Posted on April 3, 2022
TW: Mentions of eating disorders, grief, and death.
In trying to write an introduction to this post, I kept coming back to what I wrote for the introduction of my post about folklore, the sister album to evermore:
“Yes, this is a very long post about a single Taylor Swift album. I dithered for a long time about whether to post this or not (and it took me a freaking long time to write it) because this is primarily an Autism and mental health blog and I try to keep it that way, for the most part. But then I realised, you know what? I’m autistic and music, especially songwriting, is my special interest and so it IS relevant. This is part of what it’s like to be autistic, for me anyway. I think about songs and albums, about lyrics and melodies and music and production, in this much detail (or more). And I spend A LOT of time thinking about all of this. So while writing it was really fun for me because all of this is my favourite stuff to think about and explore and try to understand, I also thought it was quite an interesting insight into how special interests can manifest in an autistic person (I absolutely don’t claim to speak for any other autistic person – this is just how my brain works). I won’t be offended if you don’t want to read the whole thing but I do think it’s worth having some understanding of how engrossing and emotional and deep a special interest can be and can go. So please read a little, even if you don’t read all of it. For me.”
That holds true for this post too. Between completing my masters, trying out the ADHD meds, and the period of really bad depression that I’m just getting out of, I struggled to write this. But the album means a lot to me and having started this post, I was committed to finishing it. And now, with the Grammys tonight and evermore nominated for Album of the Year, I’m grateful to have finished it.
So, she did it again… Taylor Swift announced a new album, evermore, the day before it came out, less than six months after her first surprise drop, folklore…
Both Taylor and Aaron Dessner have called evermore a sister album to folklore. On Twitter, Dessner described it as “a wilder continuation of what we started with folklore” and when the album won favourite Pop Album at the 2021 AMAs, Taylor called it “folklore‘s adventurous, fun younger sister” in her acceptance speech. The two albums are deeply interwoven, from specific imagery to wider themes: “Thematically, we still explored mythology, stories, and secrets. Sonically, we leaned in and experimented more. [For example] Justin Vernon is on five songs, playing drums, electric guitar, banjo, synth, and sings on three.” (x) But she also explored new territory, as she explained to Zane Lowe: “With folklore, one of the main themes of that was conflict resolution, like, trying to figure out getting through something with someone and trying to tell them something, and making confessions, and communication. evermore deals a lot in endings, in all sorts, and shapes, and sizes, and in all the kinds of ways we can end a relationship or a friendship or something toxic and the pain that goes along with that.”
While each is a distinct body of work in its own right, they fit together to make a larger whole. Taylor likened them to seasons making up the year during the ‘willow’ premiere: “I wanted evermore to represent fall and winter while folklore represents spring and summer. I’ve always wanted to do a two part anthology that’s a collective body of work and it just kind of happened naturally.” Dessner expanded on that and how it affected some of their choices when speaking to Rolling Stone after the album’s release: “Just in terms of what we were interested in, there is a wintry nostalgia to a lot of the music that was intentional on my part. I was leaning into the idea that this was fall and winter, and she’s talked about that as well, that folklore feels like spring and summer to her and evermore is fall and winter. So that’s why you hear sleigh bells on ‘ivy,’ or why some of the imagery in the songs is wintery.”
The songs themselves are in the same vein as the songs on folklore: not diaristic but still deeply personal. While some of them are her own stories (and some her own stories disguised as different stories), the emotions are all hers. Somehow, she’s managed to evolve into a writer that still writes in a way she loves – writes to cope with what she’s going through – without subjecting herself to the harassment of the media. It seems that it’s also allowed her to explore subject matter that she may not have felt comfortable writing about before; using fictional characters and extended metaphors, there’s enough distance between herself and the narrators of her songs for her to write about whatever she wants or needs to without the fear that it will lead to mass media speculation and a dissection of her personal life.
While folklore was made entirely remotely, evermore was made both in person and over distance. When speaking to Billboard, Dessner spoke quite a bit about the process of making evermore: “Some of it was remote, but then after the folklore: the long pond studio sessions, [Taylor] stayed for quite a while and we recorded a lot. She actually wrote ”tis the damn season’ when she arrived for the first day of rehearsal. We played all night and drank a lot of wine after the fireside chat – and we were all pretty drunk, to be honest – and then I thought she went to bed. But the next morning, at nine am or something, she showed up and was like, ‘I have to sing you this song,’ and she had written it in the middle of the night.”
And here we are. I hope you enjoy my passionate ramblings about each song on evermore.
1. willow – During the music video premiere, Taylor commented, “‘willow’ is about intrigue, desire, and the complexity that goes into wanting someone. I think it sounds like casting a spell to make someone fall in love with you (an oddly specific visual).” She expanded on that in her interview with Zane Lowe: “I liked opening the album with [‘willow’] because I loved the feeling I got immediately upon hearing the instrumental Aaron created for it. It felt strangely… I say witchy and I stand by that. It felt like somebody standing over a potion, making a love potion, dreaming up the person they want, and the person they desire, and trying to figure out how to get that person in their life. And all the misdirection, the bait and switch, the complexity in seeing someone and in feeling that connection and in wanting and trying to make them a part of their life. It’s tactical at times, it’s confusing at times, it’s up to fate, it’s magical.” The lyrics of the song also mirror what we know about her relationship with Alwyn and other songs about him (such as “Head on the pillow, I could feel you sneaking in” linking to ‘Daylight’ on Lover and “Wait for the signal, and I’ll meet you after dark” to ‘Delicate’ on reputation, as well as the general storyline, which she’s described in multiple songs), lending to the theory that while the stories in the songs may be fictitious, they are drawn from her real emotions and experiences.
The lyrics follow the story of a relationship unfolding, beginning with the turmoil she was experiencing at the time and how he seemed to break through all of that, right to the heart of her (“I’m like the water when your ship rolled in that night / Rough on the surface that you cut through like a knife”), to how he changed her life (“Life was a willow and it bent right to your wind”) and how she’d do anything to be with him (“And there was one prize I’d cheat to win”), to a deeper relationship where they’re sharing the deeper parts of themselves (“Show me the places where the others gave you scars”), reflecting a more serious level of commitment. The chorus seems to revolve around the theme of being committed to someone despite the uncertainty of life. “The more that you say, the less I know” can be interpreted as a love like nothing she’s experienced before, in that the more she learns about him and the deeper their relationship gets, the more she realises that she never knew what real love is; it’s all new and unknown. The lyric “Wherever you stray, I follow” is reminiscent of the lyric “Can I go where you go?” in ‘Lover’ but there’s growth and certainty now: she’s no longer asking. And “Wreck my plans, that’s my man” ties in to the title lyric of “Life was a willow and it bent right to your wind” in that he changed her life and blew all of her plans out of the water. But her ownership of him – “That’s my man” – implies that she sees this as a good thing and something intrinsic to him, this challenging of her ideas and routines.
The part that sticks out to me is the bridge: “Life was a willow and it bent right to your wind / They count me out time and time again / Life was a willow and it bent right to your wind / But I come back stronger than a 90’s trend.” The lines “They count me out time and time again” and “But I come back stronger than a 90’s trend” seem to be directed at her detractors, to all of the people who continue to underestimate her (and even delight in any negative moments) but it’s entwined with the repeated lyric “Life was a willow and it bent right to your wind,” a lyric that seems to be about her relationship. If the song is describing the beginnings of their relationship (even just emotionally), this lyric may be a reference to reputation, an album that was heavily inspired by her relationship with Alwyn, and its success after many predictions that it would fail. It also mirrors the lyric “I got harder, I got smarter in the nick of time” from ‘Look What You Made Me Do,’ the lead single from reputation. This is the only interpretation – that I can find or think of – that fits with the lyrics. With both folklore and evermore, we’ve heard Taylor talk about her feelings around fame more than ever before and many of the examples are quite heartbreaking. But this lyric seems to imply that she’s regained a sense of control over her life, a moment which is only emphasised by Taylor’s making eye contact with the camera in the music video.
There are a handful of other particularly interesting lyrics…
Production wise, it’s a beautiful song. The instrumentation is gorgeous. The picked guitar is delicate and atmospheric; Taylor’s description of it – “like casting a spell” – is very fitting. And the strings add a really nice dimension. While being layered and rich, it also feels spacious. Taylor’s vocals sound great too: she established with folklore that she has a strong lower register, which she shows off in the verses, and the higher melody in the choruses contrasts beautifully. The outro sounds almost improvised with lots of different lines from different sections, which was a really nice touch.
Favourite Lyrics: “The more that you say, the less I know / Wherever you stray, I follow / I’m begging for you to take my hand / Wreck my plans, that’s my man” OR “Every bait-and-switch was a work of art”
2. champagne problems – In her introduction to evermore, Taylor describes several of the songs and it would seem that “the one where longtime college sweethearts had very different plans for the same night” refers to this song. Who knows what inspired this song but it’s another example of Taylor and Joe Alwyn writing beautiful sad songs together (I do think it’s kind of hilarious and adorable that she’s gone from writing heartbreaking songs about love to finding someone she loves to write heartbreaking songs with). And although this is obviously not an autobiographical story, there are insecurities in the song that aren’t a million miles from the insecurities that Taylor has described, including fears around relationships not working out and the fear that her life is ‘too much’ for another person, which she refers to when talking about ‘peace’ during folklore: the long pond studio sessions (x) and in a 2015 interview: “I’ll be thirty… I’ll probably still be single, let’s be honest. No one’s going to sign up for this and everything that goes with it. Like, ‘Hi, nice to meet you, want a date? Do you love camera flashes? I hope you do!'” (x) This is what she did with the non-autobiographical songs on folklore: even though the stories weren’t hers, there were shades of her in all of them.
This song is an example of Taylor’s incredible storytelling skills; the lyrics are so beautiful. The song begins with a ‘cold opening,’ a technique often used in TV and film where the audience is thrown straight into the story or action: the first line, “You booked the night train for a reason,” immediately has us full of questions. The following line, “So you could sit there in this hurt,” only has us asking more. The now ex-partner has decided to go home straight away rather than stay and have everyone – his family – stare and tiptoe around him, as the chorus comes in, making it clear that he’d proposed and the narrator had said no. It’s a beautifully visual chorus, a list of different images that are part of the same moment but feel oddly fragmented when presented this way: “I dropped your hand while dancing,” “Left you out there standing / Crestfallen on the landing,” “Your mom’s ring in your pocket,” “My picture in your wallet,” “You heart was glass, I dropped it.” I’ll come back to the ‘champagne problems’ lyric but there are a couple of other interesting things going on in the chorus. Taylor often uses dancing as a metaphor for the nature of a relationship or her approach to love and the lyric, “I dropped your hand while dancing,” could be interpreted to mean that everything seemed fine and that it was a surprise when she said no, ending the relationship. She also uses the word ‘dropped’ twice within the chorus, which could be coincidence but with Taylor, I sort of doubt it: ‘dropped’ has an implication of an accident, that she didn’t mean to hurt him (which seems to fit with the rest of the story). The way she phrases these lyrics put her at fault, an undercurrent that continues throughout the song.
In the second verse, she describes how he told his family and a celebration was clearly planned, everyone anticipating that she’d say yes, something that she elaborates on in the second chorus: “Dom Pérignon,” “No crowd of friends applauded,” and the town gossiping about it. “You had a speech, you’re speechless” could refer to his proposal and then his response when she said no and the contrast between those two moments. The lyric, “I couldn’t give a reason,” also contrasts with her justification of his actions earlier in the song – “You booked the night train for a reason” and “You told your family for a reason” – which could imply that she felt his actions were understandable and hers weren’t because he had reasons for what he did and she didn’t.
The bridge of this song is the star, one of Taylor’s best: up until this point, we don’t really know what’s happened, just that he has proposed and she’s said no. We don’t know anything about what has brought them to this point. But, in the bridge, it all comes tumbling out (kind of like the narrator has been holding it all in and now that she’s started to talk about it, she can’t stop). Taylor’s love for bridges is well-known but, during her interview with Zane Lowe, she said that the bridge in ‘champagne problems’ was one of her favourites to write: “I love a bridge where you tell the full story in the bridge, you shift gears in that bridge.” Suddenly we’re getting the whole story – or at least more of it, her version of it – and it’s packed with gorgeous lyrics and imagery. “Your Midas touch on the Chevy door” is a really lovely way of saying that he made even ordinary things special, referencing King Midas from Greek mythology who’s touch turns everything to gold, and “November flush and your flannel cure” describes him giving her his flannel shirt to stay warm. “‘This dorm was once a madhouse’ / I made a joke, ‘Well, it’s made for me'” both gives us context for their relationship – that they met in college – and is the first clear reference to a connection with mental illness. It’s a self-deprecating joke, something so many of us do in order to cope, that is quickly glossed over. And it’s really sad because she’s dismissing her own experience like she doesn’t believe it’s something serious (and therefore won’t seek support for it). The next two lines, “How evergreen, our group of friends / Don’t think we’ll say that word again,” are clever since the word they won’t say again could either be ‘evergreen,’ in that their group of friends won’t last, or ‘ours,’ since they won’t share anything after they’ve broken up; both work and bring something to the song and the story. The line “One for the money, two for the show” references an old expression that was used to start a race but, rather than continue and complete the phrase, she breaks it in the middle, essentially ending the race before it began (and in this song, their marriage and their life together). The second half of the rhyme – “Three to get ready and four to go” – is the exact opposite of the line she sings: “I never was ready so I watch you go.” I love the next line – “Sometimes you just don’t know the answer / ‘Til someone’s on their knees and asks you” – because it’s so visual: we can see this couple, see the moment he asks, and the moment where she realises that this isn’t what she wants. And this is the moment that the whole song has been leading to: the proposal. We finally get to know what happened and it’s heartbreaking. It’s not malicious, it’s not callous; she just didn’t know that that’s how she felt until she was forced to face it, until both of their futures were at stake. (I could talk for hours about this line, unspooling all of the possibilities around this moment, but I won’t.) The next line – “‘She would’ve made such a lovely bride / What a shame she’s fucked in the head,’ they said” – has never quite sat right with me because it sounds like it’s trivialising mental illness but then that’s sort of the point: people throwing around ‘crazy,’ ‘mental,’ ‘fucked up’ and so on (in this case for turning down this perfect proposal), with no idea of the implications of their words. In this case, the character is clearly struggling with her mental health and so it hits all the harder because it just reinforces her belief that her problems aren’t real problems (i.e. are ‘champagne problems,’ which, yes, I swear I will get to). (I also saw someone on Twitter, I think, comment on how the lyric “‘She would’ve made such a lovely bride / What a shame she’s fucked in the head,’ they said” and “The doctor had told him to settle down / It must’ve been her fault his heart gave out” from ‘the last great american dynasty’ are two sides of the same coin in that they demonstrate how women are often depicted as out of control just for having feelings and are also blamed for things that they clearly have no control over, which I think is an excellent observation – I can’t find the source at this moment but if I do find I’ll add it.) The bridge draws to a close with “But you’ll find the real thing instead / She’ll patch up your tapestry that I shred.” The first half is desperately sad because she doesn’t seem to think that their relationship was real, maybe because of her revelation when he proposed, maybe because it didn’t last; we can’t know. But it is sad to think that she feels that all of the time they spent together didn’t mean anything. I’ve always found the second half of that phrase – “She’ll patch up your tapestry that I shred” – is a bit clumsy; the syllable count is awkward and technically it should be ‘shredded’ rather than ‘shred,’ right? Isn’t this a tapestry she’s already shredded? As in, past tense? Anyway.
And in the final chorus, the perspective has changed: the narrator is now watching the action, rather than being part of it. She’s watching her now ex-partner with his new partner, pointing out how much better the new woman is: hold his hand rather than dropping it, won’t leave him “crestfallen” on the landing with his mother’s ring and champagne problems. But then she flips it; it’s not him with the champagne problems of a rejected proposal, it’s her champagne problems that messed everything up. And we finally get to the crux of the song: the champagne problems. There are multiple problems described in the song and multiple potential meanings for the title: the champagne went to waste (literally a champagne problem), the proposal was rejected (not a great experience but not the most serious of problems), and her mental health problems (which are big, serious problems). And everyone’s so focussed on the lesser problems – the champagne and rejected proposal – that they’re missing the most serious problem, her mental health, which even she doesn’t recognise as the problem it is. That may be the most heartbreaking part of the whole song.
One thing I’ve noticed on repeated listening is that most of the lyrics are about what he did and how he reacted to what she did but there are very few about herself, especially herself as separate from him. It feeds into the idea of poor mental health, of low self esteem and self worth. I could talk about the mental health component of this song for hours but I’ll stop. This is already going to be a long post. Anyway. It would’ve made a gorgeous music video; I imagine the bridge as a montage of memories. It implies so much more than it says and it says a lot. It would’ve felt like a full length feature film condensed into a music video.
Musically, it reminds me a lot of ‘All Too Well,’ except that it has piano as its central instrument. The arrangement is gorgeous without being too busy, allowing for the vocal – and the story – to take centre stage. I think my favourite part is the backing vocals in the bridge and the way they build and fill out the section, emphasising certain lines. And the little piano twiddle at the end is kind of funny and odd: I can’t help but wonder whether it was improvised and kept because it lightened things at the end of a really sad song or whether it was completely intentional. I don’t think we’ll probably ever know.
Favourite Lyrics: “One for the money, two for the show / I never was ready, so I watch you go / Sometimes you just don’t know the answer / ‘Til someone’s on their knees and asks you”
3. gold rush – What instantly struck me about this song is how distinctive the production is in the different sections. It was almost jarring but then, that matches with what Taylor said about the story behind the song during the premiere for the music video of ‘willow,’ that it “takes place inside a single daydream where you get lost in thought for a minute and then snap out of it.” The sound of the song mirrors the lyrics: the parts where she’s pulled into the daydream have a dreamier quality, whereas the parts more based in reality, the chorus in particular, feel a little clearer but with an edge of anxiety to them.
The first section – “Gleaming, twinkling / Eyes like sinking ships on water / So inviting, I almost jump in” – seems to establish the daydream, this person’s eyes being something that really draw her in. Again, we have ocean imagery. Using water as a metaphor in the context of daydreaming about being with someone is interesting, given just how dangerous water – especially the ocean – can be; already we have an indication of just how easy it would be to get sucked in – to drown in it – and struggle to get out. Having said that, the lyric, “I almost jump in,” demonstrates that, although she’s tempted, she hasn’t jumped in yet.
And suddenly we’re into the chorus, the drums really emphasising the melody and creating a sense of anxiety and urgency that reflects the emotion of the lyrics. A moment ago, she was getting sucked into this daydream but suddenly, she’s ‘snapped’ out of it and seeing clearly: that she doesn’t like the competition or the slim chance of having a future with this person, that she doesn’t like the way it makes her feel. There are some simple-on-the-surface lyrics in this chorus section that are interesting to delve into. One of these is “Everybody wants you / Everybody wonders what it would be like to love you,” which is a theme that Taylor has touched on before in songs like ‘Delicate,’ ‘Lover,’ and ‘willow.’ What could be seen as jealousy or possessiveness could be viewed another way: as anxiety, as fear that this person and the happiness you’ve found with them could disappear because you’re not enough for them to stay, themes she’s touched on in songs like ‘peace,’ ‘this is me trying,’ and ‘champagne problems,’ although the latter two aren’t diaristic. I’ve seen a couple of people casually comment on this but I think this is a really big theme for Taylor (especially after everything we learned listening to Red (Taylor’s Version) last November) and it’s interesting to explore the different ways in which this feeling has manifested over the years. Another interesting thing is the parallel between “I don’t like that falling feels like flying ’til the bone crush” and “Loving him is like trying to change your mind once you’re already flying through the free fall” from the song, ‘Red.’ Ever since reputation and Taylor’s relationship with Alwyn, we’ve seen her compare her understanding of love now to her previous understanding of love. ‘Daylight’ is an obvious example (with the lyrics “I once believed love would be black and white / But it’s golden” and “I once believed love would be burning red / But it’s golden”) but in songs like ‘Welcome To New York’ (“Like any great love, it keeps you guessing / Like any real love, it’s ever-changing / Like any true love, it drives you crazy”) and ‘New Romantics’ (“Please leave me stranded / It’s so romantic”), she writes about love being big and bold and unpredictable but in ‘New Year’s Day’ (“I’ll be there if you’re the toast of the town, babe / Or if you strike out and you’re crawling home”) and ‘peace’ (“But I’m a fire, and I’ll keep your brittle heart warm / If your cascade ocean wave blues come / All these people think love’s for show / But I would die for you in secret”) describes love as being something warm and gentle; it’s about showing up for each other. It’s a pretty extreme shift.
I’m not gonna lie: I did, for a moment, wonder if Taylor was writing about herself when she wrote “What must it be like / To grow up that beautiful? / With your hair falling into place like dominos.” But anyway. In this section, we get a peek into the daydream: her clothes at his place, calling him out for his “contrarian shit,” going away together. But suddenly the daydream is fading, because it could never happen, because… she doesn’t like a ‘gold rush.’ And we’re back to the chorus. But just as it seems like the daydream section is repeating, the lyrics change: “My mind turns your life into folklore / I can’t dare to dream about you anymore.” Imagining this life for the two of them is no way to live. There’s no calling him at parties, their coastal getaway will never be realised. The intro also serves as the outro and we’re left with the line, “So inviting, I almost jump in.” Almost. It remains a daydream.
It’s easy to see why the comparison to ‘Gorgeous’ are constantly brought up in discussion of this song. Thematically, they are similar and there are parallels in the imagery. We don’t know whether this song is based in reality or whether it’s completely made it. When I listen to it, I do hear the resemblance to some of Taylor’s previous songs about Alwyn so I wouldn’t be surprised if she drew from her relationship with him – maybe even the details from the daydream – but the song repeatedly tells us that the relationship described never actually happened so clearly it’s at least partly fictional.
Favourite Lyrics: “I don’t like that falling feels like flying ’til the bone crush” OR “My mind turns your life into folklore / I can’t dare to dream about you anymore”
4. ’tis the damn season – Here, we have the first or two songs that fit together, the second being ‘dorothea,’ as described by Taylor in the evermore prologue: “Dorothea, the girl who left her small town to chase down Hollywood dreams – and what happens when she comes back for the holidays and rediscovers and old flame.” To state the obvious, this song is from Dorothea’s perspective when she goes back to her hometown and, surrounded by old memories, runs into an old love. Between the emotive electric guitar and the visual lyrics that imply so much more than they say, it’s a beautiful, deeply nostalgic song. Pitchfork describes it well: “She has always been a wordy lyricist, often seeking to mimic the sound of rushing, restless endorphins, and here, she uses that skill to magnify sad, small moments like the home-for-the-holidays fling in ”tis the damn season.’ In a near whisper, she treats Dessner’s electric guitar framework as an empty diary page, her notes spilling into the margins, using every inch of space he offers to describe the fog on the windshield, the mud on the tires, the parking spot by her old school.”
Again, we’re dropped straight into the action with the lyric, “If I wanted to know who you were hanging with / While I was gone I would have asked you / It’s the kind of cold, fogs up windshield glass / But I felt it when I passed you.” They’ve run into each other and he’s made a point to let her know that he’s moved on – physically if not necessarily emotionally, if the following lyrics are true – and clearly he’s done so to hurt her, perhaps to get back at her for leaving. But they’re both still hurting and if the past is still where they left it, maybe they can put everything aside just for a little while. Hence the chorus. She’s telling him that they could put their baggage aside and feel how they feel inside the bubble of the holiday weekend before going back to their lives as they are now, and she’s telling him where to find her if that’s what he wants too. The lyric “And the road not taken looks real good now” is a reference to the Robert Frost poem, The Road Not Taken, a poem about the different paths we can take in life (although it’s often misunderstood and misquoted) and in this case, the path she didn’t take is the one that didn’t lead her to Hollywood but the one that kept her in her hometown with her childhood sweetheart.
The second verse fills in some of the blanks, some of their history, and acts as a reminder of how hard the past is to shake, how easy it is to fall back into old habits and feelings when surrounded by reminders from that past. “I escaped it too, remember how you watched me leave” confirms that she left, that she left him behind, and “But if it’s okay with you, it’s okay with me” is another offer to put it all aside, if only for the weekend. The chorus repeats but this time it’s double the length with new lyrics, almost as if the longer she stays surrounded by the memories, the more she finds herself sucked back in (“Now I’m missing your smile,” for example) to things she once wanted (and, to an extent, still does). The line “Time flies, messy as the mud on your truck tyres” reinforces the Frost reference in that life rarely pans out the way you expect – it’s ‘messy’ – and we often find ourselves in places we never expected. There’s a great analysis of the consistent imagery of cars and driving on the Genius page for this song: “Throughout ”tis the damn season,’ Swift constantly references driving and cars. The impermanence and half-there/half-not state of being inside a car symbolises the transitory nature of the relationship – Dorothea is always on her way to somewhere else, and the relationship can never be anything but fleeting and unstable.” The following lyric hammers the point home – “We could just ride around” – in that there’s a very definite lack of commitment. And again, she comes back to the idea that, in another life, she might’ve stayed in her hometown and built a life with this person.
In the bridge, she seems to slip into a daydream of what the proposed weekend would be like but, again, there’s an emphasis on the lack of commitment: “I won’t ask you to wait if you don’t ask me to stay.” She’s clear that this would be a one time thing, that they won’t ask anything else of one another. But the following lyrics make it obvious that it’s not as clean as she wishes it was, lamenting her LA friends who don’t really know or care about the real her as opposed to this person from her ‘old life’ in her hometown. I think the most heartbreaking lyric of the song is “And the heart I know I’m breakin’ is my own / To leave the warmest bed I’ve ever known” because she knows that having this weekend only to leave again, leave this place where she feels safe and loved, will be incredibly painful but she’s suggesting it anyway, even knowing how much it will hurt. It’s also interesting that she doesn’t think it would break his heart (although it could also be interpreted to mean that she’s breaking her own heart by simply imagining this scenario); this representation of low self worth isn’t so different from how the narrator in ‘champagne problems’ saw herself.
We return to the chorus and the song draws to a close but we never know what happened. We never know if she even asks him, let alone whether he said yes or not. It’s somewhat fitting that a song about a lack of closure in a relationship leaves us with a lack of closure when we listen to it. We’re left to fill in the blanks ourselves, to finish the story, something that’s not a thousand miles from the very idea of folklore.
I love the sound of this song. I love the tone of the electric guitar, how fittingly wistful and nostalgic it sounds. The bass and echoing percussion fill it out beautifully and the strings in the bridge heighten the emotions of an already emotional section. And the layered vocals are stunning. The contrast of Taylor’s lower register in the verses and higher in the choruses and bridge adds to the atmospheric sound of the song.
Aaron Dessner has talked a couple of times about how special the song is to him, how it’s his favourite on evermore. Speaking to Billboard, he said: “[Taylor] actually wrote ”tis the damn season’ when she arrived for the first day of rehearsal [for folklore: the long pond studio sessions]. We played all night and drank a lot of wine after the fireside chat – and we were all pretty drunk, to be honest – and then I thought she went to bed. But the next morning, at nine am or something, she showed up and was like, “I have to sing you this song,” and she had written it in the middle of the night. That was definitely another moment [where] my brain exploded, because she sang it to me in my kitchen, and it was just surreal. That music is actually older – it’s something I wrote many years ago, and hid away because I loved it so much. It meant something to me, and it felt like the perfect song finally found it. There was a feeling in it, and she identified that feeling: that feeling of… ‘The ache in you, put there by the ache in me.’ I think everyone can relate to that. It’s one of my favourites.” And to Rolling Stone: “’tis the damn season’ is a really special song to me for a number of reasons. When I wrote the music to it, which was a long time ago, I remember thinking that this is one of my favourite things I’ve ever made, even though it’s an incredibly simple musical sketch. But it has this arc to it, and there’s this simplicity in the minimalism of it and the kind of drum programming in there, and I always loved the tone of that guitar. When Taylor played the track and sang it to me in my kitchen, that was a highlight of this whole time. That track felt like something I have always loved and could have just stayed music, but instead, someone of her incredible storytelling ability and musical ability took it and made something much greater. And it’s something that we can all relate to. It was a really special moment, not unlike how it felt when she wrote ‘peace,’ but even more so.” I love how much he loves the work he does with Taylor; I can’t imagine anything better than being able to work with people who are just as passionate about the art you create as you do.
Favourite Lyrics: “So we could call it even / You could call me ‘babe’ for the weekend / ‘Tis the damn season / Write this down / I’m staying at my parents’ house / And the road not taken looks real good now / And it always leads to you and my hometown”
5. tolerate it – How this song came to be is just as fascinating to me as the song itself. In her interview with Zane Lowe, Taylor talked about how the song was inspired by a fictional story but only became a song because Taylor herself resonated with the emotions in the story: “When I was reading Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, I was thinking, ‘Wow, her husband just tolerates her. She’s doing all these things, she’s trying so hard, she’s trying to impress him, and he’s just tolerating her.’ Part of me is relating to that because at some point in my life, I felt that way, so I ended up writing this song ‘tolerate it,’ which is about trying to love someone who’s ambivalent.” This song is an excellent example of how she blends real and fictional in the songs of folklore and evermore: she’s exploring emotions that she has experienced but through fictional characters and storylines. As she said, the song was ultimately inspired by Rebecca but it was a feeling she related to; the song may not be strictly autobiographical but it pulls from real feelings and experiences (the fandom guess seems to be Calvin Harris, mostly because of what she said about how she felt after winning Album of the Year at the 2016 Grammys despite the two being in a relationship at the time).
Musically, this is a deviation for Taylor: it’s the first time she’s experimented with an irregular time signature. When talking to Rolling Stone about evermore, Aaron Dessner said, “Sonically, the ideas were coming from me more. But I remember when I wrote ‘tolerate it,’ right before I sent it to her, I thought, ‘This song is intense.’ It’s in 10/8, which is an odd time signature. And I did think for a second, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t send it to her, she won’t be into it.’ But I sent it to her, and it conjured a scene in her mind, and she wrote this crushingly beautiful song to it and sent it back. I think I cried when I first heard it. But it just felt like the most natural thing, you know? There weren’t limitations to the process. And in these places where we were pushing into more experimental sounds or odd time signatures, that just felt like part of the work.” Since Dessner wrote the track, Taylor clearly didn’t set out to match an unbalanced relationship with an unbalanced sound but it may well be that the unbalanced sound of the track that became ‘tolerate it’ appealed to Taylor, that that unbalanced sound sounded like the emotions she was writing about.
Again, it’s a very visual song, swinging from the most beautiful lyrics to ones that sound deeply weary. The first verse sets the scene, with our narrator observing her partner at various moments and the implication is that she’s very much on the outside looking in despite being one half of this relationship. The imagery used – watching him reading, for example – is, I believe, actually inspired by imagery from the book. The multiple parallels in this first verse to the first verse of ‘Paper Rings’ from Lover is interesting. Without further explanation from Taylor, we’re unlikely to know whether this was intentional or not (I suspect it was; Taylor has always been a very deliberate writer) and, if it was intentional, why she did it. If it was me, I’d want to create a parallel with a positive relationship to demonstrate that there was good in this relationship, that there’s a reason why it’s so hard to let go of.
The line “You’re so much older and wiser and I” leads us into the chorus and is the last moment of ignorance, the last moment before it’s revealed that this is not necessarily a compliment and that this relationship is not a good one. The chorus is beautifully written, giving us a crystal clear insight into the narrator’s feelings about the relationship. She’s still putting everything into this relationship – proven by the childlike enthusiasm on greeting him (although the use of the word ‘kid’ hammers home the point about a power imbalance in the relationship) and always portraying him in the best light – but that it’s wearing her down. The phrase “fancy shit” coming at the end of three lines about how much effort she’s putting in is so interesting to me because that is the result of tolerating something: you put up with it and you put up with it and you try and you try but it’s exhausting and after all of this effort, she’s just exhausted and can’t keep up that level of effort anymore, even if for only a moment. The use of “fancy shit” rather than “fancy stuff” (used in the clean version of the song) is also of note. I know that some people don’t like Taylor’s incorporation of cursing into her songs but she uses them so deliberately, to deliver additional weight and emotion to a lyric (just as she does with “fuck you forever” in ‘mad woman’ and “just shit we’re dividing up” in ‘happiness’). It’s clear from the lyrics – “If it’s all in my head tell me now / Tell me I’ve got it wrong somehow” – that she doesn’t want things to be the way they are and there’s a least a little denial about how the relationship will end. She knows she deserves better but she doesn’t want to be the one to say the words and end it: “I know my love should be celebrated / But you tolerate it.” This final lyric in particular feels similar to themes and lyrics from ‘Better Man,’ such as “I know I’m probably better off on my own / Than lovin’ a man who didn’t know what he had when he had it” and “You’re talkin’ down to me / Like I’ll always be around / You push my love away like it’s some kind of loaded gun.”
The second verse continues to demonstrate how highly she thinks of him, despite everything: she gives him “a battle hero’s welcome”; she listens to him intently; she does the cleaning, polishing plates “until they gleam and glisten.” She even takes his indiscretions – his cheating – without complaint, going above and beyond the call of duty in the eyes of most. And she still holds him in high esteem, as “older and wiser.”
After a repeat in the chorus, we’re into the bridge, another of her best. Despite her adoration (and, to an extent, denial), she does want to challenge him, to ask him why he treats her the way he does. “While you were out building other worlds, where was I?” Did he even think about her while he was out doing whatever it was he did (I’m inclined to think something creative, given the phrase “building other worlds,” but it’s clearly something our narrator sees as important)? “Where’s that man who’d throw blankets over my barbed wire?” Where’s the man she used to know, the man who’d do anything for her? The use of the barbed wire imagery is intriguing, given its use in ‘invisible string.’ In ‘invisible string,’ the barbed wire protected her from her past struggles and that was due, in part at least, to her partner. But in this song, the barbed wire is a part of her, something he struggled past to get to her. But it could also be said that, by covering those difficult things rather than dealing with them, it was only postponing the inevitable, the moment when those difficult things caught up to her. She made him her everything – “I made you my temple, my mural, my sky / Now I’m begging for footnotes in the story of your life ” (one of my favourite Taylor lyrics) – but feels like she’s made no impact on his life, like he isn’t letting her in. Again, the Genius page for this song has an interesting analysis of these lines: “She made him her focal point; the world revolved around him. She was constantly doing things for him, making sure he was her top priority. A temple is a place meant for worship. In this case, she’s saying he was the one she worshipped, over any God. A mural is typically a permanent piece of artwork. Murals also tend to be made public pieces, so in this line she’s saying she made it known that he was all she cared about, or at least what she cared about the most. Her talking about him being her sky could be a reference to the phrase, ‘The sky is falling!’ which is a literary term that has been passed into the English language as a common idiom indicating a hysterical or mistaken belief that disaster is imminent. It comes from an old folk tale, and she very well could be saying when his world is falling apart, she feels hers is too, because of how closely she’s established them together in her mind. Despite all of this, all of her efforts to make him all she sees, he is still paying no attention to her, and she isn’t even able to be considered a ‘footnote,’ which is an ancillary piece of information printed at the bottom of a page… She is “begging” to stay even a small, seemingly unimportant factor in his life.” With the lyric “Drawing hearts in the byline / Always taking up too much space or time / You assume I’m fine” she’s still trying, still hoping, but still feeling his ambivalence and feeling it deeply.
Instead of returning to the chorus we’ve already heard, our narrator is thinking about how things could be different: “But what would you do if I, I / Break free and leave us in ruins / Took this dagger in me and removed it / Gain the weight of you, then lose it / Believe me, I could do it.” All of these things will hurt her – they’re all self-destructive actions despite the end result – because it will hurt her to leave, which is why the “Believe me, I could do it” is all the more powerful. She knows it will be painful but she’ll do it because she knows she deserves better than how he’s treating her. The three examples mirror the earlier three examples of “I made you my temple, my mural, my sky” – it’s almost like she’s taking back what she gave him, even if he didn’t accept it. I also think the phrase “Gain the weight of you, then lose it” is all the more powerful because we know Taylor’s struggled with an eating disorder and had toxic relationship with food; it’s a powerful metaphor for a toxic relationship, especially coming from someone who’s experienced both. Given what she said about ‘mirrorball’ in folklore: the long pond studio sessions about censoring some of her more vulnerable lyrics, I’m amazed she kept it as a lyric. But maybe the use of a fictional character made it easier or the love of ‘mirrorball’ reminded her how much her fans and even casual appreciate – and need, even – that vulnerability.
But even with all of that said, she still doesn’t want to be the one to end it, still wants him to tell her that things can change, get better – she returns to her previous thinking: “If it’s all in my head tell me now / Tell me I’ve got it wrong somehow / I know my love should be celebrated / But you tolerate it.” And the outro is a throwback to the first verse: “I sit and watch you.” The implication is that nothing’s changed, that she’s being going through all of this in her head but hasn’t said or done anything about it. She knows that to say anything will change everything and how hard that will be, how painful. It feels easier – and less damaging – to stay rather than try to survive all of that pain.
It’s a devastating song and while there are multiple songs that could hold the mantle of being Track Five, I can understand why Taylor chose this one. As she said during the ‘willow’ premiere, she said, “I decided on track 5 because of the lyrics of ‘tolerate it’ and how it’s so visual, and conveys such a specific kind of hurt.” It’s a kind of pain she hasn’t touched on in any of her previous Track Fives. In a similar vein, I’ve seen multiple posts on Tumblr about how this song is what would happen if the couple in ‘illicit affairs’ had tried to make their relationship work long term. While I don’t automatically connect the two, I can imagine that.
While I’m mostly talking about lyrics in these posts (since they are my greatest passion), the instrumentation of this track is beautiful. The irregular time signature does give it an unbalanced feeling but the piano part is simple and repetitive which I think keeps it from sounding too unusual to the ear; irregular time signatures can sound very unmusical but I think the piano part negates that in this case. The percussion adds a sense of urgency without intruding and the layers of strings really add to the atmospheric nature of the track. The vocals are stunning: her lower register in the verses, higher in the choruses with a lower double track, primarily low in the bridge with a higher double track… Each section is beautiful and emotive and haunting in its own way.
Favourite Lyrics: “While you were out building other worlds, where was I? / Where’s that man who’d throw blankets over my barbed wire? / I made you my temple, my mural, my sky / Now I’m begging for footnotes in the story of your life” OR “But what would you do if I / Break free and leave us in ruins / Took this dagger in me and removed it / Gain the weight of you then lose it / Believe me, I could do it”
6. no body, no crime (feat. HAIM) – And here, we have Taylor finally contributing to the classic ‘cheating boyfriend/husband gets murdered’ sub-genre of country music. And what a joy it is.
Inspired by her love of true crime podcasts and documentaries, ‘no body, no crime’ is a great example of Taylor’s impressive storytelling skills. Taylor, our narrator, describes her friend Este’s suspicions that her husband is cheating, Este’s sudden disappearance, and her observations of the husband and his mistress, who has moved in after Este goes missing. Taking justice into her own hands, Taylor kills the husband and gets rid of the body, knowing that the new life insurance policy will make the mistress the prime suspect. So, not only is it a murder ballad but a double murder ballad involving a cover up.
Lyrically, it feels effortless, with detail in the verses (“We meet up every Tuesday night for dinner and a glass of wine” and “And I noticed when I passed his house, his truck has got some brand new tires,” for example) and clear, repeated statements in the choruses that are all the more impactful for their simplicity. And as well as indulging in the classic country music trope of murdering cheating partners, she also uses another very country technique: flipping the perspective for the final chorus, a technique she’s utilised multiple times over the years to great effect. The punchline at the end of the bridge, that “his mistress took out a big life insurance policy,” is delivered with such glee and the evolution from “I think he did it but I just can’t prove it” to “They think she did it but they just can’t prove it” to “She thinks I did it but I just can’t prove it” is both outrageous and extremely satisfying; it’s a twist on par with that of ‘the last great american dynasty.’
I love the hilarious blurring of lines between her real life and this fictional story: she has a friend called Este and she did get her boating license as a teenager, but I think it’s safe to say that she hasn’t murdered a friend’s cheating husband. Just the existence of this song is funny given that she once said one of her biggest fears was being falsely accused of murder. Fast forward to 2020 and she’s not only released a song about committing a murder but also about framing somebody else for it. (I also kind of love that she went from saying that ‘the other woman’ isn’t evil and just wants to be loved when talking about the girl in ‘august’ on folklore to framing ‘the other woman’ for murder on this album.)
The production on this song is beautifully done. The arrangement has a very country sound (very reminiscent of Carrie Underwood, especially when you take the ‘murder vibes’ into account), which I think is only emphasised by the harmonica. It’s very fitting for a song with such classic country storytelling. But it’s also very atmospheric with the moody, mysterious backing vocals that add some really gorgeous dimension to the track. At the time, I lamented that Taylor’s female features only ever sung backing vocals; little did I know that Red (Taylor’s Version) would actually gift us with a female-female duet in the form of ‘Nothing New.’ I also thought that the siren was a cool touch, even if it does confuse the hell out of me when I’m in the car.
Favourite Lyrics: “Good thing Este’s sister’s gonna swear she was with me (‘She was with me dude’) / Good thing his mistress took out a big life insurance policy / They think she did it but they just can’t prove it / They think she did it but they just can’t prove it / She thinks I did it but she just can’t prove it / No, no body, no crime / I wasn’t letting up until the day he […] died”
7. happiness – While some of the songs on evermore tell fictional stories inspired by real feelings, some can be interpreted as having more than one meaning: the literal, fictional storyline (the breakdown of a significant relationship and the resulting separation) and the extended metaphor underneath, which likely refers to the deterioration of her relationship with Scott Borchetta, especially after the sale of her masters, and how she moves forward from that. She also uses references from The Great Gatsby, weaving in even more to the story of the song. There’s a lot of complex and conflicting emotions in the song but after what Taylor said about writing ‘hoax’ in folklore: the long pond studio sessions, about writing about multiple feelings and experiences within the same song, I think she’s gotten more comfortable and more proficient at writing multiple stories into one song, something she does several times over evermore. She talked about the dual meanings of some of the lyrics during her Zane Lowe interview: “So I think that line specifically was, ‘I haven’t met the new me yet.’ In the context of the relationship song, I was trying to channel my friends who have gotten out of very, very impactful, life-altering relationships and saying, ‘How do I pack this up, put it in a box, put it in my car, and drive away? What did I leave there?’ So from that perspective it goes to ‘I haven’t met the new me yet’ as in the person I’m going to have to become to get over this person who will have to have new hobbies, and things other than you. In the “beautiful fool” lyric, I was meaning you haven’t met the person who’s going to replace me, but I know you’re going to. In the third verse, it goes to ‘I haven’t met the new me yet; she’ll give you that. I think she’s going to forgive you and give you the green light to move ahead.’ But in my mind, there’s another meaning to the phrase too. I have no idea what comes after this, truly no plan and I’m okay with that. It does feel like this is it for a bit, and I don’t know what that means. The phrase is exactly what I mean the phrase is exactly what happens next.” And the fictional storyline and the allusions to Borchetta aren’t entirely separate. When asked about writing ‘my tears ricochet’ and ‘mad woman,’ Taylor talked about her use of marriage and divorce imagery: “I found myself being very triggered by any stories, movies, or narratives revolving around divorce, which felt weird because I haven’t experienced it directly. There’s no reason it should cause me so much pain, but all of a sudden it felt like something I had been through. I think that happens any time you’ve been in a 15-year relationship and it ends in a messy, upsetting way. So I wrote ‘my tears ricochet’ and I was using a lot of imagery that I had conjured up while comparing a relationship ending to when people end an actual marriage. All of a sudden this person that you trusted more than anyone in the world is the person that can hurt you the worst. Then all of a sudden the things that you have been through together, hurt. All of a sudden, the person who was your best friend is now your biggest nemesis, etc. etc. etc. I think I wrote some of the first lyrics to that song after watching Marriage Story and hearing about when marriages go wrong and end in such a catastrophic way. So these songs are in some ways imaginary, in some ways not, and in some ways both.” With evermore being a continuation – of sorts – of folklore, it’s not surprising that she developed further on imagery she’d felt a connection to.
It’s another beautifully written song, the lyrics in particular; the imagery and her use of it is just stunning. The first verse sets the scene, both in terms of the situations and her feelings about it: “Honey, when I’m above the trees / I see this for what it is / But now I’m right down in it, all the years I’ve given / Is just shit we’re dividin’ up.” The reference to ‘the trees,’ one of the strongest motifs of the folklore and evermore world, is interesting to hear in the last song written for the album (a fact she revealed in the ‘willow’ premiere and in the Zane Lowe interview), almost as is she’s consciously or unconsciously having moved through those “folklorian woods.” In some ways, she’s book-ended these albums with the following two lyrics: in ‘seven’ (one of the earliest songs written for folklore, her second with Aaron Dessner), she sings, “Please picture me in the trees” and yet now, two albums later and shortly after the second sale of her masters, she’s singing about being “above the trees,” implying that she’s in a very different place to where she was when she began writing these two albums. In the relationship context, we can infer that the narrator has moments of perspective about this relationship ending but when she’s in the middle of it, when it’s all so raw and painful, it’s hard to see clearly, hard to act on reason and not emotion: everything they had has been reduced to dividing up their stuff. Again, like the use of the word ‘shit’ in ‘tolerate it,’ there’s a a depth of feeling that ‘stuff’ just wouldn’t convey, a resentment, a weariness. “Showed you all of my hiding spots / I was dancing when the music stopped” reinforces these previous lines: she gave him everything, gave it her all, and yet, it wasn’t enough. As I noted during ‘champagne problems,’ Taylor has used dancing as a metaphor for the nature of a relationship (or her approach to love) and in this example, the narrator was still completely in love while the other person is already moving on; the music stopped and suddenly she was faced with the truth, that it was over without her even realising. The following lyric – “And in the disbelief, I can’t face reinvention” – shows her at her most vulnerable, her most broken down: this revelation – that the relationship is over, that her future is falling apart right in front of her – is, as she talked about to Zane Lowe, so devastating that she doesn’t know how to pick herself up and start over. She doesn’t even know what that might look like: “I haven’t met the new me yet.” But as scary as that thought is – and it is a scary, enormous task to figure out who you are after going through such an experience – there’s also something quietly hopeful about it: new versions of ourselves will always be out there to find. We just have to take it day by day and eventually, we discover the next version of ourselves.
The chorus is beautifully simple, succinctly stating a profound idea: “There’ll be happiness after you / But there was happiness because of you / Both these things can be true / There is happiness.” Despite the distress and pain caused by the breakdown of the relationship, she is now in a place where she can recognise and value that she was happy in that relationship but that she will also be happy again, that happiness exists independent of this relationship. With the lyrics “Past the blood and bruise / Past the curses and cries / Beyond the terror in the nightfall,” she’s acknowledging all of the dark, traumatic parts of the relationship and the break up and she infers that he’s just as haunted by it: “Haunted by the look in my eyes / That would’ve loved you for a life time.” But she also seems to be encouraging him to let it go too, continuing with “Leave it all behind / And there is happiness” in the same breath, with no break between the sentiments. That’s one interpretation whereas another might be that she moves through the lyric in a rush so that she won’t get stuck on the fact that she feels she would’ve loved him forever; she has to remind herself to let it go and move on, to focus on finding the happiness she knows is out there.
In the second verse, she digs deeper into the relationship and how it deteriorated, trying to figure out when it all went wrong, when her partner’s “winning smile” became a “smirk,” when the “lessons” they learned together became “weapons” to use against her. She considers critically who her replacement will be – featuring a Gatsby reference: “a fool – that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool,” someone content to live in ignorance – before taking back her harsh thoughts: “No, I didn’t mean that / Sorry, I can’t see facts through all of my fury.” This develops on a lyric in ‘this is me trying’ – “My words shoot to kill when I’m mad” – and its follow up lyric – “I have a lot of regrets about that” – isn’t dissimilar to the end of the second verse, “You haven’t met the new me yet”; they both demonstrate growth. Of course, this lyric can be interpreted in multiple ways. One interpretation is that he hasn’t met the person she’s become since their relationship ended, or the person she’ll become in the future. Another is that the “new me” is the person who will fill the space she used to when he gets into his next relationship, which is clearly Taylor’s intention with the lyric: “I was meaning you haven’t met the person who’s going to replace me, but I know you’re going to.”
This whole section in particular makes me think of Taylor’s relationship with Borchetta. The opening lyric – “Tell me, when did your winning smile / Begin to look like a smirk?” – makes me wonder when their achievements stopped being their achievements and when they stopped being the team that they so clearly were at the beginning of her career. And it seems that she’s wondering too. The phrase “winning smile” makes me think of how happy they both were every time her music won awards because, at the beginning at least, they were in it together. Was there a moment when she looked at him and thought, “He’s pleased at how this reflects on himself and not how it reflects on us?” She’s talked about him being like family, which would’ve made him acutely aware of how to hurt her (and what her “deepest hurt” is), having learned all of those “lessons” together. The lyrics, “I hope she’ll be a beautiful fool / Who takes my spot next to you” and “You haven’t met the new me yet” could be interpreted as being about other artists he’s worked with, will work with in the future. While it’s not so common anymore (with the exception of Olivia Rodrigo), in earlier years, there was often speculation about who ‘the next Taylor Swift’ would be. There will never be another Taylor Swift – that’s clear at this point – but, in the music industry, everyone is always looking for a shiny, new thing.
The second chorus develops on the first: “There’ll be happiness after me / But there was happiness because of me / Both of these things, I believe / There is happiness / In our history…” The was happiness and there will be again, not just for her but for the other person too. This song and these lyrics show so much growth and maturity; she can move on and wish the other person well even though he hurt her deeply, indicated by the lyric, “Across our great divide.” But she sees a new beginning: “There is a glorious sunrise / Dappled with the flickers of light / From the dress I wore at midnight, leave it all behind / And there is happiness.” I would love to know if the moment referenced here – “… the flickers of light / From the dress I wore at midnight…” – is based on a real, specific moment, although I doubt we’ll ever know. The description is just so specific. Taylor often uses dresses as metaphors in her songs as an extension or reflection of herself. I wonder, in this example, if the dress is symbolic of her old self or her innocence, which she now has to leave behind.
In the bridge, the narrator continues to show maturity – “I can’t make it go away by making you a villain” – and understanding that anger (while understandable) ultimately doesn’t help a person heal from a hurt or betrayal. It’s an interesting contrast in the context of Borchetta and the lyric “And you’re the hero flying around, saving face” from ‘my tears ricochet.’ That was his response to the situation, to try and make himself look good in the wake of it all, whereas her response has been about what will best help her heal and move forward. I’ve seen people link the lyric “I guess it’s the price I paid for seven years in heaven” to the game ‘Seven Minutes in Heaven’ but, given the extended metaphor potentially linking the song to her masters and Borchetta, I’m more inclined to think to it applies to a period of time. Maybe it was seven good years at Big Machine before she started to face real resistance; it lines up with the Red era and Taylor’s move toward pop music. The meaning of “And I pulled your body into mine / Every goddamn night, now I get fake niceties” is clear: after giving this person so much (regardless of a literal or metaphorical interpretation), the narrator now only receives insincerity, which just causes more pain. The final lyrics of the section – “No one teaches you what to do / When a good man hurts you / And you know you hurt him too” – recognises that sometimes there is no way to fix things, that sometimes it’s difficult to reconcile all of the good memories you have of a person with a horrible thing they did, and that the two sides usually aren’t good or bad but both somewhere in the middle.
Before the final chorus, there’s a third verse, which begins much like the first: “Honey, when I’m above the trees / I see it for what it is.” But this time she follows this up with “But now my eyes leak acid rain on the pillow / Where you used to lay your head,” which sounds very much like she’s reached the deepest of the depression as she moves through the five stages of grief, each of which is actually represented throughout the song: denial in “And in the disbelief, I can’t face reinvention / I haven’t met the new me yet”; anger 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”; and bargaining in “I guess it’s the price I paid for seven years in heaven.” Now she’s moving through depression – “After giving you the best I had / Tell me what to give after that” – and into acceptance, which she seems to find in the chorus. The lyric “All you want from me now is the green light of forgiveness” has another Gatsby reference but it’s also another of Taylor’s traffic light references (‘State of Grace,’ ‘Death By A Thousand Cuts,’ etc), implying that all he wants now is her forgiveness (personally I can’t think of many people less worthy of forgiveness than Scott Borchetta). During her interview with Zane Lowe, she talks about the this line and the next: “In the third verse, it goes to ‘I haven’t met the new me yet; she’ll give you that. I think she’s going to forgive you and give you the green light to move ahead.’ But in my mind, there’s another meaning to the phrase too. I have no idea what comes after this truly no plan and I’m okay with that.” When she says “You haven’t met the new me yet / And I think she’ll give you that,” she’s saying that he hasn’t met someone new yet but he will and he’s “a good man” so this new partner will probably forgive him his past and help him move forward. And she’s okay with that. Also, as she says, it’s about her future being open and unknown and how that’s actually a good thing.
The final chorus is almost an amalgamation of the first two. The first half is very similar to that of the first chorus: “There’ll be happiness after you / But there was happiness because of you too / Both these things can be true / There is happiness,” reiterating the underlying message of the song. The second half comes from the second chorus: “In our history, across our great divide / There is a glorious sunrise / Dappled with the flickers of light / From the dress I wore at midnight, leave it all behind / Oh, leave it all behind / Leave it all behind / And there is happiness.” The meaning is the same but it carries more weight with the added context of the extra sections. The repetition of “Leave it all behind” could be interpreted in multiple ways: maybe she’s reminding herself; maybe she’s telling or reminding him; or she’s passing on what she’s learned in general. And there are probably more. As I’m sure there are throughout the song. For example, I’m sure there is more that could be gleaned from the Gatsby references but, given that I’m not massively familiar with the story, I don’t think I’m the person to do that.
Musically, it’s also a very beautiful song. Just as the lyrics take the listener on a journey, so does the production. It’s gentle and atmospheric, allowing plenty of space for Taylor’s vocal – which is stunning in this song, especially her lower register – while slowly building with different synth pads, a piano, light percussion, maybe a xylophone… It rises and falls with song, with the emotion.
Favourite Lyrics: “But now I’m right down in it, all the years I’ve given / Is just shit we’re dividin’ up / Showed you all of my hiding spots / I was dancing when the music stopped / And in the disbelief, I can’t face reinvention / I haven’t met the new me yet” OR “When did all our lessons start to look like weapons pointed at my deepest hurt?” OR “There’ll be happiness after you / But there was happiness because of you, too / Both of these things can be true / There is happiness / In our history, across our great divide / There is a glorious sunrise”
8. dorothea – After a handful of other songs and other stories, we return to the other half of ”tis the damn season,’ the other side of the story. ‘dorothea’ was written first – the first song written for evermore – as we know from Taylor’s comments during the YouTube premiere for ‘willow,’ but it makes sense that ”tis the damn season’ is earlier on the tracklist: there’s so much uncertainty in ”tis the damn season,’ about what to do, about how she feels, about how he feels, her place in the world, about the choices she’s made in the past and the ones she’ll have to make in the future… ‘dorothea’ fills in a lot of the backstory, which would have changed our first impressions of ”tis the damn season’ dramatically. The songs also contrast in interesting ways: they’re both about nostalgia but in ”tis the damn season,’ the nostalgia is more painful and confusing than anything else while the nostalgia in ‘dorothea’ is almost naïve, given that Dorothea’s high school sweetheart seems to think that they could make things work if she decided to drop everything and come home.
The song dives into a deeply human response: wondering if those we are no longer close to wonder about us. The narrator spends the song reminiscing about his high school sweetheart, Dorothea – “When we were younger / Down in the park / Honey, making a lark of the misery” and “Skipping the prom / Just to piss off your mom / And her pageant schemes” – speculating about her life now – “You got shiny friends since you left town / A tiny screen’s the only place I see you now,” “Ooh, you’re a queen / Selling dreams / Selling make up and magazines,” and “And damn, Dorothea / They all wanna be ya / But are you still the same soul I met under the bleachers?” – and dreaming about the future that maybe they could still have – “Ooh, I guess I’ll never know / Ooh, and you’ll go on with the show,” “But it’s never too late / To come back to my side,” and “And if you’re ever tired of being known / For who you know / You know, you’ll always know me.” But we know, from ”tis the damn season,’ and he knows too, deep down: she always wanted more than their small town. It’s clear that he still loves her, to some extent at least – “You know, you’ll always know me” – there’s a naïveté about his perspective compared to the weariness – and almost jadedness – in ”tis the damn season.’ Maybe that’s a manifestation of staying the small town you grew up in; maybe it’s a result of not going into the often soul-crushing industry that is Hollywood. We’ll likely never know. Between this song and ”tis the damn season,’ we know a fair amount about Dorothea but very little about the person who makes up the other half of the equation.
The lyrical connections and contrasts are clear:
While I know that the songs are connected, they exist quite separately in my mind; one doesn’t automatically make me think of the other. But that’s just my personal interpretation, maybe because I really love ”tis the damn season’ but don’t really care for ‘dorothea.’ But regardless of that, I have such an appreciation for Taylor’s world-building ability, both in her autobiographical songs and her fictional songs, like the Teenage Love Triangle songs from folklore. And, as we learned during the ‘willow’ premiere, Taylor continued building these fictional worlds with ”tis the damn season’ and ‘dorothea’: “There’s not a direct continuation of the betty/james/august storyline, but in my mind Dorothea went to the same school as Betty, James, and Inez.” I could talk about this particular element in Taylor’s songwriting forever but it really deserves its own post (I actually wrote an academic paper on it in 2021).
Musically, it reminds me very much of Taylor’s debut album, although it has a more mature sound – I think that may be due to Taylor’s older, stronger vocals. The instrumentation is classic country, with the piano and guitar complimenting each other nicely and the simple but effective drum pattern filling the track without upsetting the balance. I particularly like the electric guitar at the ends and how it adds an extra emotional layer.
Favourite Lyrics: “And damn, Dorothea / They all wanna be ya / But are you still the same soul / I met under the bleachers?”
9. coney island (feat. The National) – I have struggled with this song from the moment I heard it. While I think it sounds beautiful, I’ve always found the storyline somewhat hard to follow (maybe because she was trying to write like someone else); I’ve never been sure of what message the song is trying to convey. Compared to some of the other songs on evermore, Taylor’s actually talked quite a bit about this song though. On WFPK Louisville, she said, “The story behind writing ‘coney island’ is that Aaron Dessner had sent me this track he’d created with his brother Bryce. I wrote the lyrics and the melody with William Bowery [Joe Alwyn], and I think I might have been coming from a place of someone who’s been in a relationship for decades and who wakes up one day and realises they’ve taken their partner completely for granted. So if you want to look at it from the perspective of someone in a new relationship, or a very longstanding relationship, I think it really speaks to if two people are trying to communicate, but they’re two ships passing in the night. They’re trying to love each other, but the signals are somehow missing each other, and I found it interesting. We’re really proud of this one. And there are elements of it that immediately reminded me of Matt Berninger’s vocal stylings and writing, and I targeted some of the lyrics of his second verse to sound sort of like what he might write because I hoped he might want to sing on it, since we already had two members of The National, with Aaron [Dessner] and Bryce [Dessner]. And we got our wish: Matt sang on this song and he did an amazing job. I’m a huge fan of the band and really honoured this was able to come together.” And when speaking to Zane Lowe, she said, “We had an idea that Matt could sound amazing on this, that was kind of the perspective I was coming from: a male perspective of regret or guilt after a lifetime of a pattern of behaviour. And I’d been touching on that on the song ‘tolerate it,’ where there’s this person who was on one side of a relationship who felt their partner’s been there but they haven’t been there, but they’re just sitting next to each other eating breakfast, but they haven’t been there. So writing Matt’s part was really fun. I loved, ‘We were like the mall before the internet / It was the one place to be.’ I was reflecting on the Coney Island visual, on the place – where thrills were once sought – once all electricity and magic and all the lights are out and you’re looking at it thinking, ‘What did I do?'”
I’ve read many, many different interpretations of this song – moreso than any of the other songs on evermore. I will come back to some of these later but when I listen to the song, I interpret it as a fictional story of a couple who have slowly drifted apart and are now being forced to confront the idea of whether or not it can be salvaged or whether they should just let it go. But I think that the emotions in the song are drawn from real experiences, both from past relationships and future fears. There’s no extended metaphor exactly, just an emotional undercurrent that is based in reality.
The first verse sets the tone of heartbreak beautifully. “Break my soul in two looking for you / But you’re right here” suggests that our narrator’s been trying so hard to find what they used to have again but no matter how hard she tries, she feels like they can’t get back there; he’s there but they’re strangers, an idea that’s reinforced by the following line: “If I can’t relate to you anymore / Then who am I related to?” When you consider someone everything to you, losing them is devastating; it changes everything. The lyric “And if this is the long haul / How’d we get here so soon?” is so sad because it implies that they thought they’d be together forever but it seems that forever is over and so much more quickly than they’d ever expected. If their love was supposed to last a lifetime, it was a much shorter life than they’d hoped for. And our narrator is questioning herself, wondering if she did something wrong or is to blame for where they are: “Did I close my fist around something delicate? / Did I shatter you?” This is one of my favourite lyrics; I just think it’s so beautiful. There’s an obvious potential parallel to the song ‘Delicate’ from reputation; it could be a coincidence or it could be referencing a fear she has about another relationship she called delicate – a ‘what if’ – based on her past experiences.
The prechorus sees our narrator “sitting on a bench in Coney Island,” wondering where it all went wrong and where the person she fell in love with went, when they changed, and why she didn’t notice earlier. She looks back on the highlights, “the fast times, the bright lights, the merry go” (I do get tripped up by the use of ‘merry go’ rather than ‘merry go round’ – does anyone actually call it a ‘merry go’?) and regrets not making him her “centerfold,” for not putting him first, putting him at the centre of her life. In the chorus, it’s implied that that’s something she failed to do “over and over.” Lost and full of disappointments, “it gets colder and colder / When the sun goes down.” This could be interpreted literally: that, as she sits there on her bench, the sun goes down and it gets colder. But there are other metaphorical interpretations, that the lyric “And it gets colder and colder / When the sun goes down” represents the end of something special being a hard thing and so it’s hard to say the words, hard to make that end real and final. Or that “over and over” refers to relationships in general – to Taylor’s self-expressed identity of ‘hopeless romantic’ – and how they get harder and more painful every time one ends and she has to figure out how to start over. That lyric also has a symmetry with “That old familiar body ache / The snaps from the same little breaks in my soul” from ‘it’s time to go.’ I also saw a post noting the parallel of “bright lights” and how her perception of them has changed: from “The lights are so bright, but they never blind me” in ‘Welcome To New York’ to “The fast times, the bright lights, the merry go / … / Over and over / Lost again with no surprises / Disappointments, close your eyes / And it gets colder and colder,” from hopefulness to disillusionment, from confidence and excitement to regret and resignation. New York, too, has been a fixture in Taylor’s writing for years, as far back as Speak Now. While it has often been tied to relationships – to different relationships over the years and over the albums – Taylor has always managed to reclaim it for herself; it’s somewhat symbolic, since she always manages to reclaim the narrative of her life too.
Our male narrator, our female narrator’s partner, (voiced by Matt Berninger) is also questioning himself and how his choices have led them down this path: “The question pounds my head / What’s a lifetime of achievement / If I pushed you to the edge?” We can infer that he put his attempts to gain success over their relationship but now that we’ve lost her, he’s realising that no amount of success was worth a life without her. The following lyric – “And do you miss the rogue / Who coaxed you into paradise and left you there?” – (which has been mistaken for “Do you miss the rollercoaster into paradise,” a phrase that’s also fitting, both in terms of the relationship and the rides of ‘Coney Island’) shows that he recognises the fact that he certainly, but she also perhaps, has changed, that he has let her down. “Will you forgive my soul / When you’re too wise to trust me and too old to care?” could be interpreted to mean that he hopes that, one day, she will forgive him, knowing who he truly is and with no expectations or hopes, that she can forgive him even though it won’t change anything, that she can forgive him simply because she’s let it and him go.
The second prechorus is interesting. The first three lines – “‘Cause we were like the mall before the internet / It was the one place to be / The mischief, the gift-wrapped suburban dreams” – has our female narrator painting a nostalgic and romantic picture of the two of them but the final line – “Sorry for not winning you an arcade ring” – implies that, even then, they weren’t putting in the effort, that they weren’t making each other a priority. It seems that she’s looking back at their beginnings with rose-tinted glasses. The chorus reinforces this idea that they didn’t prioritise their relationship.
In the fictional story, the bridge is a series of moments from their life together, where they let each other down for the most part. Looking at it through the lens of the extended metaphor of a weary Taylor’s perspective on love, there seem to be references to some of Taylor’s previous relationships. The first scenario – “Were you waiting at our old spot / In the tree line by the gold clock / Did I leave you hanging every single day?” – doesn’t match anything we know about but it may be about a relationship she had before she was so famous and her life so public (although there are trees and a clock tower in the ‘Love Story’ music video so she could be referencing the relationship that that song is about); the lyric “Were you standing in the hallway / With a big cake, happy birthday” seems to echo ‘The Moment I Knew,’ inspired by Jake Gyllenhaal’s absence from her twenty first birthday party; “Did I paint your bluest skies the darkest grey?” parallels “You paint me a blue sky then go back and turn it to rain” from ‘Dear John,’ inspired by her relationship with John Mayer; the lyric “And when I got into the accident / The sight that flashed before me was your face” could be a reference to the snowmobile accident that Taylor got into with Harry Styles while they were dating, which she described in ‘Out of the Woods’; and the final line – “But when I walked up to the podium / I think that I forgot to say your name” – could be referencing the fact that she didn’t mention Calvin Harris in her acceptance speech at the 2016 Grammys, although it could also be a metaphor for the realisation that this person is no longer the first name that comes to mind, no longer the person that means everything. The first and last references are sung by Taylor while the others are sung by Berninger, which could represent whose perspectives those lines are coming from, both in the fictional story and in the real life situations. I found a post that sums up the bridge in the context of the extended metaphor really well: “the way it becomes clear that the song covers 4 of her relationships throughout the course of her life, and this idea that she’s not on a bench in Coney Island asking “where did my baby go?” one time, she’s been there asking this every time this happens; and you couldn’t tell it was more just the once throughout the song, because it’s so cyclical and similar it all blurs together. and that adds so much to the way she’s repeating “over and over” throughout the chorus – and makes you realize she’s talking about this idea of a merry-go-round because the same thing happens relationship after relationship, year after year, and her life felt like watching a merry-go-round on a dreary day at dusk because she’s just seeing the same let-downs happen, and always winds up asking the same questions. And best of all, this further ties into this idea she touches upon across all of evermore, where she’s frozen or stuck in all of these different moments throughout her life.“
The two of them sing through the first version of the prechorus and chorus again, expressing the same regrets and asking the same questions, before ending the song with a lyrically chaotic outro, pulling lines from multiple sections of the song. Like the reference to merry-go-rounds, it’s like they’re going round and round to avoid facing the end of their relationship.
Musically, it’s gentle and contemplative but so sad. When speaking to Rolling Stone, Aaron Dessner told the story behind the creation of the song: “I had been working on a bunch of music with my brother [Bryce Dessner], some of which we were sending to Taylor also. At that stage, ‘coney island’ was all the music except the drums. And as I was writing it, I don’t think I was ever thinking, ‘This sounds like The National or this sounds like Big Red Machine or this sounds like something totally different.’ But Taylor and William Bowery [Joe Alwyn] wrote this incredible song, and we first recorded it with just her vocals. It has this really beautiful arc to the story, and I think it’s one of the strongest, lyrically and musically. But listening to the words, we all collectively realised that this does feel like the most related to The National – it almost feels like a story Matt [Berninger] might tell, or I could hear Bryan [Devendorf] playing the drum part. So we started talking about how it would be cool to get the band, and I called Matt and he was excited for it. We got Bryan to play drums and we got Scott [Devendorf] to play bass and a pocket piano, and Bryce helped produce it. It’s weird, because it does really feel like Taylor, obviously, since she and William Bowery wrote all the words, but it also feels like a National song in a good way. I love how Matt and Taylor sound together.” The arrangement is uncluttered, leaving lots of space for the emotion, for the loneliness of the story. Berninger has a gorgeous voice although I agree with Pitchfork that Justin Vernon is “the most natural and inventive vocal accompanist Swift has found to date.” Even as a duet with layered vocal tracks, the song still manages to feel very lonely.
Personally, it’s not one of my favourites on the album: maybe it’s because Taylor was trying to write like someone else, maybe because the storyline is harder to follow, maybe because I generally prefer her solo songs to collaborations, but I still think it’s a beautiful song.
Favourite Lyrics: “Break my soul in two looking for you / But you’re right here / If I can’t relate to you anymore / Then who am I related to? / And if this is the long haul / How’d we get here so soon? / Did I close my fist around something delicate? / Did I shatter you?” OR “But when I walked up to the podium / I think that I forgot to say your name”
10. ivy – On the surface, this song is about a couple having an affair and trying to keep it hidden from her husband but beneath the obvious storyline, it could be interpreted as an extended metaphor for Taylor’s relationship with Joe Alwyn and her desperation to protect it from outside forces, like the media, the paparazzi, the effects of fame. This is the lens through which I want to explore the song because it’s such an interesting example of songwriting. So, in that context, she’s not already taken by a person but by the world; the husband is a stand in for the public, for prying eyes. She and her partner are trying to make a relationship work and the whole world wants in on it, feels entitled to it, even though it’s theirs alone. Taylor also continues to use descriptive language and nature imagery, something that’s very in keeping with both this album and folklore, stylistically similar to romantic poetry.
The first verse sets the scene: “How’s one to know? / I’d meet you where the spirit meets the bones / In a faith forgotten land.” Hearing that lyric – “Where the spirit meets the bones / In a faith forgotten land” – I immediately thought of an abandoned graveyard where, in the literal sense, there would be no one to see them. But the phrase “spirit meets the bones” could also be interpreted as where we are most human, where the soul and the body connect, implying that the connection they have is that deep. “In a faith forgotten land” could also be interpreted to mean that they met during a time of complete desolation, which makes sense from Taylor’s point of view, given what was going on in the summer of 2016 when she and Alwyn first met. The verse continues with “In from the snow / Your touch brought forth an incandescent glow / Tarnished but so grand” which could be interpreted as the relationship pulled her out of the cold (perhaps “the wildest winter” from ‘evermore’) and his warmth brought out the best in her; she may have been battered and bruised by what she’d been through but that light was still there, still powerful (“Tarnished but so grand”).
What could be a prechorus returns to the graveyard imagery: “And the old widow goes to the stone every day / But I don’t, I just sit here and wait / Grieving for the living.” In the story, our narrator is almost envious of the widow who has closure and although most likely misses her partner, she can move on while the narrator is stuck, attached to her husband but wishing she could be with the person she loves. She’s grieving for the life she wants to be living. While this seems to be mostly worldbuilding, rather than an image that translates within the extended metaphor, it does convey a feeling of being trapped. This could apply to the anxiety of trying to protect something important, like a relationship – perhaps feeling stuck between protecting it from something that could destroy it and destroying it while trying to protect it.
The chorus may be my favourite on the whole album. The first line – “Oh, goddamn / My pain fits in the palm of your freezing hand” – has multiple interpretations. In the first verse, they were out in the snow so their hands may be cold because of that but it may also mean that this person was struggling too – and struggling alone – and it was only when they found someone who would hold their hand and share the burden that they could warm up. This does make sense in the context of the whole line. Her pain fits in the palm of his hand because they’re made for each other, because he knows – intuitively or from experience – just how to carry her pain, how to share that burden. But while he’s taking her hand, “it’s been promised to another” because she’s already married to someone else. Looking at this line through the lens of the extended metaphor, this could be that she feels like her life belongs to others – to the public, to her fans, to the world in general – and that she felt guilty putting what she wants ahead of what she feels she should do for others. The next line – “Oh, I can’t / Stop you putting roots in my dreamland” – tells us that, however hard she tried, he got under her skin and she fell for him. The final line – “My house of stone, your ivy grows / And now I’m covered in you” – is bursting with symbolic imagery. She once referred to herself as a ‘house of cards’ – something vulnerable and fragile – but now she describes herself as a ‘house of stone’: she had built up all of these defences to protect herself (referenced, for example, in ‘Call It What You Want’ with the lyrics “All my flowers grew back as thorns / Windows boarded up after the storm”) but he – symbolised by ivy, a plant that can pull buildings apart, pull buildings down – is pulling through defences down. This ‘house of stone,’ something she thought of as negative has been taken over by him, by a positive force. There’s a great Tumblr post that unravels this further: “something that’s appealing about ivy (the song) is context of how Taylor’s grown and changed over time, is that the only other time Taylor’s mentioned ‘ivy’ was ‘poison ivy’ in Don’t Blame Me, where she compared herself to it, which was obviously a very negative connotation; now ivy is seen as this positive force that enters ones orbit and just grows and encompasses you whether you ask it to or not “I can’t stop you from putting roots in my dreamland”; it’ll grow profusely whether you’re made of stone and impenetrable or not, but most importantly has the ability to transform something stoic and deadlike (a stone house or a person!) to something very much alive and even more beautiful than ever “my house of stone, your ivy grows, now I’m covered” / “now I’m covered in you” (we don’t know if this means covered in ivy or this person); and generally ivy becomes this prescription for and metaphor of positive change at the hands of another force/person. Beautiful symbolism.“
The second verse sees her digging deeper into the relationship. The lyrics “I wish to know / The fatal flaw that makes you long to be / Magnificently cursed” seem to be questioning why he would want to be involved in this relationship when it’s so difficult and complicated. As Taylor said in 2015, “No one’s going to sign up for this and everything that goes with it. Like, ‘Hi, nice the meet you, want to date? Do you love camera flashes? I hope you do!’ I don’t know what’s going to happen if I’m ever content in a relationship – no idea how that’s going to work. I don’t even know if that’s possible with the life I have.” She wants him to know what he’s signing up for and she can’t understand why he would; it’s hard to trust that it won’t be too much for him and that he won’t leave and break her heart. But she also confesses that she’s his, fully and completely: “He’s in the room / Your opal eyes are all I wish to see / He wants what’s only yours.” The husband – or the wider world – is right there but she doesn’t care; all she wants is him. I love the reference to opals, a long held love of Taylor’s: “When I was bullied in school, my mom used to take me to T.J. Maxx after school to look at the opal jewelry. I thought opals were so beautiful, and somehow it made me feel better.” (x) It’s a demonstration of her commitment to him that she would link him to something she’s loved all her life.
After another chorus, we have what could be considered the first bridge. The lyrics – “Clover blooms in the fields / Spring breaks loose, the time is near / What would he do if he found us out? / Crescent moon, coast is clear / Spring breaks loose, but so does fear / He’s gonna burn this house to the ground” – allude to the idea that their relationship could be discovered at any moment and the fear that that will destroy it. This is followed by a third verse, beginning with the lines “How’s one to know? / I’d live and die for moments that we stole / On begged and borrowed time,” implying – again – that it’s only a matter of time until their relationship is revealed. The second half – “So tell me to run / Or dare to sit and watch what we’ll become / And drink my husband’s wine” – outlines their two potential futures: they could run away together (another reference to ‘Call It What You Want’: “Would you run away with me?”) or they’ll watch as her marriage destroys them all. And the reference to “[her] husband’s wine” could be interpreted to mean that she’d have to drink to get through it, which would end up destroying her as well. In the context of the extended metaphor, this could mean that they could run away together metaphorically – avoiding the celebrity lifestyle, which is exactly what they’ve done – or risk the paparazzi, the tabloids, the endless scrutiny and let that tear their lives apart. And in that scenario, the husband’s wine could mean indulging in that lifestyle. He can have her or he can have that but not both because that is something that almost destroyed her and everything she’d worked to built; she won’t risk that again.
What could’ve been a final chorus is followed by a second bridge-like section (and it’s quite possibly my favourite moment on evermore): “So yeah, it’s a fire / It’s a goddamn blaze in the dark / And you started it / You started it / So yeah, it’s a war / It’s the goddamn fight of my life / And you started it / You started it.” The obvious fire connotation is the passion they feel for each other but the lyric “a goddamn blaze in the dark” makes me think that he was the one light in the darkness, the one thing that kept her going through the darkest times. And keeping the relationship has felt like “a war,” like “the goddamn fight of [her] life.” That’s some powerful imagery. The phrase “You started it” is repeated, which implied some level of significance and yet it doesn’t feel accusatory; there’s a sense of empowerment to it. In the fictional story and the real life situation of summer 2016, he gave her a reason to hope and to fight but she had to do it; he was the inspiration but she had to save herself. (It’s also very reminiscent of “You should think about the consequence / Of your magnetic field being a little too strong” in ‘Gorgeous’ and “Dive bar on the East Side, where you at? / Phone lights up my nightstand in the black” in ‘Delicate,’ both of which describe the beginning of Taylor and Joe Alwyn’s relationship.)
And then, rather than a final chorus, she ends the song with an outro made up of lines from the chorus.
Musically, it’s deeply congruent to the lyrical style and the literal story being told: the arrangement, especially the picked guitar, fits beautifully with the language and imagery of the folk-like story. And the vocals are stunning: the layered vocals remind me of a song passed down that everyone knows the words too and I can imagine all of the sections overlapping like a canon. When talking about the general instrumentation and sound of evermore, Aaron Dessner specifically mentioned this song: “There is a wintry nostalgia to a lot of the music that was intentional on my part. I was leaning into the idea that this was fall and winter, and [Taylor’s] talked about that as well, that folklore feels like spring and summer to her and evermore is fall and winter. So that’s why you hear sleigh bells on ‘ivy,’ or why some of the imagery in the songs is wintery.”
This is definitely one of my very favourite songs on the album (which is saying something since I love so many of them) and a beautiful example of Taylor’s songwriting. I think it’s up there with her very best songs.
Favourite Lyrics: “So yeah, it’s a fire / It’s a goddamn blaze in the dark / And you started it / You started it / So yeah, it’s a war / It’s the goddamn fight of my life / And you started it / You started it / Oh, I can’t / Stop you putting roots in my dreamland / My house of stone, your ivy grows / And now I’m covered / In you”
11. cowboy like me – I’ve heard ‘cowboy like me’ described as ‘yeehaw ‘Ready For It…” and, while I find this description hilarious, it’s not wrong: the storylines are very similar. They both follow two ‘outlaws’ and how their lives are changed forever after meeting. This song, however, continues the story and while the lyrics don’t literally follow the real relationship that ‘Ready For It…’ is about, the storyline of con artists falling in love could easily be an extended metaphor for the same relationship (although it’s important to note that not every lyric necessarily translates to the truth; some of the song will be worldbuilding so the song can’t be directly applied to the real situation). It’s a theme – ‘the two of us against the world’ – that Taylor uses repeatedly throughout her work.
The song opens with the lyric “And the tennis court was covered up / With some tent-like thing,” which sets the scene very clearly and straight away: our characters aren’t a part of this world. They don’t have the language to describe their surroundings and the word choice sounds almost contemptuous, as if they think it’s all just so extravagant and ridiculous. He asks her to dance – “And you asked me to dance / And I said, ‘Dancin’ is a dangerous game” – and just like in ‘happiness,’ Taylor uses dancing as a representation of the relationship and by describing it as a ‘dangerous game,’ the narrator is telling her partner how guarded she is, how cautious she is about getting into a relationship. But she sees something in him – they see something in each other – which is evidenced by the pairs of lyrics, “I’ve got some tricks up my sleeve / Takes one to know one” and “You had some tricks up your sleeve / Takes one to know one” and, of course, “You’re a cowboy like me” and “You’re a bandit like me.” But very quickly, their relationship changed everything: “Never wanted love / Just a fancy car / Now I’m waiting by the phone / Like I’m sitting in an airport bar.” She went from content with the con artist life but then she met him and waiting just to talk to him is worthy of being likened to the anticipation of waiting for a plane, waiting to go somewhere new and exciting.
The chorus – “You’re a cowboy like me / Perched in the dark / 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” – gives us a glimpse into our narrator’s life before she met her partner, that she promise men love only to break their hearts and take off with their money. The second chorus – “You’re a bandit like me / Eyes full of stars / Hustling for the good life / 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” – is similar but she develops on the idea: he’s not so different to her but he still has an innocence, a hopefulness, about him but she knows that, if she gives this relationship everything and it falls apart, it will be incredibly painful. But she’s accepted that fact.
The bridge peels back several more layers on their relationship: “And the skeletons in both our closets / Plotted hard to mess this up” implies that the things they did in the past have made their relationship difficult. Hers: “And the old men that I’ve swindled / Really did believe I was the one.” And his: “And the ladies lunching have their stories about / When you passed through town.” But none of that mattered once they were committed to each other: “But that was all before I locked it down.”
And then, right at the end, she returns to an early lyric in the song: “I’m never gonna love again.” She knows that, should this relationship end, she’ll never fall in love again.
Looking at this song through the lens of it being an extended metaphor, there are plenty of parallels that link back to songs we know to be about Alwyn:
Musically, it’s also very beautiful. The piano, bass, guitars, and drums make it sound like a song sung in a smoky bar and the backing vocals (sung by Marcus Mumford) add a closeness and intimacy to the song, like the two characters are singing to each other. The instrumental – the vocalising and electric guitar section – makes it feel even more like it could be in a film (or be a film). Every instrument adds an emotional layer to the song, which is very fitting with the atmospheric, soundtrack-like sound.
It’s also a weird song, structurally. I’ve seen it divided up so many different ways, each with the song split into different sections. When Dessner said there weren’t any limitations on what they worked on, he was not lying.
It’s a very atmospheric song, very cinematic. It could’ve had a stunning music video, like a feature film in less than five minutes.
Favourite Lyrics: “It could be love / We could be the way forward / And I know I’ll pay for it / And the skeletons in both our closets / Plotted hard to fuck this up”
12. long story short – This song, as light hearted and upbeat as it sounds, tells the story of 2016, the fallout of the edited videos of her conversation with Kanye West (a summer she described as “the apocalypse” in her diary, which makes it very clear how awful a time it was) and the relationship she built with Joe Alwyn. She’s reflecting on that time and how she has, ultimately, moved on, even if she’s still working through the effects it’s had on her.
The song begins with “Fatefully / I tried to pick my battles ’til the battle picked me,” which is reminiscent of something Taylor talked about in Miss Americana: that she tried to nice and not cause any trouble but that it was ultimately to her detriment. She tried to avoid conflicts but some of them were, apparently, inevitable. The following lines – “Misery / Like the war of words I shouted in my sleep” – demonstrate how deeply it affected her. The first prechorus holds the first mention of Alwyn: “And you passed right by / I was in the alley, surrounded on all sides.” So they crossed paths but she makes deliberate note of the fact that he “passed right by,” rather than stopping; this was not the moment when their relationship began. Considering the context, the phrase “The knife cuts both ways” could be interpreted to mean, given that she was “surrounded on all sides,” that every time she tried to defend herself, it made her feel better in the short term but came back to hurt her. Or, in reference to the following lyric – “If the shoe fits, walk in it ’til your high heels break” – it could mean that while maintaining the image she did during the 1989 era had its positives, it also garnered criticism and wore her down until she couldn’t do it anymore. The lyric “If the shoe fits, walk in it ’til your high heels break” is the perfect description for the 1989 era: she was constantly being photographed and in every series of photos, she was wearing a different carefully considered and beautiful outfit (often including very high heels) with perfect hair and make up, even when leaving the gym; the image of high heels is very symbolic of that period of time. She wore those heels – lived that lifestyle, turned the criticism on its head and embodied the positives she took away from it – long after it became unsustainable, until everything fell apart – until the high heels broke. Taylor talked about the lyrics in this section specifically during her interview with Zane Lowe: “I really love a turn of a phrase or a play on words or common phrases and you twist something. Another I’d had for a very long time, like a couple of years, was ‘The knife cuts both ways / If the shoe fits, walk in it, ’til your high heels break.’ So if I think if something, but I don’t have a song, I write it down; I keep a file. I also have a folder of favourite words: favourite phrases, favourite words, favourite lines that I think could fit somewhere.” As a songwriter myself, I love hearing little bits and pieces like this where she literally lays out how she writes songs.
The chorus is made up of simple statements but each one implies a great deal: “And I fell from the pedestal / Right down the rabbit hole / Long story short, it was a bad time.” She went from feeling like she was on top of everything and everything was going her way to feeling like she’d fallen into a world where nothing made sense, where everything felt out of control. To state the facts: “it was a bad time.” From the second half of the chorus – “Pushed from the precipice / Clung to the nearest lips / Long story short, it was the wrong guy” – we can infer that she felt that, once she started falling, she was doing everything she could to stop the descent and in doing so, she got into a relationship that wasn’t bad but wasn’t right in the long run, although she wasn’t necessarily aware of it at the time; she was just trying to keep it together. Again, the state the facts, he was the wrong guy. The post chorus revolves around the phrase, “Now I’m all about you.” After wading out of the chaos, she knows what the most important thing is: the people she loves and the people who love her, namely Alwyn. Interestingly, a ‘precipice,’ or a moment where everything changed, is a recurring image throughout folklore and evermore, appearing in ‘this is me trying,’ ‘hoax,’ ‘happiness,’ ‘evermore,’ and ‘right where you left me’ to name a few.
The first line of the second verse – “Actually / I always felt I must look better in the rear view” – fits with a theme that Taylor has been touching on for years: hoping that she’ll be remembered positively. She wrote about it in ‘Long Live’ on Speak Now – “Will you take a moment / Promise me this / That you’ll stand by me forever / But if God forbid fate should step in / And force us into a goodbye / If you have children some day / When they point to the pictures / Please tell them my name / Tell them how the crowds went wild / Tell them how I hope they shine” – and ‘Wildest Dreams’ from 1989 – “Say you’ll remember me standing in a nice dress / Staring at the sunset, babe” and “You’ll see me in hindsight / Tangled up with you all night / Burnin’ it down / Someday when you leave me / I bet these memories / Follow you around” – for example. In this song, it seems to be in a general context: that people always liked the idea of her more than the actuality. And it seems that she started to feel like, if so many people were abandoning her (as they did after the ‘Taylor Swift Is Over Party’ hashtag in the summer of 2016), it must be true. Following on from the that, the lyric “Missing me / At the golden gates they once held the keys to” could be interpreted to mean that they missed her once they were no longer a part of her life – on the outside of the gates – but didn’t really appreciate her until then. But the second prechorus demonstrates a new chapter though, where she surrendered to how she felt and summoned the courage to act on them: “When I dropped my sword / I threw it in the bushes and knocked on your door.” The lyric parallels “Threw out our cloaks and our daggers / Because it’s morning now / It’s brighter now” from ‘Daylight’ on Lover and “And maybe I don’t quite know what to say but I’m here in your doorway” from ‘this is me trying’ on folklore. This is something Taylor does a lot: writing about the same moment from different perspectives, through different emotional lenses. The following lyric – “And we live in peace / But if someone comes at us / This time, I’m ready” – suggests that they’ve managed to make their life together work (despite wondering if she could ever give him peace in ‘peace’ on folklore) and that she’ll do anything to protect it. Again, there’s a parallel here to an earlier song, to the way ‘The Archer’ ends with “Combat, I’m ready for combat,” directly after the lyrics “Who could stay? / You could stay,” which winds back to the beginning of the second verse with Taylor wondering why everybody leaves.
After a second chorus, we reach the bridge, which begins with the lyric, “No more keepin’ score / Now I just keep you warm / No more tug of war / Now I just know there’s more.” After writing about love for so many years, she finally knows what it is and what it isn’t. It isn’t a competition or a game (something she’s referred to multiple times in the past – in ‘State of Grace’ on Red (Taylor’s Version), ‘New Romantics’ on 1989, ‘End Game’ on reputation, ‘Cruel Summer’ and ‘Cornelia Street’ on Lover, to name just a few). It’s safety and security and comfort. The final lines of the section, “And my waves meet your shore / Ever and evermore,” reference the water imagery used consistently throughout the album. It could be interpreted as a metaphor for their relationship: the waves and the shore are ultimately separate but comes a moment where they merge and become one, making it hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. Another interpretation could be that the ocean represents the security of the relationship, given that nothing can stop the waves; everything else might be uncertain but the waves will still come in and out. Their relationship is their constant in an uncertain world.
Before the final chorus, Taylor changes up the structure and adds a third verse and additional prechorus. The verse – “Past me / I wanna tell you not to get lost in these petty things / Your nemeses / Will defeat themselves before you get the chance to swing” – sees her giving her younger self advice and reassurance. In the prechous, she revisits the first prechorus, “And he’s passing by / Rare as the glimmer of a comet in the sky.” This harkens back to ‘invisible string’ on folklore and the idea that their relationship is fated: if the chance of them running into each other is as rare as seeing a comet, then running into each other twice and getting a second chance together could be interpreted as more than chance. The following lyric “And he feels like home / If the shoe fits, walk in it everywhere you go” also parallels the first prechorus but this time, what she’s doing is working for her and so she shouldn’t let it go. Taylor has used the image of high heels multiple times but it’s also evolved with her experiences. She uses it in ‘Begin Again’ on Red (Taylor’s Version) – “He didn’t like it when I wore high heels / But I do” – where it’s about putting herself first; then she uses it as a metaphor for the 1989 era where she wore them for appearances, for others, after a certain point at the very least; and in this song, she’s already talked about how that broke her. But now, she’s doing what makes her comfortable.
In the final chorus, the first half is the same: “And I fell from the pedestal / Right down the rabbit hole / Long story short, it was a bad time.” But in the second half, she’s managed to turn things around: “Pushed from the precipice / Climbed right back up the cliff / Long story short, I survived.” In ‘hoax,’ she was stood on a cliffside, frozen in her distress and uncertainty, but at this point, she’s managed to climb back up, she’s managed to survive and find happiness with her partner. She closes the song with the lyric “Long story short, it was a bad time / Long story short, I survived” demonstrating that she can now acknowledge how awful it was but also that she survived it and made it through to the other side.
This song makes me wish for another pop album; Taylor is just so good at writing pop songs (that’s not to say that she’s any less great at writing in other genres). The synths and percussion sound very reminiscent of 1989, the drums driving the pace and the sound of them creates a lighter emotional atmosphere than in some of the other songs on the album. There’s a lightness and a warmth in Taylor’s vocals that’s reflective of the song’s subject matter and the emotional upturn in the lyrics.
Favourite Lyrics: “I tried to pick my battles / ‘Til the battle picked me” OR “If the shoe fits, walk in it / ‘Til your high heels break” OR “I always felt I must look better in the rear view” OR “When I dropped my sword / I threw it in the bushes and knocked on your door / And we live in peace / But if someone comes at us / This time I’m ready” OR “Past me / I wanna tell you not to get lost in these petty things / Your nemeses will defeat themselves / Before you get the chance to swing” OR “And I fell from the pedestal / Right down the rabbit hole / Long story short / It was a bad time / Pushed from the precipice / Climbed right back up the cliff / Long story short, I survived / Now I’m all about you” (So basically the whole song)
13. marjorie – This was one of my favourite songs on the album, right from the very beginning. Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone sums up the song and its history well: “She wrote ‘marjorie’ with Dessner, as a tribute to her real-life grandmother Marjorie Finlay, an opera singer who passed away in 2003. When she announced the album this week, Swift called it ‘one starring my grandmother, Marjorie, who still visits me sometimes… if only in my dreams.’ She brings in Finlay’s voice at the end – when she confesses, “If I didn’t know better / I’d think you were singing to me now,” we hear Marjorie’s soprano voice singing along with her.” I loved the song from the first listen and I loved what she said about it to Zane Lowe: “The experience writing that song was really surreal because you know… I was kind of a wreck at times, writing it… I’d sort of break down sometimes. It was really hard to actually even sing it in the vocal booth without sounding like I had… a break because it just was really emotional. I think that one of the hardest forms of regret to work through is the regret of being so young when you lost someone that you didn’t have the perspective to learn and appreciate who they were… fully, you know? You didn’t have that, sort of… I’d open up my grandma’s closet and she had beautiful dresses from the sixties and I wish I’d asked her where she wore every single one of them. Things like that. She was a singer and she… My mom will look at me so many times a year and say, ‘God, you’re just like her,’ when I do some mannerism that I don’t recognise as being anyone other than mine. […] She died when I was thirteen and she died almost… I think it was when I was on a trip to Nashville to try and make it, to try to hand out my demo CD to record labels and things like that. So there were pretty insane coincidences like that. I’ve always felt that thing… I’ve always felt like she was seeing this, you know, because we have to sort of do that. But one of the things about this song that kind of still rips me apart when I listen to it is that she’s singing with me on this song. My mom found a bunch of her old records, a bunch of vinyls of her singing opera, and I sent them to Aaron [Dessner] and he added them to the song. So it says, ‘If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were singing to me now.’ And you hear her… you hear Marjorie actually sing, my grandmother. And it’s moments like that on the record that just make you feel like your whole heart is in this whole thing that you’re doing. It’s all of you that you put into this thing.”
While this song is obviously very personal to Taylor and her life, I’ve always deeply related to it. My Dad died when I was thirteen and it changed my life forever, as something like that often does. The verses remind me of him and the things he believed in and lines like “I should’ve asked you questions / I should’ve asked you how to be / Asked you to write it down for me / Should’ve kept every grocery store receipt / ‘Cause every scrap of you would be taken from me” and “All your closets of backlogged dreams / And how you left them all to me” are painfully relatable. I hope that one day I can write a song that honours my Dad as this song honours Marjorie, a song as beautiful as this one. As Rolling Stone said, it’s “a brilliant and devastating piece of songcraft, an instant classic in the Swift canon” and “it’s hard to think of another song that so perfectly captures the delayed tragedy of losing a loved one when you’re too young to see their full worth.”
The song begins simply: “Never be so kind, you forget to be clever / Never be so clever, you forget to be kind.” Taylor seems to remembering advice from her grandmother, or lessons she’s learned from her – before or after her death. Be kind and be clever, but never let one outweigh the other. During the YouTube premiere for ‘willow,’ Taylor said that, while she had a lot of favourite lyrics from this album, this one was her favourite at that moment in time.
The prechorus – “And if I didn’t know better / I’d think you were talking to me now / If I didn’t know better / I’d think you were still around” – references what Taylor said to Lowe about feeling like her grandmother has been seeing all of this, has been watching her life and her career play out. It’s not dissimilar to something something she said a 2009 interview: “My grandmother passed away when I was thirteen, and I don’t think I could have done all this without someone helping me.” In a more general sense, it could be referring to the cognitive dissonance we often experience when someone dies but everything in you struggles to accept the information that they’re no longer here.
The chorus, despite the heartbreaking subject matter, has an uplifting tone to it: “What died didn’t stay dead / What died didn’t stay dead / You’re alive, you’re alive in my head / What died didn’t stay dead / What died didn’t stay dead / You’re alive, so alive.” The person might be physically gone but they’re not truly gone; they’re still very present for the people who love and miss them. I’ve always struggled a little with this section for some reason – maybe it’s the somewhat blunt delivery of what’s quite a sensitive subject, maybe it’s because it feels a little clunky or maybe the multiple ‘d’ sounds just irritate my ear, I don’t know – but the melody is gorgeous and it does what it needs to do in the lyrical style of the song.
The second verse continues in the same vein as the first with more advice to remember, more lessons learned: “Never be so polite, you forget your power / Never wield such power, you forget to be polite.” It’s very reminiscent of what Taylor talked about in Miss Americana, about always trying to make people happy and be the ‘good girl,’ potentially to the point where she forgot her power. But over the last few years – between her becoming more political and more outspoken about her own issues and issues in the music industry – and I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s acutely aware of when and where to use the power that she knows she has.
The prechorus repeats, but this time with the lyric “I’d think you were listening to me now.” Again, she’s touching on the idea that her grandmother has been watching all of this and, in this case, listening to the music that she’s written.
And then, after a repeat of the chorus, she launches into one of her big, beautiful bridges. “The autumn chill that wakes me up / You loved the amber skies so much / Long limbs and frozen swims / You’d always go past where our feet could touch” seem to reference memories she has of her grandmother, of spending time with her, of details about her that she wants to hold onto. She’s also provided us with yet another example of the water imagery that is so prevalent throughout the album. The following lines – “And I complained the whole way there / The car ride back and up the stairs / I should’ve asked you questions / I should’ve asked you how to be / Asked you to write it down for me / Should’ve kept every grocery store receipt / ‘Cause every scrap of you would be taken from me” – highlight the fact that Taylor was very young when her grandmother died and so she may well have taken that time with her for granted, as many of us do, complaining and arguing even though it’s clear that she held a great deal of affection for her grandmother. She clearly regrets that she didn’t get more time with her, that she didn’t ask her all of the questions that she no doubt has now, that, with her grandmother’s death, there have been things lost that can never be got back. The last two lines in particularly have always had a profound effect on me – they often bring me to tears, even just thinking about them – because I have very little of my Dad’s and know very little about who he was and that is painful every single day. Taylor has very articulately described how it feels to lose a person that you should’ve had more time with. “Watched as you signed your name Marjorie / All your closets of backlogged dreams / And how you left them all to me” has been summed up beautifully by someone on the song’s Genius page: “This line depicts a literal and figurative symbol of Marjorie’s passing. When a relative or loved one dies you are left with their physical things, often including closets of clothes, memories, and ‘backlogged’ objects, all of which tell a tale of their lives, left to sift through in the hands of whichever loved ones they leave their things to. The line doubles as a figurative sentiment of what Marjorie left behind, the ‘backlogged dreams,’ meaning the dreams and aspirations she had for both herself and Taylor are now left purely in Taylor’s hands. Taylor’s career, for example, was likely one of Marjorie’s dreams for young, talented Taylor and now that dream is left in the hands of Taylor who will now carry Marjorie’s lessons (hence the verses), presence (hence the chorus), and dreams (this line) to achieve everything Marjorie believed she could be and make her proud.” The one thing that I think isn’t explored is that these ‘backlogged dreams’ could also be Marjorie’s dreams, that had to be put on hold when she had a family or that she spent her whole life working toward but never quite managed to achieve (in her eyes, at least). They are now her legacy to Taylor and I can only imagine how proud she would be. These lines are another two that hit hard: there are things that my Dad loved that for a long time I couldn’t touch because they made me miss him too much but now, all of these years later, make me feel closer to him. I don’t know what he dreamed for me but I hope he would be proud of me.
After another chorus, Taylor uses an extended prechorus as an outro. After the first two lines – “And if I didn’t know better / I’d think you were singing to me now” – the sound of Marjorie singing becomes audible, her operatic voice echoing as if in the distance, just out of reach, interwoven with Taylor’s throughout the rest of the song. It’s a beautiful, heartbreaking parallel. The following lines – “If I didn’t know better / I’d think you were still around / I know better / But I still feel you all around / I know better / But you’re still around” – shows acceptance that her grandmother is no longer there but there’s also a belief that, somehow, she’s still with her even if she can’t explain how. It’s a powerful and poignant conclusion, especially for an album about endings.
Musically, it’s a fascinating song. When talking to Rolling Stone, Dessner explained it a little bit: “It’s interesting, because with ‘marjorie,’ that’s a track that actually existed for a while, and you can hear elements of it behind the song, ‘peace.’ This weird drone that you hear on ‘peace,’ if you pay attention to the bridge of ‘marjorie,’ you’ll hear a little bit of that in the distance. Some of what you hear is from my friend Jason Treuting playing percussion, playing these chord sticks, that he actually made for a piece that my brother wrote called ‘Music for Wooden Strings.’ They’re playing these chord sticks, and you can hear those same chord sticks on the National song ‘Quiet Light.’ I collect a lot of rhythmic elements like that, and all kinds of other sounds, and I give them to my friend Ryan Olson, who’s a producer from Minnesota and has been developing this crazy software called Allovers Hi-Hat Generator. It can take sounds, any sounds, and split them into identifiable sound samples, and then regenerate them in randomised patterns that are weirdly very musical. There’s a lot of new Big Red Machine songs that use those elements. But I’ll go through it and find little parts that I like and loop them. That’s how I made the backing rhythm of ‘marjorie.’ Then I wrote a song to it, and Taylor wrote to that. In a weird way, it’s one of the most experimental songs on the album – it doesn’t sound that way, but when you pick apart the layers underneath it, it’s pretty interesting.” I’d love to get a look at that software although I sincerely doubt I’d be skilled enough to make the most of it; it sounds very cool. The song rises and falls with the emotion and the layers add so much depth and feeling, like a soundscape that just surrounds you. Justin Vernon’s backing vocals add to that and the incorporation of Marjorie’s vocals make it an even more touching tribute – it makes the song that much more special.
Rob Sheffield, Rolling Stone and the universe’s resident Taylor Swift champion, wrote an article specifically about this song (Taylor Swift’s Cruel Winter: Why ‘marjorie’ Is Her Heart-Shredding Masterpiece) and while I encourage you to read the whole piece, I wanted to included a few of my favourite passages:
As I said, I really recommend reading the whole piece – it’s a lovely tribute to the song.
I wrote about this song in my ‘2020 in Songs’ post where I wrote about how special it is and how grateful I am that Taylor wrote it and chose to share it with us. The inclusion of her grandmother’s vocals only makes it more personal and it feels really special knowing that Taylor trusts us with something, as she said, with so much of her heart in it.
I relate to the song deeply because of my Dad but in September 2021, my Granny died, which gave the song a whole new level of meaning. She was an incredible woman, someone I would be proud to be like one day, and although she didn’t always understand me and the world I live in, she always tried; she was always open-minded and eager to learn in order to understand people better. And most importantly of all, we shared a love of music. I don’t know if I inherited music from her but she was one of my first musical inspirations and I hope that my music, current and future, would’ve made her proud.
Favourite Lyrics: “Never be so kind, you forget to be clever / Never be so clever, you forget to be kind” OR “I should’ve asked you questions / I should’ve asked you how to be / Asked you to write it down for me / Should’ve kept every grocery store receipt / ‘Cause every scrap of you would be taken from me / Watched as you signed your name, ‘Marjorie’ / All your closets of backlogged dreams / And how you left them all to me” OR “And if I didn’t know better / I’d think you were singing to me now / If I didn’t know better / I’d think you were still around / I know better / But I still feel you all around / I know better / But you’re still around”
14. closure – As we know from the Zane Lowe interview, evermore is full of different kinds of endings: “evermore deals a lot in endings of all sorts, shapes, and sizes, all the kinds of ways we can end a relationship, a friendship, something toxic, and the pain that goes along with that.” And in this song, we have an ending that Taylor hasn’t explored before, a relationship that was once important but one that she no longer has any inclination to fix. There is some debate about who the song is about but many fans have speculated that the song is inspired by Karlie Kloss and the breakdown of their friendship (x). While we’re unlikely to ever know the full story, it’s believed that Kloss shared personal information about Taylor with Scooter Braun who we know to be the last person Taylor would want anything shared with. It’s another misleading title – as Rob Sheffield from Rolling Stone somewhat cheekily puts it: “‘closure’ – the least Swiftian concept imaginable” – because our narrator is actively rejecting a sense of closure because the person apologising is only apologising for their own benefit, because they don’t want to feel guilty or because the rift reflects badly on them and not because they feel bad and want to help the other person heal. Forgiveness can be healing but it isn’t necessary to move on and it isn’t something we owe anyone; some people don’t deserve it.
The first verse sets the scene: it’s been a “long time” but whatever happened is still painful. The lyric “And seeing the shape of your name / Still spells out pain” implies this apology came in the form of a letter, something which is confirmed a moment later in the chorus: “Yes, I got your letter / Yes, I’m doing better.” The lyrics of the chorus are short and to the point; the other person is being shut down and it’s as clear as it can possibly be. The lyric “It cut deep to know ya, right to the bone” gives us a bit more insight. It isn’t just what this person did that hurts: it has coloured everything about this person and now it hurts just to know them. It’s so bad that all of the good memories have been destroyed; knowing them wasn’t worth this. Our narrator is quite clear on the situation: “I know that it’s over.” This lyric always gives me the impression that the letter was at least a little condescending, like the letter writer wanted to make that obvious – to say it first, perhaps – and therefore retain some semblance of control over the relationship. The “I know that it’s over / I don’t need you closure” is a very effective way of saying ‘fuck off’ without actually saying it. Plus it says so much more than that: ‘I know what game you’re trying to play here and I’m not having it,’ ‘don’t come to me for closure because you won’t get it,’ and ‘I’m doing just fine as is,’ to suggest a few. The whole concept of closure in this song is not mutual; it’s about the letter writer getting closure, which makes the whole thing fall flat.
The second verse opens with “Don’t treat me like / Some situation that needs to be handled” and it’s sung with such distain, it’s a wonder we all survived the first listen. But we all know that feeling, when someone is clearly trying to manipulate you for their own benefit under the guise of doing it for you; you’re a problem that needs to be solved and forgotten about. It’s unpleasant at the best of times and traumatic at the worst. And the best way to handle someone trying to handle you is to call them on it; they rarely have a good explanation (and that in itself is often its own closure – I’m speaking from experience here). The lyric “I’m fine with my spite / And my tears, and my beers, and my candles” is self explanatory and very effective: there is no room for misinterpretation. But still she can feel this other person trying to work her, trying to insure that she won’t say or do anything that could cause problems for them: “I can feel you smoothing me over.”
After a repeat of the chorus, we arrive at the bridge. “I know I’m just a wrinkle in your new life / Staying ‘friends’ would iron it out so nice” demonstrates expert use of metaphor and we can infer that this was the true motivation behind the letter: to stay friends but only to avoid drama. The ocean motif resurfaces (pun intended) – “Guilty, guilty, reaching out across the sea / That you put between you and me” – and we learn that, even though our letter writer is the one suggesting closure, they are the one who initiated the rift and we can infer that our narrator feels that the letter is an admission of guilt. But this person will not be absolved: “But it’s fake and it’s oh so unnecessary.” Our narrator has read between the lines, so to speak, and can see the condescension and ulterior motive. She’s finally getting to tell her side of the story before it’s hammered home with the chorus and her absolute, definitive lack of desire for closure with this person. She’s worked hard to move on. She’s done.
Rob Sheffield joked that closure isn’t a very Swiftian concept. He’s not wrong necessarily, as that is one interpretation: one could say that by writing the songs and telling the stories, she’s holding on to things longer than others might. But one could also say that by writing the songs, she’s finding closure. She’s getting closure the best way she knows how. Throughout her career, Taylor has romanticised the idea of either someone she loves reaching out (“Stand there like a ghost / Shaking come the rain / She’ll open up the door / And say, are you insane” from ‘How You Get The Girl or “I wish you would come back… / And I wish you were right here, right now / It’s all good / I wish you would” in ‘I Wish You Would’) or reaching out herself (“And I’m back for the first time since then / I’m standing on your street / And there’s a letter left on your doorstep / And the first thing that you’ll read” from ‘Tim McGraw’ or the whole mission statement of the Speak Now album). In these songs, it’s always been portrayed as a good thing. But here, it isn’t. Here, the whole thing is sour: it’s insincere and it’s too late. Sometimes the reality lives up to the fantasy but sometimes it doesn’t.
The sound of ‘closure’ is one of the most interesting and divisive of the album. It’s positively busy by evermore standards and there’s a certain chaotic-ness to it, built on the irregular time signature. This is Taylor’s second song to use such a time signature, although this one is in 5/4 while ‘tolerate it’ is in 10/8. The piano leans into the irregular rhythm, making it more obvious and therefore more jarring, which fits with the harsh, gut-twisting feelings of anger and bitterness and hurt. And it is jarring when someone who hurt you comes back into your life suddenly, especially if that hurt is still healing. The distortion and the way the programmed drums build and fade throughout the song could be interpreted as the emotional chaos that such an event causes. It could also be interpreted as the residual anger trying to push back in again and again as she tries to move forward. But it’s hard to interpret the intention of certain sounds or instrumentation choices when the track is created by one person and the topline (the lyrics and melody) by another.
Favourite Lyrics: “I know I’m just a / Wrinkle in your new life / Staying ‘friends’ / Would iron it out so nice / Guilty, guilty reaching out across the sea / That you put between you and me”
15. evermore (feat. Bon Iver) – Of the songs on evermore, this is one of the songs with the most explanation. She talked about the inspiration behind it and the process of creating it during her interview with Zane Lowe: “There were a double meaning to the months mentioned and feelings mentioned. One of the meanings is that I wrote this song and these lyrics when we were coming up to the election and I didn’t know what was going to happen. So almost… I was almost preparing for the worst to happen and trying to see some sort of glimmer at the end off the tunnel and the last verse it goes through… you’re walking barefoot, middle of winter, and standing on a balcony, and letting icy wind hit you, and you’re catching your death, and in that last chorus, the person comes inside again, and it’s finally warm, and finally safe. It’s about the process of hope again. But it also reflected back to an experience I had that was pretty life-altering when I went through a bunch of really bad stuff in 2016, like July, November, all those times were just taking it day by day to get through and trying to find a glimmer of hope and all that. So I was coming at it from both of those perspectives. And we did it the same way as ‘exile’: Joe [Alwyn] wrote the piano, I based the vocal on piano, we sent it to Justin [Vernon], who added the bridge. Joe had written the piano part so the tempo speeds up and the music completely changes to a different tempo on the bridge and Justin latched onto that and a hundred percent embraced it. And Justin wrote this beautiful… just the clutter of all your anxieties in your head and all speaking at once, and then we got the bridge back and I wrote this narrative of, ‘When I was shipwrecked, I thought of you, and there was this beacon of hope, and you realised the pain wouldn’t be forever and it could get better.’ That’s why I wanted to end it there.” It’s clear that it’s a very personal song: Taylor’s personal and emotional journey over the past four years or so. It’s a story of someone in a really bad place, working through it until they make it through to the other side.
The first verse begins with “Grey November / I’ve been down since July,” references that Taylor explained during the interview: there’s the connection to the 2020 US Election but they also match a particularly difficult period in her life. It was in July 2016 that Kim Kardashian posted the edited videos that led to Taylor being called a ‘snake’ and triggered the ‘Taylor Swift Is Over Party’ hashtag (a day that remembering still makes me cringe – it was horrible to witness as a fan so I can only imagine how absolutely awful it must’ve been for Taylor). As for November, Taylor has referenced this month multiple times in the context of her relationship with Joe Alwyn and so we can infer that something significant happened between them in November 2016 that helped her to move forward. The lyric “Motion capture / Put me in a bad light” likely refers to the videos but may also reference the fact that this was a period of her where she was constantly photographed and filmed, something that fed into the negative press that she was getting after the videos were posted. She reveals that she went over and over everything that happened – “I replay my footsteps on each stepping stone / Trying to find the one where I went wrong” – and as much as she likely wanted to respond and defend herself against all of the accusations being hurled at her by the press, she didn’t. Speaking to Rolling Stone in 2019, she said: “People had so much fun hating me, and they didn’t really need very many reasons to do it. I felt like the situation was pretty hopeless. I wrote a lot of really aggressively bitter poems constantly. I wrote a lot of think pieces that I knew I’d never publish, about what it’s like to feel like you’re in a shame spiral. And I couldn’t figure out how to learn from it. Because I wasn’t sure exactly what I did that was so wrong.” These poems and think pieces may be what she’s referring to in the lyric “Writing letters / Addressed to the fire.” She would have known that, given how she was being demonised by the media, anything she said would’ve been used against her; it would’ve only made things worse.
The chorus speaks to this feeling that’s threatening to overwhelm her, that she’s struggling against. It’s deeply affected her life and it feels like she’ll feel this way forever. Personally, I relate my experience with depression to the lyric “I had a feeling so peculiar / That this pain would be for / Evermore,” because of the weird sense of clarity and certainty I feel when deeply depressed, that the way I’m feeling is permanent.
Following her use of months in the first verse, she continues in the same vein in the second: “Hey December / Guess I’m feeling unmoored.” We can infer that something happened to make her feel untethered again, highlighting how relentlessly awful the world can feel sometimes. Or maybe she’s referring to the same feeling as that of the first verse, to the idea that, despite the good things in her life, the events of the summer of 2016 were still weighing heavily. The lyric “Can’t remember / What I used to fight for” could be interpreted to mean that, after that summer, everything felt different, felt harder, which contributed to the feeling of being “unmoored.” If writing and putting out music didn’t feel the same, she may have felt lost, having spent her whole life doing just that. Again, she’s looking back over it all, trying to figure out how it all went wrong: “I rewind the tape but all it does is pause / On the very moment all was lost.” The metaphor of the tape pausing on the “moment all was lost” could be interpreted to mean that she felt frozen by this traumatic event that changed everything (a theme she returns to in ‘right where you left me’ and ‘it’s time to go’), that she felt like she couldn’t reach her life before it happened anymore. Of course, it could also be a literal reference to the videos posted. From the final line – “Sending signals / To be double crossed” – we could infer that she felt like, whatever she said, she was misinterpreted. The use of ‘double crossed’ also references the betrayal she felt when she’d thought that she and Kanye West were, at the very least, on civil terms.
After a second chorus (in which the situation has become worse as she’s now “barefoot in the wildest winter,” completely exposed and battered by this feeling that’s overwhelming her), the song changes pretty dramatically, upping the pace and creating a sense of urgency when, up to this point, the song has felt weary and sad, like she’s resigned to feeling this way. But the bridge is different. We know that Justin Vernon wrote the bridge part that he sings but I think it’s unlikely that Taylor would have kept it in the song if it didn’t fit with her vision so we can interpret them through the same lens, in theory at least. “Can’t not think of all the cost / And the things that will be lost” could be interpreted as obsessing over everything that’s gone wrong so far and all of the things that could go wrong in the future and so, from “Oh, can we just get a pause? / To be certain we’ll be tall again,” we can infer that it feels endless and relentless and exhausting and all she wants is solid ground to stand on, some certainty that things will be okay again. The awfulness just feels constant and never-ending – “Whether weather be the frost / Or the violence of the dog days / I’m on waves, out being tossed” – and final line of the section – “Is there a line that I could just go cross?” – could be interpreted as asking whether this feeling will ever end.
The second part of the bridge includes a part sung by Taylor. The first line – “And when I was shipwrecked / I thought of you” – both references the water motif used throughout the album and the feeling of being stuck, of feeling overwhelmed. “In the cracks of light / I dreamed of you / It was real enough / To get me through” could be interpreted to mean that just thinking of him was enough to pull herself through the worst of it. It’s also reminiscent of a line from one of the poems in the reputation magazines, Why She Disappeared: “She dreamed of time machines and revenge / And a love that was really something, / Not just the idea of something.” With the final line – “But I swear / You were there” – she realises that she is certain about him, about them, and the fears – Bon Iver’s bridge – start to fade.
The piano returns to its original pattern and we get a final chorus but this time, things have changed: “Floors of a cabin creaking under my step.” She isn’t exposed to the elements; she’s inside and safe and this feeling has finally shifted – “And I couldn’t be sure / I had a feeling so peculiar / This pain wouldn’t be for / Evermore.” It isn’t going to last forever and things are going to get better. It’s the same story she was telling in ‘long story short’ but from a very different perspective. To end this song, this album – which came at the end of one of the most difficult years we’ve all ever experienced – with “This pain wouldn’t be for / Evermore” carries a weight, a profoundness that I’m not sure would be felt the same way if heard at a different time. Even leaving ‘evermore’ to the closing track is meaningful: it doesn’t provide the same closure that previous closing tracks, like ‘Clean’ or ‘New Year’s Day,’ have but it’s still hopeful. The future feels open after feeling blocked for so long and even though that can feel daunting and scary, it’s better than being stuck.
The arrangement and instrumentation is as moving and emotive as the lyrics. The piano part was written by Alwyn and he plays it on the recording of the song, something that Aaron Dessner said was important to all of them: “[Alwyn] plays the piano on ‘evermore’ actually. We recorded that remotely. That was really important to me and to them, to do that, because he also wrote the piano part of ‘exile,’ but on the record, it’s me playing it because we couldn’t record him easily. But this time, we could. I just think it’s an important and special part of the story.” I find the change in the bridge somewhat jarring, even after all this time, but its purpose is clear and effective so I wouldn’t change. The strings, subtle and used sparingly, add to the depth of the emotion in the song.
Favourite Lyrics: “Can’t remember / What I used to fight for / I rewind the tape but all it does is pause / On the very moment all was lost”
16. right where you left me – When Taylor announced the bonus tracks on Twitter, she described this song as “a song about a girl who stayed forever in the exact spot where her heart was broken, completely frozen in time.” And while, on the surface, it describes the moment when a romantic relationship ends, there is a consensus among fans that it’s an extended metaphor for Taylor’s relationship and feelings about being famous. When speaking to Rolling Stone, Aaron Dessner said, “There were two songs [added at the last minute]… [‘right where you left me’] was something I had written right before I went to visit Justin, because I thought, ‘Maybe we’ll make something when we’re together there.’ And Taylor had heard that and wrote this amazing song to it. That is a little bit how she works – she writes a lot of songs, and then at the very end she sometimes writes one or two more, and they often are important ones.” To me, this implies that the song is more than a break up song, especially considering it’s one written while in a very solid relationship; I just think there’s more to the story.
Feeling frozen is often associated with a traumatic experience and Taylor’s spent a lot of time on folklore and evermore working through how 2016 and the subsequent fallout affected her, an experience that was clearly very traumatic for her. Looking back on ‘evermore,’ her use of the lyric “The very moment all was lost” demonstrates how deeply she felt everything that happened in 2016. And while Taylor’s experience is very unique to her, the general experience of feeling frozen in a moment of trauma is all too relatable. But this is something Taylor’s always done incredibly well: taking experiences specific to her life and turning them into songs that are deeply relatable to so many people. Personally, I can relate to this feeling in a number of ways: when my Dad died in my early teenage years; when a person very important to me abandoned me while I was at my lowest point; and over the years as I’ve struggled with the ways in which mental illness and being neurodivergent have affected my life, as well as how traumatised I’ve felt by the medical profession as a result of these problems.
The first verse sets the scene, displaying how, as much as things change around her – “Friends break up, friends get married / Strangers get born, strangers get buried” and “Wages earned and lessons learned” – she’s not moving. I think the most interesting lyric of this section is “Pages turn and stick to each other,” given how Taylor has previously referred to the unfolding of her life using the metaphor of written pages (‘Enchanted,’ ‘Holy Ground,’ ‘Cornelia Street’ and ‘Death By A Thousand Cuts,’ for example). The idea of pages sticking together and therefore no one ever seeing what was written on them could be interpreted as parts of her life that she’ll never touch again, that she’s either lost or intentionally left behind.
The chorus paints a picture both of the break up and of how trapped she feels, per the extended metaphor: “Help, I’m still at the restaurant / Still sitting in a corner I haunt / Cross-legged in the dim light.” The following lyric – “They say, ‘What a sad sight'” – has people pitying her in both scenarios. “I swear you could hear a hair pin drop / Right when I felt the moment stop / Glass shattered on the white cloth / Everybody moved on” describes the moment when she felt everything go wrong, fall apart, freeze, even though everything kept moving around her and “I stayed there / Dust collected on my pinned-up hair / They expected me to find somewhere / Some perspective, but I sat and stared / Right where you left me” emphasises how stuck she was, how she couldn’t move on regardless of other people’s expectations or judgements. The post chorus cleverly incorporates three separate but overlapping notions: “You left me” is a statement of fact; “You left me, no” is a protest; and “You left me no choice but to stay here forever” sounds like our narrator is resigned to what she believes to be her fate. She can’t imagine how she will ever move past this tragedy so the only other option is remaining frozen in the moment forever. I’m desperately intrigued as to why she chose a restaurant as the setting for this metaphor, whether it was simply good for the imagery (the detail she includes is really beautiful and adds a level of intimacy to the song), is symbolic in some way (such as being a setting where you’re visible to everyone around you), or was the setting of a specific moment that she associates with this feeling. The chorus lines “Help, I’m still at the restaurant / Still sitting in a corner I haunt” and “Right when I felt the moment stop” parallel with “I rewind the tape but all it does is pause / On the very moment all was lost” from ‘evermore,’ which does suggest a connection between the themes touched on in both songs.
The second verse begins with “Did you ever hear about the girl who got frozen? / Time went on for everybody else, she won’t know it,” and she’s switched to talking about herself in the third person, as if watching herself from a distance. In Miss Americana, Taylor talked about the strange effects that fame can have on a person: “There’s this thing people say about celebrities, that they’re frozen at the age they got famous. I had a lot of growing up to do, just to try and catch up to twenty-nine.” While Taylor rose to fame initially as a teenager, she skyrocketed to an entirely new level of fame during the Red era, which encompassed the year she was twenty-three, the exact age she mentions in the next line: “She’s still twenty-three inside her fantasy / How it was supposed to be.” Given everything we now know about that time, there are multiple reasons why the age of twenty-three might’ve felt like the last time everything felt stable and solid: she’d been through an emotional (and at least somewhat toxic) ordeal – her relationship with Jake Gyllenhaal – which we now know had long lasting repercussions; it was around that time that she was last able to have a normal-ish life; with all of the cruel jokes and slut-shaming and the knock on effects of experiencing that on such an enormous, public scale, it may have been when she started to feel like things were starting to spin out of her control; it was around the Red album that we first heard about some real conflict between Taylor and her label – between her and Scott Borchetta – although there were a few disagreements before that. The following lyrics have a more derisive tone, not unlike how the media talked about her during the Red era – “Did you hear about the girl who lives in delusion? / Break-ups happen every day, you don’t have to lose it” – like she was being overdramatic and just needed to grow up and get over her broken heart (as if it’s ever that easy, for anyone). Incorporating it into this song, it sounds like she internalised those comments, which is heartbreaking. I can’t imagine being open to that much scrutiny in my early twenties; I wouldn’t be surprised if that contributed to some of the issues she’s talked about since. With that kind of commentary on her life, the idea of hiding inside a fantasy is an understandable one: “She’s still 23 inside her fantasy / And you’re sitting in front of me.” The ‘you’ could be interpreted as the rest of the world: everybody else is out there, moving on in front of her.
The chorus repeats but with a difference: this time it includes the lyrics “I could feel the mascara run / You told me that you met someone” – which could be a reference to the public turning on her and leaving her behind – and “I’m sure that you got a wife out there / Kids and Christmas, but I’m unaware” – which could very well be another reference to feeling frozen: everyone’s moving on but she’s not even aware of it, locked away in her frozen state. And just as it sounds like she’s concluding the chorus, she launches into another section with the same melody but new lyrics: “‘Cause I’m right where… / I cause no harm, mind my business / If our love died young, I can’t bear witness,” which is a clever and poetic way of saying that, if the love didn’t last, she didn’t see the moment where it ended. If asked, she couldn’t answer. She concludes with “And it’s been so long / But if you ever think you got it wrong / I’m right where you left me,” a reminder that, just in case they ever change their mind, they know where to find her, that a part of her will always be there. The post chorus concludes the song with the lyric, “You left me no choice but to stay here forever.” The story is over but there’s no moving forward.
There are, of course, other theories as to what this song is about, including:
It’s a really interestingly written song, from a lyrical point of view. It has a chaotic and messy sound, which matches the messy feelings associated with trauma, but it’s also expertly put together to convey the story and the emotions. A significant amount of the lyrics are short – like half finished thoughts and emotional reactions – which fits with the shock of something distressing happening and how your mind often replays the images over and over again and it’s the same with the repetition in the post chorus: she can’t process what’s happening and so the thought is just stuck, like a record skipping. It’s musically congruent too: “[The new section is a surprise] because the chord at ‘right where’ doesn’t resolve nicely into ‘I cause no harm.’ It’s a chord (V) that wants to pull to tonic (I) or a deceptive minor chord (VI), but instead moves backwards to II – not unheard of, but certainly not expected. It extends the phrase where you want it to settle somewhere else (specifically the F# in the D major chord – it wants to pull up to G but doesn’t). The best part of this song, music theory wise, is that not a single phrase resolves nicely back to [the] I. There’s no sense of finality – the chords tend to run in circles without resolving or settling down. The last chord of the song ends on [the] V, also known as a half cadence. It’s literally her not feeling resolution about the situation!! She never finds peace (or [the tonic / the I chord])!!!! The chord progression of this song is so fitting for the lyrics…” (x)
It obviously has a very classic country arrangement (it reminded me of early Kacey Musgraves when I first heard it), which could be a nod to the Red era and her last official country album; however, it may be coincidence and something about the track evoked the emotions that Taylor feels when she thinks about the story behind the song. The instrumentation and the sense of urgency build and then ebb throughout the song, much as the emotions rise and fall; it’s all very cyclical, just like the metaphor used in the song.
It took me a while to warm up to this song but I think that’s because it hit so close to home; as I mentioned, it resonates very deeply with me. But once I got over the shock of that, it’s become one of my favourite songs on the album. There aren’t a whole lot of songs that I can relate to, in terms of my mental health and trauma etc at least, and so I’m really grateful to have another to add to my small collection; it helps when it all makes me feel so oppressively alone.
Favourite Lyrics: “Help, I’m still at the restaurant / Still sitting in a corner I haunt / Cross-legged in the dim light / They say, “What a sad sight”, I… / I swear you could hear a hair pin drop / Right when I felt the moment stop / Glass shattered on the white cloth / Everybody moved on, I… / I stayed there / Dust collected on my pinned up hair / They expected me to find somewhere / Some perspective, but I sat and stared / Right where you left me” OR “Did you ever hear about the girl who got frozen? / Time went on for everybody else, she won’t know it / She’s still 23 inside her fantasy / How it was supposed to be” OR “At the restaurant, when I was still the one you want / Cross-legged in the dim light, everything was just right / I, I could feel the mascara run / You told me that you met someone” OR “I, I stayed there / Dust collected on my pinned-up hair / 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, mind my business / If our love died young, I can’t bear witness / And it’s been so long / But if you ever think you got it wrong / I’m right where you left me”
17. it’s time to go – When the bonus tracks were announced on Twitter, Taylor introduced this song by saying, “‘it’s time to go’ is about listening to your gut when it tells you to leave. How you always know before you know, you know?” It’s a song about learning to let go and learning to leave when that’s what your intuition is telling you to do.
The first verse begins with “When your dinner is cold and the chatter gets old / You ask for the tab,” which resonates really strongly with the song that has just finished, ‘right where you left me.’ In that song, she was still stuck in the restaurant – she doesn’t want to leave; she can’t leave – but here, she’s pushing through and leaving. The next lyric – “Or that moment again, he’s insisting that friends / Look at each other like that” – implies that there were fractures in the relationship, that she, at the very least, suspected that her partner was cheating. But clearly when she tries to talk to him about it, he dismisses her and tries to gaslight her. And the second half of the verse – “When the words of a sister come back in whispers / That prove she was not in fact what she seemed / Not a twin from your dreams / She’s a crook who was caught” – seems to reference Karlie Kloss: the two had referred to each other as sisters and the word ‘twinning’ was often used in reference to them, from their appearance to things they said and did. And while Taylor clearly felt their friendship was a really significant relationship, it seems that Kloss betrayed her, leaking personal information to Scooter Braun and taking advantage of her friendship and generosity.
The lyrics of the chorus (although it feels more like a pre-chorus and the bridge more like the real chorus, something I want to come back to later) are incredibly beautiful and just heartbreaking: “That old familiar body ache / The snaps from the same little breaks in your soul.” I’ve always interpreted this lyric to reference that specific pain, deep and inexplicable, that feels like a wound that will never heal – from the loss of someone important, from a trauma, from something you feel like you’ll never get over – and feels like it always has and always will be a part of you, hence the familiarity. It wears you down until you either break or you realise that you have to walk away from the thing that is hurt you, that is preventing the wound from healing: “You know when it’s time to go.”
Assuming the song is based on personal experiences, which it does seem to be, the second verse could be interpreted as being about her family. We don’t know much about Taylor’s family situation beyond her childhood, although we do know that her parents separated quietly in 2011 and that Taylor has since written a number of lyrics that show fathers in a negative light. Their life as a family isn’t really ours to speculate about, beyond what Taylor shares (based on ‘Soon You’ll Get Better’, I believe she discusses it with her family when she wants to release something that might affect them), so I’ll keep this brief. “20 years at your job / Then the son of the boss gets the spot that was yours” could be interpreted as being a strain on her father and “Or trying to stay for the kids / When keeping it how it is will only break their hearts worse” as her parents staying together longer than they should have because they thought it was better for her and her brother when, in actuality, it just made things worse.
The chorus repeats and after that, we have the bridge: “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.” And then it repeats, reinforcing the message. While the chorus conveys the central message of the song – “You know when it’s time to go” – the bridge brings the emotional weight to that sentiment: despite often being framed as a weakness, leaving is can be the strong thing, the brave thing, the right thing. In the past, Taylor has written about how she should’ve run away but she’s stuck it out anyway. It wasn’t until ‘Better Man’ (originally released in 2016) that Taylor recognised that running wasn’t necessarily a bad or wrong choice, that it could actually be something brave: “The bravest thing I ever did was run.” The lyrics of this song affirm this belief, while also developing on it: while running can be the right choice, it can also lead you to something better. Both the concluding line and the repetition of the section seem to imply a sense of peace on this idea, that it’s no longer a source of emotional turmoil for her.
A third verse clearly addresses Scott Borchetta and the betrayal of selling her masters to Braun. The lyric “Fifteen years, fifteen million tears / Begging ’til my knees bled” implies that, for all of the good in their relationship, there was also a lot of strife; the conflicts that we’ve heard about are clearly just the tip of the iceberg and there was a lot more going on between them and for a long time. She put in everything she had and he gave nothing back (not even what was actually hers): “I gave it my all, he gave me nothing at all / Then wondered why I left.” And not just that, when she left, he was vindictive and cruel, as if she’d done him wrong. With the lyric “Now he sits on his throne in his palace of bones / Praying to his greed,” she could be referencing that Big Machine’s success was largely due to her success and that, somewhere along the way, he stopped caring more about her and her music and more about money. The final line of the section – “He’s got my past frozen behind glass / But I’ve got me” – may be one of the most powerful on the album. Borchetta kept her masters from her (and he no doubt still has the plaques demonstrating ‘their’ success – her work literally behind glass) but she still has the most important thing: herself. She wrote those songs and they’ll always be a part of her but moving forward, she can and will write more. She chose her future and it’s clear that that was the best possible choice, the right choice. It’s particularly poignant given the lyric “Did you ever hear about the girl who got frozen? / Time went on for everybody else, she won’t know it” in the previous song. Following that with “He’s got my past frozen behind glass / But I’ve got me,” demonstrates that while she was frozen, she’s moving on; even if that part of her has to be left behind, she’s where she’s meant to be – who she’s meant to be – and that, despite everything, she’s okay. And it’s powerful beyond Taylor’s situation. I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone has something – an experience of some kind – that can be whittled down to “But I’ve got me.” I know I have, from multiple experiences throughout my life. It’s incredibly relatable, inspiring and empowering. No matter what happens, you’ll always have yourself and that’s an important thing to remember.
The chorus returns – “That old familiar body ache / The snaps from the same little breaks in my soul / I know when it’s time to go” – but this time, she’s exchanged the “little breaks in your soul” and “You know when it’s time to go” to “little breaks in my soul” and “I know when it’s time to go.” Before, it was a general statement but now she’s owning it as something that’s happened to her. The song concludes with a double bridge and outro that combined elements of the chorus and bridge, closing out the song and the album with the important message of trusting yourself.
The alternating synth gives the song a very distinctive sound and the building of the arrangement – guitar, subtle strings, bass, gentle percussion, backing vocals, and more – adds depth and emotion without overwhelming the lead vocal. Something that I noticed very early on is that the song goes on a lot longer than is necessary for it to be a good song; the outro is approximately a minute long. I can’t speak to Taylor’s intentions for the song but my interpretation is that it reflects how hard it is to go even when you know you should; it might be the best thing to but that doesn’t mean it’s easy, that it doesn’t take hard work. After all, it wouldn’t be brave if it was simple.
I love this song – as I talked about in a post last year – and I think it’s beautifully written. As I said then, “It’s Taylor at her most vulnerable, something that is such an honour to be allowed access to, and it brings me to tears almost every time I listen to it.” It’s heartbreaking to imagine Taylor, someone who has brought so much joy to my life and the lives of so many others, feeling this way, having been hurt so many times. This song always makes me want to hug Taylor, for so many different reasons.
Favourite Lyrics: “That old familiar body ache / The snaps from the same little breaks in your soul / You know when it’s time to go” OR “Fifteen years, fifteen million tears / Begging ’til my knees bleed / I gave it my all, he gave me nothing at all / Then wondered why I left / […] / He’s got my past frozen behind glass / But I’ve got me”
Before I sum up this album and this post, I just wanted to comment on what an interesting choice is was to end the album with ‘evermore,’ ‘right where you left me,’ and ‘it’s time to go.’ The three songs represent three possible endings to a situation: working through, getting stuck, and walking away. For an album that explores endings, it’s a clever way to conclude the standard and then the deluxe editions of the album.
Anyway. There are two quotes from reviews of the album that I wanted to include here. The first, from Spin, reads, “For all its mayhem, 2020 has unlocked the best work of her career. Also, what the hell is her next tour going to look like? Has any other modern pop artist ever hit the road with three in-their-prime albums all untested on the stadium stage (including 2019’s Lover)? How will she build a setlist that isn’t four hours long? Then again, she’s Taylor Swift. She’ll figure it out. Somehow.” Both excellent question and excellent points. The second, from Consequence, reads, “While folklore and evermore as a collection of sister records might be her cumulative masterwork, they shouldn’t be the only reason her artistry is taken seriously. Instead, they feel like the amalgam of everything that has led to this point, and this chapter wouldn’t be so sweet if it were missing the steps that got us here. ‘I haven’t met the new me yet,’ Taylor sings on ‘happiness.’ When you do, we hope you’ll share her with us.”
I think it’s safe to say that Taylor Swift creating a home studio is the best thing that could’ve ever happened to us as fans. I was grateful for folklore and I’m even more grateful for evermore; I’m so grateful that Taylor loves writing so much that we got two new album in less than a year. And as much of a leap forward as folklore was, I think evermore was an even greater one, although it was in many ways a subtler one as a sister album to folklore. Both Taylor and Aaron Dessner describing evermore as the more adventurous younger sister holds true: the album is made up of songs with more experimental lyrical devices, song structures, time signatures, and production choices. I know she’s been busy working on the rerecordings but I hope she’s knows what an extraordinary body of work this album is. And I hope she knows that, regardless of whether or not it wins Album of the Year at the Grammys, how special it is and always will be.
Category: autism, body image, emotions, favourites, music, quotes, special interests, video, writing Tagged: 'tis the damn season, aaron dessner, betrayal, bon iver, champagne problems, closure, cowboy like me, divorce, dorothea, eating disorder, ed, evermore, evermore album, evermore deluxe, extended metaphor, fame, fandom, favourite lyrics, folklore, folklore album, folklore: the long pond studio sessions, gold rush, grief, haim, happiness, imagery, inspiration, interview, ivy, jack antonoff, joe alwyn, justin vernon, karlie kloss, long story short, lyric analysis, lyric parallels, lyrical analysis, lyrics, marcus mumford, marjorie, marjorie finlay, moving on, no body no crime, right where you left me, rolling stone, scott borchetta, song structure, songwriting, swiftie, swifties, the great gatsby, tolerate it, track five, trigger, trigger warning, tumblr, tw, william bowery, willow, winter, zane lowe, zane lowe interview
Posted on July 24, 2021
Yes, this is a very long post about a single Taylor Swift album. I dithered for a long time about whether to post this or not (and it took me a freaking long time to write it) because this is primarily an Autism and mental health blog and I try to keep it that way, for the most part. But then I realised, you know what? I’m autistic and music, especially songwriting, is my special interest and so it IS relevant. This is part of what it’s like to be autistic, for me anyway. I think about songs and albums, about lyrics and melodies and music and production, in this much detail (or more). And I spend A LOT of time thinking about all of this. So while writing it was really fun for me because all of this is my favourite stuff to think about and explore and try to understand, I also thought it was quite an interesting insight into how special interests can manifest in an autistic person (I absolutely don’t claim to speak for any other autistic person – this is just how my brain works). I won’t be offended if you don’t want to read the whole thing but I do think it’s worth having some understanding of how engrossing and emotional and deep a special interest can be and can go. So please read a little, even if you don’t read all of it. For me.
I’ve been working on this on and off since the album came out but what with new information from the folklore: long pond studio sessions, keeping up with uni, managing my mental health, and so on, it’s taken a long time to actually finish it. Besides, it’s not really supposed to be a review. It’s just been a passion project really, something I’ve been writing for fun – I love thinking about, and by extension writing about, music. So much I’ve been trying to do recently has been about being productive and achieving things and so it’s been nice (and probably good for me) to have something that I do purely because I enjoy it. And since it’s the one year anniversary of folklore‘s release, it seemed as good a time as any to post it.
On Thursday 23rd July, to the world’s surprise, Taylor Swift revealed that she would be releasing her new album, folklore, that night at midnight.
I really liked the cover. The black and white, the small figure amongst the tall trees… It gave me a melancholy vibe, which feels fitting for the times we were and are in and I think matches well with the new, more understated (but still rich) sound of the album: while it isn’t all sad songs, the happier songs are warmer, rather than the joyful, glittering songs of 1989 and Lover. The happiness isn’t less happy because of that; I think that isolation has given us a different perspective on life and many of us are examining our emotions and experiences through a different lens, something which this album really reflects, in my opinion.
It’s also worth noting that this is her first album cover that isn’t a close up of her, which ties in well with the idea that she isn’t necessarily the central character in these songs, that the stories are bigger than her. The imagery is cohesive with the production: minimal but emotive. The less is more approach, I guess. This really allows the songwriting to shine, rightly so when it’s delving into such complex, emotional, and intense subject matter.
Taylor posted this when the album dropped…
The first listen was as magical as it always is but I knew all along that I’d want to dive a bit deeper and think more about the stories of the songs, how they make up the album, how the lyrics and melody and production all fit together to make up this body of work. If you want to read my initial reaction to the album, you can find it in this post.
Learning that the songs that weren’t necessarily all autobiographical (“escaping into fantasy, history, and memory”) was initially a bit of a scary one for me. It’s a considerable departure from form for Taylor and I was left feeling a bit bereft because her authenticity and the fact that she shares such personal moments in her life has always been something that has made her really special to me. So I was initially – not yet having listened to it – a bit deflated. But having listened to it, it’s clear that the songs aren’t simply fictional or personal: some of the songs do share her autobiographical stories; some share her experiences but wrapped in metaphor; some are fictional and yet they contain insights or emotions that she relates to or has related to in the past. So, even if the stories she tells on this album aren’t pulled directly from her life, I think that each song contains strands of the personal, that each one has autobiographical elements. For me, as a songwriter, I find this approach fascinating because it allows you (and, of course, others) to connect deeply to your songs without exposing every little detail of your life. It’s a creative approach that we’ve rarely seen Taylor use.
I should point out before I write any more that all of this is based on my own interpretation of the songs, from listening to them, reading other people’s theories about them, and what those included in the project have said about it, such as Aaron Dessner, Jack Antonoff, and Taylor herself. I’m in no way saying that any of this is fact, unless I actually quote someone. Now, for the song-by-song analysis…
1. the 1 – The first thing that struck me about this song is that, of all the songs on the album, the production sounds most like that of Lover, although toned down to still fit in with the album wide production style. It’s a little pop-ier, a little glossier: the perfect transition from the previous album into this new, more minimal sound.
Lyrically, Taylor seems to be looking back at a relationship that didn’t work out, reflecting on how this have worked out and how things might have been different. This form of writing, writing about what didn’t happen, is a technique called disnarration. The whole song seems to be a tribute to the question of ‘what if?’ What if I’d said yes instead of no? What if I’d gone this way instead of that? “If one thing had been different, would everything be different today?”
The imagery is simple but emotionally compelling, with phrases such as “roaring twenties, tossing pennies in the pool” and “we never painted by the numbers, baby, but we were making it count” and “it’s another day waking up alone.” And I love the parallel statements she weaves throughout the songs, like “you know the greatest films of all time were never made” / “you know the greatest loves of all time are over now” and “if my wishes came true, it would’ve been you”/ “it would’ve been sweet, if it could’ve been me.” These fit so beautifully with the theme of looking back and thinking ‘what if.’
Given the context that the songs aren’t necessarily autobiographical, we don’t know whether this story is from her point of view but as I said, I do believe that there are elements of Taylor in this song. There are multiple little moments that connect back to her and her earlier, more explicitly personal songs, allowing us to infer that she may have been in a similar situation at some point or that she wonders what her life would’ve been like had she made a different choice at a particular point in time. (This is not a comment on her current relationship; I think it’s natural for people to simply wonder about the different paths their lives could have taken and given the amount of reflection people have been doing during the pandemic, it wouldn’t surprise me if she and her boyfriend had actually talked about their lives in this context – would they have still ended up together if each of them had made different choices at various moments? There are, after all, various references to fate throughout the album.)
The narrative follows someone looking back at a relationship that seemed to be really special (“But we were something, don’t you think so?”) but, for some reason, didn’t work out and while she regrets that it ended (“And if my wishes came true, it would’ve been you,” for example), she also wishes the other person the best (“I have this dream you’re doing cool shit, having adventures on your own”). Taylor has previously written about this emotional experience, about having reached a place where she can look back warmly on the good parts of a relationship or situation even though it had ended badly; these emotions match those in songs such as ‘Holy Ground’ on Red and ‘invisible string’ on folklore. So, as I said, while it seems the actual story didn’t happen to Taylor herself, I think she does see herself and her emotions within it, hence the first person perspective and the written-in moments that link back to her and her experiences.
I don’t want to write about this too much now as I go into more detail about it when analysing ‘hoax,’ but given the fact that Dessner described Taylor calling ‘the 1’ and ‘hoax’ “the bookends” of the album, it’s not unreasonable to think that these too songs are connected. And since ‘hoax’ has a clear connection to the loss of her masters, the relationship depicted in ‘the 1’ could be a representation of Taylor’s relationship with her old record label, Big Machine. When things were going well, they certainly were “something special” and it may be true that, had things been different, she would’ve stayed with them. But I talk about this more when looking at ‘hoax.’
A (somewhat) quick side note: I also think that beginning the album with the lyric, “I’m doing good, I’m on some new shit” could be viewed as an important one, for setting up the album as much as the song. In folklore: long pond studio sessions, Dessner commented that Taylor “captured the spirit of the whole record” with this song, with this lyric. She responds that it applies both to the narrative and her creative mindset but I also wonder if it’s a reflection on the improvements she’s made in her life and her new approach to balancing what she wants and needs in her life, a subject she’s spoken about consistently since the end of the reputation era. So part of me thinks that that links in to this lyric, this first lyric of a very new approach to writing and releasing albums. It’s followed by a significant number of emotionally complex, sad, or painful songs but Dessner stated that it was one of the last songs written for the album, which could mean that she’s not only in a good place, but that she’s in a better one for writing through everything on the album. Working through hard things is obviously hard, but it does help you get to a better place, mentally and emotionally.
It’s one of my favourites on the album. I love the nostalgic feel and the production felt warm and gentle, polished but still organic. Melodically, it was catchy without being annoying, like you were already familiar with it; it felt easy and comfortable and uplifting. I was singing along before the end of my first listen. And I adored the lyrics. The visual imagery was just gorgeous and I loved the more emotive statements like those below.
Favourite Lyrics: The parallel of “You know the greatest films of all time were never made” and “You know the greatest loves of all time are over now”
2. cardigan – Before I go into the story within the song and how it fits into the Teenage Love Triangle songs, I want to look at the different elements of the song. The lyrics are stunning. The imagery is so rich, like, ‘Vintage tee, brand new phone, high heels on cobblestones’ and ‘Dancing in your Levi’s, drunk under a streetlight.’ She also uses really distinctive phrases to convey emotion, like, ‘I knew I’d curse you for the longest time, chasing shadows in the grocery line,’ and ‘I knew you, leaving like a father, running like water’ – the latter being one of my favourite lines of the song. It’s very Taylor-like, but there is something new and compelling about it; it feels, to me, like you can hear elements from all of her previous albums in the writing. It’s almost as if you can hear the growth.
My initial reaction, sound-wise, was that the production is a bit more chaotic than we’re used to hearing from Taylor and I stand by that. It’s also pretty consistent throughout the song, subtly adding layers of texture and backing vocals in the latter half of the song, rather than the more traditional pop build-and-release approach to production. And instrumentation-wise, we’re seeing changes too: the use of the piano as the dominant instrument (a musical theme throughout the album), the use of non-traditional percussion, and Taylor showcasing her lower register, when she more commonly leans towards higher notes. It also has a darker feel, matching the lyrical content (as, comparatively, both the lighter lyrical content and production match in ‘august’ and ‘betty,’ the other two songs in the Teenage Love Triangle). I’m not super experienced when it comes to arrangement and production but there is a clear departure from her earlier work, from her traditional patterns, some of which can be traced as far back as her debut album. So production wise, it’s just as fascinating an album as it is lyrically.
Storywise, I barely had a chance to digest the song before other fans had deduced that it was part of the Teenage Love Triangle songs that Taylor talked about during the ‘cardigan’ music video premiere: “There’s a collection of three songs I refer to as the Teenage Love Triangle (in my head). These three songs explore a summer love triangle from all three people’s perspectives at different times in their lives. It’s like this one event happened in their town and it affected them each differently.” Judging by the lyrical details and Taylor’s comment in the album’s prologue (“A cardigan that still bears the scent of loss twenty years later…”), this one seems to be from the point of view of Betty, years later as she reflects, older and wiser, on her relationship with James. As Dessner stated in an interview: “It harkens back to lessons learned, or experiences in your youth, in a really beautiful way and this sense of longing and sadness, but ultimately, it’s cathartic.” To me, that implies that she’s looking back at the good and the bad with the benefit of hindsight and it seems that despite the heartbreak, it was a good thing in her life – a conclusion come to from the repetition and ending of the song with the focus on how good he made her feel: ‘And when I felt like I was an old cardigan under someone’s bed, you put me on and said I was your favourite.’
I admit that I do find the chronology of the narrative within ‘cardigan’ quite confusing. Did Betty and James get back together at the end of ‘betty’? Or did she tell him to ‘go fuck [himself]’? In folklore: long pond studio sessions, Taylor says, “What happened in my head is, ‘cardigan’ is Betty’s perspective from, like, twenty to thirty years later looking back on this love that was like this tumultuous thing.” I’ve seen multiple theories but this is my interpretation. The first verse sets the scene of young adulthood, remnants of teenage life (“Vintage tee, brand new phone”) mixed with the excitement of the newfound freedom of ‘official’ adulthood (“High heels on the cobblestones, […] sensual politics”). In the chorus, Betty describes moments with James including specific details (“Dancing in your Levi’s”), which would imply that these moments were special and treasured but the past tense suggests that the relationship is now over. The repeated refrain of “And when I felt like I was an old cardigan under someone’s bed, you put me on and said I was your favourite” seems to indicate that, whatever happened between them, the relationship was still an important one, as Taylor described on BBC Radio 1: “This is a song that’s about long lost love, and looking back on it, and how special it made you feel, and all the good things it made you feel, all the pain that it made you feel.” In the second verse, we can assume that Betty is referencing James’ infidelity with the girl in ‘august,’ due to the line, “Chase two girls, lose the one.” Since James goes back to Betty in ‘betty,’ we can conclude that he considered Betty ‘the one’ and this lyric from ‘cardigan’ implies that this infidelity resulted in him losing her, that cheating with the girl in ‘august’ ended their relationship. The second chorus is similar to the first in that Betty describes specific moments she shared with James; personally, I think the imagery of these moments is even more intimate than the ones in the previous chorus (“giving me your weekends” and “Your heartbeat on the High Line, once in twenty lifetimes”). The bridge seems to be the point where the break up is confirmed. Betty almost wistfully recalls when their relationship was simple and good (“To kiss in cars and downtown bars was all we needed”) but that it had gone wrong (“now I’m bleeding”). The third chorus focusses on the heartbreak; “Stepping on the last train” could reference the ending of the relationship; the idea of being marked by “a bloodstain,” blood being something difficult to wash out reflects what an impact the relationship and the betrayal had on her; “Tried to change the ending” could mean that the heartbreak was inevitable, no matter how much either of them tried; “Peter losing Wendy,” a reference to the story of Peter Pan, implies that James didn’t want the relationship to end but that ultimately, Betty was ready to grow up and he wasn’t, hence he lost her; and the phrase “Leaving like a father” could be comparing the level of pain she’s experiencing to another painful experience. In what would most likely be called verse three, the repeated line of “When you are young, they assume you know nothing” seems to take centre stage as Betty reveals how much she does know, even at her young age, something that is reflected in the more mature and serious tone (when compared to ‘august’ and ‘betty,’ which sound much younger and somewhat naïve): she knows how long this relationship will stay with her (using phrases of permanence like “tattoo” and “smell of smoke”) and she knows that he’ll come back (presumably referencing the party mentioned in ‘betty’) because, as she’s already referenced he’s young and naïve and impulsive (“you’d miss me once the thrill expired”). And knowing all of this, there’s a feeling of resignation when she sings the refrain one final time. What they had was special and will forever be an important part of her life but that it’s in the past. In folklore: long pond studio sessions, Taylor says, “In my head, she ends up with him but he really put her through it.” But not only does that contradict what she said previously to BBC Radio 1 and at another point during the film (both referenced earlier), given the focus on how deep the heartbreak went for Betty and the emphasis on how much she knew from a young age, it seems unlikely to me that she would take him back after the infidelity. But maybe the interpretation of the song changes for Taylor as her mood and life change, just as the interpretations of songs change for fans over time.
Despite the fictional story, there are lyrics that seem to tie in to previous autobiographical songs, especially the section I’d probably define as the bridge: “To kiss in cars and downtown bars was all we needed, you drew stars around my scars…” This seems to mirror certain events and emotions in ‘Delicate,’ as well as elements of ‘Cruel Summer’ and ‘Cornelia Street.’ To me, it almost feels like she’s deliberately letting her own emotions and experiences bleed into the story, something that would most likely happen when telling and retelling stories through generations, leading us back to the title and concept of folklore.
As a song, it’s not at the top of my list – oddly enough, none of the Teenage Love Triangle songs are – but I do find all the elements in the song a fascinating puzzle and sometimes those songs are just as good as the songs that you instantly love, just in different ways.
Favourite Lyrics: “But I knew you, dancing in your Levi’s, drunk under a streetlight, I / I knew you, hand under my sweatshirt, baby, kiss it better” OR “I knew you / Playing hide-and-seek and / Giving me your weekends, I / I knew you / Your heartbeat on the High Line / Once in twenty lifetimes”
3. the last great american dynasty – I can’t think of many songwriters who would buy a house, discover that a previous owner was a pretty extreme historic figure, find parallels in your lives, and then write a song about it. During folklore: long pond studio sessions, Taylor explains the origins of the song: “When [Dessner] sent me the track for ‘the last great american dynasty,’ I had been wanting to write a song about Rebecca Harkness since 2013 probably, and I’d never figured out the right way to do it because there was never a track that felt like it could kind of hold an entire story of somebody’s life and whatever and move between generations or whatever. Then when I heard that I was like, ‘Oh my god, I think this is my opening. I think this is my moment. I think I can write the Rebecca Harkness story.'” Taylor’s lyrical ability, especially when it comes to storytelling, is really the star of the show in this song (and album really). She manages to pack so much time, so many stories, so many visuals into less than four minutes, with lyrics like, “the wedding was charming, if a little gauche,” “blew through the money on the boys and the ballet, and losing on card game bets with Dalí,” and “they say she was seen on occasion, pacing the rocks, staring out at the midnight sea.” She manages to say so much with so few words. This song also links to the ongoing theme of ‘what if,’ with the lyric of “who knows if she never showed up what could’ve been” repeated in the choruses, both in terms of the main character, Rebekah, and Taylor herself when she moves into the house. She also potentially touches on a parallel theme of fate, which, again, comes up repeatedly throughout the album (in songs such as ‘invisible string’): she and Rebekah both were treated similarly by the locals and clearly had a reputation, whether they deserved it or not. Isn’t it strange that, in that sense, history repeated itself? On first listen, it seems like rather a random story to tell until Taylor flips the perspective and brings in her personal relationship with the tale. It’s a perfect song for the album because it’s so indicative of folklore as a concept: a story that gets told and retold, details changing and people adding to it, just as Taylor does by adding a new chapter to the story. It links back to her country roots too: “It’s that country music kind of narrative device where, in country music, it’s like, ‘this guy did this, then this woman did this, then they met and their kid was me! I was that kid!’ which is the best because you listen to country songs and you’re just like, shivers everywhere, my whole body!” And on a related note, I also personally like the fact that she chose to describe herself as ‘loudest,’ after committing to being the “resident loud person” for artist’s rights in her Billboard’s Woman of the Decade Award acceptance speech.
I also have to include a post I saw on Tumblr about this song because it holds such interesting insight into the song and how Taylor herself relates to the story and why it was included on folklore:
“taylor tying herself to rebekah harkness in [the last great american dynasty] is soooo important because the parallel goes so far beyond the fact that they both stirred up trouble with the neighbors while inhabiting the same house. taylor’s entire life, entire existence, is such an aggravating thing for so many people in a way that goes beyond the basic celebrity antagonism. mainly it’s the fact that she openly and unabashedly writes about her life and holds men accountable when they’ve done something wrong. so when taylor says “i had a marvelous time ruining everything” she’s basically leaning back in her chair and taking ownership of her audacity to be emotional in such a public way, her audacity to outsell and out perform her male counterparts, her audacity to date whomever she wanted because that was her right as a human fucking being. for me, tlgad is taylor’s way of saying “remember that girl from blank space that scared you so much? i AM that girl, more complex and interesting than you’ll ever know, and i love being her.”” (x)
(The only negative for me is that learning more about Rebekah Harkness and her less positive qualities affected my relationship with the song.)
Favourite Lyrics: “There goes the maddest woman this town has ever seen / She had a marvellous time ruining everything”
4. exile (feat. Bon Iver) – This is easily one of my favourite songs on the album, of Taylor’s in general, and it’s definitely my favourite of her collaborations (as much as I love ‘Breathe’ and ‘The Last Time’). The combination and contrast of Justin Vernon’s deep, somber vocals and Taylor’s flawless and airy ones feels like a gut punch every time I listen to the song; the emotion in both sounds so raw and exhausted, reflecting the ongoing conflict that’s clearly occurred in the story being told. Taylor herself has mentioned miscommunication as the main theme of this song, the characters ‘two ships passing in the night’: “exile is a song that was written about miscommunications in relationships, and in the case of this song, I imagined that the miscommunications ended the relationship. They led to the demise of this love affair, and now these two people are seeing each other out for the first time, and they keep miscommunicating with each other. They can’t quite get on the same page, they never were able to, and even in their end, even after they’ve broken up, they’re still not hearing each other.”
The inspiration behind this track isn’t as clear as some of the others on the album. As Taylor says in folklore: long pond studio sessions, the song would not exist without Joe: “Joe had written that entire piano part… and was singing the Bon Iver part, ‘I can see you standing, honey, with his arms around your body, laughing but the joke’s not funny at all.’ He was just singing it the way that the whole first verse is. And so I was entranced and asked if we could keep writing that one.” I’d love to know what their writing process was like. There don’t seem to be any obvious or even subtle lyrical references to Taylor’s life, what she’s chosen to share of it, and based on the foreword for the album, that would imply that the story is either fictional or based on someone else’s experience but it clearly evoked strong emotions in her – emotions that I imagine she related to in some way – otherwise she wouldn’t have felt so compelled to work on the song.
The lyrics themselves are stunning; they’re so visual and emotive. And I’m in awe of how, with such a limited amount of words, Taylor (and William Bowery/Joe Alwyn and Justin Vernon) can create two distinct voices with different perspectives on the same situation. Justin’s verse (even though it’s obviously not about a relationship between Justin and Taylor, I may refer to their parts that way just for the sake of ease) has a real sense of bitterness (most likely stemming from feeling hurt): the lyric, “the joke’s not funny at all” is clearly referencing the joke that Taylor’s new partner told, making her laugh, but it could also be referencing the whole situation, that the reality that they’ve ended up here is so ridiculous it must be a joke but it’s so painful that it’s “not funny at all.” This emotion is also reflected in the line, “it took you five whole minutes to pack us up and leave me with it,” in that it only took a few minutes to break down and box up an entire relationship (the inclusion of the word ‘whole’ also emphasises the bitterness and adds a hint of sarcasm, as if to say, “wow, if it only took five minutes, it CLEARLY meant SO MUCH to you!”); and not only does she pack up the relationship and walk out, she leaves him with the remains of the relationship, implying that it didn’t mean enough to her to keep anything of it. We get all of that story in just six lines.
Taylor’s verse – her side of the story – is just as interesting. My interpretation is that her perspective was that the relationship was always destined to fail. I have to give a shoutout to the lyric, “I can see you starin’, honey, like he’s just your understudy” because it’s just so beautiful and such an interesting way of comparing a new relationship to the previous one (especially in the sense that the previous partner views the new partner as an inferior replacement, plus it also fits with the repeated references to film), but I think the lyric, “like you’d get your knuckles bloody for me” is the really important one in this first half of the verse because, with just a shared look, she can see the intensity of his feelings for her still. She refers to “second, third, and hundredth chances,” something Justin hasn’t referred to at all (in fact it refutes his claim that it only took her five minutes to pack up and leave the relationship), implying turmoil in the relationship before the break up which he doesn’t mention. I love the imagery of “balancing on breaking branches” and the I think the lyric, “those eyes add insult to injury” adds such weight and emotion to the story we’re being told. And in the context of the verse, it could be interpreted that she feels it’s unfair of him to show up and miss her as she tries to move on (and judge the way she tries to do that), despite the “second, third, and hundredth chances.”
The choruses – and the differences between the choruses – are fascinating to me. The message of the section, based on the repetition (a technique used to imply significance) of the lyric, “I think I’ve seen this film before and I didn’t like the ending,” could be a direct reference to when she walked away and how he can’t bear to watch that happen now that he’s seen her again. But a more layered interpretation might be that they’d both had a similar experiences with relationships before and so saw the end coming (something that, perhaps, even played into the ending of their relationship in some way). Moving to the next few lines, even in this main section of the song, even though they’re both singing about the loss of something so important to them, they’re still not on the same page and the way they describe the relationship is quite different, which again adds to the complexity of the two characters, something that can be so hard to achieve in such little time.
Their different descriptions of the relationship could represent what the other person meant to them. Justin describes Taylor as his “homeland,” which could imply that she was what made him who he is, the foundation on which he built his life (the reference to defending her – his “homeland” – also fits with the war imagery in ‘my tears ricochet, ‘epiphany,’ and ‘peace,’ connecting the songs within the album, something that Taylor does so well) while Taylor sees herself as a problem for Justin; he feels the need to defend her while she feels that his presence is an attack, demonstrated by her question, “So who am I offending now?” It’s almost bitter, as if demanding what she’s doing wrong now, how is she messing up now? This links back to her feeling like she was a (or maybe THE) problem for him and in the relationship. However, they both feel exiled by the relationship, like they’ve both lost their home – and perhaps the stable thing in their lives – even if they weren’t happy anymore. And then, at the end of the second chorus, Taylor is “leaving out the side door,” trying to escape him and all the emotions he’s bringing up, another attempt to be done with the relationship.
The bridge is the height and almost heart of the song because, rather than telling the story, they’re now talking to each other. Or talking over each other, arguing their side of things and placing blame. They’re still not hearing each other. Justin says she never heard him out; Taylor says he never heard her out. Justin simultaneously admits that he never learned to read her mind, something Taylor accuses him of. Justin admits that he never managed to turn things around, which Taylor agrees with, stating outright that he never turned things around. She seems harsh and even unfair to him but maybe that’s because he continues to argue that she “never gave a warning sign,” when she feels that she “gave so many signs,” an argument they come back to over and over again.
The final chorus is a repeat of Justin’s chorus but returns to the bridge again, potentially mirroring the cyclical nature of the arguments in the relationship. It’s somewhat chaotic (despite sounding beautiful) and their voices are constantly interrupting each other. At some point, Taylor’s voice fades out, as if she’s just gotten too tired to keep having the same fight, even if it means giving up on getting closure and giving Justin the last word. It’s interesting that his is both the first and last voice in the song; it wouldn’t be a stretch to interpret that as meaning that he’s the one desperately holding onto the relationship, regardless of Taylor’s wishes.
I’m really intrigued by the fact that she chose to title the song ‘exile.’ Most songs get their titles from the most important lyric, often one that is repeated multiple times since repetition conveys importance. The repeated phrase in this chorus is “I think I’ve seen this film before and I didn’t like the ending” so it would seem that this is a phrase of significance and would therefore ‘earn’ the place of the title in some form. But it doesn’t. “Now I’m in exile” is almost a passing phrase in the chorus and yet Taylor chose it for the title. I wonder what the thought process for that decision was. Does it mean that, while the message of the song is that your baggage affects the present (the film you’ve seen before, knowing how it ends, and not liking the end), the focus of the song is the consequence of allowing that to happen (the relationship breaking down, leaving you “in exile”)? I could ramble about this for ages but I’ll stop there.
From an arrangement and production perspective, the piano is the primary instrument again, giving the song a somber and melancholy feel – I’m not entirely sure but it sounds like they recorded an actual piano because there’s a shifting sound that could well be the pedal. The piano melody supports the vocal melody, as well as emphasising parts of the lyrics. A string arrangement is introduced in the first chorus and slowly builds throughout the song, at its most powerful during the bridges, presumably to highlight the intensity of the emotion in that section. They could’ve used massive drum sounds to accentuate the drama of the relationship but instead the percussion is fairly subtle, which I assume is more in keeping with the overall sound of folklore than the big drums would be. This arrangement and the production of it puts the vocals (and the vocal layering and harmonies) at the centre – at the heart of the song – almost to the point where you forget about the music because of the ocean of atmospheric vocals washing over you.
There is so much that could be discussed when talking about the vocals. In the verses, both Justin and Taylor are singing in their lower registers rather than the higher registers that they more commonly sing in, much closer to their speaking voices, reinforcing the almost conversation-like format of the song. The harmonies are so rich and so gorgeous and I’d be so interested to know how they choose which voices should lead at which moments and why, whether they were just wanting to create a gorgeous sound or whether every single moment of separation and unison has meaning.
I absolutely love this song. It was a collaboration I never imagined and one that I instantly fell in love with. Justin Vernon has a stunning voice and it goes so beautifully with Taylor’s. I love the format of the song with two people trying to tell their side of the story, only to end up talking over each other, and the lyrics are both utterly gorgeous and highly emotional (my favourite kind); it had me in tears on the first listen and continues to even now.
Favourite Lyrics: “I think I’ve seen this film before / And I didn’t like the ending” (But I love so many lyrics in this song)
5. my tears ricochet – I can’t speak for anyone else but the meaning beneath the metaphor of this song was clear immediately, before the song had even finished. Or the obvious interpretation at least. While the lyrics tell the story of a dead woman berating an old lover for turning up at her funeral after causing her so much pain, personally, I think the parallel story of her feelings toward Scott Borchetta in the wake of the sale of her Masters to Scooter Braun is much more powerful. The wake referred to in the lyrics could well be a metaphor for Borchetta’s sale of Taylor’s Masters and the resultant breakdown of their relationship; after all, Taylor originally said that she’s “made peace” with the idea that Borchetta would sell her Masters and that she was “going to hang [her] hat on the good stuff. [She] wanted to be friends with him.” But then he sold them to Braun, someone who she described as a “incessant, manipulative [bully].” Taylor all but confirmed these events as the inspiration behind the song in folklore: the long pond studio sessions: “It’s kind of a song about karma; it’s a song about greed; it’s a song about how somebody could be your best friend and your companion and your most trusted person in your life and then they could go and become your worst enemy who knows how to hurt you because they were once your most trusted person.”
In this context, the lyrics are so deeply emotional: “‘Cause I loved you, I swear I loved you, ’til my dying day,” “And if I’m dead to you, why are you at the wake?” “You wear the same jewels that I gave you as you bury me” (likely a reference to Taylor’s albums under Big Machine), “I didn’t have it in myself to go with grace, ’cause when I’d fight, you used to tell me I was brave,” “And I can go anywhere I want, anywhere I want, just not home,” “Crossing out the good years,” and so on… These lyrics demonstrate the depth of her relationship with Borchetta and just how painful the experience of having someone you trusted so deeply completely betray you and in ways you never imagined they were capable of; they’re so completely heartbreaking. As she said after the sale of the Masters: “I thought I knew what betrayal felt like, but this stuff that happened with him was a redefinition of betrayal for me, just because it felt like it was family. To go from feeling like you’re being looked at as a daughter to this grotesque feeling of ‘Oh, I was actually his prized calf that he was fattening up to sell to the slaughterhouse that would pay the most.'”
The bridge is particularly heartbreaking, I think, as Taylor laments that she can go anywhere (whether that’s to any record label or in any direction with her music) but never home, whether that’s to the label that she and Borchetta grew with her career, her body of work that brought her to this point, or just the general concept that we can never go back and even if we could, too much will have changed for it to be the way you remembered it. With the lyric, “And you can aim for my heart, go for blood, but you would still miss me in your bones,” she seems to be telling Borchetta that, as much as he tears her down, there will still be a part of him that wishes she’d stayed on at Big Machine, that he’d never betrayed her and destroyed their relationship; maybe that’s even part of why he’s been just so cruel to her since the sale of the Masters, because he knows that too. The idea that she still talks to him – but only when she’s screaming at the sky – and the visual that accompanies it is incredibly sad, potentially implying that, as angry and hurt as she is, she does still miss him, even if she can only express that by or when she’s “screaming at the sky.” And lastly, from her reference to him being unable to sleep at night (often associated with a guilty conscious), it’s inferred that he knows he treated her badly, especially if he’s hearing her “stolen lullabies” (a clear reference to her Masters and her feelings that they were taken from her). The fact that the word ‘lullabies’ fades out before the word ends almost sounds like she’s having her voice stolen from her, just as her Masters were. The whole song is beautifully written, portraying the devastation of being betrayed so powerfully, but the bridge is where it all comes to a head – all of the emotions clamouring to be heard – before sinking back into the deep and terrible sadness of being hurt by someone you loved and thought loved you.
Arrangement and production wise, the song is perfectly put together, in my opinion; it not only reflects the emotions the lyrics are expressing but it elevates them by pushing and pulling back to emphasise the emotions within the song. The high backing vocals – in contrast to the lower main vocal – are employed almost as their own instrument, creating a unique and intimate musical hook. This, combined with the subtle sound of a synth (or maybe a pad of some kind), leaves the vocal exposed and firmly at the centre of the arrangement. The slow addition of strings and drums add to the depth of the heavy emotions before everything is stripped back after the bridge, reflecting the vulnerability of the moment. Then everything is back for the final moments of the song, re-centering to emphasise the pain of the betrayal before the song ends. The vocal performance is absolutely stunning and the emotion in Taylor’s voice as she sings – every little inflection, every little tremble, every little break – is so clear and adds so much to the emotional impact of the song.
This song is easily one of my favourite songs on the album and it doesn’t surprise me at all that Taylor wrote it alone – before taking it to Jack Antonoff. It has so much raw emotion in it that, most of the time, it brings me to tears. I definitely relate to what Aaron Dessner said about the song: “This is one of my absolute favourite songs on the record. I think it’s a brilliant composition, and Taylor’s words, the way her voice sounds and how this song feels, are, to me, one of the critical pieces. It’s lodged in my brain. That’s also very important to Taylor and Jack. It’s like a beacon for this record.” (x)
Favourite Lyrics: “I didn’t have it in myself to go with grace / ‘Cause when I’d fight, you used to tell me I was brave” OR “And I can go anywhere I want, anywhere I want, just not home”
6. mirrorball – The moment ‘mirrorball’ started, I was in love. I adored the guitar sound and the atmosphere it created – intimate and warm, like it exists in it’s own little world. I absolutely got a sense of what Taylor later described seeing in folklore: the long pond studio sessions: “Sometimes when I’m writing to an instrumental track, I’ll push play and I’ll immediately see a scene set. And this was one of those cases where I just saw, you know, lonely disco ball, twinkly lights, neon signs, people drinking beer by the bar, a couple of stragglers on the dance floor.” Personally, I had thought of it as the last couple still dancing, the song like a conversation between them as they sway under the disco ball, the band playing through the last half hour of their set.
During folklore: the long pond studio sessions, Taylor described the meaning of the song: “It was a metaphor for celebrity, but it’s also a metaphor for so many people who have to feel like… Everybody feels like they have to be ‘on’ for certain people. You have to be different versions of yourself for different people. Different versions at work, different versions around friends, different versions of yourself around different friends. Different version of yourself around family, you know? Everybody has to be duplicitous, or feels that they have to in some ways, be duplicitous. And that’s part of the human experience, but it’s also exhausting. And you kind of learn that every one of us has the ability to become a shape-shifter. But what does that do to us?” I definitely relate to this. Given my ASD, I’ve spent a lot of my life masking and suppressing parts of myself, to the point where I’ve found it difficult to actually be who I am, fully and honestly. It’s something I’m working on but it isn’t easy to undo a practically lifelong habit. So this song is really, really special to me.
Taylor also gave us some insight into how the song came to be: “I wrote this song right after I found out all my shows were canceled. And it’s like, ‘I’m still on that tightrope. I’m still trying everything to keep you… get you laughing at me.’ So, it’s like, I realize, here I am, writing all this music, still trying, and I know I have an excuse to sit back and not do something, but I’m not, and I can’t, and I don’t know why that is.” It was clearly deeply upsetting to have all of her shows cancelled (even though it was the right thing to do) and her confusion over this inability to stop and rest, on top of everything she talked about in Miss Americana about how female artists have to constantly reinvent themselves to stay relevant in the industry. While the interpretation of Taylor singing to Joe makes sense to me, given everything that Taylor’s said about the song and everything she’s previously said, it seems more likely that she’s singing to her audience (although it’s addressed as if it’s to one person).
The first verse begins with “I want you to know I’m a mirrorball, I’ll show you every version of yourself tonight,” likening herself to a mirrorball, something that reflects a person from every angle. Despite vastly different lives and experiences, we all see ourselves in Taylor’s music and see ourselves a bit differently in every song. I found this quote that I think sums up a version of this really well: “This immediately made me think of Taylor on tour and how her shows take you through a whirlwind of emotions in a few hours.” That (as well as any occasion when a Taylor Swift song comes on) links to the following lyric: “I’ll get you out on the floor, shimmering beautiful.” When she performs, she gets everyone dancing and both she and the crowd are a sight to behold: beautiful and magical. “Shimmering beautiful” could refer to either Taylor, her audience, or both. The final lyric of the verse – “And when I break, it’s in a million pieces” – seems deeply sad, despite the airy warmth of the production. She has the ability to this beautiful thing but she’s also incredibly fragile so when something hurts her… when something breaks her, it doesn’t just break her into a handful of pieces, it breaks her into “a million pieces.” She doesn’t just break, she shatters.
The chorus feels more like an anti-chorus than a traditional chorus, with the minimal arrangement and production and focus on just Taylor’s voice. It’s very cohesive with the first word of the section: “Hush.” Beginning the chorus this way, it’s as if Taylor is preempting whatever she thinks is about to be said. It’s warm and affectionate and intimate, like she’s telling the listener not to worry. Followed by “When no one is around, my dear, you’ll find me on my tallest tiptoes, spinning in my highest heels, love,” it sounds like she’s saying that, even when a bright spotlight isn’t on her, she’s still putting in the effort, putting the same love and care into her work. And while that must be exhausting, the use of the endearments “love” and “my dear” make it sound soft and sincere, almost like a promise that she is here for us because she knows how much her music means to us. This is reiterated in the final phrase of the section: “Shining just for you.”
The chorus repeats but with a couple of changes. Again, she hushes the listener, but this time she sings, “I know they said the end is near, but I’m still on my tallest tiptoes, spinning in my highest heels, love.” So maybe there are people saying that her career, her success, her fame are ending (something that she’d repeatedly proven to be untrue…) but it doesn’t matter: she’s still trying, she’s still “shining just for [us].” (I also have to note how much I love the way her voice lifts on the words “tallest tiptoes” and “highest heels,” matching the literal imagery.)
The second verse begins similarly to the first before moving down a different path: “I want you to know, I’m a mirrorball, I can change everything about me to fit in.” While this is an ability that she’s used incredibly skillfully in a positive way – exploring and reinventing throughout her career has shown everyone how talented she really is – it’s also something that can come with so much struggle. Again, this relates to what Taylor said in Miss Americana about female artists always having to reinvent themselves. It was something she also addressed in her Woman of the Decade speech at the Billboard Music Awards in 2019: “This was the decade when I became a mirror for my detractors. Whatever they decided I couldn’t do is exactly what I did.” It’s a hugely relatable lyric, even if we, as listeners, have experienced it in a very different way to Taylor: If you’re constantly changing to fit in, at what point do you lose who you really are?
The following line implies that Taylor sees the difference between her dedicated listeners and those quick to turn on her – “You are not like the regulars, the masquerade revellers, drunk as they watch my shattered edges glisten” – her real fans being the ones who have always stuck by her and the latter being the people who took part in or enjoyed her ‘cancellation’ in 2016.
The next line, “I’m still on that tightrope, I’m still trying everything to get you laughing at me,” shows just how hard she’s trying even though the audience is no longer there. While impressive if you can pull it off, walking a tightrope can be a terrifying and dangerous act, portraying just how far Taylor will go and how hard she’ll try to keep writing and keep making music that we, her listeners, love.
In the second half of the bridge, she sings: “I’m still a believer but I don’t know why, I’ve never been a natural, all I do is try, try, try.” This might be my absolute favourite lyric of the whole album – I may even get it tattooed on me when it feels safe enough COVID-wise. I relate to it so strongly. Taylor seems to be saying that, despite everything that’s happened during her career, she still believes in what she does, even with so many reasons to question it. It’s never been easy – she’s never been a “natural” – but she never gives up and she never stops trying, even if she doesn’t know why. And the final line of the section, “I’m still on that trapeze, I’m still trying everything, to keep you looking at me,” mirrors the earlier ‘tightrope’ line and it’s meaning. These two lines are also somewhat reminiscent of something Taylor said at the end of Miss Americana: “This is probably one of my last opportunities as an artist to grasp onto that kind of success. So, I don’t know, as I’m reaching thirty, I’m like… I want to work really hard while society is still tolerating me being successful.” While the idea of society “tolerating” her success is a horribly cold way of thinking about music, it’s fair to say that managing and maintaining her fame while keeping her life as happy, healthy, and stable as possible isn’t the easiest task. And with women generally having shorter careers in the entertainment industries, it’s understandable that she’d be trying her absolute hardest to put out her best work while she still has an audience. Having said all of that, this was her viewpoint in 2018 and since then, she’s released the massively successful folklore and evermore while maintaining the kind of life that she wants (as much as is possible for any of us) so her opinion may have changed since then. But, of course, these successes were after she wrote ‘mirrorball’ hence the references to these fears.
Rather than a last chorus, we have an outro: “Because I’m a mirrorball, I’m a mirrorball, I’ll show you every version of yourself tonight.” Rather than returning to that safe, reassuring moment, we’re left with a reminder of who Taylor is, what she gives us, and how high the price can sometimes be.
As I said at the beginning, I absolutely the electric guitars in this song; it’s so atmospheric and emotive. I’m pretty sure there’s a synth or two in there supporting them but I don’t have a whole of experience in this area, especially since so many producers create their own sounds. The percussion remains gentle throughout the song, only building slightly in the bridge, arguably the biggest section of the song but only in very subtle ways. Other than the guitars, I think my favourite part of the arrangement is the use of both Antonoff and Taylor’s backing vocals: they just blend so beautifully together under Taylor’s main vocal, almost like they’re more a part of the instrumentation than separate vocals. I love the use of the anti-chorus too. It’s something that isn’t done enough but then, if it was used more often, it would probably lose whatever it is that makes it so special.
I haven’t seen this song mentioned as often as some of the others – in reviews and such – but when it is mentioned, it’s almost exclusively positive, with comments such as: “It’s refreshing to hear the lyric “I’ve never been a natural, all I do is try, try, try” escape Taylor’s mouth. ‘Effortless’ has never been a word often used to describe her or her career; you’ll hear ‘calculated’ much more often. I’d argue ‘mirrorball’ is the most lyrically complex track on the album, and the sweet nostalgia of the production keeps the song from feeling unwieldy.”
As I said, this is a really special song to me. I relate to it so deeply: to wanting to be the right thing for everybody, wanting to be the best thing for everybody, always trying so hard, feeling just so fragile, somehow still believing…
Favourite Lyrics: “Hush / I know they said the end is near / But I’m still on my tallest tiptoes / Spinning in my highest heels, love / Shining just for you” OR “I’m still a believer but I don’t know why / I’ve never been a natural / All I do is try, try, try” (But I adore all the lyrics in this song)
7. seven – Here we have another song clearly not from Taylor’s current perspective, although, given some of the details in the song (such as, “Pennsylvania under me”), it could very well be from the perspective of her childhood self. The song (potentially) tells us the story of Taylor and her childhood friend who seems to have a difficult home life and we hear Taylor reflecting on her childhood innocence, a time when she believed that problems had obvious explanations and straightforward solutions. There’s a sense of longing for that mindset again, for that freedom to feel deeply and express that without censor. As Taylor says in folklore: the long pond studio sessions, “With ‘seven,’ the song, I was looking back on it. I’ve always wondered when I see a kid throwing a massive tantrum in a grocery store, like… part of me is, like, ‘man, I feel you.’ Like, when did I stop doing that when I was upset? When did I stop being so outraged that I would throw myself on the floor and throw the cereal at my mom? […] Obviously, you know, we can’t be throwing tantrums all the time, and we learned that that’s not the right thing to do, but there’s something lost there too.” And that’s so true. We lose something essential when we’re not allowed to really feel our feelings and let them out honestly and without fear of judgement.
With very few lyrics (as usual), Taylor manages to say a lot. The first verse sets the scene but it’s somewhat ambiguous about where the song is heading: the swing imagery is childlike and innocent whereas the line, “Are there still beautiful things?” sounds older and more world-weary, as if she’s wondering whether the ease and freedom and happiness so easily found in childhood still exist. I think this really sets up thirty year old Taylor looking back at seven year old Taylor. My interpretation is that the verses are from present Taylor’s point of view and may even be talking to that childhood friend, telling her that – should she think of Taylor – she should picture her as they were at seven: “in the trees,” “in the swing over the creek,” “in the weeds.” She should picture Taylor as that wild and free seven year old who “used to scream ferociously” before the world got in and told her not to.
I think the second verse (the song has a less than common structure – verse, chorus, bridge, verse, chorus) is particularly interesting and is definitely my favourite part of the song. The lines, “Before I learned civility, I used to scream ferociously, any time I wanted,” so perfectly and succinctly depict what’s like to grow up, especially as a girl: slowly – sometimes unnoticeably – the free expression of emotion, the openness and , the wildness… they’re all things that other people/society’s expectations teach you to repress and be ashamed of. And bringing this into the story, into the song, may be the most feminist moment on the album. Yes, ‘mad woman’ is a feminist song but, with that track, she’s making a point: direct and clear. This moment in ‘seven,’ is quieter but all the more powerful for its simplicity and rawness, wrapped up in a story about growing up.
The rest of the song seems set in childhood, rather than an adult’s reflection. The chorus is full of innocent, childlike imagery: “cross [your/my] heart,” “braids like a pattern,” and a play on a well known expression of love, “love you to the moon and to Saturn.” But rather than ‘love you to the moon and back,’ their love goes further than that because it goes all the way to the moon and then to Saturn, a much greater distance; this reminds me of something a child might say after learning about the planets and realising just how big the solar system is and then using it to express just HOW MUCH they love someone (I’m sure I probably did it). This section gives us an insight into their friendship and how important it was to them – and may still be to Taylor as she reflects back on it.
We get a more detailed picture of their relationship in the bridge. Taylor sees how sad her friend is and attributes it to how her friend’s father is “always mad.” With the kind of logic that only makes sense to children, she concludes that it’s because their house is haunted and therefore the solution is that her friend should come and live with her; they’ll be pirates, they’ll pack up their toys and go to India, they’ll have adventures and everything will okay because they’ll be together. Their plans reflect that wide-eyed, naïve approach to the world. Everything is so simple: they want to move to India and that’s that. Her friend “won’t have to cry or hide in the closet,” whether that’s simply a child-sized place to hide or a reference to the friend struggling with her sexuality, an idea that the father’s anger and the keeping of each other’s secrets (“Cross your heart, won’t tell no other” / “Cross my heart, won’t tell no other”) may be eluding to. Whether these two young girls loved each other platonically or romantically is something that I think is up to the interpretation of the listener but their love for each other was real and something that Taylor still feels affected by. Like a folk tale or a “folk song,” the details may get lost over time but they still impact our lives and we carry them with us as a part of us. The lyrics, “Passed down like folk songs, the love lasts so long” and “And just like a folk song, our love will be passed on,” reference this idea but also allude to the title and concept of the album, folklore: “A tale that becomes folklore is one that is passed down and whispered around. Sometimes even sung about.” Historically, stories and songs were passed orally from generation to generation, rarely written down (which would account for the lost details or slight changes to the stories, such as it being a cat rather than dog that dyed “key lime green” (x) in ‘the last great american dynasty’). Taylor signed off her prologue for the album with this idea, saying, “Now it’s up to you to pass [the stories on folklore] down.” (x)
Aaron Dessner also referenced this when talking about the song in an interview with Vulture: “It’s kind of looking back at childhood and those childhood feelings, recounting memories and memorialising them. It’s this beautiful folk song. It has one of the most important lines on the record: “And just like a folk song, our love will be passed on.” That’s what this album is doing. It’s passing down. It’s memorialising love, childhood, and memories. It’s a folkloric way of processing.”
Interestingly, there’s a parallel interpretation that links parts of the song with Taylor’s career: while seven year old Taylor on a swing, trying to get as high as she can (“I hit my peak at seven, feet in the swing over the creek”) could be a metaphor for the last time she felt free and at ease in her life before the insecurities of growing up and the minefield of the music industry entered her life, it could also refer to the Lover era, the time surrounding the release of her seventh album, Lover. At the time, she described it as her best album and it gained considerable praise, from critics, peers, and fans. She also seemed more confident and comfortable in herself: she started doing press again, she spoke about vulnerable, sensitive topics, she became more politically active, she directed a music video for the first time, and she released the Miss Americana documentary, giving people a completely new insight into her life. This interpretation carries through into the next line, “I was too scared to jump in,” that maybe she was scared to leave the safety of the swing and what she knew worked: a childhood fear of growing up and an adult fear about what might come next (if she feels like she’s peaked), about leaving a genre to try out a new one. And the following lyrics, “But I, I was high in the sky, with Pennsylvania under me,” could be interpreted as, despite her fears, the impact that Lover had on her (her confidence, her career, her newfound freedom with Republic Records, etc – the “high”), along with all of her life experience to depend on (“Pennsylvania under me”), made the choice to move into folklore possible and even exciting. The lyrics, “Passed down like folk songs, the love lasts so long” and “And just like a folk song, our love will be passed on,” also fit with this interpretation, referencing the impact and longevity of Taylor’s music. (This could easily be an overreach though. I’ve just seen so many theories about it floating around the internet.)
Musically, it’s a fairly simple arrangement, not unlike much of folklore, which allows the lyric and vocal to fully capture the listener’s attention. While I have no doubt that there are many subtle layers building the soundscape of the song, the most prominent instruments are the piano, the acoustic guitar, and the drums, although they remain gentle and unobtrusive throughout the song. When the strings come in, they provide something of a counter melody to the vocal with a rich and gorgeous sound. Personally, I don’t think the piano part is necessary – that it actually muddies the arrangement at certain points – but overall, the instrumentation creates a light, nostalgic, slightly sad backdrop to the song. And with Taylor singing in a higher register than she does for much of the album, she sounds younger, reinforcing the seven-year-old point of view and strengthening the sense of nostalgia. Unusually for the current time, the music goes on for quite some time after the lyric and melody part of the song but then Taylor did say in folklore: long pond studio sessions that, when she began making folklore, she threw out the list of things she felt she wasn’t supposed or allowed to do. A long outro is very uncommon these days, especially with radio friendly music (which folklore is even if it isn’t what would be considered pop music), so it wouldn’t surprise me if that was something on her list of things she couldn’t do.
As much as I want to like the song – I love the storytelling, the nostalgia, the sadness mixed in with the love (I remember seeing one reviewer say it gave them major ‘Bridge to Terabithia’ vibes and I definitely feel that) – I struggle with the sound of it. I just find something almost jarring about Taylor’s vocal against the production; I’m not sure what exactly it is (maybe how close the pitch of the vocal and piano part are?) but I find it just… not quite comfortable on my ears. If it wasn’t for that, I think I’d really like it.
Favourite Lyrics: “Before I learned civility, I used to scream furiously any time I wanted”
8. august – I think ‘august’ is my favourite of the Teenage Love Triangle songs (while the narrator is never named, I still think of her as ‘August,’ even after Taylor named her as Augusta or Augustine in the folklore: long pond studio sessions). She’s the girl that James had the “summer thing” with (mentioned in ‘betty’) and the story of their brief relationship is told from her point of view: spending time near the coast, hanging out around town, sleeping together, and so on. She clearly knows (or knew: considering the song is in the past tense, she may not have known until they broke up) that James is in a relationship, given the lyrics, “‘Cause you were never mine” and “You weren’t mine to lose,” but nowhere in the triangle of songs is she portrayed as someone who’s cheating without regard for the other girl’s feelings, rather as a young and naïve girl in love. As Taylor says in the studio sessions, “the idea that there’s some ‘bad villain girl’ in any time or situation who ‘takes your man’ is actually a total myth because that’s not usually the case at all. Everybody has feelings and wants to be seen and loved, and Augustine — that’s all she wanted.” While it’s clear that she knows this relationship is unlikely to last, she’s still hopeful and undemanding in the hope that that will keep the relationship in tact: “Back when we were still changing for the better, wanting was enough, for me, it was enough.” It seems that the first bridge is when she realises that the relationship is just a fling: “So much for summer love, and saying ‘us,’ ’cause you weren’t mine to lose.” This could imply that the song is looking back over the relationship (“Remember when I pulled up, and said, ‘get in the car'” and “Back when I was living for the hope of it all”) and even though it didn’t mean as much to James as it did to her, she still has fond memories of that time.
The imagery in the lyrics is a particularly powerful element in this song. The (I’m sure) specifically chosen words really paint pictures of various moments throughout the story: for example, for me, “Salt air and the rust on your door” conjures an image of a little holiday house in a seaside town; the lyrics, “And I can see us twisted in bedsheets, August sipped away like a bottle of wine” has me imagining the two of them lying face to face in bed in the early afternoon, or sitting wrapped up in the bedsheets and drinking from a swiped bottle of wine (even though I know that it’s a metaphor); “Your back beneath the sun, wishing I could write my name on it” makes me think of the two of them lying on a beach together with her tracing words and patterns on his back; and the lyric, “Cancelled my plans, just in case you’d call” has me picturing her flitting between activities and constantly checking her phone. It’s a very visual song but, in a way, that makes the other lyrics stand out as distinct, lyrics like, “Back when we were still changing for the better” and “Back when I was living for the hope of it all.” Just looking at the lyrics, it’s easy to see why it’s a fan favourite.
A classic Swift/Antonoff collaboration, the meter and rhyme schemes are really interesting and catchy, especially in the choruses and bridges. Musically, it also fits in perfectly with many of their other collaborations such as ‘Out of the Woods,’ ‘Getaway Car,’ and ‘Cruel Summer,’ with its big choruses and even bigger bridges, while still having its own sonic personality and distinct arrangement (which, in this case includes light percussion, acoustic guitar, and strings).
While I loved folklore: long pond studio sessions for multiple reasons, one of those was that we got glimpses of what Taylor’s songwriting process can be like. In the case of ‘august,’ she said, “That whole song started with the fact that I had written down in my phone, ‘Meet me behind the mall’ years ago, wanting to write it into a song.” I love learning little gems like that about Taylor’s songs, given how passionate I am about songwriting. Things like what sparked a song are fascinating to me.
Favourite Lyrics: “Back when we were still changing for the better / Wanting was enough / For me, it was enough / To live for the hope of it all”
9. this is me trying – Joint first with ‘mirrorball,’ this is my favourite song on folklore (I love them both so much that I can’t choose between them). I relate to them both very strongly but they hit differently. Again, I was instantly struck by the production: as I said in my initial thoughts, it was just stunning, so thick and so emotional. And then, when the lyrics came in, I just fell in love. They were so beautiful, with such gorgeous imagery, and the painstaking simplicity made it feel so honest and vulnerable. And the conversation Taylor and Jack Antonoff had about it during folklore: long pond studio sessions only made me love it more…
(References to suicidal thoughts from this point but only during this song.)
TS: “I’d been thinking about addiction, and I’d been thinking about people who, if they’re either suffering through mental illness or they’re suffering through addiction or they have an everyday struggle. No one pats them on the back every day, but every day they are actively fighting something. There are so many days that nobody gives them credit for that. And so, how often must somebody who’s in that sort of internal struggle want to say to everyone in the room, ‘You have no idea how close I am to going back to a dark place’ or ‘You have no idea’?”
JA: “‘You have no idea how hard it is to get to the point where you guys think is still shitty.’ Like, I think about that a lot. Like… The idea of doing your best – or trying – is one that only a person knows, and you know when you’re doing it. And it’s so hard, which is what I get from that song: when you’re doing your damn best and it’s not good enough. And it rarely is. But it’s, you know, it’s a very isolating feeling, which, I think, is funny ’cause it actually is the thing that binds all of us. ‘Cause we’re all doing our best and feeling like it’s not even close to good enough.”
TS: “Yeah, I had this idea that the first verse would be about someone who is in a sort of life crisis and has just been trying and failing and trying and failing in their relationship, has been messing things up with the people they love, has been letting everyone down, and, kind of, has driven to this overlook, this cliff, and is just in the car going, ‘I could do whatever I want in this moment, and it could affect everything forever.’ But this person backs up and drives home and…”
JA: “Yeah, I love that. The idea that not driving off the cliff is an act of trying.”
JA: “Which is almost the ultimate act of trying.”
TS: “Yeah, and then the second verse is about someone who felt like they had a lot of potential in their life. I think there are a lot of mechanisms for us in our school days, in high school or college, to excel and to be patted on the back for something. And then I think a lot of people get out of school and there are less… there are less abilities for them to get gold stars. And then you have to make all these decisions and you have to pave your own way, and there’s no set class course you can take, and there’s… And I think a lot of people feel really swept up in that. And so I was thinking about this person who is really lost in life and then starts drinking and every second is trying not to.”
I thought it was a really moving conversation, with some very profound observations: that, so often, you fight so hard just to get through the day and you never get any credit for all that effort; that, a lot of the time, the people around you have no idea how bad things are; that you can make so much progress and yet you’ve only made it a level that other people would still consider a “shitty” place, having no idea how far you’ve come or how hard you’ve had to work to get there; that sometimes trying to not do something is as big a deal as trying to do something…
When it comes to looking at the lyrics of the song, I’m going to refer to the narrator as Taylor for the sake of simplicity but I don’t think it’s from her point of view. Not directly at least. I think the lyrics do speak to issues she’s personally dealing and dealt with, sometimes in metaphor and sometimes not, but I don’t think she is the narrator in the obvious sense. So I think the song is both autobiographical and not.
As for the person she’s addressing in the song, I’m not convinced it’s a specific person. The song feels more like a statement, like she’s addressing multiple people but all people who care about her and worry about her in her current state. But the song is her way of giving them an insight into what she’s going through and assuring them that she’s trying.
I love the first line of the song: “I’ve been having a hard time adjusting.” It’s so understated and yet it says so much, is so emotive. Whatever she’s gone through, whatever she’s struggling with, it’s had a profound effect on her: she’s finding it difficult to reconcile with the before and the after (I can definitely relate to that). She elaborates on this in the next line, “I had the shiniest wheels, now they’re rusting,” which suggests a loss of innocence. Where once she had all of these bright and shiny dreams, now they’re deteriorating. After everything, she feared that it was all too much, that she was too much for the people around her – “I didn’t know if you’d care if I came back” – and that maybe it would be better if she just went away. This line truly and utterly breaks my heart. It breaks my heart that Taylor would ever feel that in any way. It reminds me of something she said in Miss Americana: “When people fall out of love with you, there’s nothing you can do to change their minds. They just don’t love you anymore. I just wanted to disappear. Nobody physically saw me for a year. And that’s what I thought they wanted.” The idea that Taylor thought that even her dedicated fans (and I include myself here) didn’t care about her or love her anymore… I find that so upsetting, knowing how much she’s done for me and for so, so many other people. But the lyric, “I have a lot of regrets about that,” suggests that she doesn’t feel that way anymore, that she “regrets” thinking that. The emotion in her voice is so thick; it gets me every time. I’m serious: every time I listen to this song, I start crying. It’s like it just unlocks the doors I push everything I don’t have the time to deal with behind and it all just comes pouring out.
The verse continues with what may be my favourite lyric of the song: “Pulled the car off the road to the lookout, could’ve followed my fears all the way down.” Again, it says so much, the imagery is so vivid, and it’s such a heartbreakingly honest way of describing that moment where everything overwhelms you and you think, even if just for a moment, about driving over the edge and leaving everything behind. This was referenced above, when Taylor described the narrator thinking, “I could do whatever I want in this moment, and it could affect everything forever,” but that they ultimately drive away to which Antonoff says, “I love that. The idea that not driving off the cliff is an act of trying… which is almost the ultimate act of trying.” Instead, she drives to the house of an unspecified person, someone who, in my interpretation, she’d maybe pushed away during whatever the hard thing was she was going through. Maybe because they were trying to help her before she could accept help, maybe because it was too hard to have someone care about her when she was struggling so desperately, maybe because the only way she could cope was to lash out. But now she’s reaching out: “And maybe I don’t quite know what to say but I’m here in your doorway.” She’s still struggling and she might not have all of the right words yet but she doesn’t want this to be the way things are so she’s taking the first steps, which leads seamlessly into the chorus.
The chorus is simple but sincere and deeply emotional, her message clear and heartfelt: “I just wanted you to know that this is me trying,” a lyric that repeats twice. It’s a short chorus compared to many of Taylor’s songs, but that’s what makes it so powerful. Nothing else needs to be said. As imperfect as it is and not enough as it might be for some people, she’s trying. She really is trying.
In the second verse, Taylor reveals that, “they told [her] all of [her] cages were mental,” a clear dismissal of what she was struggling with, whether it was intentional or a naïve but unhelpful attempt at encouragement – ‘if they’re cages that she’s built, then surely she can dismantle them.’ If only it were that easy… “So I got wasted like all my potential,” implies that she used alcohol, literally or metaphorically, as an escape. It’s a beautiful lyric: utilising both meanings of the word wasted, in terms of wasted potential and of getting drunk (or high) to forget about those feelings of failure. She was clearly spiralling, trying not to feel only for those feelings to come rushing out unexpectedly: “And my words shoot to kill when I’m mad, I have a lot of regrets about that.” She says and does things she doesn’t mean as she desperately tries to cope but she can see the damage she’s doing, that these attempts to cope are hurting people she cares about. That was never something she wanted to happen and it’s so easy for that guilt to just compound the existing problems.
Looking back, she reflects on what brought her to this moment: “I was so ahead of the curve, the curve became a sphere, fell behind all my classmates and I ended up here.” This was another line I deeply related to, as I know many people did. My interpretation of the line is that she was always ahead of the curve, that she followed it until it came full circle, all the way back to the beginning point, leaving her behind everyone, behind “[her] classmates.” In Taylor’s case, I wouldn’t be surprised if she was talking about her relationship to growing up and maturing: she grew up so fast at such a young age and then she got stuck, as she describes in ‘The Archer’ on Lover: “I never grew up, it’s getting so old.” This idea is also something she talked about in Miss Americana, about celebrities getting “frozen at the age they got famous.” And she follows that up, saying, “That’s kinda what happened to me… I had a lot of growing up to do, just to try and catch up to 29.” While this isn’t an interpretation that most people would relate to, the concept in this little section of the song is so incredibly relatable; so many of us have felt what these lyrics describe perfectly. I’ve seen a lot of people relate it to this through their experiences of being labelled gifted as a kid, the resulting pressure to succeed and achieve, and how that led to mental health struggles and burnout, leaving them so far behind their current or past classmates. I can relate to my version of that but I’ve recently seen another interpretation, that of living with a chronic illness, especially an invisible one, and that’s something I can also relate the song to but I’ll come back to that because I think it’s a whole song issue.
Anyway, the section ends with the lyric, “Pourin’ out my heart to a stranger, but I didn’t pour the whiskey,” a notable moment where she didn’t resort to her previous potentially destructive coping mechanisms and instead tried to find a new, more productive way to work through her issues, whether the stranger she’s talking to is a random stranger, a new person in her life, a bartender, or a therapist. It doesn’t really matter; it’s a step – a really good step – in the right direction, even if it feels like a small one.
From there, she’s another chorus, repeating the lyric, “I just wanted you to know that this is me trying.” But this time, there’s a post chorus: “At least I’m trying.” She’s trying and even if it isn’t perfect, even if she doesn’t get it right every time, she is, at least, trying. And trying is always better than not trying.
Originally, I found the melodic rhythm of the bridge somewhat awkward and jarring but over time, I got used to it and it actually started to make sense. It was like the floodgates had opened and all of the emotion and pain was pouring out and that’s very going to sound effortless and comfortable. “And it’s hard to be at a party when I feel like an open wound” is another heartbreaking lyric and so deeply relatable: when you’re struggling, when you’re in pain and it’s so raw, being in a room full of people feels excruciating. I’m not entirely sure who I think the ‘you’ is in “It’s hard to be anywhere these days when all I want is you” but it could potentially be someone who her relationship with was ruined by the things she’s been struggling with and how she’s been acting as a result, because stuff like that usually involves pushing away the people we care about or care about us. And considering just how bad everything is, she just wants this person back; maybe with them in her life, trying to get through everything she’s dealing with will be just that bit easier. The lyric, “You’re a flashback in a film reel on the one screen in my town,” seems to show just how desperately she wants this person: it seems unlikely that this line is literal and metaphorically, it could mean that this person is all she can think about, the “one screen in my town” being in her mind. The way the bridge builds, the way the emotion in her voice builds, it’s all come to a head. It’s almost a relief to go back to chorus.
After everything we’ve heard and felt in the song, the lyrics of the chorus are all the more emotional: “And I just wanted you to know that this is me trying.” She’s going through so much, she’s feeling so much, and it’s so hard but she’s still trying. She’s not giving up, as exhausting as it is. The use of “Maybe I don’t quite know what to say” as backing vocal of sorts reminds us that trying doesn’t mean she’s getting it right but that’s not stopping her, she’s still trying; as she says in the final lyric, “At least I’m trying.”
It definitely feels like an example of working through something, something difficult, but through the use of metaphors, other points of view, and other narratives. This is similar to something Aaron Dessner said in an interview early on: “‘this is me trying,’ to me, relates to the entire album. Maybe I’m reading into it too much from my own perspective, but [I think of] the whole album as an exercise and working through these stories, whether personal or old through someone else’s perspective. It’s connecting a lot of things. But I love the feeling in it and the production that Jack did.”
It’s such a deeply emotional song and personally, I connect to it so strongly, like it resonates on the same frequency as I do. It’s an amazingly powerful thing to feel so heard and understood by a song. Every time I listen to it, I just want to close my eyes and live in it. Or sob uncontrollably. Or both.
I’ve seen a lot of people relate it to this song through their experiences of being labelled gifted as a kid, the resulting pressure to succeed and achieve, and how that led to mental health struggles and burnout, leaving them so far behind their current or past classmates. I can relate to my version of that but I’ve recently seen another interpretation, that of living with a chronic illness, especially an invisible one, and that’s something I can also relate the song to. Before I knew about (or in some cases, developed) any of my health problems, physical and mental, I was such a high achiever, in school and in whatever I engaged in in my own time – when I was twelve, I wrote a twenty thousand word story for fun… Stuff like that was just easy and it wasn’t until I was eighteen that everything started to go wrong. And since then, a lot of my health stuff has spiralled and although, at the moment, I’m in a fairly good headspace about it, it does feel like it’s all stolen a lot from me: time, physical energy, emotional energy, my faith in certain things and certain people, my dreams… For so long, no one believed me and even now that I have people who understand and make sure to check in, I still have this ongoing fear that, at some point, ‘trying’ isn’t going to be enough and I’m going to be abandoned again. I have good days where I can see a positive, productive future but then I also have bad days where I’m just surviving, just putting one foot in front of the other, and it feels like that’s all there’ll ever be; it’s just a completely different way of living to many of my friends and my peers. But I’m still trying, even when I’ve wanted nothing more than to give up.
There’s also an interesting parallel between this song and ‘mirrorball,’ one that Taylor noted in folklore: long pond studio sessions…
TS: “In folklore, there are a lot of songs that reference each other or lyrical parallels and one of the ones that I like is the entire song ‘this is me trying’ then being referenced again in ‘mirrorball’ which is, ‘I’ve never been a natural, all I do is try.'”
JA: “Yeah, I remember that being an interesting one for you to actually put down. ‘Cause I remember you said it, and you did it, and you were, like, ‘Should I say that?'”
TS: “I was like, ‘I that too true?'”
Given how much I love that lyric, this conversation hit me particularly hard.
Other than the link between the ‘mirrorball’ lyric, “all I do is try, try, try,” and the chorus of ‘this is me trying,’ there are numerous other parallels in the songs, linking them together closely. In ‘this is me trying,’ there’s the lyric, “I had the shiniest wheels, now they’re rusting” and in ‘mirrorball,’ we see the progression from “shimmering beautiful” to “my shattered edges glisten.” The lyric, “they told me all of my cages were mental,” from ‘this is me trying’ could easily connect to “I’ve never been a natural” in ‘mirrorball,’ in that, because everyone saw Taylor carrying herself effortlessly, saw her as “a natural,” they couldn’t conceive of her having a legitimate, serious problem, hence the belief that it was all in her head, that her “cages were mental.” And it might be less obvious but I see a link between “and when I break, it’s in a million pieces” from ‘mirrorball’ and the implication that the narrator resisted the urge to drive off “the look out.” Both of these lyrics reflect upon the extreme fragility of the narrators; only someone at their absolute breaking point would consider driving off a cliff or see themselves as shattering into “a million pieces.” While the scenarios being described may be different, there’s a parallel between the emotional states of the narrators. Considering they’re my two favourite songs on the album, I like that they’re connected.
Musically, it’s beautiful too. One review described it as “ethereal yet defeated, gleaming yet tragic,” which I think is incredibly accurate. Taylor’s vocals sound incredible and I love the reverb Antonoff has used, how it adds to the emotion in her voice and in the song. The drums are steady but not overwhelming and what I think is a synth pad is somehow cohesive to the feelings in the song; it almost feels like it’s aching. The addition of strings and horns add another layer to the song and the sound is so melancholy… if I haven’t burst into tears by that point, that is what does it. That carries through the song, adding to the emotional resonance. As I said before, the bridge builds and seems to reach an emotional peak before returning to the chorus where we have the added backing vocal sung both by Taylor and by Antonoff which adds another kick to the emotions. It’s a beautiful arrangement. While I don’t doubt Taylor’s involvement for a second, I think Antonoff is an incredibly skilled arranger and producer, as well as songwriter. It’s definitely a pipe dream to work with him one day.
I’m sure I could talk about this song for even longer but I’ll stop there. This is definitely one of my favourite songs that Taylor has ever written. I also think it’s one of the bravest. Even if it’s not directly about her, I honestly believe that there are pieces of her in there, that the emotions she’s writing about are real to some extent and the fact that she chose to put it out in the world means so much to me. As I said, to feel understood is an incredibly powerful thing and I’m so grateful to Taylor for giving that to me.
Favourite Lyrics: “I didn’t know if you’d care if I came back / I have a lot of regrets about that / Pulled the car off the road to the lookout / Could’ve followed my fears all the way down” (But literally every lyric in this song is stunning)
10. illicit affairs – This isn’t the first song Taylor has written about infidelity but this is the first song from the point of view of ‘the other woman.’ While her early songs that involved cheating were very black and white with the wrong-doer(s) treated with condemnation (‘Should’ve Said No,’ ‘Better Than Revenge,’ etc), her emotional response to the situation has become more nuanced over the years; in ‘Girl at Home,’ she admits that she “might go with it” if she hadn’t been cheated on and knew how painful it was; in ‘Babe,’ although she’s clear that the infidelity has ended the relationship, she expresses a range of feelings over the lost relationship, such as grief and regret, as well as the anger that characterised her early cheating songs; and then, while there’s no actual cheating in ‘Gorgeous’ or ‘Getaway Car,’ she describes finding herself in messy romantic situations that her younger self might have been less than understanding about, having less experience with the complexity of adult relationships. But she’s grown up, matured emotionally, and learned a lot about relationships, allowing her to write from the point of view of a women having a relationship with a man in a committed relationship.
The story behind this song has been widely debated. Is it a personal story? Is it a story she’s been told? Is it about a fictional character? Is it a purely fictional story? No one has a definitive answer but personally, I believe it’s a fictional story but that she’s drawn from past emotions – how it felt to hide a relationship, how it felt to not be the priority in a relationship, how it felt to be in a deteriorating relationship, how it felt to be messed up by a relationship – to write a song so convincing and so heart-wrenching. You can feel her resignation over how this special, if ultimately wrong, relationship has lost what made it beautiful and how worn down she is by the lies and secrecy. Variety‘s review of folklore commended Taylor for just how well she describes “the more mundane details of maintaining an affair with the soul-destroying ones.” Soul-destroying is certainly a fitting word for the emotional journey this song takes the listener on.
The lyrics themselves are written from an interesting point of view; I can’t think of many songs with lyrics in second person. Taylor, our narrator of the story, seems to be talking to herself (until the very end at least). In the verses, she details the lengths to which she goes to keep this relationship a secret: lying to her friends, telling them she’s going for a run to cover up the flushed skin that would instead, it’s implied, be a result of sleeping with her lover; she doesn’t use the perfume she bought to wear for him just in case someone connects them and figures out what they’re doing. But the secrecy takes its toll. Wrapped up in these details is the depressing reality of the relationship, that it’s crumbling around her and the bad is starting to outweigh the good: she describes how the relationship has deteriorated in noticeable ways (“What started in beautiful rooms, ends with meetings in parking lots”), as well as how emotions have changed, how the early intensity and passion has faded (“A dwindling, mercurial high, a drug that only worked, the first few hundred times”). It also potentially reflects how her lover treats her and makes her feel: we could infer from the lyric, “What started in beautiful rooms, ends with meetings in parking lots,” that he’s no longer putting in the effort, that he doesn’t care enough to; he’s clearly okay with her leaving “no trace behind,” like she doesn’t exist and what they’re doing doesn’t matter to him. He must’ve treated her better at the beginning of the affair, otherwise it wouldn’t have lasted this long with such deep, complicated feelings developing, but it seems that that’s no longer the case.
The choruses describe the truth of an “illicit affair” and how they inevitably end. In the first chorus, she describes it as “born from just one single glance,” implying that the affair began quickly and passionately but it wasn’t long before it started falling apart slowly and painfully; there was a short period where it was magical but once that was over, the affair is only dying from that point on. Similarly, in the second chorus, she sings about how the first time shows them how amazing and beautiful their relationship could be but after that, it’s never as good again. They can keep trying to go back to that moment, they can believe that they can have that again, but they can’t. It’s a lie. She keeps telling herself she can end it, maybe even believes it, but she doesn’t, even when it’s so clear that it’s all deteriorating beyond repair.
The bridge is where everything comes to a head, with every complicated emotion boiling over. How dare he patronise her, calling her ‘kid’ and ‘baby’ when he’s made such a mess of her, drawing her into a stressful, demoralising web of lies and secrecy? How dare he try to placate her with pet names – names that you use with the person you love, the person you make your priority – when he’s turned her into such a fool, someone who won’t put their morals ahead of their feelings, someone who won’t leave a relationship even when they’re miserable most of the time? They had something special, something that only the two of them shared – something that maybe only the two of them together could ever share – and now it’s gone; whether they’re breaking up or the relationship has just collapsed around them, it’s over. But instead of saying these things, she admits with resignation that, despite it all, she would do it all again – again and again and again. She would “ruin” herself for him. She would do it and he would let her. As Rolling Stone astutely puts it, “She wants to scream, ‘Look at this godforsaken mess that you made me,’ but she doesn’t. Instead, she boils her hurt down to final words, a sign-off for the ages. ‘For you, I would ruin myself,’ she sings. ‘A million little times.'” Both the melody and lyrics in this section are incredible, so powerful and emotionally satisfying, as heartbreaking as they are. The way Taylor depicts the moment is so vivid: you can feel her frustration with the situation, with being talked down to (‘kid’ is something pretty condescending to call an adult you’re having an affair with and screams of a power imbalance, whether that’s to do with age or something else entirely), with herself for allowing him so much power over her. And the ways she describes what makes the relationship so special are beautiful: that he had her seeing colours she didn’t know existed; that they had a language all of their own… Those things are so special and would feel so once-in-a-lifetime. It’s not hard to sympathise with why she didn’t want to let go of such a relationship, with the fear of never finding another one like it. And then suddenly the song is ending, with no final chorus. Not unlike an affair, it ends unexpectedly and without closure. It just ends and all that’s left is the torrent of emotion created. It’s an exquisitely written song. To quote Aaron Dessner: “This feels like one of the real folk songs on the record, a sharp-witted narrative folk song. It just shows her versatility and her power as a songwriter, the sharpness of her writing. It’s a great song.”
(It’s somewhat amusing to me that Taylor, a highly regarded and respected songwriter, uses ‘you’ twice in the same phrase, referring to two different people, and yet if I handed in a song on my Masters course – a Masters in songwriting, in case you’re new here – I would get somewhat of a bollocking before being told to rewrite it. God help me if I turned it in as part of a formal assessment.)
The arrangement is gorgeous and I think it really reflects the emotion of the song. The guitars are intimate but melancholy; to me, the picking pattern sounds like rain and I can’t help picturing Taylor standing out in the rain when I listen to it. The layers slowly build through the song: it sounds like there are multiple synths filling out the chorus that continue into the second verse; while there are backing vocals right from the beginning of the song, they really burst into life in the bridge, accompanied by rich strings and percussion, all which really elevate Taylor’s vocals and the emotion in them. And then, as the vocal fades and the song draws to a conclusion, the arrangement returns to the original guitar that we heard in the intro. It’s devastatingly symbolic of the relationship: now that it’s over, to everyone but the two of them, it will be like nothing ever happened.
I wasn’t sure, initially, how I felt about this song. I found the melody of the verses a bit disjointed but when I heard the choruses, it made my heart ache because, while the situations are very different, I’ve been in a very similar place and felt very similar emotions. From there, I was all in (plus I loved the use of words like ‘clandestine’ and ‘mercurial’) but even if I hadn’t been, the bridge would’ve done it. Finally the narrator is being honest, if only with herself, and all of the agony and fury is finally being released. It’s such a powerful moment. Listening to it made me feel strangely vulnerable, like it was revealing how I’d felt after my similar experience. It left me breathless and emotional and weirdly drained but in a cathartic kind of way. The song will always be special to me because of that.
One final note: I’m so intrigued as to what inspired her to write this (as well as the love triangle of songs), so curious to know where these characters came from. I do whole heartedly believe that, at the very least, there is some genuine Taylor emotion in every song, if not more specific personal elements like certain lyrics or even the entire inspiration behind a song. So I wonder what train of thought or emotion led her to create these songs. Are they a fictional re-telling of a situation she experienced, first or secondhand? Are they real stories told from different perspectives? Were they songwriting experiments? Or something else entirely? During folklore: long pond studio sessions, she said: “This is the first album where I let go of that need to be a hundred percent autobiographical because I think I felt that I needed to do that, and I felt like fans needed to hear, like, a stripped-from-the-headlines account of my life. And actually it ended up being a bit confining because there’s so much more to writing songs than what you are feeling in your singular storyline. And this was the first time that I ever was, like… I think it was spurred on by the fact that I was watching movies every day; I was reading books every day; I was thinking about other people every day; I was kind of outside my own personal stuff and so I ended up just, like… I think that’s what ended up being my favorite thing about this album is that it’s allowed to exist on its own merit without it just being, ‘Oh, people are just listening to it because it tells them something that they could read in a tabloid.’ To me, it feels like a completely different experience.” I can totally understand that but, as someone who loves solving songwriting puzzles, I’ll probably always wonder, always analyse the lyrics for new interpretations, even though I doubt we’ll ever get any official answers.
Favourite Lyrics: “And you wanna scream / Don’t call me kid / Don’t call me baby / Look at this godforsaken mess that you made me” OR “And you know damn well / For you I would ruin myself / A million little times”
11. invisible string – I have mixed feelings about this song. On the one hand, I love the concept. It reminds me of ‘The Red String of Fate’ from Chinese mythology (although it doesn’t surprise me that Taylor changes it to gold as that is an oft referenced colour in her current relationship, which the song is clearly about – it could also have wedding ring connotations, not necessarily to be taken literally but as a metaphor for their commitment to each other). I like the evolution of the lyrics in the choruses when talking about time, from “curious” to “mystical” to “wondrous,” from “gave me no compasses, gave me no signs” to “cutting me open, then healing me fine” to “gave me the blues and then purple pink skies,” reflecting a journey from insecurity to something beautiful. I also love the bridge; I think the mix of metaphor and imagery is just exquisite (“A string that pulled me / Out of all the wrong arms right into that dive bar / Something wrapped all of my past mistakes in barbed wire”). And I think that’s where I struggle with the rest of the song: the rest of the lyrics feel a little simplistic for Taylor, just describing events without any deeper emotion. Plus I found beginning lines with descriptive words, like “green” and “bold” for example, kind of clunky (this, I believe, is called ‘Topicalization,’ where you put a word or phrase at the beginning of the sentence instead of its canonical position further along in the sentence to emphasise the action or feeling ahead of the subject). In an album that showcases Taylor’s lyrical ability so beautifully, I just feel like this one doesn’t quite meet the standard set by the other songs.
And personally, I’m not a huge fan of the production. I think I would’ve preferred the main instrument to be piano, or even a strummed guitar part rather than the picking pattern. I just find the muted sound a bit thick and in contradiction to the lightness of the melody. I also feel like there’s a similar muting effect on her vocals that just takes the emotion and… shine out of her voice. Regardless of my feelings about the song itself (we all have our favourites after all), I feel like the production could’ve brought out so much more in the song. Yes, the production style of the album is very understated but I think a different arrangement and approach to the production might have resulted in something more fitting, especially when the standard of production is so high.
Favourite Lyrics: “A string that pulled me / Out of all the wrong arms right into that dive bar / Something wrapped all of my past mistakes in barbed wire / Chains around my demons, wool to brave the seasons / One single thread of gold tied me to you”
12. mad woman – To me, this has always very clearly been a personal song, although it’s written in a way that reflects a bigger feminist issue. For Taylor herself, it’s a retaliation to Scooter Braun’s behaviour since buying her Masters. She doesn’t name him directly but in folklore: long pond studio sessions she does talk about the direct inspiration for the song: “a person who makes me feel — or tries to make me feel — like I’m the offender by having any kind of defence to his offences. It’s like, “Oh, I have no right to respond or I’m crazy,” “I have no right to respond or I’m angry,” “I have no right to respond or I’m out of line.”” And that links to the wider inspiration and message of the song, a feeling she picked up on the moment she heard the track: “‘Oh, this is female rage. Like this is a song about female rage, it has to be. I have to figure out a way to make this be about female rage.’ And then I was thinking… the most rage-provoking element of being a female is the gaslighting that happens when, for centuries, we’ve been expected to absorb male behaviour silently: silent absorption of whatever any guy decides to do. And oftentimes when we, in our enlightened state and our emboldened state now, respond to bad male behaviour or somebody just doing something that was absolutely out of line and we respond, that response is treated like the offence itself.” Aaron Dessner described it as “the most scathing song on folklore” and “one of the biggest releases on the album.”
Lyrically, the first verse details Taylor’s reaction to Braun’s behaviour (as one article put it: “Even when she came to battle with the RECEIPTS about this issue, she was still being labelled as the crazy, untamed, aggressive woman in the argument versus two white men. Need I say more?”), likening herself to a scorpion that will obviously and understandably lash out and sting when attacked and not only that but go for the kill to protect itself. Then she moves on to a different image, asking him, “What do you sing on your drive home? Do you see my face in the neighbour’s lawn?” For those of you who don’t know, labels and publishers in Nashville usually have banners on their front lawns to celebrate their writers’/artists’ achievements so when Taylor sings this lyric – followed by, “Does she smile? Or does she mouth, ‘Fuck you forever’?” – she’s asking him how it feels to see her face, knowing that, while he might own her music, he doesn’t own her. She didn’t get trapped. Since she would most likely be smiling in this sort of photo, we can infer that she’s asking him if, when he looks at the photo of her, he just sees the photo or if he sees more, if he sees her utter contempt for him.
The pre-chorus is a classic example of the gaslighting that she describes in folklore: long pond studio sessions: “Every time you call me crazy, I get more crazy, what about that? And when you say I seem angry, I get more angry.” There is nothing more infuriating than being called crazy or angry when you are legitimately angry about something and when a man does it to a woman to sway general opinion against her, it’s incredibly demeaning and unbelievably sexist; Borchetta and Braun “tried to paint her as a ‘mad woman’ and make it seem like she was blowing the situation out of proportion, calling her rightful complaints ‘temper tantrums,’ but rather than biting her tongue, she embraces the image of a ‘mad woman’ but turns it back on them (x).
In the chorus, she sings both about the power of a ‘mad woman’ (“There’s nothing like a mad woman”) and how the label can take a woman’s power away (“No one likes a mad woman”), placing the blame squarely on those who inspired the song, Braun and, partially, Borchetta (although Braun really is the target of her hatred in this song). The lyrics, “And you’ll poke that bear ’til her claws come out, and you find something to wrap your noose around” are incredibly clever and contain so much in so few words: ‘to poke the bear’ refers to the idea of aggravating a bear, pushing it further and further, until it attacks and the phrase ‘the claws are coming out’ is most commonly used to patronise or make fun of women when they show even the smallest amount of anger. Taylor uses these common expressions to portray how she has been treated, that she’s been pushed to her limit and now she’s pushing back, only for them to use it against her, “to wrap [their] noose around” (which could be a reference to killing her, killing her reputation, ‘cancelling’ her). This experience isn’t Taylor specific, of course; most women have experienced this to some degree. The song really rests on her clever usage of the word ‘mad’ and its double-entendre: she plays with the different meanings and how they use it to describe her as crazy rather than angry, as she continually refers to herself throughout the song.
The second verse continues in this vein – that she has no intention of backing down – but also branches out with the lyric, “And women like hunting witches too, doing your dirtiest work for you,” depicting how sometimes women can be complicit in this behaviour. In this specific situation, this is likely a reference to how Braun’s wife wrote a long rant on Instagram, twisting Taylor into the villain behind every difficult experience she’s been through (even ones that have been proven – with publicly available evidence) and belittling her response to the sale of her Masters by calling it “a temper tantrum because [she] didn’t get [her] own way.” Other women in the industry also defended him and yet, Braun stayed silent. Interpreting the following lyric – “It’s obvious that wanting me dead has really brought you two together – through that lens, it could be inferred that Braun and his wife’s joint dedication to undermining Taylor brought them closer. In a wider context, it’s a good example of how hating on someone – often through social media – unites people, regardless of who they are. While social media is wonderful in many ways, it has made this behaviour much easier and it spirals much faster than it could offline.
(This lyric parallels the bridge of ‘I Did Something Bad,’ when Taylor sings: “They’re burning all the witches even if you aren’t one,” linking them through the theme of witch hunting – a powerful metaphor. One article about the album explored this idea further: “Personally, I like to think this track is the anthem of all the women who were accused of being witches during the Salem Witch Trials. And just like all those women were falsely accused, Swift has been villainized time and time again throughout her career. But this time, she’s retaliating, owning the title of being a ‘mad woman’ – and she’s not holding back.”)
After another pre chorus and chorus, we reach the bridge. Taylor describes “taking [her] time” – whether in exacting her revenge or something else; it’s left up to our interpretation – after Braun took everything from her (i.e. her Masters), after watching him do the same or similar to others. She calls him the “master of spin,” presumably alluding to the lies he ‘spins,’ and accuses him of cheating, of having “a couple side flings.” The following line – “Good wives always know” – implies that Braun’s wife knows about these affairs but rather than make a fuss, even though she should be (and would be entitled to be) as angry about it as Taylor is about her Masters, she plays the part of a good wife and keeps her mouth shut in order not to be perceived as “unlikeable,” “crazy,” or “mad.” Because “no one likes a mad woman.”
We don’t return to the established chorus but instead an outro of what could be considered the most important lines of the song, the ones that really drive the message home: “No one likes a mad woman, what a shame she went mad, you made her like that.” As written in the Variety review, “It’s a message song, and the message is: Swift still really wants her masters back, in 2020. And is really still going to want them back in 2021, 2022 and 2023, too.”
Lyrically, I think it’s really clever and I love how unapologetic Taylor is, always going straight for the jugular and never pulling her punches, with lyrics like, “And women like hunting witches too, doing your dirtiest work for you” and “I’m taking my time, taking my time, ’cause you took everything from me, watching you climb, watching you climb over people like me.” But the sheer amount of metaphors – and unrelated metaphors at that – does irritate me a bit when I’m listening to it. We’ve got scorpions, bears, nooses, breathing fire, cannons and yachts, and witches. None of them of are inherently bad (although, in this context, the imagery attached to the phrase ‘poke that bear’ feels a bit weak) but with so many different metaphors, I find it a bit cluttered. If she’d used half the amount or used multiple similar metaphors, I think it would’ve felt smoother.
Production wise, my initial feeling was that it should’ve been bigger and more forceful; I think I was imagining it in the style of reputation. Instead it’s led by a piano with the rise and fall of the track subtly guided by the other instruments: the acoustic guitar, the strings, and the light percussion. But the more I listened to it, the more this minimal style of production completely made sense. Not only does it fit in nicely with the rest of folklore, but it emphasises the lyric and, as I said in my original thoughts on the song, “the calm, beautifully honed steel approach is probably more effective, given the subject matter” as it refuses to feed into the narrative that Braun has been trying to force onto Taylor. As Taylor herself once said, “the moment you raise your voice, you lose your power” and this is a perfect example of that. Yes, she’s angry and unapologetically so but she’s not going to let him tell the story.
Favourite Lyrics: “Do you see my face in the neighbour’s lawn? / Does she smile? / Or does she mouth ‘fuck you forever’?”
13. epiphany – On the surface, I feel like this song is very straightforward: it’s about a soldier and a doctor/nurse/medical professional during the pandemic and the similarities between their experiences, how they go through certain things that they may not ever be able to talk about because of how truly devastating they are. But when you go beneath the surface and get into the details of the song and why Taylor wrote it, it becomes even more powerful. In folklore: the long pond studio sessions, Taylor says, “I had been doing a lot of research about my grandfather who fought in World War II at Guadalcanal which was an extremely bloody battle. And, you know, he never talked about it — not with his sons, not with his wife, nobody got to hear about what happened there. And so, my dad had to do a lot of research and he and his brothers did a lot of digging and found out that my grandad was exposed to some of the worst situations that you could ever imagine as a human being. And so, I kind of tried to imagine what would happen in order to make you never speak about something and when I was thinking about that, I realized that there are people right now, taking a twenty minute break in between shifts at a hospital, who are having this kind of trauma happen to them right now that they will probably never want to speak about, you know? And so, I just thought like, this is an opportunity to maybe tell that story.”
I love the simplicity of this song; the clean, uncomplicated language is almost stark against the atmospheric arrangement, but that starkness makes it beautiful, allowing the raw emotion of these very emotional situations to shine through without distraction. It makes them so utterly heart-wrenching where more flowery language could convolute the purity of a song like this one. The direct descriptions in the lyrics, such as “Crawling up the beaches now, ‘Sir, I think he’s bleeding out'” and “Something med school did not cover, Someone’s daughter, someone’s mother,” combined with the light, delicate vocal delivery – almost as if the words themselves are fragile – has such a powerful impact.
“And some things you just can’t speak about” is clearly the most important lyric in the song, the destination line as my lyrics tutor would describe it: it pulls together everything she says in the song with heart-aching clarity. She’s describing these events but with minimal detail, an example – intentional or not – of Sondheim’s “content dictates form,” i.e. the simplicity of the lyrics reflects the fact that, as an outsider, it’s impossible to truly understand these circumstances and the effects they have unless we’ve been through them ourselves. Taylor is an outsider to these situations, as are most of us as listeners, and as Taylor herself is stating in the song, those who have experienced them may never be able to speak to what they saw and felt. As I said, I don’t know if she’s done this intentionally but it’s something that’s come back to me time and time again as I’ve listened to the song.
Personally, I really love the lyric, “With you I serve, with you I fall down,” because it’s such a simple and sincere promise and yet, to make that promise… it’s a big deal. It’s such a big thing to say to someone – or a group of people – ‘I am with you, whatever happens.’ Even writing about it makes me emotional.
Aaron Dessner confirms the inspiration behind the song: “It’s partially the story of her grandfather, who was a soldier, and partially then a story about a nurse in modern times. I don’t know if this is how she did it but, to me, it’s like a nurse, doctor, or medical professional, where med school doesn’t fully prepare you for seeing someone pass away or just the difficult emotional things that you’ll encounter in your job.” He also elaborates on the link to the pandemic and how Taylor has linked the two narratives within the song: “In the past, heroes were just soldiers. Now they’re also medical professionals. To me, that’s the underlying mission of the song. There are some things that you see that are hard to talk about. You can’t talk about it. You just bear witness to them.”
Musically – and production-wise – it’s a really interesting song. What I originally thought was a synth or a pad was actually revealed by Dessner to be a drone sound that he created: “It’s lots of different instruments played and then slowed down and reversed. It created this giant stack of harmony, which is so giant that it was kind of hard to manage, sonically, but it was very beautiful to get lost in. And then I played the piano to it, and it almost felt classical or something… those suspended chords. I think she just heard it, and instantly, this song came to her.” That sounds like such a fascinating process and I would love to see what the production project looked like when he put the drone together: I’m still basically a beginner when it comes to production but I find it so intriguing (almost as magical as songwriting itself) and I’m endlessly impressed by the amazing things producers are able to do. Oh, and I freaking love suspended chords. Maybe that’s why I’ve always loved the production of this song. As Dessner said: “There’s something else incredibly soothing and comforting about this song. To me, it’s this Icelandic kind of feel, almost classical. My brother did really beautiful orchestration of it.” Plus there’s something so poignant about how the music doesn’t really resolve, just like the situations she’s writing about; when you can’t talk about something – to anyone – it’s never going to be over.
Dessner’s also super complimentary about Taylor and her musical abilities: “She just has a very instinctive and sharp musical mind, and she was able to compose so closely to what I was presenting. What I was doing was clicking for her… I think the warmth, humanity and raw energy of her vocals, and her writing on this record, from the very first voice memos — it was all there.” (x)
One article I read about this album, about this song, said something that’s really stuck with me: “The line about holding hands through plastic also makes me wonder how the pandemic has affected and will continue to affect relationships. In the era of COVID-19, what’s the best way to greet friends and family? Hugs, handshakes and kisses have now become things of the past, and there’s still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the situation. In this time of chaos and unrest, all we can really hope for is some sort of epiphany.” I’ve thought about this quote a lot. While things are starting to return to what we recognise as normal (in the UK, at least – although for how long, who knows?), I have no idea how long it’s going to be before things feel normal again. I can’t speak for anyone but myself but I still struggle daily with how everything has changed and it’s like running at a wall, expecting it to move. I’m still trying to process the last eighteen months, still don’t know what to do with all of it or where to put it in my brain. I guess I’m still waiting for my own emotional epiphany.
While I think this song is beautiful and I feel it deeply, I have to confess that it’s often one I skip. I have to be in the right mental and emotional state to listen to listen to it, otherwise it just feels too upsetting. The pandemic still feels just so raw and World War II had a dramatic effect on my family so, personally, it’s a very emotional song and if I don’t always feel emotionally together enough to listen to it. It can just be too much for my emotions to handle.
Favourite Lyrics: “With you I serve, with you I fall down, down”
14. betty – And with ‘betty,’ the Teenage Love Triangle is completed with James’ side of the story. The song details the overall story: that James felt like he made the effort to go to a dance for Betty only to see her dance with someone else and then went on to spend a summer with the girl from ‘august.’ This information gets back to Betty but James claims that he’s young and didn’t know any better and that the fling didn’t mean anything because he was thinking about Betty the whole time anyway. (It’s worth mentioning that although Taylor sees James as male, as do I, there are fans who see James as female and the Teenage Love Triangle as a queer story; as far as I’m concerned, however you interpret this story is valid.) I know that this song is a fan favourite and while I think Taylor and Joe did a great job of telling this story from a teenage boy’s point of view, I have to admit that it’s one of my least favourites of the whole album. I just think James is a selfish idiot and could not connect to him or feel sympathy for him as a character. Yes, he feels bad for hurting her but that doesn’t make up for the laundry list of questionable behaviour up to that point: after seeing her dance with another guy, he spent a month sleeping with someone else; thinking that somehow thinking of her the whole time he was cheating makes things better; he wasn’t even the one to tell her he’d cheated and she had to find out from someone else; thinking that he can just show up to her party, ambush her in front of a group, and ask her to take him back; dismissing her friends as ‘stupid’ (probably because they’ve been telling her that she deserves better than him and how he treated her); justifying cheating by saying that he’s only seventeen and therefore doesn’t know any better. And that’s just the surface level. After all of that, he really thinks she’s naïve and/or blind enough to forgive him? The key change at the end suggests that he thinks she will but dear god, I hope she doesn’t. (I found all the reviews begging her to run for the hills hilarious: “No, James, Betty dancing with another boy in a high school gym is not comparable to you being with someone else for a whole month,” “[James] spends the summer cheating with another girl and expects that he can just show up at Betty’s party to ask for forgiveness,” and “Ugh, Betty, do not take James back.”)
Favourite Lyrics: “Would you tell me to go fuck myself or lead me to the garden?” (Mainly because never would I ever have imagined I’d hear Taylor Swift sing the words, ‘would you tell me to go fuck myself,’ even when playing a character.)
15. peace – When I first heard ‘peace,’ I cried and cried and cried. It was the most beautiful love song I’d ever heard. It still ranks up there with the best. I love the gentleness of the music and production, the calm but assured wanderings of the melody, and the utter commitment expressed in the lyrics; it’s a really beautiful song. It’s one of my favourite songs on folklore and I loved it even more after listening to Taylor and Aaron Dessner talking about it during folklore: the long pond studio sessions…
TS: “With the song ‘peace,’ when you sent me the instrumental, the first word I thought of was… this is what peace sounds like. It’s got this amazing bass line that just made me feel like, ‘this is serenity, this is peace.’ And then I was thinking, maybe you just start with the obvious and then think about how that could be told in an interesting way that kind of goes against the title. Like, “I could never give you peace” over the most peaceful sounding instrumental track… I think this is a song that is, like, extremely personal to me because there are times when I feel like, with everything that’s in my control, I can make myself seem like someone who doesn’t have an abnormal life and I try that every day. Every day, it’s, like, how do I make myself amongst my friends and family and loved ones, not seem like this big elephant that’s in the room for our normal life? Because I don’t want that elephant in the room. If you’re going to be in my life, I feel like there’s a certain amount that comes with it that I can’t stop from happening. I can’t stop from getting a call in the morning that says, ‘The tabloids are writing this today.’ I can’t help it if there’s a guy with a long lens camera two miles away with a telescope lens taking pictures of you. I can’t stop those things from happening and so the song was basically, like, ‘Is it enough? Is the stuff I can control enough to block out the things that I can’t?’ So it makes me really emotional to hear this song and to know that a lot of people related to it who aren’t talking about the same things I’m talking about. They’re talking about human complexity…”
AD: “Yeah. I love that about the record in general and this song specifically. ‘Cause to me, it’s about… I have, in my life, suffered from depression, and I’m a hard person to be in a relationship with or be married to because I go up and down. And I can’t help it. It’s a chemical thing that happens sometimes. And music is a way of dealing with that for me. Um, and just somehow the song captures the fragility of what that’s like… to be in a relationship with someone who may or may not have peace… But that’s, again, my interpretation.”
TS: “And someone who you would want to provide with peace… You know, someone that you love, so that you want them to have as much peace as possible and reconciling the fact that you might not be their best option for that, but is it still a deal they want to take?”
It was, as always, really interesting to hear Taylor’s process and her thoughts behind the song but it was also a cool counterpoint to hear Dessner’s interpretation, as someone with a very different life to Taylor (and also as someone who struggles with their mental health and how that can affect a relationship).
Musically, it’s gorgeous and I can completely see why Taylor heard it and thought of the word ‘peace.’ There’s this lovely lightness to it but it’s also deeply sincere, if that makes any sense. It’s one of the few songs where the production has been talked about widely, maybe because it’s one of Dessner’s favourites: “That song is just three harmonized bass lines and a pulse. I love to play bass like that – play one line then harmonize another, and another, which is a behavior I stole from Justin Vernon, because he’s done that on other things we’ve done together. And actually, that’s his pulse, he sent me that pulse and said, ‘Do something with this.'” There’s also been lots of commentary on her vocal – done in one take, according to Dessner – which it definitely deserves. Taylor’s voice moving over the notes is almost like watching a dancer, every movement chosen deliberately to carry the story but executed effortlessly, light and natural. One review described the song as “different from all the others in the sense that the power completely rests on Taylor’s raw vocals” and another highlighted the second verse in particular: “The second verse almost feels improvised. Her vocals are a little off-kilter and wandering (“give you my wild / give you a child”), but I think it works so well here. We rarely hear Taylor stray off the pop-melody path, no matter what the production choices are. But ‘peace’ is almost conversational, and her vocals shine.”
The lyrics are also beautiful, mixing metaphor and personal details seamlessly. The song opens with “our coming-of-age has come and gone, suddenly this summer, it’s clear.” The ‘coming-of-age’ – especially as it’s referred to as our ‘coming-of-age’ – could either reference growing up or their relationship moving into a more mature, settled phase (or both) and, to me, it sounds like the summer mentioned could be a specific moment when Taylor had a personal realisation, especially given the next line: “I never had the courage of my convictions as long as danger is near, and it’s just around the corner, darlin’, ’cause it lives in me.” She never felt able to stand up for herself and what she believed was right because of this perceived danger but just as we’re being lead to believe that the danger is external – “near” and “just around the corner” – like the pressures of the industry and media, Taylor smoothly takes us down a new, still fairly untravelled path in her music: the depth of her fears and insecurities and the potential they have to destabilise her relationship. This brings her to the conclusion that she can “never give [him] peace.”
But despite this realisation, she is committed to this relationship: “But I’m a fire and I’ll keep your brittle heart warm if your cascade, ocean wave blues come.” She’ll do everything she can to help him through hard times (as, we can infer, he has for her, considering the similarity to the lyric, “he built a fire just to keep me warm,” from ‘Call It What You Want.’) The line, “all these people think love’s for show,” could refer to the longstanding (and I think we can agree, deeply tired) narrative that dating is her way of mining inspiration for her songwriting or the equally tedious theory that she dates famous men to keep herself in the public eye (despite her repeatedly talking about how difficult she finds the public nature of her life). The closing line of the couplet – “but I would die for you in secret” – neatly cuts that narrative off at the knees. But it also shows her complete and utter commitment to her partner: the act of dying for the person you love is just that… an act. An action, one to be witnessed and applauded. Because what a heroic thing that is to do. But it’s much more heroic and shows so much more love if you’re willing to do that for someone without anyone ever knowing; there’s no agenda or validation, it’s a pure act of love. Taylor described the line, “the devil’s in the details, but you got a friend in me,” by saying, “it’s like, ‘yeah, the devil’s in the details. Everybody’s complex when you look under the hood of the car.’ But basically saying, ‘I’m there for you if you want that, if this complexity is what you want.'” And then, after all of these promises to be there for her partner, she asks, “Would it be enough if I could never give you peace?” She would give him everything but is that enough if she can’t give him peace? Is that peace a sacrifice he’s willing to make to be with her?
In the second verse, she describes how good a person her partner is and how that can, at times, fuel her insecurities: she greatly respects him but sometimes doesn’t feel that she can be good enough for him. However she does compare two pretty different scenarios as if they’re on par with each other: he, painting pictures of ideal futures for them and opening up this whole new world, and her, blowing off steam and maybe even criticising him with her friends (who won’t break her trust and tell anyone, going by passed experience). But the comparison shows that she feels like he’s always doing the ‘good things’ and she’s doing the ‘bad things.’
Rather than moving into another chorus, the song wanders into unknown, unexpected musical territory as the story continues to unfold. Given that the section begins with “you know that,” it seems that, although Taylor has been speaking to her partner throughout the song, here she seems to be reiterating things she’s already said to him, perhaps because of how important they are to her. She assures her partner that she’d “swing for the fences” – a metaphor for putting your all into something – and sit “in the trenches” – a metaphor for waiting out the hardest times – with him, symbols for her commitment to stay with him through the good and the bad. “Give you my wild” could imply that she’s willing to give him everything, give him all of herself, and “give you a child” is a clear reference to wanting a future and a family with him; basically she’s all in. He and his family are now a part of her family, a family they’re building together. But still, she needs to know if that is enough? She’s prepared to give him everything, give him the best she has, but she has to be sure that he understands what this life involves. There will always be rain, the Scooter Brauns (“robbers to the east”) and Kanye Wests (“clowns to the West”); there will always be harsh weather threatening their good days.
From there, we return to the chorus, to Taylor’s promises of commitment, and her ultimate question: “Would it be enough if I could ever give you peace?”
During her Entertainment Weekly interview post-folklore, Taylor talked a little about the writing of ‘peace’: “You have this very conflicted, very dramatic conflict-written lyric paired with this very, very calming sound of the instrumental. But, ‘the devil’s in the details,’ is one of those phrases that I’ve written down over the years. That’s a common phrase that is used in the English language every day. And I just thought it sounded really cool because of the [alliteration of the ‘D’] sound. And I thought, ‘I’ll hang onto those in a list, and then, I’ll finally find the right place for them in a story.'” As you probably know by now, I love getting an insight into Taylor’s songwriting process, even little snippets like this one. Given her songwriting ability and skill, I just want to learn as much from her as I can.
Many people have expressed the opinion that ‘peace’ should’ve been the last track of folklore (although ‘the lakes’ did skew that view and Taylor’s comments about it have changed how people view the album) but I can still see it as an excellent closing track. It’s both positive and realistic and it gives us an incredibly personal view into Taylor’s life. But as I said, I can see why, for her, ‘the lakes’ was the obvious closing track.
It’s still one of my favourites from folklore and one of my favourite love songs. What makes it so good is that it’s so real: whether it’s dealing with difficulties around fame or difficulties around mental health, there’s always something that makes us doubt whether what we have to give to a relationship is enough. I know that my ASD and my mental and physical health problems make me feel that way. So to have a love song like this means a lot. It’s just so gorgeous and it has such a real, vulnerable message: “I can’t give you peace, I can’t give you solace, but I’ll give you everything else.” That’s not a romanticised promise of love, it’s a real one. And the real ones are always the most beautiful.
Favourite Lyrics: “As long as danger is near / And it’s just around the corner, darlin’ / ‘Cause it lives in me / No, I could never give you peace” OR “And you know that I’d swing with you for the fences / Sit with you in the trenches”
16. hoax – In the early days of listening to this song, I thought the lyrics were stunning but I couldn’t help thinking that it was very unlike Taylor to leave them so unlinked, to leave the story they’re telling so vague; she’s usually so specific and cohesive in her storytelling, the lyrics airtight even if they’re more metaphorical than literal. No story was clearly decipherable. No theory seemed to fit with all of the lyrics; there was always something that didn’t make sense. That didn’t stop it being beautiful and I still enjoyed listening to it – felt the emotions that were heavy in the song – but I couldn’t help feeling frustrated by my inability to understand it. It was only when Taylor talked about it in folklore: the long pond studio sessions that I think we all realised that we were struggling to make sense of it because Taylor had struggled to make sense of it. She describes asking Dessner for his advice: “I think I said, ‘What if not all of these feelings are about the same person? What if I’m writing about several different, very fractured situations? Like, one is about love, and one is about a business thing that really hurt, and one is about a sort of relationship that I considered to be family, but that really hurt… I had the moment of, like, ‘I don’t usually do this. I usually know exactly what I’m writing about.’ And I was really happy when you kinda pushed me forward, like, ‘Nope, do the thing that makes you uncomfortable.’ Because I think that’s what makes it a song that really, to me, stands out. That line about, “You know it still hurts underneath my scars from when they pulled me apart.” Like, anyone in my life knows what I’m singing about there. Everybody has that situation in their life where it’s, like, you let someone in and they get to know you, and they know exactly what buttons to push to hurt you the most. That thing where the scar healed over, but it’s still painful. They still have phantom pain. I think the part that sounds like love to me is, “Don’t want no other shade of blue but you, no other sadness in the world would do.” It sounds like… To me, that sounds like what love really is. Like, ‘Who would you be sad with? And who would you deal with when they were sad?’ And like, ‘Grey skies every day for months, would you still stay?'”
Now, there’s some serious guesswork from this point on. We know that the song is about Taylor’s love for Joe, about the loss of her masters, and what seems like the breakdown of her relationship with Scott Borchetta. So we can assume that every lyric is about one of these three things, just not as obviously separated into sections as we’re used to in Taylor’s songwriting. Again, this is my interpretation of what the lyrics relate to and it may be entirely wrong.
The first verse seems to be about the loss of her masters: her “only” body of work, the loss of them “eclipsed” the sun and made the world dark, the very personal nature of the betrayal (Borchetta selling to Braun) could be the “twisted knife,” her “winless fight” could refer to her battle to get her original masters back, and so on. The experience has “broken [her] down” and “frozen [her] ground” – it feels like her world has been decimated.
In the chorus, she describes standing “on the cliffside,” which could be a metaphor for a new future, one that was completely unexpected, and “screaming, ‘Give me a reason,'” is a clear and desperate plea for understanding. It’s a haunting image but a very beautiful one. The lyric, “Your faithless love’s the only hoax I believe in,” continually befuddles me, I think due to the combination of “faithless” and “hoax.” It feels a bit like a particularly confusing double negative and I’ve had to google it so many times. But as far as I can tell, it’s saying, ‘the idea that your love is without conviction is untrue and I believe it’s untrue.’ There’s all this new doubt and hurt and fear in her life but this is the one thing she’s sure of, highlighted by the following lyric: “Don’t want no other shade of blue but you, no other sadness in the world would do.” She loves him and wants to be with him and even the hardest times can’t change that.
Verse two continues with the theme of the loss of her masters, but she starts to bring in the perpetrator of her pain into the lyrics. Her “best laid plan” could refer to her desire to buy her masters or her approach to the sale of her masters – that she’d made peace with the sale and prioritised her future – or both but his (I think we can safely assume that’s Borchetta) “sleight of hand” – his deception and betrayal around the sale of her masters – has lead to the devastation she feels, her “barren land.” His destructive fire has left her in ashes.
She repeats the chorus before moving into the bridge. Much like in ‘peace,’ many of the lines begin with “you know” or “you knew” as if she’s talking to Borchetta directly, pointing out that he knew these things and yet he hurt her anyway. She describes leaving a part of herself in New York, potentially when she disappeared after she was ‘cancelled,’ when the media and the public turned against her; it’s not uncommon to feel like we leave a part of ourselves or a version of ourselves in the place where something traumatic happened to us. The next line is one that’s always stuck with me, I think because it’s just so beautiful but so hopeless: “You knew the hero died, so what’s the movie for?” It’s like asking, ‘if you knew how this was going to end, what was the point of it all?’ Borchetta sold her masters to Braun – the one person she didn’t want having them – and, not only that, he then continues to put up this front, discrediting her, calling her a liar, and acting as if she’s a child who didn’t get her way. He’d gotten what he wanted so what was the point of continuing with this charade? It seems exceptionally cruel given their previous relationship. He had to know he was making himself the bad guy – thus the hero died – when he made the deal with Braun but he still made the deal and he still turned on Taylor in the aftermath. In a film, if the hero dies, all hope is lost. And it seems that that’s true, especially since he did it even though he knew she was still working through everything that happened during and at the end of the 1989 era: “You knew it still hurts underneath my scars from when they pulled me apart.” That goes so far beyond insult to injury, to hurt her that way when he knew she was still struggling.
The second half of the bridge begins with “You knew the password so I let you in the door,” implying that she felt she trusted Borchetta longer than she should’ve, based on their previous relationship. But then he betrayed her, selling her masters and turning against her, constantly undermining her and angling to get the last word whatever the cost: “You knew you won so what’s the point of keeping score.” She reiterates the painful truth, “You knew it still hurts underneath my scars from when they pulled me apart,” but, this time, she adds a new layer: “But what you did was just as dark, darling, this was just as hard as when they pulled me apart.” The idea that what Scott did to her was just as bad, just as difficult to cope with, just as painful, as being ‘cancelled’ really reveals just how devastating the experience was for her. We might never have truly understood that without that comparison.
Traditionally, we would return to the chorus but this final section is different. She’s no longer standing on the cliffside, no longer asking for a reason. Maybe she doesn’t feel she needs one anymore. Instead it’s a verse-like section and it seems to have returned to her feelings for Joe. “My only one,” a repetition from the first verse, likely still relates to her masters and “My kingdom come undone” could refer to her life’s work being out of her control. The lyric, “My broken drum, you have beaten my heart,” is both a beautiful and interesting one. Because of the use of ‘beaten’ – synonymous with something like conquered rather than the literal playing of a drum – I can’t help thinking this means that, with all the damage done, all the pain she’s gone through and is still dealing with, Joe has made his way through all of that to her, that he fought through all of it to be with her and stay with her, which makes even more sense since it’s followed by the lyric that Taylor herself described as what love really is: “Don’t want no other shade of blue but you, no other sadness in the world would do.” The fact that he has shown this to her has truly revealed to her that she feels the same way about him.
This is obviously just one interpretation of the song. But it does make me think differently about some of the other songs, ‘the 1’ for example. In an early interview, long before folklore: the long pond studio sessions, Aaron Dessner said, “‘the 1’ and ‘hoax,’ the first song and the last song, were the last songs we did… She wrote ‘the 1,’ and then she wrote ‘hoax’ a couple of hours later and sent them in the middle of the night. When I woke up in the morning, I wrote her before she woke up in LA and said, “These have to be on the record.” She woke up and said, “I agree. These are the bookends, you know?”” So it seems that these two songs are connected. Given that Taylor has confirmed ‘hoax’ to be about Borchetta and her masters in part, that would imply that ‘the 1’ is as well. I wonder if the could’ve-been-relationship Taylor is reflecting on in ‘the 1’ is actually her relationship with Borchetta and Big Machine, had everything gone differently.
Personally, I think it’s musically perfect. The arrangement is sparse, all of the space making the instrumentation and Taylor’s voice (and harmonies) all the more impactful. The delicate piano accentuates the vulnerability and honesty of the lyrics beautifully – really, I think the whole song could’ve been vocal and piano and it would’ve worked. The additions of soft, high strings adds another layer of emotion; the moment they come in, I always feel the urge to cry. The low guitar or bass (it’s hard to tell – I’m not super experienced at arranging, or analysing arrangements) adds a weight to the section, emphasising the importance of it in the song. The track is still relatively simple and stark, even with these additions, but there’s also a warmth to it by the end, potentially reflecting her certainty about her relationship, about the person she loves.
For Dessner, this song is a favourite: “After writing all these songs, this one felt the most emotional and, in a way, the rawest. It is one of my favorites. There’s sadness, but it’s a kind of hopeful sadness. It’s a recognition that you take on the burden of your partners, your loved ones, and their ups and downs. That’s both ‘peace’ and ‘hoax’ to me. That’s part of how I feel about those songs because I think that’s life. There’s a reality, the gravity or an understanding of the human condition.” I think what he says is very true, especially about ‘peace’ and ‘hoax’ and how sharing the burdens of your partner is what love is about.
And, finally, I love that folklore: the long pond studio sessions gave us another little insight into a song and the process of writing it. Of ‘hoax,’ Taylor said, “The word ‘hoax’ is another word that I love ’cause I love that it has an ‘x,’ and I love the way that it looks, and I love the way that it sounds.” I love that that was part of her motivation for using the word; she’s such a writing nerd. I love it. She also talked about why it’s the last track on the album, or the original version of the album at least: “I think that this song being the last song on the album, it kind of embodied all the things that this album was thematically. Like confessions, incorporating nature, emotional volatility and ambiguity at the same time, sort of love that isn’t just easy.” folklore: the long pond studio sessions was such a gift, giving us so much insight into such a beautifully complex album. I know that some people love to simply listen to the songs and get lost in them but, for me, the meaning behind them is often what makes them so powerful. And I guess I can love the songs both for what they mean to Taylor and for what they mean to me at the same time.
Favourite Lyrics: “Stood on the cliffside / Screaming ‘Give me a reason'” OR “You knew the hero died so what’s the movie for? / You knew it still hurts underneath my scars / From when they pulled me apart”
17. the lakes – With previous albums, the bonus tracks have always been just that: bonus tracks. For the first time, the bonus track was considered an intrinsic part of the album; it was referred to by many as ‘the real end’ of the album. That obviously added significant weight to it as a track if Taylor had deliberately chosen to end the album on this note (no pun intended).
I thought this article in particular summed the song up really well: “The lyrics depict her concerns that she may not be cut out for the modern world of cutthroat competition, blistering criticism, and social media. Rather, she longs to retreat to nature with her love like the poets of yore. It is a haunting elegy with beautiful vocals and a tentative outro that perfectly caps this nuanced and emotional work.” And Taylor’s comments during folklore: the long pond studio sessions give us an incredibly in-depth understanding of the song, the likes of which we don’t often get: “I think ‘the lakes’ sort of sounds like a testament of what I wanted to escape from and what I saw myself escaping.” She talks about visiting the Lake District (in England) and the various poets (that have become known as the Lake Poets) that moved there: “And I remember when we went, I thought, ‘Man, I could see this, you know? You live in a cottage and you’ve got wisteria growing up the outside of it and you just… Of course they escaped like that, of course they would do that.'” And that inspired ‘the lakes’: “So ‘the lakes’ is really talking a lot about relating to people who hundreds of years ago had the same exit plan and did it, they went and did it. I went to William Wordsworth’s grave and just sat there and I was like, ‘Wow, you did it. You just did it! You went away and kept writing but you didn’t subscribe to the things that were killing you.'”
I have to admit that I struggle with this song for several reasons, one of which is the language she uses. I don’t know whether it’s because I’m autistic or not, but sometimes I come across phrases that just don’t make sense to me or get under my skin and dig at me. I rarely have this problem with Taylor’s lyrics but there are a handful of moments in the lyrics of ‘the lakes’ that I find difficult, such as the opening line: “Is it romantic who all my elegies eulogize me?” I’ve had to research it to get even a basic understanding of what Taylor’s saying here but it seems to be a comment on her legacy: elegies are often described as ‘a lament for the dead’ while to eulogise someone means to ‘praise highly in speech or writing’ so the phrase “my elegies eulogize me” could reference how Taylor is known for her break up songs (songs about sad experiences) and how that may be a big part of her legacy. Prefacing it with “is it romantic” sounds like she’s questioning if that’s what she wants her legacy to be. There’s also potentially (and likely, given that this is Taylor) a double meaning to the word ‘romantic,’ which could also refer to ‘romantic poetry,’ poetry that focusses on emotions, imagination, individualism, ‘solitary life rather than life in society,’ love of nature, and fascination with the past, as a rough overview, many things that Taylor has focussed on throughout her writing but especially so on folklore. She goes on to state that she’s “not cut out for all these cynical clones, these hunters with cell phones.” These three lines all reference scenarios that she only has to deal with due to her level of fame and the way the industry (and media) currently works, things that she’s not at all sure she wants to deal with, things that don’t feel healthy for her, her life, her relationships, and so on.
In the chorus, Taylor describes her own desire to escape to the Lakes – somewhere where she can feel what she really feels and be who she feels she really is and keep doing what she loves – feeling disconnected from the world she lives in. But she won’t go without her partner, without her love and her muse. This is another part of the song I struggle with: the lyrics don’t match what she’s saying about the song. They didn’t go to the Lake District to die (only one of them died there); they went there to create in peace, which is what Taylor has said about them and has implied that that is something that appeals to her, but that doesn’t match the lyric she’s written. In fact, “Take me to the Lakes where all the poets went to die, I don’t belong” sounds suicidal, like she’s planning to follow in Virginia Woolf’s footsteps and drown herself in a lake. The whole thing completely goes against what she’s described as her intention for the song. All of this has made the song quite upsetting (and even triggering at times); if you don’t interpret it that way, that’s fine. I’m happy for you! But that was my gut interpretation and I haven’t been able to shake it off.
In the second verse, she sings, “What should be over burrowed under my skin in heart-stopping waves of hurt.” It’s not clear what it is that “should be over” – it seems most likely that she’s referring to everything that happened post 1989 in 2016 but given the rest of the verse, she could also be talking about all the betrayal and pain around the sale of her masters – but it is clear that, while she’s telling herself it shouldn’t hurt anymore, it still does; it’s not unlike the lyric, “It still hurts underneath my scars from when they pulled me apart,” from ‘hoax.’ The second half of the section – “I’ve come too far to watch some namedropping sleaze tell me what are my Wordsworth” – has multiple layers. “I’ve come too far” could refer to all the work she’s done to process and recover from 2016, as if to say, ‘I didn’t let that destroy me so I’m not going to let this destroy me either.’ The “namedropping sleaze” no doubt refers to Scott Borchetta or Scooter Braun (or both), both of which put a price on her lyrics and her words when they sold and bought her masters respectively (not forgetting Borchetta’s proposal that Taylor could ‘earn back’ the albums she’d already made). By spelling ‘words worth’ as ‘Wordsworth,’ Taylor gives a nod to William Wordsworth, the famous English poet who was, in fact, one of the pioneers of Romantic poetry.
After another chorus, we arrive at the bridge. She sings, “I want to watch wisteria grow right over my bare feet ’cause I haven’t moved in years and I want you right here,” which, again, has multiple layers of meaning. Wisteria is a deeply symbolic flower with different significance from culture to culture: it can mean longevity, beauty, love, tenderness, support, good luck in marriage, patience, honour, sensitivity, creativity, and wisteria blooming on the vine can signify a searching for new knowledge and our expanding consciousness. Wisterias are known to live extremely long lives (sometimes a hundred years or more) and so could also represent Taylor’s desire to put down roots, somewhere where she feels safe, able to stay there – with her partner – for so long that these flowers can grow unchecked over and around her.
The second part of the bridge begins with the image of “a red rose grew up out of ice frozen ground.” Again, lots of symbolism! Red roses are well known symbols of love and the idea that this particular rose “grew up out of frozen ground” could well represent a love that somehow managed to grow and thrive in the harshest conditions, a comparison perhaps for Taylor’s relationship with Joe during the fall out of 2016. Roses cannot survive in extreme cold but somehow, this rose did, a metaphor for a relationship that shouldn’t have been possible but somehow was and is. And it’s all the more special for it’s rarity. Followed by the lyric, “with no one around to tweet it” can be taken literally and metaphorically. Literally, it could refer to the fact that this relationship wasn’t public knowledge for months and even after the world found out, they’ve rarely been photographed together despite being together for almost five years. Looking at it from a different, wider perspective, it could be making a comment about social media, similar to something Taylor said in a 2013 diary entry found in one of the Lover journals: “I am of the generation where you see a beautiful flower growing up through the cracks in the sidewalk, and you pick it. You take it with you to show everyone. Whereas I think our ancestors might come upon a beautiful flower and stop and think, ‘Wow, that is really beautiful.’ Nevermind that picking a flower kills it, the same way taking a picture of a moment can ruin it altogether. They need to possess things. They need photographic proof that they were there. They need to then post that photo online so their friends can see it. So that they can spend all day checking the comments underneath.” (While I can recognise that she has a point, I do think this is a pretty big generalisation to make about a big group of people. Many people take photos to record a moment, one that they’ll potentially never have again – is that so wrong as long as you take the time to enjoy the moment as well? I’ve been keeping physical photo albums since I was about fourteen and they bring me such joy, looking through them and recalling the little details that had been forgotten over time. It’s true that some people are very focussed on their social media postings but I don’t think it’s fair to say that this whole generation is.)
And the bridge ends with the lyric, “while I bathe in cliffside pools with my calamitous love and insurmountable grief.” (It’s worth noting that cliffs appear in multiple songs – including ‘this is me trying’ and ‘hoax,’ both representing a moment involving life-changing decisions.) This line could be interpreted in so many ways but, to me, “calamitous love” describes a love so big and so powerful that it could destroy you if it ever went wrong, which we can reasonably assume refers to Joe as this songs appears to be highly personal and “insurmountable grief” is a pretty apt description for all grief – when you’re in it, grief feels never-ending. And in some ways, it is. This grief could be about the ongoing fall out from 2016, the loss of her masters, her mother’s health, or something we have no idea about. But the point is made by the word “and”: she can feel both of these feelings at once, as all-consuming as they can both be.
And then we’re back to the chorus but with one extra, final line: “No, not without you.” She’s emphasising that, as much as she loves the idea of this escape, she wouldn’t even consider it with her partner, her beloved, her muse.
As I said, I struggle with this song and, at many times, it’s lyrics. I love Taylor’s use of more striking language in songs like ‘illicit affairs’ (such as ‘mercurial’ and ‘clandestine’) but there it felt natural in the song, whereas here it feels kind of clunky, pulling the listener out of the flow of the song. At least that’s how it feels for me. The combination of this language and the use of modern (potentially dating) words and phrases like ‘hunters with cell phones’ and ‘tweet it’ is pretty jarring, like she’s trying to combine two clashing linguistic styles within one song. So, since lyrics are the most important part of a song to me, this isn’t one of my favourite songs on folklore. I can understand why people like the romantic, poetic style of it but I much prefer Taylor’s more conversational, personal lyrics.
Musically, it’s busy after the starkness of ‘hoax’ with an orchestral arrangement reminiscent of something you might hear in a historical drama, drifting out of a radio that’s almost as big as a person. This feels very cohesive with the poetic language although I’m not sure it totally fits with the sound of the rest of the album.
And when it comes to the release of the track, I think it was a really interesting move to hold it before releasing it as the real closing track of the album. Taylor explained the decision on folklore: the long pond studio sessions: “I thought it would be the perfect way to slot the last puzzle piece in right when people least expected it. Because ‘hoax’ as the ending song of the record… I thought it was interesting for a couple weeks but then I wanted to come in with the real last song of the record which is a song that is kind of the overarching theme of the whole album: of trying to escape, of having something that you want to protect, trying to protect your own sanity, and saying, ‘Look, they did this hundreds of years ago. I’m not the first person to feel the way. They did this.'” This yearning for a relatively normal life – a life that allows her to do the thing she loves and live her life with the people she loves but without the elements that have been so damaging – isn’t something that Taylor’s kept a secret but it’s clear that writing this album (and writing it during a global pandemic) has brought her much closer to that life, without actually needing to completely disappear: “And that’s really the overarching thing that I felt when I was writing folklore… I may not be able to go to the lakes right now, or to go anywhere, but I’m going there in my head and this escape plan is working.”
(During my research around this song, I found this explanation of the song and I just really loved it: “‘the lakes’ is simultaneously a song about Taylor’s earnest desire to find a sense of peace and safety in an otherwise chaotic time while also celebrating the legacy of the legendary Lake Poets who have, no doubt, had a palpable impact on her life (as well as her music) at this point in time. It’s about all the things the great poets wrote about: love, grief, fear, pain and life with all of its uncertainties. It’s about her sincere wish to share her life and her love with someone who truly means more to her than anything. It’s about her journey to find her way back to “self” after years and years of never-ending nonsense. It’s a bittersweet love letter to the man who has been there to hold Taylor’s hand through some of the worst moments of her life and has loved her unconditionally.”)
Favourite Lyrics: “I want auroras and sad prose / I want to watch wisteria grow right over my bare feet / ‘Cause I haven’t moved in years / And I want you right here” OR “With my calamitous love and insurmountable grief”
I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to accurately sum up my feelings for this album: they’re just so big and so complicated. It came out at a moment when I so desperately needed it (as I know many people also feel), it’s so beautifully written, it explores so many situations and so many emotions, it allows me to explore emotions that I’ve avoided… And so on and so on. There are so many things I could say. There are so many more things about the songwriting I could say. Like, the film motif that runs through album, mentioned in ‘the 1,’ ‘cardigan,’ ‘exile,’ and ‘hoax.’ There’s a great post on reddit about this theme that explains it much better than I ever could. But to paraphrase, it talks about how stories often belong to the person telling it, how stories are not just told but retold, and the importance of how these stories are told, what that means for us as the listener. It’s a really interesting post and highly recommend reading it.
I’ve thought about how it compares to previous albums but I don’t think there’s any point to that because it’s so different. I mean, Taylor has always worked to differentiate each album from the previous one but she really takes it to the next level with this one. I wonder if she ever would’ve written it, or anything like it, had the pandemic not happened. As Taylor said in folklore: long pond studio sessions, “There’s something about the complete and total uncertainty of life that causes endless anxiety, but there’s another part that causes a sort of release of the pressures that you used to feel. Because if we’re going to have to recalibrate everything, we should start with what we love the most first and I think that was what we were sort of unconsciously doing with this.” It seems that she wouldn’t have, at least not straight away. Maybe she would’ve found her way to it eventually – in fact, I’m sure she would have, considering what she said about feeling confined by autobiographical writing – but the pandemic clearly played a bit part in both the creation of the album and the songs she wrote for it.
But despite the changes she made with this album, it still sounds so her. It’s funny, every time she tries something new, I think, ‘god, she was just made for doing this, exactly this’ and then she does something new and I think it all over again. I actually just presented a paper at a musicology conference about her songwriting and how the way she writes, the techniques she uses, make her an utterly unique writer regardless of genre. And now, as I’m wrapping this up, I find a quote that I saved for the conclusion months ago: “Swift has spent the past fifteen years developing an internal world of melody and song structure so sui generis that her songs now belong more to her than to whatever sonic palette she’s working in at any given time. Take ‘Better Man,’ the 2016 power ballad she wrote for country group Little Big Town, or ‘This is What You Came For,’ the EDM hit she co-wrote for Rihanna that same year. Dressed up slightly differently, either song could have fit seamlessly on any of Swift’s last three albums – because at heart, neither of them is a country song or an EDM song, so much as they’re both Swift songs.” I often think how goddamn lucky I am to be alive – and the age I am – at the same time as Taylor, able to watch her grow and succeed and experiment. I know there are many people who feel the same. I learn more from her every day, as a songwriter and as a person, and I feel so lucky and so grateful for that.
There’s one last quote that I want to share, one from folklore: long pond studio sessions, because I relate so deeply to the first feeling Taylor describes: “I often feel with this album… there have been times in my life where things have fallen apart so methodically and I couldn’t control how things were going wrong and nothing I did stopped it. And I felt like I had just been pushed out of a plane and I was scratching at the air on the way down, like, I felt like the universe is just doing it’s thing – it’s just dismantling my life and there’s nothing I can do. And this is a weird situation where ever since I started making music with you [Aaron Dessner], I felt like that was, like, the universe forcing things to fall in place perfectly and there was nothing I could do. It’s one of those weird things that makes you think about life a lot, where this lockdown could’ve been a time where I absolutely lost my mind and instead, I think this album was a real flotation device for both of us.” I relate almost painfully to the feeling of being “pushed out of a plane” and “scratching at the air on the way down.” And much like Taylor, songwriting has always been the thing that kept me going. But during the beginning of the pandemic, I was so depressed and so terrified that I couldn’t write at all. It was only as folklore came out that I was starting to find a fragile grip on it again and just as Taylor describes it for herself, folklore was a flotation device for me. It inspired me, it helped me find writing again, it helped me find my centre again and I will forever be grateful for that, for her, in one of the scariest times of my life.
Category: autism, covid-19 pandemic, depression, emotions, event, favourites, mental health, music, quotes, response, video, writing Tagged: aaron dessner, album review, anxiety, asd, august, autism spectrum disorder, autistic, autistic adult, betty, bon iver, cardigan, covid-19, depression, epiphany, exile, favourite lyrics, folklore, folklore album, folklore: the long pond studio sessions, grateful, hoax, illicit affairs, invisible string, jack antonoff, justin vernon, lyric writing, lyrics, mad woman, mental health, mirrorball, my tears ricochet, pandemic, pandemic 2020, pandemic anxiety, peace, seven, songwriting, songwriting analysis, special interest, special interests, taylor swift, the 1, the lakes, the last great american dynasty, this is me trying
Posted on December 31, 2020
What the fuck was this year? I don’t even know. To think I ended 2019 with the phrase: ‘2020, please be kind.‘ I really don’t know how to write about this year. Time has become a bit of a nebulous concept and after a lot of thought, the only way I could divide up this year was by separating it into three ‘chapters’: pre-pandemic, lockdown-into-summer, and semester three of my Masters. It’s a bit of a weird system but then, is there anything about this year that hasn’t been weird?
So, here we go. This is my review of 2020, a year I’m sure none of us will ever forget.
The beginning of the year, the two and a half-ish months before the pandemic became less about ‘wash your hands’ and more ‘we’re going into national lockdown’ (in the UK anyway), feel impossibly long ago and kind of frighteningly busy. Looking back through my photos, it’s so odd to think that that version of me – of all those people in the pictures – had no idea what was coming. And now we’re entirely different people. I mean, I know I’m a completely different person because of the last nine months. I’m only speaking for myself but I imagine that a lot of people can relate to that feeling. I look at photos of myself from January, February, March and I almost don’t recognise myself…
Anyway, on with the review.
I wrote up January at the time because it was such a busy, emotional month. I had a frantic Christmas break, preparing for my January assessments (due to a misunderstanding about the assessment, a lot of my research wasn’t helpful and so I had to redo it so I got almost no free time during that holiday). That was incredibly stressful, as was the presentation, and I was beyond exhausted afterwards. And between the second single of the Honest EP, ‘Clarity,’ coming out and the very distressing DSA assessment in the following week, I didn’t really get any rest between the first and second semesters. And to top it off, I was pretty upset about the grade I received and by the time I felt coherent enough to appeal it, the deadline had passed. But in hindsight, it was the first grade of the Masters with a very new approach to working and grading so it’s probably not that surprising, especially as an autistic student.
The new module I was studying, Musicology (“the scholarly analysis and research-based study of music”), was really interesting and for the most part, the lectures were really engaging, something that was definitely aided by how passionate my tutor was about the subject. I’ve known him since my BA and he’s so knowledgeable; he’s a really great teacher and he’s a big part of why I did so well in the module. Not that my tutor in the first module wasn’t great – she’s truly awesome and so inspiring and I learned so much from her – but I learned a lot about how the Masters worked in that first semester that I was able to put into practice for the second semester, making it easier on my mental health and helping me to work more effectively, which did result in a much better grade. I found the songwriting classes less inspiring but since I was challenging myself with FAWM (February Album Writing Month) for a big part of the module, that wasn’t too big an issue.
I got to spend some really good time with my friends, both in and out of uni. A couple of them came down from London to visit me, which was really nice. Others I spent time with at uni or around London. I also had lots of writing sessions with people, which was really, really fun. I love my uni friends so much – I love my non-uni friends as well, of course, but during the semester, I rarely get to see them because I’m so busy – and there are a solid handful of people I’ve met during my time at BA and MA that I know I’ll be friends with for a really long time. I feel like I learned a lot about friendship this year, as I mentioned in my grateful post, and I just feel so lucky to have met these people; they are so wonderful and I’ve found it really hard to be separated from them for so long. I’m so looking forward to seeing them again and being able to spend time with them in real life whenever that will be.
(I haven’t got photos with all of my friends from this year and I do like to use photos from the year I’m writing about but don’t worry, you’re most certainly not forgotten.)
As well as writing A LOT, I was releasing music and got to play several really, really fun shows but I want to keep the music stuff together so I’ll come back to those.
One sadness of that time was that my favourite place to eat in Brighton closed, first temporarily and then permanently. That was very sad and I know a lot of people were upset by it. They made amazing Belgian fries with loads of homemade sauces and drinks – that I LOVE – that I’ve only ever had when I’ve travelled to and around the Netherlands where I have family. And the staff were absolutely lovely and it was always such an enjoyable experience; I always took friends there when they visited Brighton. So that was a shock. With everything going on this year, I probably wouldn’t have been able to go (and I’m not sure it would’ve survived as an independent business) but I have missed it. It was a true Brighton gem for the time it existed.
I think it’s safe to say that the biggest part of January, the pre-pandemic part of the year, and possibly the whole year, was having to let go of our beloved Lucky, our nearly sixteen year old black Labrador who we’d first met at three days old. He was very old (most Labradors live to between ten and twelve) and had developed some very difficult health problems in the last year or so of his life. We got home one night and he didn’t get up. He didn’t lift his head. He didn’t wag his tail. He was just done. It was heartbreaking and one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever been a part of but the next morning we took him to the vet and they put him to sleep. It was awful and I still miss him everyday, even though I know it was the right thing to do. He couldn’t have been more loved, by us, by everyone he met. He was a bit of a legend. I still wish him back but, again, as I said in my Grateful post, I’m glad that he hasn’t had to live through the pandemic, the sensitive soul that he was; it would’ve been very stressful for him. And the idea that we might’ve had to have him put down during one of the lockdowns where we couldn’t be with him is unbearable, so I do take some comfort from that timing. Still, the house feels empty without him.
Life was fundamentally different after that but we kept going, day by day, and there were good moments. I got to see my course mates put on an awesome show at a local venue, Song Suffragettes announced that they were coming to the UK on tour (I’m pretty sure I dug into my savings to get a ticket for every show…), and my Mum and I celebrated Lucky’s sixteenth birthday, even though he was no longer with us. I’d been planning it and so we just decided to celebrate for ourselves. I think that, in the future, we will think of him or go on a specific walk or something to remember him, even if we don’t actually ‘celebrate’ his birthday. The date will just be an excuse to dedicate some time to thinking about him and all the years we had together.
As well as dedicating the month of February to FAWM, I also took on the #30dayfeb Challenge For Tommy’s, organised by my university tutor/friend/mentor/super inspiring person, Sophie Daniels, under her artist project name, Liberty’s Mother, to raise awareness about baby loss and money for baby loss focussed charities. The challenge involved doing something everyday for thirty days that was positive for your wellbeing; I saw a lot of people doing yoga, for example. I chose origami and made a different piece everyday. These were some of my favourites:
I was lucky enough to see several shows and concerts before everything closed down. That’s something I’ve really missed this year as they’re sort of THE thing that I spend my money on and go out to. I was going to see The Shires, Alanis Morissette, OneRepublic, The Phantom of the Opera, Hamilton, the Song Suffragettes UK Tour, Taylor Swift at Hyde Park, and Tin Pan South in Nashville – those last three cancellations in particular hit me the hardest. I’d been so looking forward to them so I was really, really upset when they were postponed and then eventually cancelled.
However, I did manage to see Halsey twice on The Manic World Tour, which was incredible. I love her, I love this album (it was one of my favourite albums of the year), and the show was just mind-blowing. It was awesome to see her get to play at The O2 Arena (her biggest headline show to date, I believe), especially on International Women’s Day. She’s an amazing performing but I also love how she speaks to the crowd; it feels like she’s speaking just to you. I wanted to run out of the arena ahead of all the crowds so that that illusion wouldn’t be broken. Both shows, but especially that show in London, felt very special.
I also got to see Sara Bareilles in Waitress The Musical several times. I’ve seen several actresses (all amazing) play Jenna but there was something really special about seeing Sara play her, as the person who’d written so many beautiful songs coming from her perspective as a character. It took a minute to stop seeing Sara as Sara and start seeing her as Jenna but once I’d gotten my head around that, I was just enthralled. She was fantastic and so special; I loved the show all the more for seeing her in the lead role. I was lucky enough to go a handful of times and of those, on several special occasions (sometimes on purpose and sometimes by accident): I saw Sara’s first show, I saw the one year anniversary of Waitress in London show, and I saw Sara’s final show, which also turned out to be Waitress’ final London show. So while I knew that show was special, I didn’t realise quite how special it was until much later. I tried my best to meet Sara (one day, I hope…) but for most of the shows, Sara was either out of the building before we could line up or we were hustled away pretty quickly. I did see her on the last night – she walked up and down the queue of people waiting and waved to everyone – but she didn’t stop to talk or take pictures or accept gifts because of the growing concern about COVID-19. That show was actually the last thing I did before we went into lockdown, not that I knew it at the time.
Everything changed very quickly. One day I was talking to my friend about plans we had later in the week and the next, she was on the plane home before the borders closed. I made the decision to start self isolating but before I would’ve had to go back to uni (or, having come to this decision, contact them about it), the classes were moved online.
The UK officially went into national lockdown on the 24th March. I’d already been self isolating for eleven days, as had my Mum, apart from necessary trips out (food shopping and business related stuff that had to be done in person). I had two weeks of online classes plus my assessment essay, which I was already working on. It’s strange: at the time, I wasn’t really aware of the outside world because I was a hundred percent focussed on my essay (and it was probably the most difficult, research heavy essay I’ve ever had to write). Maybe I was channeling all of my anxiety into that so that I didn’t have to engage with my paralysing anxiety about the pandemic. But then the essay was done and submitted and it all came flooding in.
Between the inevitable post semester and assessment period crash and the pandemic anxiety hitting me full force, I just went to pieces. I was either having meltdowns or staring blankly at old tv shows, too overwhelmed by fear to function. That went on for weeks and to be honest, it’s kind of a blur. I think I was in some sort of checked out, survival mode haze. I just could not cope. In hindsight (and in the few moments of coherent thought I had at the time) I was and am so grateful that I had that summer semester off. Many of my friends on the Masters were having to work on their final projects during one of the toughest periods of our lives (and created incredible work in spite of it) and I just could not have done it. My mental health was in tatters. Even now that I’m in a better, more stable place, I still feel deeply traumatised by the events of the last nine months: by the constant fear and paralysing anxiety, by the sheer overwhelming grief that so many people have experienced and are experiencing, by the confusion and frustration and outright horror at how the government – the people we depend on to lead us and take charge during extreme situations – have behaved. I mean, how do you cope with completely losing faith in your country’s leaders? Who are you supposed to turn to? Anyway. That could easily turn into a rant and that’s not what this post is about.
I’m not really sure when I started to come out of that because it was such a gradual process. But slowly, with LOTS of ups and downs, I started to feel more able to engage – if only with the people directly around me and the things that I enjoyed doing. Thank god for the cats (and Mum – I’ve talked about how grateful I am for her in my Grateful post – but we both agree that the cats were a lifesaver during the lockdown). They’ve been so good for my mental health this year. It’s so mindful to watch them; you can’t help but feel calmer, watching them play or snuggle and so on. Especially without Lucky, their cuteness and cuddles have been vital and the ridiculous playful moments have made me laugh even when it felt impossible. I’m so, so glad to have had them around during this time and they certainly seem to enjoy our constant presence at home; a day rarely goes by without one cat or another draping themselves over me. As I said, they’ve been a lifesaver. I don’t know how I would’ve made it through without them.
I had online therapy sessions but I struggled with them and often ended up cancelling at the last minute because they just felt too overwhelming. All I could think about was the pandemic and my fears around it; I didn’t want to dig into that even more and it felt impossible to talk about anything else. So my sessions were fairly sporadic throughout the lockdown and most of the year really. I think, in hindsight, therapy just felt too big, too overwhelming to be helpful while all of my emotions felt so incredibly heightened and raw. I was just focussing on getting from one day to the next. The cats were a big help; I started escaping into the worlds of new films and TV shows, like Absentia and Away; and I lived for the livestreams that a handful of people were doing in place of live shows. My favourites were Kalie Shorr’s, both because I love her and because she did so many of them. She did interviews with both interesting and entertaining questions, played covers, and played her own songs, released and unreleased. I’m so grateful to Kalie for doing all of that; they really helped me keep going, helped me get through the darkest of my pandemic-induced depression.
As I said, towards the end of the first UK lockdown, I became a bit more functional, although it was like balancing on a tightrope: one little knock and I was plunging back into overwhelming anxiety and depression. And it happened a lot. But I also had better, more productive moments. I managed to write a couple of songs (which is pretty monumental what with my mental health being so bad); I had writing and production sessions with Richard; I started gentle music theory lessons in preparation for the upcoming semester with one of my parents (she’s a music teacher); I spent a lot of time playing piano (I started experiencing awful nerve pain in my left hand – as well as in my back and leg – during the first lockdown so playing guitar was basically impossible); and I stayed up until almost six am to watch Ingrid Andress’ first livestream show and chat with her in a meet and greet session afterwards. So I was doing just about okay. Probably the biggest help was that all of my family (and most of my friends) were being exceedingly careful around going out: fortunately able to work at home, they only went out for essential trips, like food shopping and picking up medication, etc. I’m so grateful to them for that. So beyond grateful.
The lockdown began to loosen and more and more people were out, which I found terrifying. The silence outside had been weird at first but suddenly every little sound turned me into an anxious mess. Hearing people converse outside the shop we live above, for example, caused so many panic attacks (for fear that those people were spreading the virus). It was awful. For most of the summer, I kept the windows and curtains closed, enclosing myself in my own protective little bubble. It was the only way I could find to protect my mental health. With the gyms opening, I was desperate to swim again (as I’ve previously mentioned, it’s the only exercise I can do) – both for my physical and mental health – but I just didn’t feel safe at my usual pool. Their precautions just didn’t feel tight enough. On the plus side, after various COVID tests, I finally got to see my brother for the first time in months – longer than I think we’ve ever gone without seeing each other. We were still careful but it was so, so wonderful to see him.
Meanwhile, music stuff (mostly to do with the Honest EP) was still happening. Again, I want to keep most of this together (I’ll probably put it all in one paragraph towards the end) but I think this particular day is important beyond the musical context. I’d spent a lot of time worrying about the music video for ‘Back To Life,’ the next single due to be released at the time because my original idea wasn’t going to be possible during the pandemic, even with the lockdown restrictions having been loosened. Richard and I spent a long time discussing it and eventually came up with a plan…
The filming of the video was a big deal for me. I found it very difficult and very stressful being out for so long (even though our planning meant that, of the videos we shot for the EP, this one took the least time) and just being near people caused me a lot of anxiety, even down on the beach at the water’s edge. We were incredibly careful and I did manage to enjoy it to a certain extent but I’m grateful not to have to do another music video under such conditions. It took everything out of me; I spent the next three days on the sofa, barely able to move from the exhaustion. I have no idea how I managed to look so relaxed and even happy in the video. But, as I said, I’ll talk more about it when I talk about the whole EP process this year.
The rest of the summer was pretty gentle. I was trying really hard to improve and manage my mental health. It still wasn’t great but I was coping better than I had been earlier in the pandemic. So I spent a lot of time doing things that have proven to be good for my mental health: I listened to the Taylor Swift’s new album, folklore, on repeat; I played a lot of piano; I wrote songs when I could; I had video calls and online movie nights with my friends; I kept writing for the blog. I took part in research projects involving Autism Spectrum Disorder, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Depression, and Anxiety; helping out with these always gives me a mental and emotional boost because it feels like some good is coming out of my difficulties, even if they don’t improve my experience directly. I also watched the final season of Agents of Shield, my favourite TV show ever. That was a very emotional experience because the show, and the character of Daisy Johnson, have been a really important part of my life over the last few years and the emotional processing of stuff from my childhood.
And I continued to work on my music theory as the module was based on these concepts and I wanted to be as prepared as possible but I found the idea of going back to university very stressful. I really didn’t want to defer so I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to do in terms of the new semester, what I felt safe doing. I’d originally thought that I’d much rather defer than do online or blended classes but now that the semester was almost upon me, I felt a lot less sure. After a lot of thought and discussion with my family and course mates, I decided to go back as an online student. It wasn’t ideal because of the lack of social interaction and how much harder it made cowriting sessions but I didn’t feel safe commuting to London to be in a building full of people from all over for just two hours a week. It just felt like too much anxiety for not enough reward. Online seemed like the most productive way forward. But even with that choice made, the process of going back to university, getting clear information, the correct timetable, etc, was incredibly stressful, causing meltdown after meltdown after meltdown. I really wasn’t at all sure whether I was going to be able manage university classes during a pandemic.
SEMESTER THREE OF MY MASTERS
The beginning of the semester was a bit rocky as the university tried to make blended classes (the online and onsite groups combined as one using Microsoft Teams) but in the end, it was simply easier and a more productive use of the time to split the onsite and online groups. My groups were great and everyone was really supportive and encouraging, tutors and students alike. Plus it was fun to work regularly with Richard again. The work was hard and the songwriting briefs difficult since musical language isn’t my strong point but after really positive meetings with both of my tutors, I never felt like I couldn’t ask for help or miss a brief if I needed to. As long as we was experimenting with our music – with the use of melody, harmony, arrangement, etc – and turned in the assessment work, everyone was pretty relaxed about what we were working on.
Despite a pretty heavy workload, I managed to get up to quite a lot during the semester. I celebrated my 26th birthday with the family I could and had a couple of socially distanced meet ups with friends; it was simple and quiet but I’m not really into big celebrations anyway. It would’ve been nice to see more of my family though.
I saw a lot of really awesome live-streamed shows, including Ingrid Andress at The Bluebird Cafe, various shows throughout the virtual Country Music Week and Nashville’s Tin Pan South Festival (I’m so grateful that we didn’t lose out on them entirely because of the pandemic), Halsey’s poetry book release day livestream, Maren Morris’ livestream concert, and Kalie Shorr’s charity StageIt show. But my personal highlights were Sugarland’s livestream show, Kalie’s ‘Unabridged For The First Time’ show (even though technical difficulties meant I missed bits of it), several of the Tin Pan South shows, and Tim Minchin’s ‘Apart Together’ livestream show.
I also attended several webinars and conferences about ASD and mental health, as well as actually speaking at one. That was a really special experience, being invited to speak on a panel and share my experience about being autistic. I felt like I was really able to use my experience to help other people and several of the attendees confirmed how useful my contributions had been. So that felt like a really significant moment.
Even though I was still on the course, many of my friends did the Masters in one year rather than two. They had a virtual graduation ceremony, which I attended in support. They all created such incredible work and under such difficult circumstances; I’m so proud of them and can’t wait to see what they go on to do. Some of them have already released really cool and interesting work and I know that many more are working on really cool projects. We had a celebratory drink via video call afterwards, which was good fun. I hadn’t seen a lot of them since March so I really enjoyed that.
I finally found somewhere to swim that actually felt safe, or as safe as possible: they had really strict safety measures. So I finally got to swim again and it was awesome. Each session gave me such a mental boost and it felt so good to exercise and really stretch my muscles again. I couldn’t get there as often as I would’ve liked (they spread the bookings out to keep the numbers low) but it was absolutely wonderful to be going again. It was erratic, especially with the second lockdown and most of the country now in Tier 4, but I enjoyed every second of it while I had it and I will again when the pool reopens.
The swimming was also good for the nerve pain in my back and leg. A few months earlier, I’d been diagnosed with hypermobility (very common with autistic individuals) and referred for hydrotherapy, which I’m unlikely to get for a while, but the swimming and basic exercises I’d been given did help. Or they seemed to anyway. I’ve also been referred to Rheumatology, Occupational Therapy, Pain Management, and had an MRI just to rule out anything unrelated to being hypermobile. It’s been a very slow process but I feel like we are starting to make progress, which feels really good.
The US Election was obviously a massive deal and not just in the US. I’m really glad that it fell during my reading week because there’s no way I would’ve been able to concentrate on classes. I’m honestly surprised by how much work I got done that week, given how much time I spent checking the news outlets for updates. In the end, it was Richard who texted me that the result was in. I shrieked, I laughed, and then I cried. I was so relieved.
Apart from swimming, the second lockdown didn’t change much for me. I was spending most of my time at my laptop, working on uni stuff. I had to turn in a portfolio of songs and an essay on the 4th January and, determined to get an actual break this year (unlike last year), I worked super hard: I wanted to have all of the work done before Christmas. So the end of the semester was intense and suddenly it was the last week, the session with Richard, and then the Christmas holidays. I worked every day from the end of the semester to Christmas Eve but I did manage to get all of the work done, which I was very proud of.
Christmas was weird. We obviously couldn’t see our larger family but then we couldn’t even see my brother because London went into Tier 4 (and then we went into Tier 4 on Boxing Day). I’d been prepared for a very different Christmas but it didn’t really emotionally hit me until a few days before and then I found it pretty difficult. We tried to embrace the difference: we decorated our tree with origami creations rather than our usual decorations; we structured our day differently… we kept it as different as we could so that the forced differences (like the lack of my brother) didn’t stick out so much. But we still managed to have a good day, I think. My brother and his partner had made a really great quiz, which we all had so much fun doing. That was definitely the high point for me. We were all together, laughing our heads off, and that felt really good.
I also just want to throw in here that there were some really great albums released in the fourth quarter of the year, which definitely boosted my spirits and inspired me a lot. There was Taylor Swift’s folklore: long pond studio sessions, which was both incredible and a fascinating look into the stories and emotions explored throughout the album; Kalie Shorr released the deluxe version of Open Book, Open Book: Unabridged, which included four new tracks, all of them as stunning as the original album tracks, if not even better – ugh, can you tell I love this album? And then, as if folklore wasn’t a big enough surprise, Taylor Swift released a second surprise album, evermore, which was another amazing album. The three of these, plus Manic by Halsey, were the musical highlights of my year. I love them all and I learned so much from them as a songwriter.
We’ve had a quiet few days up to new year, which is good. It’s been nice to have a bit more space to breathe, if that makes sense; there’s a bit less pressure in my life at the moment. Having said that, being in Tier 4 with a spike in COVID cases, has caused my anxiety to rise again.
And that’s the year…
So it’s time to talk about the music. With more content coming, I don’t want to go into too much detail; I kind of want to save the real round up for when everything is done, but I do want to do a quick review of my musical year because I think this is the first year where I’ve really felt like a professional singersongwriter. Of the five tracks on the Honest EP, all but one were released this year (the first single, ‘Bad Night,’ came out late last year). The second single, ‘Clarity,’ came out in early January with an accompanying music video; it did even better than ‘Bad Night’ and was even selected as BBC Sussex & BBC Surrey’s BBC Introducing Track of the Day. That was very cool!
I got to play a handful of gigs, all of which were so much fun. I headlined one of Indigo Eve’s nights, where people both waved their phone lights to a song and sang along to another. It was one of best gigs I’ve done and one of the best nights of the year. I played as part of my university’s songwriters’ circles, which is probably my favourite uni event; it was particularly special because it was the LGBTQ+ History Month special. That meant a lot to me and it was a great round. All of the performers were fantastic and the atmosphere was so positive. Looking back at my Instagram post about the show, I said, “I’m just on a joy train!” That was very accurate; it was a wonderful night. I was also invited to perform in the foyer of The Brighton Dome for their Access Open Day event; it was so much fun and I was giddy about the fact that I was performing there again when it was the first place I publicly performed. And before the lockdown started, I even managed a day in the studio, recording a fun project with some friends.
Everything slowed down when lockdown began but with a lot of help from Richard, we did eventually get the EP cycle moving again, starting with the release of ‘Clarity (Academic Remix)‘. A month or so later, the third single of the EP, ‘Sounds Like Hope,’ came out, followed by a music video beautifully animated by the lovely Lois de Silva. This one didn’t do as well as the previous two but it was a much slower, less radio friendly song so that wasn’t surprising. Having said that, it got some of the highest praise of the EP so although it didn’t reach as many people as the others, it seemed to really resonate with the people who did hear it.
The summer was a very exciting time, in terms of the EP. I got to ‘perform’ in the virtual Disability Pride Brighton Festival: they played the ‘Invisible‘ music video and it was streamed online and on TV! That was very cool: seeing myself on the television for the first time! Then, as I described earlier, Richard and I planned and filmed the music video for ‘Back To Life.’ I was very anxious about putting this one out, given its upbeat sound and title during the pandemic. But in the end, I decided that to leave it out would be to release an incomplete body of work, as the song is an important part of the EP. So I announced it with this message: “Given the difficult and often distressing times we’re currently experiencing, I seriously considered delaying the release of new music, especially as we reach the more upbeat songs on the EP. But I didn’t want to leave the story half told. This song represents the upward turn after a painful chapter of my mental health and it feels important to include because while there are brutal lows, there are also wondrous highs. They’re all important and all part of the journey.” (x) I released the song in August, hoping that people would understand that the title was metaphorical, rather than literal. It didn’t do quite as well as the others had but given everything, I wasn’t surprised. It may have done better in a world without the pandemic but then we’ll never know, will we? Richard edited the video – with my feedback at various stages – and despite it not being what I’d originally imagined, I absolutely loved it. I’m really proud of it, especially given the circumstances and stress under which it was made.
And then, in October, I released the fifth and final single of the Honest EP, the title track, ‘Honest.’ It’s my favourite song on the EP and putting the last of our budget into promoting it, it did really, really well – the best of the EP. I’m so proud of it: the song means so much to me. It felt fitting to have the music video show some of the weird and wonderful ‘behind the scenes’ of this EP process…
As I said, the project isn’t over yet so I don’t want to write anything that sounds like too much of a conclusion but I’ve learned so much from it, from this year. I’ve learned a lot, dealt with enough stress that it’s probably taken years off my life, and never been so proud of anything I’ve done. I can’t wait to share the rest in 2021…
This blog post spiralled into something much bigger than I thought it would. But then, given that ‘normal life’ sort of evaporated around us and everything was constantly changing, maybe it’s not that surprising. I guess, there were a lot of things I felt I couldn’t leave to assumption so I included them just to be sure. Hopefully it’s made sense and got you thinking (or not thinking) about your experience of this year. It’s weird, isn’t it: we’ve all gone through this massive, world-encompassing event together and yet our years will look quite different. It reminds me of a quote I saw on social media (that I will have to paraphrase, unable as I am now to find it): “We’re all on the same sea but we’re all in different boats.” So, yes, we all experienced a global pandemic but our personal situations created a spectrum of experiences, with either end looking nothing alike. But I think we can all say that we’ll always remember this year. I know I will.
Although I spent a lot of the year feeling very negative, feeling depressed or anxious or frustrated or angry, I’m actually finishing the year feeling overwhelmed by gratitude. Yes, I’m anxious about being in Tier 4 and the rising COVID numbers – I think it would be ignorant not to be – but I’m just so grateful for all the positive moments and experiences that I’ve had this year. And, of course, the people in my life. I could not have gotten through this year without them.
“I don’t even know how to fully sum up this last year. If I thought 2019 was difficult, 2020 was on a whole new level of emotional chaos. I’ve been in survival mode for most of it, just trying to wade through waters that kept rising and rising, and every time I thought I’d found my balance, another strong wave appeared to knock me down. It’s easily been the hardest year of my life and one I know I won’t ever forget. But as painful and terrifying and exhausting as this year has been, there have been some amazing moments too: pre-pandemic gigs, releasing my EP, the contact with my friends and family, time with my cats, the awesome music, movies, and TV shows I’ve discovered this year, the chances to swim… So despite all the negative emotions I’ve experienced this year (and continue to experience), I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for the good in my life. // There’s a blog post with all my ramblings via the link in my bio 💜” (x)
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Hi! I’m Lauren Alex Hooper. Welcome to my little blog! I write about living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), ADHD (Inattentive Type), and Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS), as well as several mental health issues.
I’m a singer-songwriter (it’s my biggest special interest and I have both a BA and MA in songwriting) so I’ll probably write a bit about that too.
My first single, ‘Invisible,’ is on all platforms, with all proceeds going to Young Minds.
My debut EP, Honest, is available on all platforms, with a limited physical run at Resident Music in Brighton.
I’m currently working on an album about my experiences as an autistic woman.