by Madison Palmieri ’22
Less than five months after surprising fans with the unexpected release of her eighth studio album, folklore, Taylor Swift announced on Dec. 10 that a second unprecedented album, evermore, would be released that night.
On Instagram, she described the project as “folklore’s sister record” and explained that she and her collaborators “were standing on the edge of the folklorian woods and had a choice: to turn and go back or to travel deeper into the forest of this music. We chose to wander deeper in.”
She mused that “there was something different with folklore. In making it, I felt less like I was departing and more like I was returning. I loved the escapism I found in these imaginary/not imaginary tales.”
Evermore represents a continuation of folklore’s thematic and lyrical maturity as well as its compositional tendency away from radio-friendly hits and towards more alternative tracks. However, it stands apart from its “sister” in terms of metaphor use and world-building.
For instance, the album’s first single and opening track, “willow,” uses the titular tree to express how the speaker’s partner fundamentally altered their life with the recurring assertion that “life was a willow, and it bent right to your wind,” supplemented by wordplay in lines such as “lost in your current like a priceless wine” and “I come back stronger than a ’90s’ trend.”
Track two, “champagne problems,” one of Swift’s strongest efforts on the album, tells the tale of a rejected marriage proposal. Its bridge culminates in a crescendo of stream-of-consciousness as the speaker recollects what others said about the unfortunate event: “‘She would’ve made such a lovely bride, what a shame she’s f—ed in the head,’ they said.” The song’s title could doubly mean “sham pain problems”—a witty nod to feminist frustrations with the notion that a woman’s rejection of her partner’s proposal insinuates she has a mental disorder.
Swift’s clever word play is additionally evident in “gold rush,” a song whose genius titular metaphor for developing feelings for someone universally adored is strengthened by the vivid imagery of lines such as “I don’t like slow motion double vision in a rose blush / I don’t like that falling feels like flying ’til the bone crush” and “your hair falling into place like dominoes” as well as a cheeky reference to her eighth studio album: “my mind turns your life into folklore.”
“’Tis the damn season” tells the story of a pair of former lovers who reunite for the holidays when the speaker returns from Los Angeles and, in a clever reference to Robert Frost, admits that “the road not taken looks real good now / And it always leads to you and my hometown.”
“Tolerate it” and “no body, no crime” are similarly able to compress a novel’s plot into several minutes of song. The former track describes a decaying relationship in which the speaker feels merely “tolerated” by their “older” and “wiser” partner. Lines such as “I’m begging for footnotes in the story of your life / Drawing hearts in the byline” reinforce the narrator’s sense of desperation and helplessness.
The latter track, while nearly opposite of “tolerate it” in theme, is an equally strong example of Swift’s masterful storytelling abilities. With backing vocals from HAIM, she inserts herself into a crime thriller involving Merlot, mistresses, and murder in a darkly humorous effort that stands apart from the rest of the singer’s discography.
Track seven, “happiness” is significantly more somber than “no body, no crime,” but is nonetheless another perfect example of Swift’s gift for lyrical composition as well as her love of literature. Phrases such as “my eyes leak acid rain on the pillow where you used to lay your head” convey the song’s mourning over the end of a relationship. References to The Great Gatsby appear in lines such as “I hope she’ll be a beautiful fool” and “all you want from me now is the green light of forgiveness.”
Swift reinforces the idea that folklore and evermore are sister albums with a lyrical callback to the opening lines of the former record’s seventh track, “seven”: “Please picture me in the trees,” with a similar opening to “happiness”: “Honey, when I’m above the trees / I see this for what it is.”
“Dorothea” conveys a longing for a former friend or lover who has become famous, while “coney island,” which features The National, uses the idea of a theme park to ruminate on what remains of a relationship after “the fast times, the bright lights, the merry go.”
Track 10, “ivy” continues the album’s pastoral motif as established by “willow,” using the weed’s unwelcome presence, destructive abilities, and overpowering nature to symbolize the devastating effects of an affair on a marriage, especially in the line “I can’t / Stop you putting roots in my dreamland / My house of stone, your ivy grows / And now I’m covered in you.”
“Cowboy like me” likewise showcases Swift’s gift for figurative language as she compares a pair of lovers to cowboys and bandits in a Bonnie-and-Clyde-esque tale. “Long story short,” perhaps the most musically and thematically upbeat song on the album, sees the speaker reflect on their troubled past and acknowledge their partner’s role in positively changing their life.
Track 13, “marjorie,” is an elegy to Swift’s grandmother, which encapsulates the loss of loved ones endured by many throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. In another parallel reinforcing the two albums’ sisterhood, folklore’s 13th track, “epiphany,” directly compares Swift’s grandfather’s experiences fighting in World War II with the struggles faced by healthcare workers during the pandemic.
Similar to “champagne problems,” “marjorie’s” power comes from its bridge, which is both heartbreakingly universal, with phrases such as “I should’ve asked you how to be / Asked you to write it down for me / Should’ve kept every grocery store receipt / ’Cause every scrap of you would be taken from me,” and devastatingly specific, with a reference to Swift’s grandmother’s career as an opera singer: “All your closets of backlogged dreams / And how you left them all to me.”
In “closure,” the narrator addresses someone attempting to neatly end a relationship with them, frustrated that the addressee insincerely wants to wash their hands of the failed connection. The album’s title track, “evermore,” in contrast, returns to the theme of healing present in “long story short,” in a piano-driven duet with Bon Iver.
Track 16, “right where you left me,” immerses listeners in the halted world of a jilted woman, who remains “23 inside her fantasy” in the dim light of a restaurant after her partner breaks off the relationship. The song presents a deliberate contrast with the album’s closer, “it’s time to go,” in which the narrator speaks to “that old familiar body ache / The snaps from the same little breaks in your soul” and assures listeners, “you know when it’s time to go.”
Whether Swift embraces this outlook in her future music and further diversifies the sonic and lyrical content of her discography or ventures even deeper into the “folklorian woods,” evermore’s demonstration of Swift’s abilities confirms that, with regard to her musical genius, she is right where we left her.