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Taylor Swift is the gift that keeps on giving


Just 5 months after Taylor Swift shocked the world with her surprise indie-folk album “folklore,” she has done it again— this time, as a gift to her fans in honor of her 31st birthday. Swift wrote in an Instagram caption:

“Ever since I was 13, I’ve been excited about turning 31 because it’s my lucky number backwards, which is why I wanted to surprise you with this now. You’ve all been so caring, supportive and thoughtful on my birthdays and so this time I thought I would give you something! I also know this holiday season will be a lonely one for most of us and if there are any of you out there who turn to music to cope with missing loved ones the way I do, this is for you.”

“evermore” was released alongside its lead single “willow.” Swift also released a dazzling music video for the single, directed by none other than herself. The record has 15 songs, with two more to come on the deluxe version. 

Swift took the leap of faith with a surprise album back in July. Normally, she tactfully utilizes “easter eggs” and coordinates countdowns leading to her next major release. However, “folklore” explored a different strategy: writing in secret and releasing a complete album with only a day’s notice. After the massive success of “folklore,” earning Swift the title of the best-selling female artist in 2020, “evermore” is a more than pleasant surprise that offers an extension, and conclusion, of what “folklore” began. 

“evermore” is the sister record of “folklore,” as Swift puts it. The two albums feature the explorative, ethereal, alternative sound that Swift first implemented when writing “folklore” in the beginning of lockdown, back in March. “evermore” welcomes the same group of collaborators featured on “folklore,” such as Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, The National’s Aaron Dessner, Swift’s boyfriend Joe Alwyn (credited as William Bowery on the records) and longtime producer and friend of Swift, Jack Antonoff of Bleachers. “evermore” also features Swift’s friends HAIM on track 6, titled “no body, no crime,” and The National on track 9, “coney island.” 

In similar fashion to “folklore,” “evermore” was primarily created remotely. Due to the pandemic, both records were worked on virtually, with only a few instances of Swift, Antonoff and Dessner being able to collaborate in person. Bon Iver’s Vernon has been credited and performed on both albums, but Swift has yet to meet him in person.

“The Long Pond Studio sessions was the first time that Jack, Aaron and I were in the same room, and I still haven’t been in the same room with Justin Vernon, who has now collaborated on two albums heavily. We’ve talked but we’ve just never been in the same space together,” Swift told Zane Lowe in her interview about winning Apple Music’s Songwriter of the Year Award

“folklore” represented many firsts for Swift. Not only was it the first album where she could not primarily collaborate in person with the featured artists, but it also defined a new era in Swift’s songwriting. This time, she didn’t have to write every single song about herself. In her Apple Music interview, she said:

“There was a point that I got to as a writer who only wrote very diaristic songs that I felt it was unsustainable for my future moving forward,” Swift told Lowe. “It felt like too hot of a microscope… On my bad days I would feel like I was loading a cannon of clickbait when that’s not what I want for my life.”

“evermore” expanded Swift’s storytelling capabilities, including more songs that aren’t exactly applicable to her current life. “champagne problems,” the second track on “evermore,” has become an immediate fan favorite. The song visits the night that two college lovers realize their relationship is no longer sustainable, where one plans to propose and the other plans to break it off. Swift wrote the song with her boyfriend, which might come as a surprise considering how sad the tune is. Despite a catchy melody, Swift manages to capture the feeling of an unrequited love, from the opposite person’s perspective, in a poignant and untenable evening. 

There are songs featured on both “evermore” and “folklore” that are pertinent to Swift’s life as well. Track 13 of “evermore” is called “marjorie”, named after Marjorie Finlay, Swift’s grandmother, an opera singer. The song leaves a sense of lingering childhood nostalgia. Swift writes about wanting to ask her grandmother so many questions, and details how she feels as if she can still hear her, queuing the vocals of Marjorie Finlay’s opera singing on the track. “marjorie” mirrors track 13 on “folklore,” titled “epiphany,” written about Swift’s grandfather’s service in WWII. 

Swift writes complex narratives in track 4 titled “‘tis the damn season” and track 8 titled “dorothea”, enumerating the opposite sides of a hollywood actress’ return to her small town and seeing a former lover. Track 6 titled “no body, no crime” showcases Swift’s unwavering country music competence while depicting a murder mystery crime of passion. Track 5, “tolerate it,” may be one of Swift’s best agonizing relationship tales, one of an imbalance of shared feelings. 

“evermore” is rich in intangible anecdotes and personal symphonies. While Swift considers “evermore” to be an extension of “folklore,” she also acknowledges the ingrained sense of conclusion that the record offers.

“I feel differently today than I felt the day after releasing ‘Folklore’ because, even the day after releasing ‘Folklore,’ Aaron and I were still bouncing ideas back and forth and we just knew we were gonna keep writing music,” she said to Lowe. “With this one I have this feeling of sort of quiet conclusion and sort of this weird serenity of we did what we set out to do and we’re all really proud of it, and that feels really really nice.”

Even though “evermore” may be the final surprise album we see from Swift for some time, she is by no means resting. Her quarantine has been busy with not only writing and recording two new studio albums, recording “Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions” (streaming now on Disney Plus), but also re-recording her first through fifth studio albums. 

Swift does not own her masters, something that she has been extremely vocal about, and she actively advocates for artists to be able to own their music. As of November 2020, Swift is free of her 13 year contract with her previous record label, and she has begun to re-record her old music. Speaking to her fans on Twitter, Swift wrote, “I have recently begun re-recording my older music and it has already proven to be both exciting and creatively fulfilling. I have plenty of surprises in store.”

“evermore” debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart, earning Swift her 8th consecutive number one album, and making her the first woman in history to do so. 

In a year as challenging and onerous as 2020, new music from Swift has served as an amnesty. Her solace found in creating art has in turn given so many an escape into the mythological, captivating and poetic world that is “folklore” and “evermore,” and that is invaluable.

Watch Swift’s interview with Apple Music here. “evermore” is streaming now on all platforms.

Featured Image courtesy of ztm designs via Flickr Creative Commons

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Taylor Swift is the gift that keeps on giving