Taylor Swift Surprises With ‘Evermore,’ an Extension of ‘Folklore’ and Her Second Album of 2020
In 2020, Taylor Swift is going the extra mile while everybody else is just trying to summon the energy to get through each day. “Evermore” marks her second album in five months, described as a “sister” recording to “Folklore,” and a collection of stories and reflections she intends as a balm for fans who have endured losses and generally wrestled with the yearlong pandemic. Working with Aaron Dessner, Jack Antonoff and Justin Vernon, Swift delivers fifteen clean, catchy, easily digestible indie-style tracks (17 on the physical release) that comfortably straddle her country roots and the razor-sharp pop instincts that made her beloved to millions.
On “Evermore,” Swift vacillates between introspective love songs, thinly concealed personal confessionals and soapy storytelling narratives. “Willow” starts the album unassumingly with a poetic description of the effect of a new lover: “I’m like the water when your ship rolled in that night / Rough on the surface, but you cut through like a knife… Life was a willow and it bent right to your wind.” This is perhaps unsurprisingly where she’s most successful as a songwriter and performer, distilling these universal sentiments into timeless pop manna, while for the most part avoiding the autobiographical revelations that immediately carbon-date songs and sound too much like a teenager’s diary.
The extent to which songs like “Champagne Problems” are based on real experiences, for example, is intriguing only to a certain point; on the album’s second song, the protagonist turns down a marriage proposal right before the holidays, reflecting on the recriminations from a lover’s friends and family. But all of these songs end up resonating more powerfully if they’re fully fictional, and it behooves the listener not to look too closely into the real-world parallels from her not-so-distant very public life (she admitted on Twitter this week that this song in particular was not based on anything that happened to her.) “Gold Rush,” meanwhile, is the female folk counterpart to Shawn Mendes’ ode to jealousy “Piece of You,” almost down to the lyrics: she sings “What must it be like to grow up that beautiful” just a week after he confessed “I get jealous, but who wouldn’t when you look like you do?” In fact, what’s interesting about a song like this is that it almost feels like it’s written from the perspective of a person in love with her: “I don’t like that anyone would die to feel your touch / Everybody wants you / Everybody wonders what it would be like to love you.”
But at almost 31, Swift’s voice now gives some of these stories the gravitas, and the life experience they need to be authentic folk laments. For example, “‘Tis the Damn Season” perfectly captures the sensation of coming home for Christmas and reconnecting with a young love, or wanting to in that spirit of nostalgia and reflection; and “Tolerate It” tells about a disintegrating relationship between a sad girl and the guy who doesn’t see how badly he’s taking advantage of her while a second pining suitor watches from afar. And, with Haim thickening up the harmonies of its chorus, “No Body, No Crime” tells a story of a philandering husband and vengeful wife, but simultaneously lacks the level of Tammy Wynette’s (or Reba McEntire) bitterness that elevates it to the ranks of a true jilted-lover classic.
With nine albums under her belt, Swift has become extremely adept at finding those details and absolutely gutting the listener with them. As she sorts through the wreckage of a recently-ended relationship searching for clues of the decline, she sings “I was dancing when the music stopped,” such a succinct and evocative characterization of that feeling of loss. On “Dorothea,” she sings of a girl who left her hometown behind and went West to seek success and fame with lyrics like, “The stars in your eyes shined brighter in Tupelo / And if you’re ever tired of bеing known for who you know / You know, you’ll always know me, Dorothea.”
Piggybacking on band member Aaron Dessner’s songwriting and production contributions to many of these tracks, the National’s Matt Berninger pops up on “Coney Island,” offering a welcome counterpart to her delicate voice as the two navigate an apology for falling in love with someone but failing to adequately prioritize them. Later, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon pairs up with Swift on the title track as she finds the prettiest notes in her vocal register to chronicle some particularly relatable feelings of melancholy and unhappiness before yearning desperately towards hope, an anthem and a sentiment for 2020 if one must be chosen.
Ultimately, a second Taylor Swift album in a single year, and in this particular year, evidences the fact that Swift is more herself than ever, exercising her creativity with greater confidence and freedom than ever before. It remains to be seen whether that guarantees a career that can be described as “Evermore,” but these collections’ cohesiveness separately and as siblings certainly suggests she’s not slowing down anytime soon.
“Evermore” releases on Dec. 11 on Apple Music.