This year proves once again that literally anything is possible — who would have thought that 2020 would leave us with not one, but two Taylor Swift albums? With the arrival of evermore, Swift effortlessly continues her foray into whimsical folk and alternative indie sounds.
While this “sister record,” as Swift referred to it, could have easily felt derivative or a collection of B sides from folklore,evermore is maddeningly beautiful and imaginative in its own right. There are some noticeable parallels between the two, but they still feel like distinct, separate bodies of work. Despite the obvious similarities in style, the overall collection of songs on her newest album feels brighter and more uptempo, yet more tragic at the same time. The tracks are a little bit more melancholic, with the stories feeling slightly more removed from Swift’s own life. While folklore seemed to still have some connection to Swift herself, evermore is filled with fantastical stories of vengeance, jealousy, hurt and regret. That’s the beauty in writing an album like this, as it allows someone as skilled at songwriting as Swift is to experiment and explore. Suddenly, there’s a whole new color palette to paint with — all these emotions and extreme narratives that would otherwise never fit a more autobiographical style of writing.
There’s the downtrodden and delicate, introspective ballad “champagne problems,” and the dark, accusatory “tolerate it” that is tinged with desperate, heartbreaking hurt over someone no longer loving you. Swift sings “I made you my temple, my mural, my sky / Now I’m begging for footnotes in the story of your life.”
But evermore also offers songs like “happiness” and “cowboy like me.” The former is both delicate and hopeful, almost like a warm, soothing hug, Swift tells you that there is a “glorious sunrise” once you accept a relationship is in the past and it’s better that way. In “cowboy like me,” Swift falls back on her country roots, to recount an almost smug song about forever love.
And just like its sister, evermore, too, has a few songs whose stories are interconnected — “dorothea” and “tis the damn season.” They’re wistful songs, looking back on someone who fled their small hometown for big city lights. Perhaps that’s why it’s so impressive to see just how much of a genius wordsmith Swift truly is, weaving unique, complex stories from exquisite, sophisticated lyrics. Not only that, but she is meticulous in showing the progression or different perspectives related to those stories.
The idea of continuing stories through song is not just seen within the album itself. If you listen closely, the melody of album opener “willow” is incredibly similar to that of folklore track “invisible string.” In fact, the video for “willow” even shows these invisible strings as a central plot point. Another of these connections can be found in the track “gold rush,” an almost poppy upbeat track that sees Swift berate herself for her own daydreaming, its lyrics referencing the previous album: “My mind turns your life into folklore.”
Revisiting themes like infidelity — “illicit affairs” on folklore and “ivy” on evermore — doesn’t at all feel repetitive, exactly because of those songwriting skills. What is more, Swift’s lyrics often could double for actual poetry. For example, in “ivy,” the chorus goes: “Oh damn, my pain fits in the freezing palm of your hand / Taking mine, but it’s been promised to another / Oh, I can’t stop you putting roots in my dreamland / My house of stone, your ivy grows / And now I’m covered in you,” which is infinitely mesmerizing and poetic.
Similarly, her collaboration with The National, “coney island,” features lyrics like: “If I can’t relate to you anymore / Then who am I related to? / And if this is the long haul / How’d we get here so soon? Did I close my fist around something delicate? / Did I shatter you?”
There are also new themes, most notably in the title track “evermore” — another incredibly vulnerable ballad that leaves you feeling stripped bare as it discusses overcoming depression. Aided by Bon Iver, Swift finds her way out of the seemingly endless months in which she felt like drowning. Leaning heavily on that imagery of an unmoored ship that needs a lifeline, she changes her mind in the end that “this pain wouldn’t be for evermore.”
It seems apt that it’s the closing song, as we near the end of 2020, we all feel like we are catching our breaths, hoping that this year won’t be for evermore either.
And while she’s always been ambitious when it comes to her lyrics, evermore also offers some interesting sonic experimentation. “no body, no crime” involves some spoken word dialogue by HAIM to further build out the story of an imaginative missing person case. Elsewhere on the album, she experiments with production on “closure,” feeling almost industrial. It makes the song extra jarring, especially as it’s wedged in between two softer tracks.
Still, it’s one of two autobiographical songs on the album — the other being “long story short” — that steals the show. “Marjorie,” a track named after Swift’s grandmother, is filled with such warmth and love. The song slowly builds towards a crescendo while always maintaining its soft-spoken nature.
Swift recounts life lessons from her grandmother: “never be so kind you forget to be clever / never be so clever you forget to be kind,” and wonders wistfully about whether or not her grandmother’s presence is still with her. As she reminisces, it’s almost impossible not to smile, showing exactly why grief is just love that no longer can go anywhere. Except, perhaps, in song tributes.
It’s almost impossible to believe that Swift created another 15 impeccable tracks in these past few months of 2020, and yet that is what evermore is. A perfect companion to folklore, the album builds on its strengths but also sees Swift experiment in carefully curated ways we didn’t see on folklore. While that does make the album overall feel a little less coherent than folklore, evermore is admirable and wonderful all the same, with instant classic quality.