Taylor Swift’s “Evermore” Is a Lovely Collection of Grown-up Fairytales

Image from Republic Records

So, here it is. In yet another completely unprecedented move, Taylor Swift has once again descended upon us to save 2020, in the form of Evermore, her ninth studio album, and what can only best be described as a reprise and second act to last July’s Folklore — which itself has since been heralded by many a publication as one of the few pure good things to come out of this year.

And yet, somehow, Miss Swift has done it again: just five months later — her shortest time period ever between albums — Swift has continued into the woods of Folklore, delving even deeper into the sonic experimentations, the narratives and perspectives, and all the wonderful things that made the album an instant classic.

And indeed, if Folklore was a beginning, an opening into Swift’s journey into the mythical, mystical woods of intricate narratives and mellow folksy tunes, Evermore is as much a sequel and second act, as it is a lovingly crafted response to its predecessor. Just like one of the many Swiftian narratives that populate both works, Folklore and Evermore come together like a pair of cozied-up lovers, in turns complimenting and taking from each other, like two parts in a duet.

Although it follows the very same thread as its predecessor, Evermore feels more hued, more prismatic and fleshed-out; Swift’s instrumentals and story-telling devices brimming with more confidence. When Folklore was released, it felt like an experimentation of Swift’s best sensibilities funneled in an entirely new direction — and with frankly stunning results; and with Evermore, Swift fully delves into this particular pool, alongside the help of a creative dream team in Jack Antonoff, Bon Iver, and the National’s Aaron Dessner, who hand her the tools to perfect this particular sonic and lyrical aesthetic to such a fine-tuned way in such a short period of time, it feels almost like fate.

There are newer nuances in this album, too: new nooks and crannies and gray areas lie in Evermore’s emotional arcs — gone are the clean cut, black-and-white victim-versus-villain binary we’d grown used to in many of her past narratives. In one of her cruelest rhymes to date, Swift sings, “I know my love should be celebrated / but you tolerate it.” It’s more reminiscent of the kind of line we’d expect from someone like Lorde, and yet it also feels right at home from an artist whose reputation in the cultural zeitgeist had (sometimes unfairly) rested primarily on a catalogue of romance-and-breakup songs (of course, Swift has written several other tracks on other subjects as well).

In essence, Evermore’s lyrics are even more off-kilter, more freewheeling than those of its elder sibling, which tended to gravitate to more sombre colors, more straightforward narratives. And most of these lyrics aren’t clean cut and concise, like we’d grown used to from most of Swift’s discography (as well as her signature ability to deliver a razor-sharp line with sparkling wit), but neither are human emotions, and more than anything, Evermore feels like an ode, an affirmation and celebration to the messiness of it all.

One of the album’s experimental standouts, “No Body, No Crime”, is dark and witchy and sexy, the perfect canvas for featuring artist HAIM’s touch. Does it make sense that possibly Swift’s sexiest, sultriest song isn’t about romance at all, but a delicious little tale of murder and infidelity, told entirely by women? Perhaps not, but few things have made sense this year, and this, at least, is a satisfying, satisfying feeling.

And yet, for all of Swift’s maturity and growth, Evermore still contains certain callbacks to some of Swift’s previous work: “Gold Rush” has hints of Red’s rhythmic rose-tinted nostalgia, and a handful of other tracks — “Cowboy Like Me”, “Dorothea” — contain undeniable echoes of her country roots. There’s also a certain beguiling earnestness in some of Swift’s simplest lyrics, as is in “Happiness”: “There’ll be happiness after you / but there was happiness because of you.” It’s what made songs like “The Moment I Knew” and “Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince” laced with a certain kind of distinguishable magic. After over fourteen years in the business, Swift’s voice has matured into a light lyrical soprano, and on Evermore, it sounds more ethereal than ever, blanketed by landscapes of muted guitars and pianos.

For all its muted folksiness, there’s a certain kind of thrill in witnessing Swift throw caution to the wind and harness the full extent of her capabilities with no regard for commercial effect. The pandemic has, after all, upended many standards of normalcy, and Swift seems to have taken the best out of this as a musician, delving ever further inward into the metaphorical woods she so often speaks of.

For skeptics, Swift’s two projects this year may seem like an attempt to reinvent her image, as she’s done so in the past few years, but for fans and longtime listeners, it feels like triumphant, jubilant proof of the skill and prowess that we’ve known of the musician all along. Say what you will about Taylor Swift, she no longer gives a fuck. She’s too busy frolicking in her mythical forest, swimming in her mystical lakes. And frankly, it’s a place I’d be willing to be quarantined in, for evermore.

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