TW: mentions of mental health issues, murder
On July 24, singer Taylor Swift surprised the world with her 8th studio album, folklore, an unexpected move that quickly became number 1 in sellings and streaming platforms. The release of folklore broke the pattern Swift had been following for years, building eras for her albums and leaving a span of at least two years between releases. Now, five months later, she has done it again. On December 11, Swift unexpectedly released her 9th studio album, titled evermore, as a sequel to folklore’s alternative style. On the Instagram post where she announced the record, she explained evermore is “folklore’s sister” and was born out of a prolific song-writing process where she “just couldn’t stop writing songs”. The escapism she felt when telling these stories and the warm welcome the fans gave to them encouraged her and her team to keep exploring this theme.
The album debuted at the top of the Billboard list in just over a week, and it also sold more than one million copies worldwide in the same seven-day period, an achievement Swift has managed to do with every album since Fearless. Regarding streaming platforms, individual global streams passed the half-billion mark in week one, with more than 100 million of those streams for the lead single, willow.
As it was done with folklore, the lyric videos for all 17 songs have already been released on Swift’s youtube channel. In just two weeks, the most viewed lyric video (champagne problems) has surpassed 7 million views, and the least viewed one (right where you left me) is almost at 2 million. The music video for willow has over 44 million views.
In the following paragraphs I’ll discuss the songs this record includes, which were written by Swift, Aaron Dessner, Jack Antonoff and William Bowery (who was confirmed to be actor Joe Alwyn by Swift herself in the documentary folklore: the long pond studio sessions). Many people expected to find a continuation to the stories we found in folklore, especially the love triangle between James, Betty and James’ lover. Swift explained in the documentary that in her mind, Betty ends up forgiving James and they spend their lives together, which means she has a vision of where this story went. However, there is no apparent connection to that storyline or any other folklore plot in evermore.
As it was stated in folklore’s review, these opinions and theories are the writer’s own and don’t pretend to be a representation of the whole Zenerations team. The beauty of Swift’s music relies on finding one’s personal meanings depending on each individual situation.
The first track of the album, which is also the first single, is willow, a sweet love song that may seem simple but sticks to the listener’s head as time goes by. Swift also declared it sounds like “casting a spell to make someone fall in love with you”. The video for willow starts right where the cardigan video ended, with Swift sitting in an attic, wet and wearing the iconic cardigan, and she seems to follow a golden string that takes her to her lover (which could be connected to folklore’s invisible string – “One single thread of gold tied me to you”). The whole video has a homely and rustic aesthetic that fits perfectly with the guitar background.
The lyrics “But I come back stronger than a 90’s trend” are once again a reference to her big comeback with the reputation era after her disappearance in 2016, which Swift feels proud after the online hate campaign launched against her. Finally, some people on social media have pointed out the wise choice of an Asian American actor to play her lover in the video, as racism against the Asian community has increasingly grown due to the current pandemic.
The second track is a fan favourite: champagne problems, a beautiful ballad written by Swift and Alwyn. The song follows the story of a girl who unexpectedly leaves her boyfriend after he proposes without an apparent reason. She talks about having “champagne problems” which everyone has linked to mental health issues. Furthermore, in the bridge she sings “this dorm was once a mad house / I made a joke ‘well, it’s made for me’” and “she would have made such a lovely bride / what a shame she’s fucked in the head” further proving the theory of the mental health struggles the girl is going through. She also sings about everyone around them warning him about her, and how now her boyfriend will be able to find another person without such issues – “But you’ll find the real thing instead / She’ll patch up your tapestry that I shred”. These lyrics were really hard to listen to, because the audience learns she was aware of people stigmatising her for her mental health issues.
Swift has been open about the eating disorder she went through during the 1989 era, and how she’s been learning to take better care of her mental health since then. She also referred to herself as a “mad woman” in folklore, when she sang about the figure public opinion built of her and how everyone pushed her to the edge until she fought back. All of this has led some fans to believe this song might have a part of truth in it instead of just being a made up plot, with Taylor reflecting on the girl who tells the story.
Gold rush is the third song in the album, and Swift explained it “takes place inside a single daydream where you get lost in thought for a minute and then snap out of it”. The song has a quicker and happier rhythm than the previous two, and it reminded me of the “crush culture” we live in nowadays. It’s a sweet story of a person daydreaming about their crush, finding nothing but perfection and imagining their lives beside them, and then realising that’s not real life. It felt realistic and youthful, especially during a time where people invest themselves so much on love, whether it’s platonic or real.
Now it’s time for the apparently only plot of the album, which is developed in two songs: ‘Tis the damn season, the fourth track, and dorothea, the eighth (and the first song written for the album). I’ll be discussing both now so the connections between the two can be clearly seen. ‘Tis the damn season is written from the perspective of a girl who left her little hometown to follow her dream of becoming a Hollywood star and now comes back for the holidays, while dorothea is sung from the point of view of a person whose teenage love left the town to make it big in LA. We can then assume that the girl singing in the first song is Dorothea, and the pair meets when she comes back to town. The relation between the two songs can be seen in lyrics such:
- You got shiny friends since you left town (dorothea) – So I’ll go back to L.A. and the so-called friends / Who’ll write books about me if I ever make it (‘tis the damn season)
- But are you still the same soul I met under the bleachers? (dorothea) – And thе school that used to be ours (‘tis the damn season)
However, the connection between the two is better understood as a whole when one listens to both full songs. It can be understood that Dorothea is feeling nostalgia in ‘tis the damn season, telling her ex-lover that Hollywood life is fake and that maybe her choices would be different if she made them now (“And the road not taken looks real good now / And it always leads to you and my hometown”). On the other hand, the person singing dorothea is aware of how different her life is from the quiet life of their youth, and also understands she’s not fully happy and invites her to stay. Regarding a possible relation of this storyline and the betty/james plot in folklore, Swift said it’s “not a direct continuation of the betty/james/august storyline, but in [her] mind Dorothea went to the same school as Betty, James, and Inez.”
Although this is the main and most notable meaning of the songs, many fans have also noticed dorothea could be inspired by Swift’s best friend Selena Gomez. Firstly, Gomez’s favourite movie is Wizard of Oz, whose main character’s name is Dorothy. Secondly, the lyrics suggest the singer and Dorothea have known each other since they were very young, just like Swift and Gomez. Moreover, the lyrics “Honey, making a lark out of misery” may refer to Swift being by her side supporting her during the miserable time Gomez went through during her relationship with Justin Bieber (“making a lark” is an informal British expression that means “having fun”). Thirdly, the last time the pair was physically seen together was in 2018, but they recently reunited through facetime on Gomez’s cooking show, which could be referenced in “A tiny screen’s the only place I see you know”. Some other lyrics that have been used to prove this theory are “And if you’re ever tired of being known for who you know” (Gomez is still usually mentioned next to Bieber’s name even though it’s been years since their break up) and “You’re a queen selling dreams, selling makeup and magazines” (Gomez has recently launched a beauty line and has been the cover of several magazines). Finally, Gomez played a character named Dot, short for Dorothy, in the movie The Fundamentals of Caring. Is it true the story was inspired by Gomez? As always, nothing is confirmed when it comes to Swift’s inspiration for her songwriting, so every option is valid.
On the other hand, fans have noticed the only two names used to title songs in the album, Dorothea and Marjorie (which is the title of track 13), are the names of the West sisters, who lived in Pennsylvania during the late 1930’s and were part of a well known unsolved mystery: the disappearance of 5-year-old Marjorie in 1938. Swift enjoys true crime and she grew up in Pennsylvania, and although the thirteenth track is titled marjorie in honor of Swift’s grandmother, it is also an interesting theory.
Back to the regular order of the tracklist, the fifth song of the album is tolerate it, an incredibly powerful record that fits with Swift’s tendency to locate her most vulnerable song on track 5. Tolerate it tells the story of a woman who realises her husband doesn’t appreciate and celebrate her love, but rather he just tolerates her and barely pays attention to anything she does, even after she worshipped him and supported him. Swift stated she got the inspiration from the book Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, because Rebecca does her best to impress her husband but he simply tolerates her, and “There was a part of [her] that was relating to that, because at some point in [her] life, [she] felt that way”. As I see it, these lyrics are eye opening and necessary in this time where awareness is being raised every day regarding healthy relationships and every person being worthy of love. No one deserves to live a life with a person who barely pays attention to the details their partner tries to prepare, and tolerate it sends a message of a need of self appreciation (“I know my love should be celebrated”).
Track 6 is different from everything we’ve listened before: no body, no crime, which features the band HAIM, is a country-pop rock song that narrates a murder mystery in which the main character (which can be assumed is Swift) tries to avenge the disappearance and possible murder of her friend. At the beginning of the song, we learn the singer and her friend Este (one of HAIM’s members) always meet on Tuesdays for dinner, and one day Este shares her worries that her husband might be cheating on her, although she can’t prove it. Next Tuesday, Este doesn’t appear for her dinner with her friend and her husband reports her disappearance. However, the singer suspects he has something to do with it since his car has been renewed and a new woman (his mistress) moves in. Determined to avenge her friend, the narrator sings about a boating license, covering up a scene, making it seem like the mistress was involved in the crime, and Este’s sister providing her with an alibi, which leads the listener to conclude she killed the husband. The chorus varies from the beginning of the song (“I think he did it but I just can’t prove it”) to the end (“She thinks I did it but she just can’t prove it”) to switch from the narrator’s suspicion of the husband to the mistress’ suspicion of the narrator. However, there isn’t a literal confession of this vengeance, which leaves the mystery unresolved. As I previously mentioned, Swift recently revealed her obsession with true crime, which might have inspired this song too.
Happiness is the seventh track of the album and one of the most vulnerable ones for me. This ballad deals with the topic of moving on after a break up, which is recurrent in Swift’s discography. However, it feels different from any of her other songs, as this one leaves the hopeful message that happiness can also be found after sorrow (There’ll be happiness after you / But there was happiness because of you / Both of these things can be true). Ultimately, the song beautifully expresses the confusion and hurt a person can go through after breaking the relationship with someone, not necessarily a significant other but also a friend, knowing that there will be happiness after the hard times but also acknowledging they were happy before everything went wrong. The whole song is filled with this ambiguity of being sad and angry but also moving on, as can be seen in “I hope she’ll be a beautiful fool / Who takes my spot next to you / No, I didn’t mean that / Sorry, I can’t see facts through all of my fury” where she realises the girl who comes after her is not guilty of anything. Also, “You haven’t met the new me yet” brings up once again her transformation after 2016 and how she came back as her true self, but is still figuring things out.
On the other hand, the lyrics “When did all our lessons start to look like weapons / Pointed at my deepest hurt?” Were especially powerful to me, because they show how someone who knows you can be the one to hurt you the most because they know where to aim.
As the eighth track of the album has already been discussed (dorothea), it’s time now for one of my personal favourites: coney island featuring The National, which was also co-written by Joe Alwyn. I don’t know if it’s because the album came out during an especially vulnerable and low moment for me, but coney island hit right into my feelings from the first listen. That doesn’t seem to be the general opinion, but again, that’s the beauty of Swift’s music! Everyone can find themselves in the lyrics and stories and can feel differently towards the songs depending on the moment. Following the format of folklore’s exile, the song is a ballad sung as a duet from two different points of view, two people who reflect on their relationship after separating, although we don’t know if they’re thinking about a relationship between them or separate ones. Both of them question themselves and the behaviour they had during the relationship, wondering if the choices they made hurt the other and ultimately ended the romance. The general sensation is that they both feel very sorry, they are sad the other person might have felt abandoned or disappointed, and they seek each other’s forgiveness. The lyrics “And when I got into the accident / The sight that flashed before me was your face / But when I walked up to the podium, I think that I forgot to say your name” are very deep and complex, and they show how important the other person was in their lives but how uncaring they were when they were together. For me, this is one of the saddest and melancholic songs in the album, which contrasts with the place that names it, as the neighborhood Coney Island (New York) is known for being lively and cheerful.
The tenth record is ivy, which has a more happy rhythm than the previous one, and it almost reminds of folklore’s invisible string (especially in the lyrics “Oh, goddamn, my pain fits in the palm of your freezing hand” and “Time, curious time, gave me no compasses, gave me no signs”). The story follows a girl who’s engaged to a man but starts falling in love with another, who can transform her pain into happiness (My house of stone, your ivy grows / And now I’m covered in you). It’s a very simple yet catchy and beautiful song that transports the listener to Swift’s old records. So does cowboy like me, the eleventh track of the album, a country-style song about two swindlers who fall in love while hanging out in fancy resorts and tricking rich people. When the narrator sings “Telling all the rich folks anything they wanna hear / Like it could be love / I could be the way forward / Only if they pay for it” she’s explaining how she tricks the people for their money, but things drastically change after she meets the other swindler: “Never thought I’d meet you here / It could be love, we could be the way forward / And I know I’ll pay for it”, she knows she’ll regret falling in love with a swindler like her.
Evermore’s twelfth song, long story short, is another one that can be connected to Swift’s personal experience rather than an invented story. It’s the most explicit track about the feud with Kanye West and the massive online hate that led to disappearing for a year: “And I fell from the pedestal / Right down the rabbit hole / Long story short, it was a bad time”. It also addresses her relationship with Tom Hiddleston and how that was born during the wrong time for her: “Pushed from the precipice / Clung to the nearest lips / Long story short, it was the wrong guy”. However, instead of only focusing on this miserable time for her, she sings about Alwyn and the peace and safety she found after she met him. Actually, the lyrics “knocked on your door / And we live in peace” might also reference the song peace from folklore, in which Swift wonders if Alwyn could handle their relationship when she will never be able to have a fully quiet life. She finishes the song with lyrics of strength and hope: “Pushed from the precipice / Climbed right back up the cliff / Long story short, I survived”. After everything she went through and believing her career was over, she came back stronger, and this time with a stable support system that made her be ready for whatever happened.
The thirteenth track, marjorie, is, as I mentioned before, a tribute to Swift’s late grandmother, Marjorie Finlay (just like track 13 of folklore, epiphany, was a tribute to her late grandfather). Finlay was an opera singer who had a big influence in Swift’s life and artistic career. The verses of the song seem to be a reproduction of Finlay’s words, encouraging Swift to find balance in her life, while the pre-chorus and chorus show the singer missing her grandmother. However, the music and rhythm are not as sad as other Swift’s songs about loss, it has an aura of nostalgia and sweetness as someone remembers past times.
It’s one of the songs who can definitely affect people in different ways. I have never experienced the loss of a relative, but my grandmother is like a mother to me, and I know I will go through the toughest time when she’s no longer with me. The lyrics “I should’ve asked you questions / I should’ve asked you how to be” hit especially hard because it makes me think of that moment when I will find myself without her, and the fear that I will not have seized my time with her enough. However, talking to another fellow Zenerations writer I realised the meaning for her was slightly different. She sadly lost her grandmother a few months ago, and when she listened to marjorie it reminded her of acceptance, that peaceful moment of grief when one is still missing the person but they’re finally accepting they’re gone and they’re reflecting on the amazing times together. Although it’s not one of the most commented tracks, I think it’s a really personal and beautiful one. Additionally, Marjorie’s voice is credited in the song, and it can be heard in the background towards the end.
Track 14, closure, has a surprising electronic opening that then leads to an industrial-folk song about a narrator who receives a letter from her ex. During the record, she explains how her ex wants to be on good terms with her after a bad break up because their bad situation is the tiny part of his new life he’s not happy about. However, she doesn’t want to be friends after what she went through, and she won’t accept his offer just so he can keep everything in order. She states she “doesn’t need his closure” because she knows everything is over now and she doesn’t need a relationship with him to keep going with her life. When I first listened to this song, I immediately thought of DJ Calvin Harris, as they had a very public break up and he tweeted some very damaging information that makes it clear they didn’t end up on good terms. Especifically, the lyrics “Guilty, guilty, reaching out across the sea” gave me this idea as Harris is from Scotland and Swift is from the United States. However, this is not a very popular theory and, as we know, folklore and evermore are partly based on invented stories she came up with, so there’s a chance the song isn’t about her life at all.
The last song from the regular album is evermore, which she sings with Bon Iver (who was also part of folklore with exile) and was the third song co-written with Joe Alwyn for this album. This song came out during a time where the weight of everything that’s happened this year was finally settling on my shoulders: I felt unmotivated, tired, I was overwhelmed with online classes,… and listening to Swift sing about that pain made me feel less alone: “Gray November / I’ve been down since July”, “Hey December / Guess I’m feeling unmoored / Can’t remember / What I used to fight for”. Towards the end of the song, it also felt as if the singers were referring to everything everyone has been through in 2020, all the anxiety and pain that’s been felt everywhere: “Can’t not think of all the cost / And the things that will be lost / Oh, can we just get a pause?” Of course, if this song had come out at another point, it would have had a different meaning, but all we can think of now is how hard this past year has been and how it will affect the years coming. The song also features the lyrics “To be certain, we’ll be tall again” which can be seen as a ray of hope.
Finally, the deluxe version of evermore came with two extra songs that came out January 7, 2021. One of them is it’s time to go, whose lyrics refer to that moment in everyone’s lives when we realise leaving is the best option to handle an unsustainable situation. She sings about realising a friend is not a friend anymore, a couple not separating because of their kids, an unhappy person at their job, etc. The third verse is particularly interesting because she seems to refer to the Scooter Braun situation again, as she sings about giving everything for a man who gave her nothing but then wondered why she left. She sends a powerful message with the chorus “Sometimes giving up is the strong thing / Sometimes to run is the brave thing / Sometimes walking out is the one thing / That will find you the right thing”. It seems to follow Swift’s tendency in her recent albums to talk about one’s own mental health and well-being, as walking away from bad situations is an incredibly complex choice to make, but sometimes the right one that helps us move on. Swift herself mentioned that the song “is about listening to your gut when it tells you to leave”. The other song, right where you left me, is according to Swift “ about a girl who stayed forever in the exact spot where her heart was broken, completely frozen in time”. The lyrics give that overwhelming feeling of being stuck, of seeing people around moving on and achieving goals but one’s still in the same place. Probably everyone can feel identified with that feeling of inferiority, as if we haven’t worked enough or life hasn’t been kind. Despite the lyrics being incredibly emotional and sad, it’s a quick and relatively happy tune, which gave me a sensation of hope as if the girl who sings has accepted she was stuck and now prepares to move on.
In conclusion, this album is the perfect continuation to the folklorian narrative started last summer. It took me a little while to get used to it, especially when folklore was so recent, but looking back, that happened to me with folklore as well: it’s different from everything Swift had done before, but it eventually wins the fans over. It felt like evermore had more connection to her life than folklore, which can be seen in songs such champagne problems, happiness or long story short. Finally, I have to say Joe Alwyn has surprised me greatly this year, as he’s not only a very talented actor but also a great songwriter: most of my favourite songs from folklore and evermore (exile, betty, coney island, champagne problems) are co-written by him, and it’s nice to know a little about the beautiful relationship Swift and Alwyn share. My final top for now would be:
- Coney Island
- ‘Tis the damn season
- Champagne problems
- No body no crime
Will Swift surprise the world again with another unexpected release this year? We can never know, but what can be assured is that 2020 was one of the greatest years for her and her audience.
Bea is a rising Junior in the Autonomous University of Madrid, studying to be a teacher. Her dream job would be working for education institutions and promoting change in order to achieve a feminist education. She is specially focused on amplifying the historical women whose time silenced. She would also like to work on interculturality and inclusion in education, as she believes an educative system with those values will lead to social change. In her free time she enjoys watching TV Shows, movies, listening to music and dancing.