evermore: escapism in the woods

“I had a feeling so peculiar, this pain wouldn’t be for evermore.”
– Taylor Swift; evermore

My response to Taylor Swift’s surprise drop of evermore is to quote Bon Iver from exile: you never gave a warning sign.

I have reviewed Lover. I have reviewed folklore. And it is only pleasing to the Gods of music that I do the same for evermore, Swift’s ninth studio album. Mind you, I was in the middle of sushi and Netflix when my phone buzzed with such excitement it almost vibrated off the desk. Amelia had notified me of Swift’s latest advancement and was trying her best not to freak out in public. I, on the other hand, safely secluded in the comfort of my room with Japanese food strewn across the table, screamed.

We have all become accustomed to expecting a new ‘era’ of Swift with each album she releases. This is what makes evermore the green apple of the red batch; Swift calls it the ‘sister record’ of folklore. The general aesthetic, palette, and emotion you get from both albums are similar cabin-in-the-woods, acoustic feelings; and just like folklore, this album set out to tell stories that aren’t adjacent to Swift’s real life. With her instrument and marvelous imagination, she continues to craft the lives of fictional characters. evermore, as the sister album of folklore, brings a more sagacious level of story-telling but retains the same excitement for every character drawn and created.

Ever since folklore‘s debut, Swift has envisioned a simpler life, retreating a step away from the pedestal. She has managed this beautifully, delivering another seventeen tracks on her latest release. If you’re here for a grab-and-go review of evermore, this is how I would put it: while I grew up dancing or crying in my room to her older albums, I have been sliced and iced by folklore, and further lobotomized by evermore, both in excruciatingly good ways.

In a time where most artists sing of sex, power, fame, and riches, it’s comforting to know that one can always find solace in Swift’s forests, where fairytales manifest and the outside world seems unreachable. Swift’s focus on making music for herself and her fans means we get 4- to 5-minute long tracks instead of meaningless and repetitive 2-minute earworms.

Of course, I am going to dive in and briefly give my two cents on select tracks.

Willow: “I come back stronger than a 90s trend”
Champagne Problems: *the whole damn bridge*
Tolerate It: “I made you my temple, my mural, my sky, now I’m begging for footnotes in the story of your life”
Happiness: “I can’t make it go away by making you a villain”
Coney Island: “We were like the mall before the internet, it was the one place to be”
Long Story Short: “I tried to pick my battles ‘til the battle picked me”
Marjorie: “Should’ve kept every grocery store receipt cause every scrap of you would be taken from me”

The first thing that caught fans’ eyes was the willow music video, a continuation of cardigan’s. The video puts the exile lyric “I think I’ve seen this film before” into motion, with the opening shots when she journeys back to her piano for more adventures shadowing that of cardigan‘s. We wander by references to seven, mirrorball, and mad woman too. All through the video, Swift trails a golden string (a nod to invisible string) toward her soulmate, and the song ends as Swift and Taeok Lee walk out of the cabin into a golden forest; because of this and other hints, fans speculate that folklore is actually a trilogy rather than a duology, with the third album (suspected to be named woodvale) to be released next March, but that is a theory for another day.

In my folklore review, I mentioned how Swift incorporates certain elements and utilizes certain words to remind us of her older albums. In this album’s lead single, Swift sings: “Wherever you stray, I follow”, which instantly made me think of Lover‘s “Can I go where you go?”.

While we stay on the topic of weaving connections between albums, let’s turn to dorothea. Swift has let us in on the fact that Dorothea attended the same school as Betty, James, and Inez, and later left their town to pursue her Hollywood dreams.

It’s theorized that Dorothea is about Swift’s friend Selena Gomez, with evidence like The Wizard of Oz (where the main character’s name is Dorothy) being one of Gomez’s favorite films. The two have spent limited time together ever since their careers plunged them in different trajectories, but perhaps this is Swift reaching out to an old friend, reminding her that at the end of the day, she is there for her (and if you’re ever tired of being known for who you know, you know that you’ll always know me). There is no confirmation of this theory from Swift herself, but we know there is always more between the lines when it comes to her songs.

Since Swift has intelligently strung stories together before, it’s likely that dorothea (told from the perspective of her hometown admirer) and ’tis the damn season are linked. In ’tis the damn season, Dorothea returns home from Hollywood for the holidays, the lyrics flow smoothly with her reminiscing older days and rekindling an old flame (you can call me ‘babe’ for the weekend), only to depart for L.A. once the trip ends. However, Dorothea knows there will always be a road leading her back to him (the road not taken looks real good now, and it always leads to you and my hometown).

I believe I speak for everyone when I say that last lyric reminded me of Robert Frost’s poem ‘The Road Not Taken’. This is not the only occasion in evermore where Swift borrows a line from famous writers; in happiness, she sings “I hope she’ll be a beautiful fool” and “green light of forgiveness”, which are both subtle nods to The Great Gatsby. It is known that Swift admires the way Fitzgerald narrates love, so this comes as no surprise given her gifted lyric-crafting.

While I’m not the biggest fan of happiness’s melody, the lyrics are admittedly on a whole other level. The song is ironic because it talks about the crumbling of a relationship, only offering a glimpse of hope at the end, telling all listeners that happiness is still a viable option even as relationships fall apart, so long as you are willing to “leave it all behind”.

Swift seemed to be on an adrenaline high writing about loves that fall apart; champagne problems divulges the soul-crushing of a rejected marriage proposal. The saddest part of champagne problems is that the guy already had a gut feeling he was going to be turned down. The first two lines of the song goes: “You booked the night train for a reason, so you could sit there in this hurt”, insinuating he would be rejected and be on the first night train home instead of staying overnight to celebrate the proposal.

The lyrics also seem to suggest that the protagonist suffers from mental illness, which her town concludes is the reason the proposal fell through (“she would’ve made such a lovely bride. what a shame she’s fucked in the head,” they said). Rather than outright telling us details of her story, Swift shows them vividly, which is the best form of story-telling one can achieve. Side note, the melody and soft piano remind me of new year’s day from Reputation.

Another glimpse of Reputation appears in coney island through the line “Did I close my fist around something delicate, did I shatter you?”. Back in Delicate, Swift had posed the question of whether she had been moving too fast in relationships. Surprisingly, coney island also gives me august vibes, but that can simply be attributed to the mention of a mall (meet me behind the mall).

And what is a Taylor Swift album without a darker song inspired by true crime? no body, no crime details the life of Este Haim who becomes the star of a missing person’s case succeeding her husband’s infidelity. Sung chronologically, the story-telling quality of this track reminds me of the last great american dynasty, both tales of strong, independent women who have been wronged by those around them, and who ultimately decide to take their lives into their own hands.

Swift is no stranger when it comes to writing about infidelity, (see illicit affairs and august), and the motif storms on strong with ivy. In ivy, a woman falls for a man who isn’t her husband. Could it be that sometimes we do not end up with those fate had in mind for us? At the beginning of the song, the woman meets her lover in the snow, and during the bridge, there is talk of spring breaking loose, as if the cover of their affair has been melted away like snow in spring, at the precipice of being exposed. The instrumental reminds me of invisible string, which I suppose is fitting as even love affairs can blossom to be truer than a righteous marriage. Somethings just can’t escape the hands of fate.

Another string of fate brought together two swindlers through a series of flings in cowboy like me. Exploring different pairings of love, cowboy like me discusses what happens when two kindred spirits cross paths, working toward a life they both long to reach, but the question here is “it could be love”, but is it?

Of course, the fourth verse tells us that these two swindlers find home in each other, leaving behind their past of profiting off affluent men and ladies at luncheons. In rare cases, you will know your soulmate the moment you lay eyes on them, and that connection is instant and forever.

Another key element in the theme of love is jealousy. Whenever I hear the word ‘gold’ escape Swift’s lips, I am transported back to the Lover era, when love was more golden than red for her. However, in gold rush, jealousy is painted brutally when the lead is attracted to someone who is adored by all. This person is so perfect (what must it be like to grow up that beautiful?) and longed for by so many that she feels any love will have to be shared. Sometimes, that’s just it—love is selfish and we find it impossible to be happy for those we love. Swift has—on many songs—written about jealousy and how the green-eyed monster creeps into one’s mind, purposefully playing into the ‘crazy ex’ trope the media has boxed her in.

That’s not the only bad light the media has depicted Swift in. The 31-year-old’s career has been a long and bumpy one, despite all of her achievements and accolades. long story short offers a conclusion to all the eras that have preceded the folklorian one, shedding light on how she is finally content with where she is and who she is with (Joe Alwyn), away from unsolicited scandals and feuds.

We all remember how Swift’s career took a tumble after the Kanye incident. “I wanna tell you not to get lost in these petty things. Your nemeses will defeat themselves before you get the chance to swing”, might just be a silent jab at all the falling outs she has had with Kanye.

However, “long story short, it was the wrong guy, now I’m all about you” quashes all rumors about her former paramours, indicating she is currently focused on Joe and only Joe. “But if someone comes at us, this time, I’m ready”; she has learned and grown from the past and is so sure of her current relationship that she will do everything to protect it.

I’ve saved the best for the last: marjorie.

If there’s one thing Swift never forgets, it is her roots. She has written songs about her parents and brother, Pennsylvania, her friends, and now, her grandparents.

On folklore, the thirteenth track epiphany was a tribute to the wartime horrors witnessed by her grandfather; so, it is fitting that the thirteenth track on evermore is reserved for her late grandmother Marjorie Finlay, an opera singer who was a huge inspiration behind Swift’s pursue of music.

I absolutely adore her grandmother’s life lessons to her in the verses; it says a lot about where Swift inherits her talents from, and a part of me can’t help but think that it is Marjorie’s words that have kept her feet on the humble ground all through stardom. “All your closets of backlogged dreams and how you left them all to me”, points toward Swift carrying on her grandmother’s legacy as a singer, and boy, must Marjorie be smiling down on how far her granddaughter has come.

Instead of singing about love and life the old industry way—straightforward, tacky and, frankly, boring—Swift appeals to the elements one would find in this forest of a fairytale she has constructed, with lines like “My house of stone/Your ivy grows and now I’m covered in you” and “Life was like a willow and it bent right to your wind”. It takes you to wherever Swift was mentally when she penned folklore and evermore, which simply speaks volumes about her songwriting abilities and how they continue to transcend expectations even after a 16-year long career.

To add to the essence of it all, many parts of the album’s songs (e.g. outro of willow, chorus of no body, no crime, chorus of marjorie) feature Swift repeating lines, as if she is shouting out to the woods that carry her echoes miles and miles away.

Each instrument and note is carefully placed around the lyrics, or likewise, and it embraces the listener in a blanket of certainty, of belief that love exists, no matter its shape or form, no matter the consequence it brings. Swift employs choir vocals and the simple melody of pianos, guitars, and the occasional banjo to accompany her heavenly singing, all the more bringing the forest to life by filling it with such beauty.

Through Lover, Swift found love; through folklore, she moved to a cabin in the woods and found a piece of her old self; through evermore, she found a safe haven and built her kingdom there. She has officially shed the glitz and glam for cardigans and braids, and needless to say, the fans are here for it.

A willow is only a tree, its beauty and sophistication unappreciated until it is cradled by the wind. It just so happens Taylor Swift is that gust of wind.