evermore: an analysis and review of the surprise ninth album from Taylor Swift
On July 23rd, 2020, Swift stunned the world when she announced she would be releasing her eighth studio album folklore at midnight. That album went on to immediately garner widespread critical acclaim, including a number of end-of-year lists and a slew of Grammy nominations — including Album of the Year. It was also the top-selling album by a female artist of the year and saw Swift pivoting to a folksier and more alternative sound that allowed her lyricism to shine. By all counts, she’d managed to have a great year career-wise in the face of a raging pandemic. One could only imagine the collective meltdown the Internet had when Swift announced on December 10th of the same year that she would be releasing her ninth album evermore. Swift confirmed Aaron Dessner’s, Bon Iver’s, and Jack Antonoff’s returns from her previous full-length as well as confirmed new collaborations with HAIM and Dessner’s band The National. Interestingly enough, this is Swift’s third album in a matter of sixteen months, an impressive show of work ethic and a quick turnaround not usually seen from artists outside of the hip-hop side of the music industry.
“Willow”, the album’s first track which also serves as its lead single, immediately establishes a warmer and brighter soundscape than her previous effort. Swift depicts her enthrallment with her lover, finding herself swept away by them and her path rerouted by their arrival. She assures them that she’s their soulmate and that they won’t find similar fulfillment with someone else. There’s a medieval element to the instrumental that animates the mystical imagery of the lyrics, though not to the point of parody. “Champagne Problems” has her don the role of someone who isn’t on the same page as her love interest, publicly rejecting her love interest’s marriage proposal. Much like the female figures on folklore who dared to defy expectations, Swift’s narrator is similarly disparaged for turning down the offer of matrimony. She alludes to the narrator’s struggles with mental illness as the reason for her uncertainty of the relationship, as well as their differences in class, and portrays genuine regret for breaking her love interest’s heart. Swift is accompanied by a slower piano-led production and haunting background vocals, properly conveying the complexities behind the relationship’s erosion and the narrator’s conflicting feelings. She waxes poetic about the beauty of a love interest and imagining what a future with them would look like on “Gold Rush”. Swift is open about the intimidation she feels due to her love interest being desired by many others, unwilling to share them with anyone else or compete for their affections. She doesn’t take the bait though, leaving the attraction unexplored. The wistful synth-ridden beat takes Swift to poppier territory, serving as a more mature and less chart-minded take on her work from 1989. “‘Tis the Damn Season” casts Swift in the role of an aspiring starlet returning to her hometown for the holidays who reconnects with an old high school ex. She offers them a temporary rekindling for the holiday season, admitting that they might have ended up together in another life and promising she’ll treasure their connection when she returns to Los Angeles to chase her dreams again. Her lyricism nails the way we often turn to nostalgia and entertaining ideas of what could have been during the holidays, with the theatrical strings and driving drum pattern conjuring the melodrama of holiday movies that Swift’s narrative portrays. “Tolerate It” explores a dysfunctional relationship where Swift’s narrator recognizes her partner doesn’t reciprocate or consider her feelings. She illustrates how she attempts to give them the best of herself, but finds that her efforts are met with indifference instead of appreciation. She is frustrated with fighting to inhabit a smaller piece of her partner’s life than she deserves, even posing the question of how they’d react if she finally ended things between them. The somber melody accentuates the heartache of Swift’s narrator while the rapid percussion buried in the background underscores the tension in the relationship.
Swift invites longtime friends and celebrated band HAIM on “No Body, No Crime”, which is gleefully chock-full of crimes. Despite being a solo written song from Swift, it’s an inventive collaboration as she namechecks Este as her friend who suspects her husband of adultery. Este soon goes missing after confessing her concerns to Swift, who suspects her husband of murdering her friend but can’t prove it to get the justice she deserves. She takes matters into her own hands, planning the husband’s murder and allowing Danielle to voice her support of Swift’s alibi, allowing Este’s husband’s mistress to be the prime suspect for the latest crime. Este and Danielle provide supporting vocals throughout the track, coming together for their own updated version of the Dixie Chicks’ “Goodbye Earl”. Though the following track is titled “Happiness”, Swift’s narrator on this track isn’t quite there yet. Instead, she is re-examining her past relationship amid the fallout of their separation (and possibly divorce). In the moments she’s able to be objective, she recognizes the relationship ran its course but knows that while she is struggling through moving on, she isn’t fully able to appreciate this yet. She is hopeful that she will find happiness one day and that she will be in a healthier place where she can forgive her former partner, but still struggles with moments of bitterness and anger as she journeys through her mourning. The plucked strings of the instrumental translate the fragility and instability of the narrator’s frame of mind, while the electric guitar and discordant synths hint towards the angst the narrator continues to battle. On “Dorothea”, Swift steps into the role of a childhood sweetheart the title character left behind in her hometown to chase stardom — establishing Dorothea as the narrator of the earlier track “‘Tis the Damn Season”. They lament her distaste for their hometown, remembering their past moments and wondering if Dorothea thinks of them as well. They attempt to cajole her into returning to spend a life with them, though they also know the futility of getting her to change her mind. It’s a bittersweet yet breezy track that further exemplifies Swift’s proven ability to depict fully realized worlds and perspectives with her lyrics. “Coney Island” features The National proper, meaning that Swift finds herself in a duet with Matt Berninger as they portray two halves of a relationship fallen apart, though with both of them reflecting on how they contributed to its failure. Though there’s a similar feel to Swift’s breakup ballad “Exile” with Bon Iver from her previous album, whereas that song felt like an argument, the regret here is palpable on both sides as they each question the value of their successes without each other in their lives. Swift and Berninger harmonize and sing lines in unison, further giving the impression that though they are no longer compatible, they share similar views on the relationship and are more in tune with each other. “Ivy” sees Swift cast herself as a married woman singing of feelings for another man, confessing that she feels more like she belongs to her lover than her husband. She likens her feelings for her extramarital lover to that of the invasive plant ivy, unable to resist the growing relationship between them. She fears her husband’s reaction if they are found out, though admits she is willing to sacrifice everything for them to be together.
Swift is a hustling rogue on “Cowboy In Love’’ who finds her match in another swindler, painting the scene as they encounter each other while trying to find new marks. She details how she never had any ambitions for love but that she thinks she’s found her soulmate in them. Their checkered pasts threaten to derail their development, but this is a tale of inevitability and fate, meaning the main characters end up giving up their immoral lifestyles to spend their lives with each other. This is the closest Swift has come in the past handful of albums to the country sound that permeated her earlier career, though a surprise guest background vocal from Marcus Mumford and Swift’s troubled yet committed performances flaunts the complexity of her more recent years. “Long Story Short’’ is a blatant revisit of the troubles Swift navigated throughout previous era Reputation, both in her personal and public life. There are references to the failed relationship with Tom Hiddleton she chronicled on “Getaway Car” which she used as a means of escape, and to her falling out of favor with the general public. This feels like the most complete and settled review from Swift about the period, having fully come to terms with how things worked out and wishing she could tell her past self not to be too concerned. She revels in the genuine happiness she’s found with her current partner and touts herself as a stronger person because of it, having realized the feuds and conflicts were a waste of time. pev Swift commemorates her deceased grandmother on “Marjorie”, which sees her remembering the moments they had together and wishing she’d taken the time to appreciate them when she was alive. She vows to live in a way that respects her grandmother and her musical dreams, drawing a connection to her career as a pop superstar to that of her grandmother’s opera career. To that end, there’s a sample of Marjorie’s opera singing woven into the background as the track draws to a close. The production is suitably haunting, sounding as though Swift is attempting to conjure her grandmother’s spirit as she insists that she isn’t dead, but that she lives on within Swift’s head, almost like a spell. “Closure” sees Swift having received a letter from a former friend hoping to patch things up some time after a fallout. However, she has no desire to reconcile and rejects her ex-friend’s attempts to repair the fractured dynamic between them, outright expressing her distaste for ever having been friends with them. She sees the disingenuous nature of the attempted apology and resolves that the resentment and hostility she has towards them is better than a false sense of camaraderie. Though the track is guided by piano, abrasive electronic glitches in the production work to telegraph Swift’s anger. The standard album’s closing track “Evermore” reunites Swift with Bon Iver as we meet her in a despondent state of mind, tracing her steps to figure out where she went wrong in the hopes of fixing things. As she continues to lose herself in depression, Bon Iver comes in to act as the voice of Swift’s panic and anxiety as the beat speeds up, delineating her thought process as she clings to a lover as her guiding light through her inner turmoil. By song’s end, Swift is still not fully healed from the pain — but she has regained hope that one day, it will end. Bon Iver and Swift’s voices are well-matched again but they utilize their performances differently, and in conjunction with the production, they render the vision of a storm from the build-up to a violent peak and its subsequent calm afterwards.
evermore is another welcome testament to Swift’s songwriting prowess, featuring much of the same strengths she displayed recently on folklore. It could have been oh so easy for Swift to phone in a collection of b-sides from her previous project, but this is a coherent effort on its own that takes the genre shift from that album into new territory. Whereas that album felt more melancholy, this album is less committed to one specific mood and even more unafraid to experiment with structures and sonics. This album gives her more room to flex her character and narrative work, mostly due to her being less concerned with commentary on the pandemic or her personal issues (which wasn’t a flaw on the last album). Swift’s vocals still sound like she’s in her prime and she makes full use of her collaborators to great effect. It’s no surprise to anyone familiar with Swift’s lyricism now that she’s able to create an album full of complex and dynamic emotional content that resonates even when it’s not pulling from her own life. It’s hard to predict where Swift will go from here, especially when she herself isn’t so sure. It’s beyond commendable that she was able to create two of her best albums in the span of a year in the middle of a pandemic. All hail Taylor Swift, one of music’s greatest superheroines, may her pen forever flourish.