 13, revealed excitement for the milestone. “It’s my lucky number backwards,” she explained in a post.
Her track placement for “marjorie” at 13 seems more intentional than fortuitous. Lofty lyrics pay tribute to her maternal grandmother, Marjorie Finlay, an opera singer who first introduced Swift to music. Each verse patches in vivid imagery, enlivening the matriarch’s memory. Swift wraps up with an ethereal outro, made possible by soundbites of Marjorie singing opera.
Its stinging sanguinity compliments folklore’s 13th track, “epiphany,” about her grandfather.
As folklore’s predecessor, evermore inherits a legend. The kinship between these collections lies within the newly established “Swiftian” method. The vetted songwriter parables her experience through fictitious characters within her folkloric fables to pass hard-lessons learned down like heirlooms to younger generations of Swift’s sweeping fandom.
“To put it plainly, we just couldn’t stop writing songs,” Swift shared about her new album. “To try and put it more poetically, it feels like we were standing on the edge of the folklorian woods and had a choice: to turn and go back or to travel further into the forest of this music. We chose to wander deeper in.”
Listen to the continuum of Taylor Swift’s epic journey through 2020, here.