For the second time in under six months, Taylor Swift has surprised fans with a new album, evermore, released on her 31st birthday. The sister albums, folklore and evermore, were written during the excruciatingly long quarantine period in 2020, and demonstrate Swift’s innate artistry, her confidence in identity, and her established position among a long tradition of American folk musicians.
Sonically speaking, Swift’s blend of the alternative, country, and folk genres demonstrates her growth as an artist. By allowing herself to delve back into her folk and country roots, Swift graces the album with a “genuine girl-next-door” aura, the very air of authenticity that propelled her to fame many years ago. Furthermore, her ability to let her sultry vocals and lyricism stand accompanied only by minimal instrumentals illustrates her confidence in the authenticity of the music itself. Compare this to her Reputation era, where highly produced pop tracks came off as very much inauthentic, as if she were playing a character (which she very much was). As a veteran in the music industry and a grown woman with presumably more stability than a 20-something starlet, Swift no longer has to try on different identities that may compromise her music. Instead, Swift is able to pay homage to her original musical background, while simultaneously breaking new ground as an artist.
Swift applies her seasoned experience as a songwriter to a stripped down album rooted in the American folk tradition. In a depart from her previous albums, infamous for sappy teenage make-up and break-up songs, Swift tells a variety of compelling stories. For example, Swift sings about her maternal grandmother, Marjorie, a singer and performer who inspired Swift’s own music career. Swift also oscillates from stories of marital infidelity, vengeful murder, holiday depression, jealousy, and love stories of characters born out of her imagination. These love stories are not the typical love stories depicted in Swift’s previous discography, but rather feature swindlers who naively fall in love and a teenage boy reminiscing about his love who left their hometown to follow her dreams in Hollywood.
Following the storytelling similar to that of early Dolly Parton and Bob Dylan, Swift also enriches the mythology (or, dare I say, folklore) established in her previous album. At first listen, one may realize that Swift seems to repeat certain phrases and imagery, such as imagery of “scars,” which is present in both evermore‘s “willow” and folklore‘s “cardigan” (both singles from their respective albums). Although one may mistake these repetitions for a lack of originality, Swift’s clear announcement on social media that the sister albums are connected through “Easter eggs” suggests that these repetitions were deliberate choices meant to connect various songs. Additionally, her “willow” music video features the image of a golden string, referencing back to “invisible string” and solidifying her collection of whimsical motifs. Swift also pairs songs “marjorie” and “epiphany,” creating a rich history of her grandparents. In “dorothea,” Swift adds to the “teenage love story” theme established in folklore‘s “betty,” “august,” and “cardigan,” telling fans that the characters in “dorothea” attend the same high-school as the characters in the folklore triad. The connections continue, allowing her fans to analyze and engage with her poetic vision.
In addition to the musical world-building that Swift so deftly navigates, Swift crafts her lyrics as a true wordsmith. Her poetry completely lacks disfluencies such as the yeahs, ohs, and babys that populate many other compositions of the day. Rather, Swift fills her stanzas with strong vocabulary, never wasting a word or syllable. Her lyrics are more than skin deep, perhaps most skillfully demonstrated in “ivy,” where Swift writes the likes of the following:
How’s one to know?
I’d meet you where the spirit meets the bones
In a faith-forgotten land
In from the snow
Your touch brought forth an incandescent glow
Tarnished but so grand
This is a far cry from “You Need to Calm Down,” an abysmal and lackluster song from Lover in 2019. The songwriting from evermore actually makes me more frustrated with Swift’s previous pop flops (which are admittedly few and far between), as it clearly illuminates her capability to craft legitimate poetry. By comparison, songs like “You Need to Calm Down” come off as a lazy, pandering collection of Twitter-based platitudes, and don’t represent Swift’s true talent.
Conversely, evermore appears as a representation of Swift’s fully-realized potential, and serves as a more accurate depiction of Swift herself. In evermore, her elevated lyricism allows her to embark on a mythological journey with her fans, while also serving as a mark of her newfound maturity as both a musician and a woman. I’m completely here for this blend of Old and New Taylor, and hope she continues to explore the “folklorian woods” she’s been in for the past year.