In mid-July, Taylor Swift disbanded everything she had ever known about album-making. Gone was the scientific build up, the social media easter eggs: she announced a quarantine album a short sixteen hours before its release. Folklore marked a new age for Swift. An evidently fruitful age it seems, as less than six months later Evermore arrived, a “sister album” to its predecessor. Hours once again sat between announcement and release, which came in the midst of the musically crowded festive season. Folklore broke Swiftian rules; Evermore detonated them.
Evermore continues its sister’s wistful grapple with fantasy. At her polished peak, Swift was the master of coded language. Everything had to be authentic; every lyric had an arrowlike quality, able to point to some feud or fallout in the real world. But reality is what Evermore firmly rejects. Instead, Swift creates worlds within worlds. The age-old debate surrounding her song writing no longer revolves around her, but her characters. Swift is the overlooked wife (‘Tolerate It’), the virtuous adulterer (‘Ivy’), the fiancée who says no (‘Champagne Problems’). She shapeshifts, as on Folklore, no longer relying on the rumour mill to lay the foundations for her writing. Without the burden of an anticipating crowd, Swift develops the softness she found on Folklore, the pristine pop of her past replaced by darker, mistier sounds.
If 2019’s Lover felt slightly staged, Evermore learns from its mistakes. Gone is Swift’s need for the indisputable last word; instead, there is a dreamy investigation into dispute itself. Annoyingly, her odd penchant for dreary duets with the mid-40s men of indie persists (‘Coney Island’ with The National, ‘Evermore’ with Bon Iver). Neither holds a candle to Folklore’s ‘Exile’ or the HAIM-accompanied, murderous ‘No Body No Crime’, perhaps Swift’s best attempt at song-feminism since she became politically enlightened. What works on Evermore is the lack of unyielding sincerity found on her earlier albums, which, as times changed, read more as petty than witty. Lover failed to be the I’m-actually-over-all-the-drama moment Swift had hoped for. But even in the midst of an ugly music ownership battle with producer Scooter Braun, Evermore rises above the spectacle. The whole album could be the soundtrack to wealthy Pennsylvania, which perhaps makes it the most Swiftian offering to date. In her venture into fantasy, Swift becomes the narrator of stories, rather than the protagonist. Intrigue, heartbreak, backstabbing – but none of it her own. Now firmly on the private side of celebrity, she’s solved her own problem. Evermore continues what Swift started in Folklore, her bulletproof song writing intact, her passion for melodrama ongoing – make believe though it may now be.
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