After her quarantine album, “Folklore,” Taylor Swift has written a sequel to her imaginative, mystifying story: “Evermore.” The album’s surprise release proves that, along with her multiple Grammy nominations for “Folklore,” Swift is here to win 2020.
With the soundscape of someone reminiscing about childhood memories and the growing pains of adulthood, “Evermore” celebrates the singer-songwriter in Swift. It’s always been clear that Swift’s strengths are in her storytelling, and “Evermore” does not disappoint. Even so, the so-called “sister album” lacks the punch of its predecessor.
Heading up most of the arrangements again, Aaron Dessner from The National gives the songwriter somber country-pop backtracks and allows Swift to fill in the spaces with her uncut narratives, freely describing made-up characters and places.
As a result, Swift’s lyrics are vague at times and may seem difficult to interpret, like when she sings on the opening track, “Every bait-and-switch was a work of art.” Unlike “Folklore,” where the storylines and metaphors were clear, the writing throughout the album lingers like a run-on sentence; even when points are made, Swift tends to overemphasize strange metaphors. “Happiness” asks, “When did all our lessons start to look like weapons / pointed at my deepest hurt?”
While the storytelling may not be as strong as “Folklore,” an album that many fans and critics have labeled the peak of Swift’s songwriting, the flaws in “Evermore” actually work in the context of a COVID-19-ravaged world.
At 31 years old, Swift has grown out of her industry-polished pop sound, and instead of flashy hits, she pulls from her country roots, unearthing the sound buried underneath — a sound that is independent of distractions. “Folklore” was the gold mined from that soil, and “Evermore” is the extended specks of its golden dust: not quite as inventive, but sprinkled with good moments.
In 2020, polished stories don’t connect as much as the raw, stripped, messy truth. COVID-19 has hit everyone, ripping us out of our rooted clarity. “Folklore” gives us some of that clarity back, allowing escapism within the long-winded characters. “Evermore” is more about the long exhale after that immediate desperate desire for entertainment. It’s not the lyrics that create meaning, but rather the feeling Swift is chasing.
In “‘Tis the Damn Season,” Swift captures the otherness of returning home during the holidays. The song focuses on the storyline of someone rekindling a past love, but in the fierceness of Swift’s vocals, there is the hint of her own adulthood reconciliation: the clash of who she once was with the expectations of her family’s idea of who she is now.
Again, the fact that “Evermore” was created during quarantine reinforces the ache for escapism that makes the album work.
With two weeks left of December 2020, the lyrics “The holidays linger like a bad perfume / You can run, but only so far” tap into the universal loneliness, depression and anxiety that can come during this time of year. Adding in the fact that many will be separated from their families this year, the themes of isolation, detachment and perseverance strengthens the album’s connection with its audience.
Like the unbearable winter, there is a coldness that stretches throughout “Evermore,” upturning golden moments that synchronize with its contemplative instrumental sounds. For instance, “Happiness,” the seventh track on the album, begins with soft synthesizers, outlining the ache in Swift’s first lines: “Honey, when I’m above the trees / I see this for what it is.” While this is a classic Swift track about moving on from heartbreak, it also acknowledges the pieces of joy inside more destructive and hurtful contexts. The perspective applies not only to relationships, but to the overall whirlwind of quarantine and COVID-19’s impact on people’s mindsets. There is no greater heartbreak than the cruelty the virus has made people endure. But where there is bad, goodness can be found.
At the end of this year, “Happiness” is a reflection of the bigger picture, and the strength that is found after all the hurt that has been experienced through the grief of lost loved ones, a fight for justice and turmoil over a stressful election. The year 2020 has been through it all, and the lyrics “I haven’t met the new me yet” seem to encompass that familiar desire for a new year, a new me — a fresh start that Swift ensures will be better: “There’ll be happiness [if] you leave it behind.”
Collaboration played a huge role in “Evermore,” another aspect of “Folklore” that Swift expanded. Besides working with Dessner, producer credits for Swift’s upbeat pop track “Gold Rush” are attributed to Jack Antonoff, who has been known to be involved with her work in the past. More significantly are the features in her songs, namely the band HAIM in her chick country-pop tune “No Body No Crime,” as well as lead singer from The National, Matt Berninger, on “Coney Island.” Lastly, Juston Vernon from Bon Iver duets on the title track, the last song on the album, and although it’s not as enticing as their collaboration “Exile” from “Folklore,” hearing another layer of Vernon’s vocals over Swift’s deepens the complexities of its theme.
Besides the beauty of the album, it’s the fact that despite the challenges of COVID-19, artists were able to create something in remote conditions, showing that there is hope across distance through “togetherness.”
“In the cracks of light / I dreamed of you / It was real enough / to get me through,” Swift sings.
“Evermore” is the ultimate fight for a deeper, more beautiful beginning. Its lyrics might not always be up to par with “Folklore,” and Dessner’s compositions are at times too juxtaposed with the emotion conveyed in Swift’s vocals, but it’s just as Swift sings: “I was catching my breath.” As the days grow darker in December, and the pains of the year come into reflection, “Evermore” quiets the ache for warmth by piercing our cages — our own rambly, messy minds, and with that, we overcome a pain that seems as if it will last “evermore.”