A drawing of Taylor Swift as she appears on the cover of evermore. The surprise album release shook the earth not five months after the release of folklore. Photo Credit: Bijou Allard.

When Taylor Swift announced the surprise release of her eighth studio album, folklore, it was probably one of the best kept secrets of her career—foreseen by no one, but as it would turn out, direly needed by all. It had come less than a year since her previous chart-topper, Lover, and carried a radically different folk-pop style. In less than 24 hours, it became one of her most highly anticipated albums ever, and post-release, it was praised as one of the defining works of her life: a stripped back, vulnerable project that demonstrated what a lyrical force the artist could be.

Just as December arrived and the world’s publications began to opine on their best releases of the year (with folklore topping many of the lists), another surprise came: a sister album, evermore, was to be released just before Swift’s 31st birthday (13 backwards… get it?). The album would feature an additional 17 tracks to complement the singer/songwriter’s July release, making an unprecedented extension to one of her most highly regarded eras, and sending a wave of astonishment through fans new and old.

Now that it’s here, I’m going to review it track-by-track and offer my thoughts on each of the record’s intricately woven stories and sounds.

Track 1 – “willow”

evermore’s opener is a springy, acoustic thing; it shares similarities to folklore’s opener, “the 1,” but has more depth and a fuller sound. As the lead single, the song is undoubtedly an earworm, with a catchy refrain (“that’s my man!”) and a soft beat you’ll subconsciously drum on your knees. Its melody is charming and fairy-like, accompanied by various wispy sounds not unlike the flutter of a willow tree. In typical Swift single-picking fashion however, it is not the strongest lyrically (see also: “ME!” and “Look What You Made Me Do”), but it still tells a story you can lose yourself in. The music video starring Taeok Lee is not so bad, either. I’m still working on finding all the Easter eggs in it.

Favorite lyric: Life was a willow and it bent right to your wind, but I come back stronger than a ‘90s trend.

Track 2 – “champagne problems”

When I first listened to this song, I wrote down the word “crestfallen” (one of my favorites) to describe its vibe, and not ten seconds later did Taylor Swift actually say it in the chorus. Clearly she achieved what she was going for. “champagne problems” tells the story of two lovers who meet up with opposite intentions: one to propose, and the other to break up. What ensues is a devastating mix of tragedy and nostalgia and grief set upon a steady chord progression and the occasional vocal harmony.

It is by far my favorite on the album and, in my deeply-held opinion, begs comparison to Swift’s magnum opus, “All Too Well.” I’m disappointed that, unlike that song, it wasn’t chosen for the honor of being Track 5—a spot which has historically held Swift’s most widely renowned songs and which is occupied on evermore by the upcoming “tolerate it”—but I’m glad to see that over the past few days this sentiment has been shared by many. It is indisputably one of Swift’s most impressive works in storytelling, a tale that will deeply affect those who listen and listen closely. And while it doesn’t have the same screaming-crying-in-the-rain quality that “All Too Well” does, its more subtle composure gives way to a matured representation of the tale’s calamity.

Favorite lyric: One for the money, two for the show; I never was ready, so I watched you go.

Track 3 – “gold rush”

Taylor Swift’s magic touch when it comes to pop has made a starlit return on the album’s third track. This song thumps and builds and swells in a manner that is almost intoxicating, and coupled with Swift’s vocals it becomes less of a song and more of an experience. During the premiere of the “willow” music video, Swift told fans that “gold rush” takes place entirely within a daydream, which is explanatory of its ethereal sound. I think this song would have worked better in some ways as the lead single, but also recognize that it doesn’t really align with the album’s sound as a whole. Nevertheless, it’s one of my favorites.

Favorite lyric: My mind turns your life into folklore; I can’t dare to dream about you anymore.

Track 4 – “‘tis the damn season”

Being a fall-and-winter album (as opposed to folklore’s spring-summer vibe), a song called “‘tis the damn season” fits in perfectly, and seems almost inevitable from a person like Swift. This track is clearly more experimental in melody and production, but every piece slots together as it should. Bringing a steady stream of nostalgia and expertly placed imagery, it’s one of my favorites to sing, and tends to pop into my head at all the right times. This wistful tune is best experienced in a ballroom, down a back road, or among an abundance of candles.

Favorite lyric: So I’ll go back to L.A., and the so-called friends who’ll write books about me if I ever make it, and wonder about the only soul who can tell which smiles I’m faking.

Track 5 – “tolerate it”

The highly anticipated Track 5 is chosen with much deliberation and care. It’s a coveted spot on every Taylor Swift album, as explained earlier, and is awarded to the most vulnerable, profound songs in each collection. Previous Track 5s include “my tears ricochet,” “The Archer,” “Delicate,” “All You Had To Do Was Stay,” and most famously, “All Too Well.” Swift noted shortly before the album’s release that “tolerate it” was chosen for its lyrics, and for how “it’s so visual, and conveys such a specific kind of hurt.”

The song begins with an unassuming piano sequence and evolves into something sweeping as Swift enters. Shifting between ice-cold and pleading, her voice tells a story of trying so hard for someone, of giving everything, and receiving only shallow appreciation in return. The bridge is indisputably its strongest element, followed by an alteration of the chorus that you’ll love to scream and empty out your emotions to. “tolerate it” is most certainly worthy of Track 5 status, but as I mentioned earlier, perhaps not the worthiest on this album when tracks like “champagne problems” exist. Unlike track 2, though, it’s most likely a personal story as it references songs like “invisible string,” which connect to her real-life relationships. That alone is most likely why she chose it.

Favorite lyric: I made you my temple, my mural, my sky; now I’m begging for footnotes in the story of your life.

Track 6 – “no body, no crime” feat. HAIM

Nine albums in, you’d think that Taylor Swift would have written about murder by now. In fact, with all she’s been through, it’s a miracle she hasn’t. evermore brings to us a Carrie Underwood style, literally-killing-someone-and-disposing-of-the-body track, and it’s more fun than anything else. Returning to a classic country sound, she brings on the musical sister trio HAIM to support the song and its story.

Police sirens and the words “he did it” herald the beginning of this tale, and before long we’re learning about a woman named Este, best friend of the narrator, whose husband is acting different (and it smells like infidelity). When Este doesn’t show up to Olive Garden one day, her best friend and her sister set out to get revenge on the one person they know is involved in her disappearance—the same person whose mistress is now sleeping in Este’s bed. Swift’s obsession with true crime stories shines on this track, and using her real-life friends, Este, Danielle, and Alana Haim, she crafts a story that is delightfully twisted and wholly entertaining.

My only grievance with this song is that it doesn’t allow HAIM to participate more. They’re extraordinarily talented, with great voices, and I wish I could have heard them on a verse or two. Nevertheless, the few parts where they do appear are highlights, and I’m glad they finally got to work with Swift after being friends with her for so many years.

Favorite lyric: Good thing my daddy made me get a boating license when I was fifteen; and I’ve cleaned enough houses to know how to cover up a scene.

Track 7 – “happiness”

This is one of the more toned-down songs on the tracklist, with a simpler chorus than is typical of Swift (“there’ll be happiness after you, but there was happiness because of you”), but the verses and bridge balance this out. It has many parallels with “tolerate it,” describing a crumbling relationship in which love becomes tolerance, which then becomes intolerance and stray hostilities. The song builds nicely towards the end, but doesn’t quite resolve. Overall, I’ll describe it as nice. I can forgive most of its shortcomings given that it was finished less than a week before release. (Seriously.) The devil works fast, but Taylor Swift works faster.

“happiness” is also the first of two five-minute songs on evermore, and the first five-minute song that Swift has released since the Red album in 2012 (though “Daylight” from Lover comes close at 4:54). I’m happy to see this trend return on her latest album, as her longest songs tend to stick with you. Perhaps soon she’ll even produce some six-minute songs again, which haven’t been around since Speak Now but have proven to be some of her most timeless works (see: “Dear John” or the slightly shorter “Enchanted”).

Favorite lyric: After giving you the best I had, tell me what to give after that.

Track 8 – “dorothea”

Easily the most endearing track on the album, “dorothea” is a one-sided dialogue between Swift and an old friend, to whom all signs point as being Selena Gomez. In the song, Taylor sings about how Dorothea has grown up and left the small town they used to play in for, supposedly, bigger and better things. She sends her love as she watches from afar, wondering whether the new Dorothea with fortune and fame is still the one she loved when she was younger. It’s set over a jolly but reminiscent production that encourages you to sing every time it plays. In its purest form, “dorothea” is sweet like candy and evokes a love gone but not forgotten.

Favorite lyric: You’re a queen selling dreams, selling makeup and magazines; from you I’d buy anything.

Track 9 – “coney island” feat. The National

On release day, “coney island” had been sabotaged by a general unease toward the voice of  Matt Berninger, frontman of The National. I’ll admit that I was also put off at first—his voice is a deep, gravelly thing not unlike that of Justin Vernon (lead singer of Bon Iver)—but I was able to move past it with a couple of extra listens. A similar phenomenon happened with “exile” on folklore, which then became one of the most popular tracks of this year, so you really never know how the public will react. However, I was disappointed to see it still appear on the low end of fan rankings.

The song is about the collapse of a relationship in which one lover doesn’t prioritize the other, and it alludes to a lot of Swift’s past relationships and their endings. It’s regretful and resentful and, perhaps most strikingly, sad. With imagery of lonely benches, shattered glass, car crashes, and arcade rings, it is one of the most poignant tracks on the album. I’m sad many people are deeming it a skip.

Favorite lyric: Will you forgive my soul when you’re too wise to trust me and too old to care?

Track 10 – “ivy”

This is a fun one. I got “invisible string” vibes on my first listen, which made it stand out to me just as that song did on the previous album. A crowd favorite, “ivy” masks a complex story with an addicting, adventurous production. But despite the comparison to track 11 on folklore, it actually parallels “illicit affairs” more than anything. The song takes place in a cemetery, where two lovers—one married—become hopelessly entwined like ivy to a grave house. Over the course of the song, the narrator contemplates their secret lover and what would happen if their husband were to find out about them.

Swift delivers another borderline intoxicating bridge with this one as well, which has had me murmuring about the “goddamn fight of my life” on more than one less-than-appropriate occasion.

Favorite lyric: I’d live and die for moments that we stole, on begged and borrowed time.

Track 11 – “cowboy like me”

One of the more polarizing songs on evermore, “cowboy like me” tends to be either a most-favorite or a least-favorite depending on who you ask. Honestly, I want to see if it’s related to astrology or something, because everyone I know seems to have different opinions (of varying strengths, too). As for myself, I enjoy it in passing but wouldn’t put it on purposefully. It’s a mellow, tavern-style ballad about two rogues who fall in love while trying to con different rich people, and while lyrically on-par with what I can expect, it doesn’t bring anything super engaging production-wise. I suppose it’s good for a chill evening at home.

Favorite lyric: Now you hang from my lips like the Gardens of Babylon; with your boots beneath my bed, forever is the sweetest con.

Track 12 – “long story short”

“long story short” kicks off with a refreshing energy—I was immediately obsessed with its sound. It’s more danceable than most songs on evermore, making it a crowd favorite among danceable types, and it carries a familiar but timeless message: I survived. Now, I’m thriving. The song is about Swift’s tumultuous romantic past, which has become tiny compared to the love she has now. She’s grown up, matured since the time of her old flames. Anyone who’s been hurt by the hand of an ex-lover will find a victory in this song, which casts insignificance upon what has passed and focuses on the marvelous, singular now.

Favorite lyric: And he’s passing by, rare as the glimmer of a comet in the sky.

Track 13 – “marjorie”

“marjorie” is an ode to Taylor Swift’s grandmother Marjorie Finlay, who was an opera singer. It mirrors track 13 on folklore, “epiphany,” which was inspired by her grandfather Archie Dean Swift. The song celebrates the life and spirit of Marjorie, and illustrates the parts of her that live on despite her passing so many years ago. Grandmotherly advice, lovely tales, and ghostly occurrences make this song as memorable as the woman it commemorates—a comfort for anyone who has lost a family member. And fun fact: there is an actual recording of her grandmother singing in the outro, right after Swift says, “if I didn’t know better, I’d think you were singing to me now.”

Favorite lyric: Should’ve kept every grocery store receipt, ‘cause every scrap of you would be taken from me.

Track 14 – “closure”

This is another song that was unfortunately hindered in its effect by a peculiar choice: an erratic percussive sound that persists throughout the song, described by some fans as “clanging pots and pans.” It fades and intensifies periodically, and gives an overall air to the song that is discordant. I actually think it was a brilliant choice, as it matches the conflict described by the song. “closure” drips with spite, responding to a letter received by the narrator from an ex-lover that asks for closure, even though they were the person whose choices ended the relationship in the first place. Almost comical in its juxtaposition, the song is a brutal dismissal sung lightly over a calm piano tune. You wouldn’t pick up on its venom as well without those pots and pans.

Favorite lyric: I know I’m just a wrinkle in your new life; staying friends would iron it out so nice.

Track 15 – “evermore” feat. Bon Iver

In the album’s final, titular track, the iconic Swift + Vernon duo that brought us “exile” returns. “evermore” was written during the 2020 election, inspired by the fear it brought and the hope that followed immediately after. It starts out slow, with Swift singing wistfully into the cold evening; then, a surprise: the tempo changes, and Bon Iver enters with a steep falsetto. Vernon’s voice directly contrasts that in “exile,” but still manages to mix in perfectly with Swift’s as they battle for dominance in the bridge. (A bridge that is completely unintelligible at first, but oh, so addicting.) As I learned this song, it became one of my favorites to sing—and yes, I sing both parts—for its wailing bridge and crashing resolution towards the end. It’s most definitely a worthy final track and an appropriately poetic ending to the TS8/TS9 era.

Favorite lyric: And when I was shipwrecked, I thought of you; in the cracks of light, I dreamed of you.

Track 16 – “right where you left me” (bonus)

The first of two bonus tracks, “right where you left me” was released on streaming services alongside “it’s time to go” on January 7, 2021 (or earlier for those who purchased physical deluxe editions). It’s the beginning of the album’s second ending.

In the song, Swift is trapped in the booth of a restaurant at 23 years old as the world moves on around her. At this time, she had just released the wildly successful Red album, which was met with critical acclaim but also an onslaught of attacks toward her talent and her success. She had been discredited, slut-shamed, tricked, and insulted before she had the chance to finish growing up. In the restaurant, her lover tells her that he’s found someone else, and she becomes frozen in the moment before everything can crash down around her. There, she stays.

It’s a haunting image—being frozen in time. Perhaps more haunting that she did it to herself. I really like this song and wished it would have been on the standard album, because the story is quite poignant and she describes it with a powerful precision.

Favorite lyric: I’m sure that you got a wife out there; kids and Christmas, but I’m unaware, ‘cause I’m right where I cause no harm.

Track 17 – “it’s time to go” (bonus)

The final-final track on evermore is, in part, about the harrowing ordeal of Swift losing the rights to her first six albums. Almost two years ago, Swift’s old label Big Machine sold her entire catalog to Scooter Braun—who had been involved in Kanye West’s attempts to tear down her image in the past—without offering them to her first. Bound by a contract she signed at 15, she was powerless against the loss of her most foundational work. She made a post on Tumblr about it the same day it was announced. In November 2020, Braun resold the master recordings to a private investment fund, which reignited the flames.

More generally, it’s about relationships that become toxic and unsustainable. Swift talks about how leaving can be the most beneficial thing you can do for yourself, despite any fears that you might have about the outcome. As a second ending to the album, it is empowering and strong, and plays to the common Swift motif about how your past makes you who you are. I adore it.

Favorite lyric: Fifteen years, fifteen million tears, begging ‘til my knees bled; I gave it my all, he gave me nothing at all, then wondered why I left.

As a whole, Taylor Swift’s evermore is a brilliant complement to the summer’s release of folklore. Both albums exemplify her writing at its absolute best, bringing timeless tracks time and time again and cementing her place as one of the greatest forces in music today. The sister albums’ era will live on long after it ends.

In a time that was defined by sorrow and marked by loss, Taylor Swift painted the world with marvel. She got up and she told stories, like she does best, and our desperate ears grabbed hold. Now, as the new year dawns and we move on from the old, I can look back and say this with conviction: she made the past something a little easier to let go of.

And somehow, that was everything.

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