By: Nicholas Palmer
When Taylor Swift dropped Folklore in the summer of 2020, it came as both a surprise and shock to fans. While an album may have been expected to arrive in the near future, the lack of leadup and promotion led to a release that focused solely on the music and the message behind the songs. As such, it came as an even greater surprise to most when a second album was released in the winter of 2020. Evermore, a 15-track album that delves into concepts of escapism and introspective thought, is a sister album to Folklore. Many think that Folklore can be thought of as the spring and summer to Evermore’s fall and winter. As well, Taylor Swift dedicated this album to people who use music as a means to deal with loss, a theme that touched heavily upon the hearts of those impacted by 2020.
Evermore can be described as bold and revealing in nature, delving strongly into the idea of love in a more sophisticated and mature manner. American Songwriter perfectly described the album as representing, “‘the ‘unhappily ever after’ anthology of marriages gone bad,” (Crone, 2021). Through concepts of forgotten love, intolerance and even a curious murder plotline, the concepts explored in this album show a maturity Swift hadn’t revealed before.
Swift takes these concepts of love and heartbreak so rooted in traditional western pop songs and completely flips the script; providing an introspective look on the human condition and how relevant these emotions can be. Along with the intriguing themes of the album, Evermore also roots many of its songs in first-person storytelling through a third-person lyrical style that dances between what is real and what is not to create a sonically whole piece that is as devastating as it is beautiful.
Being a 15-track album, there were many highlights for me throughout my listen, and many that I will have to revisit in time. For now, however, I will narrow down my highlights to four pieces: “Champagne Problems,” “Tolerate It,” “No Body, No Crime” (ft. HAIM), and “Marjorie.” While the musical stylistic elements of each song may differ, some being wildly different from others on the album, what each of these tracks has in common that stood out so strongly to me was a lyrical precision that was original and intoxicating.
As such, with each song (and really with every song on this album) I highly recommend following the lyrics while listening to the piece before making a decision on whether you like it or not.
“Champagne Problems” opens with a beautiful piano melody that carries through the entire song, with Swifts vocals being some of her best on the record. Many Swifties have noted that the chord progression in this song is identical to that of the song “New Year’s Day” on Reputation, which showcases Swift’s proclivity for Easter eggs and storytelling. Another one of her skills is evident in her range through this record (especially in Champagne Problems) as she is able to hit some rather high notes, while hitting probably her lowest note on the word “problem.” Moreover, her vocals building on themselves in the bridge is absolutely angelic and other-worldly. However, as stated earlier, some of the best parts of this song are the message and the underlying story.
The song discusses a woman turning down a marriage proposal before Christmas, with the woman being heavily hinted to have a history of mental illness, which is especially evident in the lyric, “She would’ve made such a lovely bride; what a shame she’s f***ed in the head.”
Champagne Problems is typically defined as something that is very stressful and difficult to someone, but insignificant compared to global issues. Mental health can often feel this way to the individual, being so suffocating, despite seeming irrelevant compared to natural disasters and other worldly problems. What this song does best as the second track on the album is create an emotional discourse right out of the gate, while also providing beautiful instrumentation and melodies that set the bar high for the rest of the album. A potential favorite of the album on the whole, I think this song is best understood when experienced, with its motifs and illustrated scenes conveying this extremely sad, yet powerful perspective.
Keeping with the idea of unsuccessful love stories, another impactful song is “Tolerate It.” Upon research, I learned that the fifth track on Swift’s albums typically are her more vulnerable songs on her albums. As such, you can imagine the relatable message that can be felt behind this song. Describing the struggle of being ignored and unappreciated by someone you love, Swift’s inspiration for this song came from her reading of Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier in which she said she thought, “Wow, her husband just tolerates her. She’s doing all these things and she’s trying so hard and she’s trying to impress him, and he’s just tolerating her the whole time.” Throughout the song, the piano provides these deep, depressing chords as Swift’s vocals almost seemingly cry out in anguish. The percussive beat matches the tempo of the piano, providing an almost anxious element to it. The end of the song is very lacking in hope, as she spends the final chorus speaking on how she could leave if she wanted to, before repeating the verse at the beginning; that she continues to try to impress him anyway. As stated before, its a vulnerable, personal piece that will only get better the more you relate to it.
Compared to the past two songs, if you’re looking for a song that is sonically unique compared to the rest of the tracks, look no further than “No Body, No Crime.” This song features HAIM band member Este Haim, a good friend of Swift’s, whose parts may be subtle but add a lot to the song in the emphasis of the line “He did it.” While the other songs may have talked about failed relationships or very intimate elements, this track is the center of a missing persons case involving a cheating husband and a missing friend. Returning back to Swift’s country roots, where I must confess I have never been the biggest country fan, it stands so unique and is done so well, that it feels both refreshing and exciting at the same time. While the lyrics may be repetitive for some, I felt that their constant drumming in the chorus was haunting and chilling, especially when the subject turns from the husband to the mistress and Swift. Overall, I felt that the instrumentation did a lot for this song, with the country ensemble giving it this ruthless vibe that feels very western standoff in nature, with small elements like HAIM’s parts and the police sirens at the beginning just raising this track to be one of the best on the album all together.
While perhaps not my absolute favorite on the album, “Marjorie,” in terms of connection to its audience, feels the strongest in an already impressive catalog. The song is a tribute to Swift’s late grandmother, Marjorie Finlay, whom she lost at age 13. This track is a reflection of the track “Epiphany” from Folklore which described the loss of her grandfather, Dean. An opera singer, Marjorie helped to inspire Swift to pursue music, with her background vocals in this track being credited in the album notes. One of my favorite elements about this song is how it just seems to keep growing all the way to its final seconds, bringing in acoustic guitar, background vocals and various other elements all the way to the final chorus. Furthermore, the lyrics, while simplistic at first, have a lot of interesting things going on, with repetition being a common technique used throughout the album. She also utilizes a form of chiasmus, in which the grammar or structure of one phrase is inverted in the following phrase, such as in the opening lines, “Never be so kind you forget to be clever; Never be so clever you forget to be kind”. Its the way that she uses literary techniques and unique ways to transcribe her music that makes her one of the best lyricists in the industry, consistently amongst some of the most talked about artists year after year. In a year unlike any other, with such heavy loss and devastation shaking the planet, this song can be an escape for many. It’s a song to listen to and reflect in ourselves and the things we’re going through. I went into Evermore with pretty much no expectations, having never fully listened to any piece of discography by Taylor Swift before. While I have heard many of her singles over the years, the disparity between her singles and her other tracks can often limit one’s exposure to her true capabilities as a songwriter and performer. While I did find some of the repetition of elements and instrumentation to be a bit tedious in a 15-track album, many tracks, such as “No Body, No Crime” really broke the mold whenever things felt to be turning stale. While this album may have been out for a while, if you have not given every single track a listen, I would say they are each worth a try. Each tells a different narrative in a way that if you only know Taylor Swift from her past works, you’re missing out on what she’s creating now. An album that will most likely go down as a marker of the year 2020 in totality, Evermore represents everything dark, depressing and yet inspiring about the human condition. With Taylor Swift having recently re-recorded past tracks of hers, as well as two bonus tracks that can be listened to on the album, Evermore stands as a great re-introduction into the true talent that is Taylor Swift.