In July 2020, Taylor Swift released her surprise album, “folklore,” which became the saving grace of an otherwise tragic year for many fans. Refreshingly different from her recent pop albums, “folklore” combined indie-folk with Swift’s trademark country narrative to form an enduring and authentic album which not only struck a chord with her original fans, but also won over a significant number of new listeners.
So when Swift dropped her second surprise album of the year in December 2020, it was met with passionate support and enthusiasm from fans, many of whom still had folklore on repeat.
Evermore is folklore’s “sister record,” as Swift called it in her post on Instagram announcing its release. “To put it plainly, we just couldn’t stop writing songs,” she wrote, “We were standing at the edge of the folklorian woods and had a choice: to turn and go back or to travel further into the forest of this music.” Although the metaphor may not have been particularly inventive, the sentiment is worthy of a Taylor Swift ballad in itself — the desire to dig deeper, the need to keep escaping, the urge to tell more stories.
Storytelling has always been at the heart of Swift’s music, but never has she constructed stories as sophisticated as those in “folklore” and “evermore.” Although the former is arguably superior in its narratives, characters and introspective lyrics, “evermore” is more experimental and brave, with several striking images of its own: a willow bending in the wind, a woman living with the knowledge that she broke someone’s heart, a murder-mystery told by a third-person narrator, a flicker of hope after a prolonged period of pain that seemed like it would last for evermore.
The depth of Swift’s lyrics matches the range of stories she tells, forming an emotionally complex compilation of songs that captures the nuances of complete infatuation, helpless regret, bittersweet goodbyes and equally hard hellos with striking acuteness.
The seventh track on the album, “happiness,” is a quintessential example of Swift’s newfound emotional maturity; although post-breakup songs are far from unique, Swift cuts through the noise of blind rage, blame and devastation that ordinarily characterize break-up tunes. She instead expresses a more delicate sentiment: the resigned acceptance that sometimes good people hurt you, and the astonishing self-awareness that she is one of those people; “No one teaches you what to do when a good man hurts you and you know you hurt him too.” With a clarity that her 21-year-old self notably lacked, Swift acknowledges that happiness does not depend on one person, no matter how much they contributed to it.
The last song on the standard record, the title track featuring Bon Iver, is the perfect blend of melancholy and hope to end the album. Reminiscent of their last collaboration, “exile” on “folklore,” “evermore” is arguably the best track on this album, especially for the call-and-response bridge featuring Iver’s falsetto.
Earlier this month, Swift released the deluxe version of the album featuring two new songs, and they did not disappoint. “right where you left me” is a chilling story of a girl who got frozen in time, unable to move on as the world moved around her. “Help, I’m still at the restaurant, still sitting in a corner I haunt,” she sings. “it’s time to go” seems like a direct response to this: it tells the girl at the restaurant to leave “when the dinner gets cold.” In a world full of rom-coms that romanticize the “I’ll wait for you forever” sentiment, Swift speaks of the courage it takes to leave dysfunctional relationships or positions, no matter how comfortable they are. She leaves us with a much-needed reminder that “sometimes giving up is the strong thing.”