We should have seen this coming.
Less than five months after the surprise release of her indie-pop blockbuster folklore, Taylor Swift yet again ensured that her fans did not know a good night’s sleep; dropping her surprise ninth studio album evermore in the early hours of Friday morning, Swift seems committed to flexing her artistry in a year that has (understandably) left many resigned to foregoing productivity.
Described by Swift as a “sister album” to folklore, the album offers parallels to its predecessor, armed with similar acoustic production, lyrics spinning narrative webs, and a new cast of characters for fans to decipher in the coming months.
In other words, if you like folklore, you’ll probably like evermore.
Album highlights occur in tracks like “champagne problems,” in which Swift tells the tale of a young couple’s demise over conflicting expectations, ultimately culminating in a failed proposal.
Set to a gentle piano melody that calls back to Swift’s definitive breakup anthem “All Too Well’—undoubtedly an intentional choice—the track navigates the couple’s unraveling with empathy and self-reflection, evoking the sense of a bittersweet goodbye.
Much like folklore, the album is not entirely interested in documenting Swift’s personal life, which has served as tabloid fodder for the majority of her career. While many of Swift’s biggest hits—and her worst musical mistakes—have been inspired by her massive celebrity, it is refreshing to see her explore songwriting in a way that is not so heavily tied to the fact that she is the biggest pop star in the world.
As was the case with folklore, this is not to suggest that Swift should now only be taken seriously after taking a sabbatical from pop music or writing about her personal life; some of Swift’s best-written work can be found heavily tied to the conventions of pop music or in reference to her history as a public figure.
However, the narrative approach taken in both albums allows Swift to step outside of her comfort zone as a writer, a positive for any creative.
Such narrative songwriting shines in songs like “no body, no crime” a country slow burn that sees Swift and the Haim sisters take a page out of The Chicks’ book by getting away with murder. In both instances, the guy had it coming.
“marjorie,” a tribute to Swift’s late grandmother, is an understated exploration of grief, employing universal ideas about loss and legacy (“What died didn’t stay dead/You’re alive, you’re alive in my head) to pack the album’s heaviest emotional blow.
While the album is full of poignant lyricism and gorgeous acoustic melodies, some tracks feel less airtight than were found on folklore.
“coney island,” another relationship post-mortem, features Swift’s trademark razor-sharp lyrics about heartbreak but soon falls off course with the inclusion of The National’s Matt Berninger. While the song works on a conceptual level, Swift and Berninger’s lack of vocal chemistry—found in spades in Swift’s collaborations with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon— is distracting. Rather than the pair’s anguished vocals leading to an emotional catharsis, Berninger feels out of place, leading one to wonder what his contribution was meant to evoke.
Additionally, while Swift’s genre-hopping has typically proven successful, some of the more experimental tracks on evermore fail to hit their mark. “closure,” a pissed-off refusal to make things better with an ex, features some of the album’s most dynamic lyrics but is derailed by its overly-busy production.
Featuring 90s-inspired industrial drums, melodic piano, and random technological sound effects, the song’s experimentation for experimentation’s sake distracts from the lyrical content and emotion behind the song; rather than Swift yet again striking gold with a new stylistic approach, the track sounds like a limp attempt to replicate the chaotic magic of “Fetch the Bolt Cutters.”
In reviewing evermore in its totality, it is impossible to not compare the work to its predecessor. While operating as an extension to folklore, the album can only work as a full release if it is able to stand on its own merit, and not just as a collection of bonus tracks. Each song on the album has something worthwhile to offer, even if the individual components don’t always create a satisfying whole. evermore is a good album: it is perhaps too early to tell if it will rise to the ranks of folklore, which is poised to give Swift another big win at the Grammys.
While the album is slightly more uneven than folklore, it is full of all the things that make Taylor Swift the defining act of the past decade: commitment to the album’s overall themes and aesthetics, beautiful lyrics, and a willingness to keep pushing, even after a career full of success that most can only dream of.
The 2010s were when Taylor Swift transformed from a cutesy country-pop princess to one of the top-selling artists of the decade, with all of the triumphant highs and disappointing lows associated with such a metamorphosis. As we prepare to say goodbye to 2020 and soldier on to the new decade, it is clear that Swift has no intention to go anywhere but up.