Author: Pen Fang
On December 10th, 2020, Taylor Swift announced yet again that she was going to be releasing a surprise album, after a post captioned, “Not a lot going on at the moment”, parallel to the day she released Folklore. Swift also hinted at certain songs to come out (posting a story on Instagram captioned “tis the d— season”) before she dropped the final bomb. The singer-songwriter turns 31 this year; her logic for releasing the album in 2020 was that 31 is 13 backward (for those unaware, 13 is Swift’s lucky number).
Her ninth studio album, Evermore, which is said to be Folklore’s sister album, has been released on streaming services across the world, featuring collaborations with The National, HAIM, and Bon Iver – the most collaborations on an album she has done to date. Evermore features 17 tracks on the deluxe edition, the exact same as Folklore.
Prepare the tissues and dictionaries before streaming. I am not responsible for any emotional damage to come out of this review or album.
Track 1 – “willow”
(source: Taylor Swift via youtube)
The album opens up with this track. The song is about the feeling of being in love, the different facets of loving and pining. During her premiere, Swift stated that, “‘willow’ is about intrigue, desire, and the complexity that goes into wanting someone. I think it sounds like casting a spell to make somebody fall in love with you (an oddly specific visual).”
The music video segues directly from the ending of “Cardigan”, with Swift sitting by the piano in the cardigan before using the piano to travel once more. She is led by a golden string, through time and space, before ultimately being reunited with her lover, once again, in the house with the piano.
“willow” has many parallels to the songs on Folklore. The golden string leading back to her lover in the music video is a reference to “invisible string”, the lyric, “show me the places where the others gave you scars,” is a reference to, “you drew stars around my scars,” from the track “cardigan”. Additionally, Swift says the lyric “that’s my man” 13 times total in “willow”, perhaps an obscure reference to her lucky number.
Best lyric: “Every bait-and-switch was a work of art.”
Track 2 – “champagne problems”
This is one of Swift’s more emotional songs on the album, even going so far as to trend on Twitter for the feelings it evoked. It is about a woman who declines her fiance’s wedding proposal, reflecting the hurt and heartbreak on both parts. Neither of them were prepared, neither of them saw the others’ reaction coming, and then they had to deal with the subsequent fallout. Swift described the song in an essay, stating that it depicts, “longtime college sweethearts [who] had very different plans for the same night, one to end it and one who brought a ring.”
Throughout the song, there are many subtle hints that reveal the storyline, painting an image of heartbreak and sorrow – from both parties – and a lot of regret. The bridge captures Swift’s poetic storytelling best, with lines like “November flush and your flannel cure,” and “soon they’ll have the nerve to/deck the halls that we once walked through.” One of the more jarring yet heartbreaking lines being “‘She would’ve made such a lovely bride, white a shame she’s f—— in the head’, they said.” This line reinforces the recurring theme “champagne problems” presents of mental illness and the stigmatization of said mental illness by the town.
Arguably, “champagne problems” is one of Swift’s best songs to date, with the intricate storytelling and powerful and emotional moments. Her poetic storyline shines in lines such as, “you had a speech; you’re speechless,” which describes the proposal speech turned down, resulting in the speechlessness, while also implying the emotions of shock and heartbreak. Swift also uses subtle changes in the chorus, creating juxtapositions differentiating what she did as compared to her ex-fiance’s new lover. (“dropped your hand while dancing/left you out there standing,” as compared to, “hold your hand while dancing/never leave you standing.”) The final chorus in particular captures the feeling of satisfaction that a person you cared about is in better hands now, but also regret and hurt that those hands are not yours.
Best lyric: “‘She would’ve made such a lovely bride, what a shame she’s f—ed in the head,’ they said.” (But really, it’s the entire song. Each lyric works so well, whether it’s a quick one or it structures part of the story, detailing the imagery, etc.)
Track 3 – “gold rush”
“gold rush” is a song about jealousy – jealousy about wanting someone that everybody else wants and admires as well. It opens up with a reference to “willow” (ships on water), though it could reference many other songs (sinking ships is imagery Swift has used in past songs).
Swift mentioned during her premiere of “willow” that “gold rush” was Jack Antonoff, the producer’s, personal favorite. “Jack’s favorite is ‘gold rush.’ Which takes place inside a single daydream where you get lost in thought for a minute and then snap out of it.”
In the chorus, the intricacy of the narrator’s feelings is shown – she is in love with someone who has many others flocking after them, along with despising some of the side effects of her love (blushing, etc.). Certain parts also allude to the fact that she seems to be hesitant about love, and maybe even dislike it. She could also possibly be romanticizing the love, viewing it in a glorified light before coming back down to realize that the relationship cannot be like that, and she is only fantasizing. Daydreaming about a love that cannot be.
The most blatant reference to Folklore is the lyric “my mind turns your life into folklore”. Swift has used her own life experiences and relationships to help with her songwriting.
Best lyric: “I don’t like that falling feels like flying ‘til the bone crush.”
Track 4 – “‘tis the d— season”
“tis the d— season” is about a relationship that is limited in time, one that is so very temporary but intimate all the same. A winter affair, almost. The song captures the ache of longing and want, describing the regret of pursuing things that led to the relationship being so limited and the pining afterward, of missing a love that wasn’t meant to be.
This song ties into another track on Evermore, “dorothea”. Swift stated the song is about, “Dorothea, the girl who left her small town to chase down Hollywood dreams – and what happens when she comes back for the holidays and rediscovers an old flame.”
Many lyrics hint to the past that Dorothea had in this town, and the love and ache she feels for her (ex)-lover. The song carries a lot of that aching pining feeling – wanting something you can’t have. She’s been put in a situation where she has to choose between love and success, and coming back, in hindsight, she’s not sure she made the right choice. And when she gets to finally have what she wants, it’s very, very limited. The song is very much coated in a layer of regret.
Best lyric: “and the road not taken looks real good now/but it always leads to you in my hometown.”
Track 5 – “tolerate it”
With this track being the fifth on the tracklist, fans should know to expect to feel emotionally gutted. It’s the infamous track five, after all. “tolerate it” is about unrequited love – the pain and frustration that comes with loving someone who doesn’t feel the same, but also the way the mind raises everything they do on a pedestal. It captures the feeling of wanting someone who couldn’t care less about you. “tolerate it” is a very sharp song, in a sense, despite having a gentle melody. The lyrics spurn hurt and ache, spin a tale of desperate wanting and hoping and devotion only to no avail.
During the “willow” premiere, Swift states, “I decided on track five because of the lyrics of ‘tolerate it’ and how it’s so visual, and conveys such a specific kind of hurt.” She paints a vivid image of this type of hurt, using lines such as, “use my best colors for your portrait,” to depict the narrator’s devotion, before revealing that the narrator’s love interest merely tolerates the affection and love. Many of the lyrics pack a physical pain behind it; this song is track five for a reason.
The change in the final chorus is all the more heartbreaking when the final line comes, delivering the blow that despite the fact that the narrator could throw away her feelings and break free from this cycle of unrequited love and despair, she stays and doesn’t change; she clings onto hope.
Possible references to Folklore include, “where’s that man who’d throw blankets over my barbed wire,” paralleling the lyric, “something wrapped all of my past mistakes in barbed wire.”
Best lyric: “I made you my temple, my mural, my sky/now I’m begging for footnotes in the story of your life.”
Track 6 – “no body, no crime (feat. HAIM)”
That’s enough crying. It’s time for a murder. A song that is dipping more into the country genre, “no body no crime” is more of a storytelling song, similar to the songs Swift wrote at the start of her career. It revolves around the narrator (presumably Swift), and her family, with tales of infidelity and murder.
In the “willow” music video premiere chat, Swift states, “The Haim sisters have been my best friends for years and we’ve played together so many times but this is the first time we’ve done a song together. […] I wrote ‘No body, no crime’ by myself. It was inspired by my obsession with true crime podcasts/documentaries and I used one of my best friends’ names as the main character 😂”
Swift paints a very clear story, detailing the motives and the murders, using clever shifts in the verses and choruses to point the listener in a direction. She goes from,“’I think he did it but I just can’t prove it,’” (from Este’s perspective, in reference to her husband cheating on her), to repeating the same verse, only this time from Swift’s own perspective, in reference to Este’s murder. In the final chorus, she switches to, “they think she did it but they just can’t prove it,” when telling how she managed to spin the blame of her own crime onto Este’s husbands’ lover. Then, she switches it up again, using, “she thinks I did it but she just can’t prove it,” to show another perspective.
Best lyric: “and I’ve cleaned enough houses to know how to cover a scene.”
Track 7 – “happiness”
Despite the title of this song being “happiness”, the song is quite sad. The song seems to be more of a classic Taylor-esque breakup song; it’s about the messiness of loving, breaking up, moving on. In the “willow” premiere, Swift said, “Happiness is a very deceptive title. That’s all I’ll say.”
The song looks at a relationship that isn’t quite the healthiest, when both parties have hurt each other. The narrator reflects and concludes that, “there’ll be happiness after you/but there was happiness because you.” It has a theme of reinvention and moving on, of acknowledging something that brought happiness and pain and moving past it, realizing that there is more happiness yet to come. It may be a breakup song, but it’s still hopeful.
Swift uses the sun (and thus dawn) as symbolism for hope and a new beginning, singing, “There is a glorious sunrise/dappled with the flickers of light/from the dress I wore at midnight, leave it all behind.” The sun rises, and she sheds this “dress [she] wore at midnight,” perhaps a reference to Cinderella, in the sense that their relationships are finite and she must face change and moving on. Similar to Folklore’s track 7, “seven”, “happiness” opens up with a tree-related lyric, though the song itself convokes much more somber imagery compared to the childhood type that “seven” invokes.
Best lyric: “When did all our lessons start to look like weapons pointed at my deepest hurt?”
Track 8 – “dorothea”
“dorothea” is about a “girl who left her small town to chase down Hollywood dreams.” Presumably, it is told from the perspective of someone who loved her (perhaps the same lover in “tis the d— season”), who wishes for Dorothea to come back, wondering if they are remembered by her.
It resembles a plot when childhood friends and possibly lovers grow distant, one longing for the other, wondering what time and distance have wrought upon their relationship. Despite the pining theme, the song itself gives much more cheerful vibes than some of the other songs on this album. It’s a love song, an underlying layer of pining and want covered with a bright melody.
According to Swift, Dorothea is not directly related to the Betty/James/August girl storyline, but in Swift’s head, “Dorothea went to the same school as Betty, James, and Inez.” Another possible reference to her older songs (namely “You Belong With Me”), she sings, “but are you still the same soul I met under the bleachers?”, which could be a reference to the lyric, “but she’s cheer captain and I’m on the bleachers.”
Best lyric: “You’re a queen sellin’ dreams, sellin’ makeup and magazines.”
Track 9 – “coney island (feat. The National)”
A collaboration with The National, “coney island” is a song about a relationship in which both parties were not equally invested. In a manner similar to “exile”, a conversation is held back and forth between Swift and Matt Berninger (lead singer of The National). The National’s influence can be heard in the music, through it’s more subdued, melancholic production.
The song focuses on two narratives, both of which are looking back upon a relationship. Apologies, a failure to prioritize the relationship, wondering how things could’ve gone differently, and an overall somber reflection of the relationship. The song invokes a soft, sad, almost nostalgic view of the past.
“coney island” is another song filled with metaphors – Swift uses the setting sun and the cold as a symbol for heartbreak, a ring as a symbol for love. Furthermore, she uses lyrics like, “the sight that flashed before me was your face/when the sun goes down,” to invoke imagery of heartbreak and regret. The bright visuals of Coney Island described in the song are a sharp contrast to the slow and sad nostalgia brought up by the singers, lamenting about the past in, “the fast times, the bright lights, the merry go.”
Amusingly enough, Coney Island’s community district is Brooklyn 13, another possibly far-fetched allusion to Swift’s lucky number.
Best lyric: “Did I paint your bluest skies the darkest grey?”
Track 10 – “ivy”
“ivy” is another song by Swift about an affair, using the imagery of ivy uprooting through the cracks of a stone house as a metaphor to a forbidden love blooming into the hearts of those involved. It’s about a married woman who falls in love with someone else, stone foundations cracking from the ivy.
Swift uses lyrics like, “my pain fits in the palm of your freezing hand/taking mine but it’s been promised to another,” to subtly hint at the affair. The house described in the song represents the narrator and the illicit love, hence the lines, “my house of stone, your ivy grows,” and “he’s gonna burn this house to the ground”.
“ivy” is another song in which Swift’s lyrical and poetic genius shines. Simple lines like, “spring breaks loose, but so does fear,” and even the simple bridge convey such desperation, want, and fear. She manages to portray an affair brilliantly yet again.
On the album notes on Twitter, Swift writes (describing the album), “The ‘unhappily ever after’ anthology of marriages gone bad that includes infidelity, ambivalent toleration, and even murder.” Part of this could possibly tie with “no body no crime” (murder), and part of it could be about “ivy”. Additionally, Track 10 on Folklore is “illicit affairs”, another way the sister album ties to this one.
Best lyric: “I’d live and die for moments that we stole/on begged and borrowed time.”
Track 11 – “cowboy like me”
“cowboy like me” is another country (or country-folk)-leaning song. It’s about two people who fall in love through a tale of swindling and purveying money off of the rich.
In the “willow” premiere, Swift wrote, “There’s a really beautiful background vocal on ‘cowboy like me’ sung by someone I’m a big fan of.” The someone happened to be Marcus Mumford (lead singer of the band Mumford & Sons). She writes in the album notes, “[The song is] about two young con artists who fall in love while hanging out at fancy resorts trying to score rich romantic beneficiaries.”
The vocals and lyricism on this song are simply stunning. The slower melody and production balance very well with Swift’s singing. Lyrics like “and I know I’ll pay for it,” cut like a double-edged sword. Perhaps she means she’ll pay for it in the literal meaning, using the money she’s swindled; perhaps she’ll pay for it through grief and emotions. Some lines are just beautiful altogether, like “now you hang from my lips/like the Gardens of Babylon,” invoking imagery of a breathtaking love.
At the end, the narrator concludes, “I’m never gonna love again,” in a deceptive manner – it is implied she never falls in love again because she is already in a stable relationship, not because of heartbreak. She hints at a messy relationship with lines like, “and the skeletons in both our closets/plotted hard to f— this up,” but she also hints that she “locked it down.” She got her happily-ever-after.
Best lyric: “Forever is the sweetest con.”
Track 12 – “long story short”
“long story short” sums up the 2016 Taylor Swift and Kanye West drama, and her moving on from it, finding a resolution. It also ties into her current relationship, and how she has managed to find peace. The song has a similar beat to that of “the last great american dynasty,” which is another song presumably about Taylor.
Compared to the rest of Evermore, “long story short” is a little more upbeat, perhaps reflecting on the tone of the song. While Swift spins tales of heartbreak and longing for the other songs, here she sings about moving on and finding peace and happiness.
Swift sings lines like, “I tried to pick my battles until the battle picked me,” and, “And I fell down the rabbit hole/right down the pedestal,” both of which could pertain to her so-called “fall from grace” and disappearance. The song opens with darker undertones (words like misery and battle and war are tossed around), before Swift sings that she’s ready if someone comes at her again, and tells her past self not get caught up in petty things.
The chorus switches from, “long story short it was a bad time,” to “long story short I survived.” There are also other shifts, turning negatives into positives. Swift seems to have found peace, and that’s all there really is to this song – she’s past the drama, she’s moved on to happier things. And good for her.
Best lyric: “Your nemeses/will defeat themselves before you get the chance to speak.”
Track 13 – “marjorie”
Similar to track 13 on Folklore, track 13 on Evermore is dedicated to another one of Swift’s grandparents. (Marjorie is the name of Swift’s grandmother.) She was an opera singer who helped inspire Swift’s music career. She is also credited for backing vocals in the song as well.
“marjorie” is a sadder song, one that is more of Swift missing her late grandmother, wishing that she had held on to what she had, and saying that Marjorie lives on with her. She sings, “what died didn’t stay dead/you’re alive in my head.” The bridge is another powerful one, with Swift reminiscing over moments with her grandmother, wishing that she had held on to what she had. The song is haunting and musically and lyrically stunning.
“marjorie” seems to be a more personal song.
Best lyric: “never be so kind/you forget to be clever/never be so clever/you forget to be kind.”
Track 14 – “closure”
“closure” follows Evermore’s theme of songs about endings. The song seems to be about someone who is still mad at someone who hurt them, and the hurter subsequently being mad over that. Which undersells the song a bit, but it’s a catchy song about not needing closure from someone who hurt you.
The production can be a little jarring at first, with a wild drum tune that softens at 13 seconds in, covered by a simple piano backing, but overall, it’s a catchy song. It’s a little shallow compared to some of the other songs on the album, but it has its lyrical moments, such as, “and seeing the shape of your name/still spells out pain,” and, “reaching out across the sea/that you put between you and me.” The bridge of the song is also quite nice.
Best lyric: “I’m fine with my spite/and my tears, and my beers and candles.”
Track 15 – “evermore”
“evermore” is the titular song of the album. It is also the second collaboration Swift has had with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. Once again, the song features the recurring theme of reminiscing on old hurts and moving on and finding peace.
Swift opens up with stormier and darker imagery, before switching to a faster melody and a shift in tone and lyrics. The choruses show this process, first featuring the line, “that this pain would be for evermore,” before switching to, “that this pain wouldn’t be for evermore.”
Vernon comes in at the bridge, first with a solo bridge before the second bridge, singing in a way similar to the Swift/Vernon duet in “evermore”. The tempo increases here, almost a swell or a shift (the chorus lyric switch happens after this). The lyrics of the bridge also seem to show a positive shift. It’s a rather pretty way of signifying the change.
Swift describes a cabin as the setting of the song, perhaps a reference to the “cardigan” and “willow” music videos, in which she begins and ends in a cabin.
Best lyric: “I replay my footsteps on each stepping stone/trying to find the one where I went wrong.”
Track 16 (bonus track) – “right where you left me”
(source: Taylor Swift via twitter)
“right where you left me” is a song about a girl who refuses to move on, stuck permanently in the memory of her heartbreak. Time flies, the rest of the world spins with the Earth, but the girl is stuck in this moment of time. On Twitter, Swift said, “[‘right where you left me’] is a song about a girl who stayed forever in the exact spot where her heart was broken, completely frozen in time.”
The song opens up with a sort of overview of time passing. Things change, people get closer, people move on. It is then revealed that the narrator is stuck in this moment of time in which she was left heartbroken. She’s stuck in a restaurant, perhaps a metaphorical one that has its entrances and exits barred shut, perhaps a literal one in which she was left heartbroken. She reveals that everyone else moved on, but she’s still stuck there, sitting in the corner of the restaurant.
She acknowledges the heartbreak and everyone else moving on, with heart-wrenching lyrics like, “I’m sure that you got a wife out there/kids and Christmas, but I’m unaware.” But as she sings, she’s still at the restaurant. “You left me no choice to stay here forever.”
The second verse ties into the song’s theme of being stuck in a memory, though it could also be about Swift herself. In her documentary Miss Americana, Swift mentions that celebrities are frozen at the age they get famous. Perhaps this links to the line, “did you hear about the girl who got frozen?” and, “she’s still twenty-three inside her fantasy.” (At 23, Swift had released one of her biggest albums, Red.) Perhaps this song is also about her, in a sense, about her being stuck in a moment of time and unable to move on.
Best lyric: “I cause no harm, mind my business/if our love died young, I can’t bear witness”
Track 17 (bonus track) – “it’s time to go”
“it’s time to go” is a song about knowing when to move on and letting go. Swift said on Twitter, “‘it’s time to go’ is about listening to your gut when it tells you to leave.” The overarching message of the song seems to be that sometimes, to let go is the right way, and “you know when it’s time to go”.
“it’s time to go” also references restaurant imagery, opening up with the line, “when the dinner gets cold/and the chatter gets old.” There’s even a similar part in “it’s time to go” that could allude to Swift’s career, referencing fifteen years (Swift’s debut released in 2006), a “he” that could possibly be about Scooter Braun or Scott Borchetta. She says, “he’s got my past frozen behind glass,” which could reference the deal in which her masters were sold the Scooter Braun. In the “willow” music video, there is also a segment in which Swift is trapped behind a glass – perhaps this is another reference.
However, “it’s time to go” also contrasts sharply to “right where you left me”, which has a theme of not being able to let go. The two almost form a story-like sequence, with the narrator opening up unable to let go, before finally realizing that she should let go.
“it’s time to go” has some important messages. “Sometimes giving up is the strong thing/sometimes to run is the brave thing/sometimes walking out is the one thing/that will find you the right thing.” As Swift says, sometimes you have to give up and let go to get to a better place.
Best lyric: “Now he sits on his throne in his palace of bones/praying to his greed.”
If Folklore was about the hurt, Evermore is about the healing. Two sister albums, like the sun and moon, one burning and one cooling. Overall, Evermore is a solid album, with its deep cuts and lighthearted tracks. It has its poetic moments, when Swift’s lyrical genius shines, as well as catchy tunes. It’s most definitely worth giving a listen.