I have a weird sixth sense: I wake up early on days when important things happen. I woke up unnaturally early the day that “Avengers: Endgame” tickets went on sale and got the best seats for opening night. I did the same thing with countless “Star Wars” movies. It just happens; my internal clock is more aware than my mind is. On July 23, I woke up early and was confused, wondering what important thing could possibly be happening on the millionth day of quarantine. And then Taylor Swift revealed that she would be dropping a surprise album: folklore. After that, I didn’t think my superpower would kick in again any time soon, considering the lack of movies being released in theaters. And then on Dec. 10, I woke up early, my sixth sense triggered. Lo and behold, Taylor Swift announced that a brand new album, evermore would be coming out at midnight.
Long story short, I stayed awake until 1:30 a.m. the next morning, listening to her new songs, enamored by the stories and enchanted by the haunting melodies.
The album’s lead single “willow” and its accompanying music video were the perfect bridge between folklore and evermore. It has many callbacks to folklore, the most obvious being the “single thread of gold (that) ties (Swift) to (her love),” a reference to the song “invisible string” that is portrayed literally in the video. But it also takes on new life past folklore, with bright colors and a medieval aesthetic. The visually evocative lyrics like “life was a willow, and it bent right to your wind,” contribute to a beautiful love song that fits nicely into Swift’s discography.
While folklore has an overarching tone, evermore experiments with sound a little more with songs that, musically, are drastically different from one another. For example, you have “tolerate it,” a song worthy of being a Taylor Swift Track Five. Lyrics like “I know my love should be celebrated / but you tolerate it” paint a heartbreaking picture of a marriage made up of ambivalence rather than love. Right after the last melancholy notes fade away, you hear the sirens signaling the beginning of “no body, no crime,” a track that the band HAIM collaborates on. In this song, Swift contributes her own take on the country music trope of stories about women killing abusive and/or cheating husbands (think Carrie Underwood’s “Church Bells” or The Chicks’s “Goodbye Earl”). Swift tells the story of Este (named after Este Haim) whose “husband’s actin’ different, and it smells like infidelity.” Este’s husband kills her after she discovers his affair and the song’s narrator takes the stage, mourning the loss of her friend Este and deciding to kill her husband for what he’s done. A girl power anthem, no?
Other songs on the album hail back to Swift’s popstar days with fast paces and sharp lyrics. The song “long story short” is reminiscent of 1989 with its pop backing and sweet story. The song, in many ways, sums up where Taylor Swift is now. After the narrator was “pushed from the precipice,” she “climbed right back up the cliff” and “survived.” One of the most compelling moments in the song happens when she turns to “past me,” telling her younger self that “your nemeses will defeat themselves before you get the chance to swing.” After almost a decade of fame and the ups and downs she’s had with the media, haters and certain other celebrities (not to name names, but Kanye West, Scooter Braun, Justin Bieber and Scott Borchetta), she’s in a happier place. After falling for the “wrong guy” on more than one occasion, she’s found the man she’s meant to be with, the one who “feels like home.”
Additionally, “gold rush,” produced by Jack Antonoff, whom Swift referred to affectionately as “musical family” when folklore was released, starts off with a slow, almost operatic chant and then quickly picks up speed, which sounds suspiciously like 1989-era Taylor. “I don’t like a gold rush, gold rush / I don’t like anticipating my face in a red flush,” she sings from the perspective of a fictional character, just as she did on folklore. In the song, she outlines the story of a “single daydream where you get lost in thought for a minute and then snap out of it,” as she explained prior to the album’s release. With beautiful lines such as “I don’t like that falling feels like flying till the bone crush,” Swift proves that though she may change her persona for different eras and albums, she will never lose her greatest strength: songwriting.
And in terms of songwriting, it’s no surprise at all that the most intimate, meaningful song on evermore is the one that is the most autobiographical — the one where Swift tells the story of her opera-singing grandmother, Marjorie Finlay. “Marjorie” is full of lessons, such as “never be so polite, you forget your power / never wield such power, you forget to be polite,” but it’s also about how it feels to lose someone. “I should have asked you questions / I should have asked you how to be,” Swift sings wistfully. With her grandmother’s vocals backing Swift’s own cascading voice, aligning perfectly with the line “If I didn’t know better / I’d think you were singing to me now,” the song is remarkably bittersweet and moving.
It would be remiss to not mention “coney island” and “evermore,” both of which are duets. Matt Berninger, lead vocalist of The National (Aaron Dessner’s band, Dessner being a frequent collaborator of Swift’s) sings the tear-jerking “coney island” with Swift, which many fans are speculating may include references to her old relationships. Justin Vernon of Bon Iver returns to sing “evermore” with Swift after the success of their Grammy-nominated “exile.” The title track perfectly captures the feeling of winter, with lyrics like “catching my breath / barefoot in the wildest winter / catching my death.” Swift’s boyfriend Joe Alwyn (“The Favourite”) co-wrote these songs (as well as “champagne problems”), just like he did certain tracks from folklore. The couple that writes depressing breakup songs together stays together, I guess?
Of all evermore’s beautiful, image-rich songs, “ivy” encompasses the vibe of the album the best. With its lilting melody and devastating story of two lovers whose romance was impossible because of the narrator’s husband, “ivy” is easily one of the highlights of the album. It’s also one of the three songs that make up what fans refer to as the trilogy of unhappy marriages — “tolerate it,” “no body, no crime” and “ivy” — similar to folklore’s teenage love triangle of “cardigan,” “august” and “betty.” “My pain fits in the palm of your freezing hand” is one of the most beautiful, poetic lyrics I’ve ever heard. The imagery it creates, combined with the way she sings it, utilizing her higher register, makes it such a joy to listen to. It’s lines like this one that solidify my belief that, in the future, English classes will study Taylor Swift’s songs the way we analyze Emily Dickinson today.
Swift described evermore as folklore’s sister, and I can’t think of a better way of explaining the albums’ relationship. evermore really is folklore’s younger, more whimsical sister. Where folklore is black, white and gray, evermore is all earth tones and rich, screaming colors. They are perfect opposites: perfect complements to one another. In her social media post, Swift explained that, after finishing folklore, she was faced with a choice: “To turn and go back or to travel further into the forest of this music.” I think it’s safe to say she made the right choice.
There have been rumors circulating that she may be putting out a third album called woodvale, and while Swift (mostly) denied this when she appeared on Jimmy Kimmel earlier this week, I’m sure that her fans, myself included, would be more than happy if she doesn’t venture out of the woods quite yet.
Daily Arts Writer Sabriya Imami can be reached at email@example.com.