By building upon the various "eras" of her persona, the singer reaches new heights on her two latest albums.

By De Elizabeth
Dec 11, 2020 @ 3:16 pm
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Taylor Swift Evermore Review
Credit: Beth Garrabrant

When introducing the world to evermore, her ninth studio album and folklore’s sister, Taylor Swift put it like this: “I felt less like I was departing and more like I was returning.” 

It’s a huge statement, especially coming from an artist who has reinvented herself with nearly every record that’s come before. As she noted in a statement accompanying evermore’s release on Dec. 11, many of her albums can be neatly divided into concrete eras, each with their own personalities: 1989 exploded onto the scene in 2014 amid a burst of glitter and confetti, while 2017’s reputation ended a chapter of silence with a comeback drawn in black lipstick. In 2019, she traded snakeskin for butterfly wings as Lover captured our hearts in all its pastel, celebratory glory. All of these eras are reflective of Swift as a musician — she’s a collage of every version of herself she’s ever been like we all are — but in making folklore and evermore, the singer stepped into a forest where the trees and flowers were adorned with familiar pieces of her heart. It wasn’t so much that she was creating yet another new Taylor; this time, she was truly coming home. 

In many ways, this is also the experience of being a Taylor Swift fan: listening to a song and believing that this total (and extremely famous) stranger somehow knows the innermost workings of our hearts. Through each of her albums, we’ve navigated different parts of ourselves, different chapters of our lives. Ask any fan and they will tell you: It’s like she’s writing about me — no matter how specific the lyrics may be.

“Whether she’s making you think about your first love, your former best friend, the biggest heartbreak you may never recover from, your childhood, your forgotten power, or your grandmother, the resonance strikes a chord that echoes into those deep places no one touches or sees,” agrees Natalia Vela, a 32-year-old Swiftie from Houston. “It gives you chills. I have joked before that Taylor peeked into my journal for inspo.” (It’s a joke that many of us have made, myself included, because Taylor Swift just always knows. Was “All Too Well” really written about Jake Gyllenhaal, for example, or is it about every single one of our most painful breakups? Both, no doubt.)

The overwhelming sensation of feeling so inexplicably seen by Swift’s music is especially interesting on evermore, where the singer isn’t necessarily writing about her own lived experiences — or anything explicitly rooted in reality. Gone are the days where fans can pore over her lyrics, assigning verses and bridges to a star-studded list of ex-boyfriends; evermore’s 15 tracks are (mostly) fictional stories, a continuation of the narratives first introduced on folklore earlier this year. “Before I knew it, there were 17 tales,” Swift told us, “some of which are mirrored or intersecting with one another.” 

Like other legends, the stories on folklore and evermore are rooted in the human condition: the painful love that’s faded from technicolor into shades of gray; an affair that sparked a secret language no one else will ever speak again; old friendships that can be reminisced, but never fully restored. Swift might be singing about an imaginary woman named Dorthea when she asks “are you still the same soul I met under the bleachers?” — but she’s also singing about anyone who has ever felt an indescribable ache for a person they used to know. And while the memories of her grandmother in “marjorie” are uniquely specific (“You loved the amber skies so much / Long limbs and frozen swims / You'd always go past where our feet could touch”) the sentiment of “I should’ve asked you questions...asked you to write it down for me, should’ve kept every grocery store receipt” will cut straight to the soul of any listener who knows what it’s like to grieve an unspeakable loss, to be desperate for one more moment to get it right.

Molly*, 28, felt personally drawn to Swift’s song about her grandmother, having lost her own grandma to COVID-19 earlier this year. “The lyrics and melody made me emotionally break down — but in a way that felt therapeutic,” the Detroit resident told InStyle. “Again, Taylor seems to just understand.”

It should not be overlooked that folklore and evermore (released within five months of each other) arrived amid a global pandemic, when much of the world has been on pause, holding its breath, waiting for something better. And with so much stripped away — seeing friends, traditional holiday celebrations, any sense of normalcy — we’ve been forced to look inward, dig deep, and reconnect with our most authentic ourselves. It’s what Swift has done for herself in creating these albums, and that opportunity has been extended to fans through her music.

“I felt so creatively drained this year,” remarks Lacey*, a 27-year-old fan from Missouri. “When folklore came out, it revived my spirit again, and encouraged me to break the rules that I’ve always measured myself by when it comes to creating. Evermore is having the same effect, while also gutting me with lyrics that hit too close to home.” She adds that “gold rush” particularly had an impact on her emotions, citing the lyric “falling feels like flying until the bone crush” as one that ripped directly into her heart. “Taylor’s music continues to help me open up and recognize things in myself that I might have felt uncertain to claim. Her lyrics have helped me give names to parts of myself that I’m growing to love.”

And therein lies the magic of Swift’s evermore: the album is both a revelation and a reckoning, allowing its listener to confront their deepest secrets and wildest dreams — sometimes both at once. Swift said it outright; evermore is a gift for fans, a way to feel close to her, each other, and ourselves during a season when we need that connection more than ever. “I haven’t met the new me yet,” Swift sings on track 7, “happiness.” None of us have; but amid all the uncertainty and question marks that lie ahead, we have her music as a lifeline to guide us, push us to ask the hard questions, and most importantly, let us know that we are never alone.

*Interview participants requested only their first names be used.