Posted on April 17, 2022
Apparently I’m incapable of doing things halfway: I went from barely leaving the house to going on an almost three week trip to the US. The songwriting festival, Tin Pan South, was starting up again and I’ve been going every year since 2016, to write songs and network and just learn from the best songwriters in Nashville. I was utterly terrified – about the COVID risk, about how even a minor bout of COVID could affect the trip, about all of the uncertainty and anxiety that I was going to feel every day without having a true safe place to return to and recharge, etc – but I felt like I had to go. My Mum and I were as careful as we could be: we wore masks pretty much all of the time (being autistic makes that hard but I did the best I could) and we went through so much hand sanitiser. I was practically showering with it. I cried pretty much every day (whether from anxiety, stress, or exhaustion, I don’t know) and I was on my knees by the end of the trip but it was amazing and a lot of really cool things happened.
We flew from London to Boston, which was relatively simple – my anxiety aside. I’d already burst into tears at least twice before we actually left the runway. I was very anxious about COVID (and there were so many things that already made me anxious that now had an entirely new context because of COVID) and about flying (it’s not my favourite thing) and I think I was just really overwhelmed by everything ahead of me. The flight felt ridiculously long and while I was relieved to be back on the ground (and eventually into the hotel where we could take the masks off after wearing them for so long), I was immediately overwhelmed by being abroad, by all of the differences. Getting to the hotel room and being able to just collapse was a great relief.
Months earlier, I’d bought tickets to the Bleachers show where they’d be playing their album Strange Desire from start to finish in the hope that I’d be able to combine it with the Nashville trip – the date was, after all, pretty close to when Tin Pan South usually took place. So I chanced it and by some stroke of luck, it worked out and we made our connection in Boston with a day in between to go to the concert. I had no idea what the disabled accommodations were going to be like but, on the whole, the venue and staff were great, which made the concert possible for me and it was incredible.
I still don’t know if I can describe the concert, beyond saying how amazing it was. Charly Bliss were a really fun opener and I’m very excited for them to release the new songs they played; those were the ones that I really got into. And Bleachers were just fantastic. Jack Antonoff in particular was just like an endlessly ricocheting ball of adrenaline; I barely got any photos of him that were in focus because he was just in constant motion. It was so incredibly special to hear songs like ‘Wild Heart,’ ‘I Wanna Get Better,’ and ‘Like A River Runs,’ all of which I love so much. It still feels kind of unreal, like I can’t quite believe I was really there.
The next day, we struggled up – I felt completely wrecked by the concert – and caught our flight to Nashville.
When we got to Nashville, we took a couple of days just to rest and to allow me to collect myself. I was exhausted and a few days holed up in my Airbnb – where I didn’t have to worry about wearing a mask or the risk of COVID – was absolutely needed. And while there are always things to see and exploring to do in Nashville, we’d decided to keep our excursions to our highest priorities; we wanted to minimise the risk of exposure to COVID so that we could do all of the things that we really, really wanted to do.
So those first few days were spent chilling out, watching TV, catching up with my diary, and listening to Maren Morris’ new album, Humble Quest. I think I’ll forever connect it with Nashville now. Between listening to it as I flew into the city and watching her Amazon Prime show that first weekend, the album’s setting will always Nashville.
The show was great and I cannot wait until she comes back to the UK. I’m already in love with this album.
My first show back was a big one: Song Suffragettes’ 8th Anniversary show. Usually a Song Suffragettes show consists of five girls and they go around three times, performing three songs each (in total), before closing the show with the cover song performed together. But for this song, there was the first round of five girls who each performed twice plus a cover, a break in which THE Nicolle Galyon interviewed THE Kelsea Ballerini, and then a second round with five more girls who each performed twice as well as a cover song. It was a long but very excellent show.
The first round consisted of Ava Paige, Autumn Nicholas, Kalie Shorr, Ava Suppelsa, Lanie Gardner, and Mia Morris on percussion (she also played a song in this round – a rewrite of Fountains of Wayne’s ‘Stacy’s Mom’ from the point of view of Stacy, which was hilarious). They were all great but, as I think is the case with every songwriters’ round, there were some that resonated with me more than others. I’ve known and loved Kalie for years so I always know she’s going to be my favourite (if you haven’t listened to her music, please check her out – she’s very special) but I didn’t know the others and found I particularly enjoyed Ava Paige’s songs too. I also loved the cover they did, ‘abcdefu’ by GAYLE, and I’ve had it on repeat ever since (along with ‘Humble Quest’ by Maren Morris).
After the cover, they cleared the stage and set it up for the Nicolle Galyon and Kelsea Ballerini interview. They are both just such cool people and have achieved some incredible things; it was very inspiring. Nicolle asked some really interesting questions and Kelsea shared a lot of fascinating, inspiring, and encouraging stories and advice. And then they played a couple of songs that they’ve written together – ‘i quit drinking’ and ‘half of my hometown’ – as well as telling the stories behind the writing of them. It was a really, really cool experience and I feel very lucky to have been there.
The second round was made up of Emily Brooke, Caroline Watkins, Lauren Hungate, Madeline Merlo, Peyton Porter and, again, Mia Morris on percussion. I particularly liked Emily Brooke; I’ve seen her before and I really like her music. And they all told great stories about what inspired the songs.
It was an amazing show and experience and it was a great reintroduction to Nashville. I also got to reconnect with the people I know at Song Suffragettes (and those who I’ve spoken to online but not met) and that was really, really nice. I was kind of scared that, after three years away, the previous years of building relationships might have ended up meaning nothing but that completely wasn’t the case and I’m really grateful for that.
TIN PAN SOUTH
As I said, Tin Pan South is the big reason for coming to Nashville and I had some amazing shows on my list. There were some very tough choices too, great rounds that I struggled to choose between. But I think I made the right choices, for me, for this trip.
I could write about every single show in a ridiculous amount of detail but then we’d be here forever. So here are my highlights of the week…
AUTISM AWARENESS WEEK / DAY
It was World Autism Awareness/Acceptance Week and World Autism Awareness Day while I was away and, knowing that I’d be busy in Nashville, I’d prepared a series of posts to put up on my blog. I also posted this on Instagram:
OTHER FUN THINGS
While I didn’t do a whole lot more than go to shows, I did do a few things that are specific and special to Nashville…
I did manage to get in a second Song Suffragettes show while I was in town, which I was very grateful for. This round was made up of Jillian Dawn, Sam Bowlds, Olivia Faye, Elana Jane, Paige King Johnson, and Mia Morris, Mia being the only one I knew previously. They were all great – they always are – but I think my favourites were Jillian Dawn and Paige King Johnson; their songs just spoke to me more deeply than the others did for some reason.
On the whole, the travel had been good. I had disabled assistance at all of the airports and until the trip home, that was great and had made the whole flying ordeal a lot easier. But on the return trip, everything kind of went to hell and it was a bit reminiscent of ‘a series of unfortunate events.’ I almost had a meltdown on the flight from Nashville to Dallas because of a mix up with the seats, which was horrible.
And while the Dallas to London flight was okay (I mean, it was long and cold and uncomfortable but nothing went wrong), everything went wrong from the moment we landed, from problems with gates to confusion with the disability assistance to the freaking coach home. And by that time, we were both so tired (and I was so overwhelmed and stressed out) that I was definitely moments from bursting into tears. But we did eventually – eventually – get home.
It’s been about a week since I got home now and I’ve been a bit of a mess. The jet lag hit me hard, on top of my exhaustion from the trip itself, and my mental health hasn’t been great. I guess I’m just feeling really overwhelmed, like all of my feelings have been turned up to eleven (I mean, even more so than usual).
Category: anxiety, autism, chronic fatigue, covid-19 pandemic, emotions, event, favourites, food, heds, holidays, mental health, music, sleep, special interests, video, writing Tagged: bleachers, boston, boston ma, candle bar, candle bar nashville, candle making, caylee hammack, charly bliss, chris destefano, chronic fatigue, chronic illness, chronic pain, commodore grille, concert, covid-19, disabled, disabled access, emily shackelton, exhaustion, face mask, face masks, festival, humble quest, jack antonoff, jeffrey steele, jet lag, kalie shorr, kelsea ballerini, madison kozak, maren morris, mask, masking, masks, nashville, nashville songwriters association international, natalie hemby, nicolle galyon, nsai, paddywax candle bar, pancake pantry, pandemic, pandemic 2020, pandemic anxiety, singersongwriter, singersongwriter life, song suffragettes, songwriter, songwriters, songwriters festival, songwriting, strange desire, tin pan south, tin pan south 2022, travel, travelling, waaw, world autism acceptance week, world autism acceptance week 2022, world autism awareness day, world autism awareness week
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 December 21, 2021
This is one of my favourite posts of the year, as hard as it is to narrow it down to one song a month (or sometimes two, if I really can’t choose). It’s so easy for time to make things blurry and for songs to transcend time that I love being able to see exactly when songs impacted my life and what they meant to me. I kind of love the idea of looking back one day – sometime in the future – and knowing which exact songs I connected to, rather than just having a vague sense of which artists and albums I loved.
So, here is my soundtrack for 2021. I’ve made a playlist on Spotify so you can listen along here if you’d like to.
1. it’s time to go by Taylor Swift
The bonus tracks from Taylor’s album, evermore, started to circulate at the end of 2020 when people began to receive their physical copies but they weren’t released ‘officially’ until the beginning of 2021. It was a really hard choice between ‘right where you left me’ and ‘it’s time to go’ because they’re both such stunning songs but in the end, ‘it’s time to go’ won by a hair. The instrumentation is so delicate and vulnerable, just like the emotions she describes in the song. And the stories she’s telling are heartbreakingly sad with lyrics that may be some of her most poignant, including, “When the words of a sister come back in whispers that prove she was not,” “That old familiar body ache, the snaps from the same little breaks in your soul,” “Fifteen years, fifteen million tears, beggin’ ’til my knees bled,” “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,” and “Sometimes givin’ up is the strong thing, sometimes to run is the brave thing, sometimes walkin’ out is the one thing, that will find you the right thing.” 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.
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” AND “He’s got my past frozen behind glass / But I’ve got me”
2. Skyscraper by Demi Lovato // Forgive Or Forget by Sarah Close
I stumbled upon this song again when I was doing research for my Daisy Johnson song. I spent a lot of time watching fan videos on YouTube, listening to the songs that other people associated with her: the style of music, the instrumentation, the lyrics in the songs, the emotional undercurrents. And one of those videos used this song. It’s been years since I last listened to it and I’d forgotten how powerful and emotive it is. I love how it acknowledges the pain, whatever pain you find yourself hearing in it, but is ultimately empowering and uplifting, putting the real focus on overcoming that pain. Just listening to it makes me feel stronger; it definitely a good song to listen to before trying to do something difficult or painful.
Favourite Lyrics: “You can take everything I have / You can break everything I am / Like I’m made of glass / Like I’m made of paper / Go on and try to tear me down / I will be rising from the ground / Like a skyscraper”
I fell in love with this song from the first listen. I’ve listened to Sarah on and off for several years (she actually went to the same university as me) and I love her writing. Her lyrics and melodies are just gorgeous: rich but light, catchy without driving you absolutely bananas. It’s so good. I love the imagery, like “Just like in a film, now I’m standing outside your door, in the pouring rain, with a speech that I wrote between watching movies on the plane” and “So now I’ve shown up at your door, will my key work like it did before? And when I look inside, will your love be just the same?” They’re so vivid, like you’re right there in that moment she’s singing about. I loved it straight away and couldn’t stop singing it. I even did a little cover of it on Instagram…
Favourite Lyrics: “Should I forgive or forget, relive or regret? / I know I’m willing to change / So tell me, do you feel the same? / ‘Cause I won’t retrace all the mistakes / If you’re willing to change / I’m telling you, I feel the same” AND “So now I’ve shown up at your door, will my key work like it did before? / And when I look inside, will your love be just the same?”
3. Riser By Dierks Bentley (written by Travis Meadows) // Plan For Paris by Betsy Lane
I know that this would be considered a Dierks Bentley song since he released it but, to me, it will always be a Travis Meadows song. I first heard it when I saw him play at a Tin Pan South show while in Nashville for the first time and it was one of those moments that just sticks with you, one of those memories that somehow remains in perfect condition, like it’s been frozen in amber. The room seemed to be holding it’s breath, completely enraptured by his voice and his lyrics. And when he finished, the room seemed to snap out of its trance and gave him a standing ovation.
This song has meant a lot to me ever since but it was in March that I learned about the extensive surgery Travis Meadows had (at the time) recently gone through and the recovery he was working towards. A gofundme, A FundRiser, had been set up to support him and his family, which I immediately donated to and shared on all of my socials. He’s an incredible songwriter and just an incredible spirit. His music has given me so much that, although I wish these weren’t the circumstances, I’m grateful for the opportunity to give something back.
Favourite Lyrics: “I’m a riser / I’m a get up off the ground, don’t run and hider / When pushin’ comes to shovin’ / Hey, I’m a fighter / When darkness comes to town, I’m a lighter / A get-out-alive-r, of the fire, survivor”
I’ve loved Betsy’s music for a long time, so long that I can’t actually remember when I first heard a song of hers. But she’s a gorgeous writer and it was very cool to finally meet her when she came to the UK on a mini-tour in 2018 after years of listening to her music. She’s just the loveliest and the EP she was releasing at the time was great. But this song, although a step in a new direction, is on a whole new level: it’s a beautiful combination of her warm, intimate storytelling and exciting, new pop production. It’s feel-good and catchy and I absolutely love it.
Favourite Lyrics: “…I wish we could just / Go back to Paris / Catch a train through the south of France / Cross the border into Spain / Learn how to dance / Under the sky of the Spanish moon / Baby, hold my hand, I’m following you”
Note: My friend and frequent collaborator, Richard Marc, released his first single, ‘Put It In A Postcard,’ at the beginning of March but given that I cowrote the song, it felt weird to put it on this list when that isn’t the point of this list.
4. Mr Perfectly Fine (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault) by Taylor Swift // Love and Great Buildings by Andrew McMahon In the Wilderness
As excited as I was for Taylor re-recording her albums, I didn’t feel a hundred percent good about it until Taylor herself made it clear that it’s been really rewarding and fulfilling – so far, at least. I hated the idea that it might be upsetting or taint her feelings about her previous work since it was something she was ultimately forced to do if she wanted to own her back catalogue. So I’m really glad that it doesn’t feel like that. It’s amazing and kind of surreal how she can sound just like her teenage self, how the album sounds so close to the original release. There are multiple songs I could choose from for ‘the one’ but ultimately ‘Mr Perfectly Fine’ came out on top (although ‘We Were Happy’ was a close second). Not only is it super catchy and has this really great, dynamic energy, but I love the balance of heartbreaking and then absolutely scathing lyrics, like, “‘Cause I hear he’s got his arm ’round a brand new girl / I’ve been pickin’ up my heart, he’s been pickin’ up her / And I never got past what you put me through / But it’s wonderful to see that it never phased you.” It’s emotionally complex, like the situation, but still such a jam. And the final chorus, with the switch from “Hello Mr. ‘Perfectly Fine'” to “Goodbye Mr. ‘Perfectly Fine'” and the key change, it’s a hugely satisfying end, lyrically, musically, and emotionally. I love it and played it over and over again.
Favourite Lyrics: “It takes everything in me just to get up each day / But it’s wonderful to see that you’re okay // Hello Mr. ‘Perfectly Fine’ / How’s your heart after breaking mine?” AND “‘Cause I hear he’s got his arm ’round a brand new girl / I’ve been pickin’ up my heart, he’s been pickin’ up her / And I never got past what you put me through / But it’s wonderful to see that it never phased you”
I heard this song on a TV show (I can’t remember which one now) and just fell in love with the concept. The imagery is gorgeous (with phrases like, “My heart is an apartment building on the verse,” “The market shifts can cause storm systems to converge,” and “Brick and plaster, beams and broken windows”) and I love the production, both for the sounds used and for the energetic, almost euphoric feeling it evokes. I spent many days with it basically on repeat because I just really needed that energy. My only quibble with it is that almost every single rhyme is a perfect rhyme (‘verge’ and ‘converge,’ ‘optimistic’ and ‘realistic,’ ‘endure’ and ‘cure,’ etc) and having just spent a semester learning about, discussing, and experimenting with techniques like different types of rhyme, that really stuck out to me. It felt a little clunky and I thought there could’ve been some stronger, more interesting rhyming in what is otherwise a really cool song.
Favourite Lyrics: “Love and great buildings will survive / Strong hearts and concrete stay alive / Through the great depressions / Yeah, the best things are designed to stand the test of time // Love and great buildings will endure / Blue skies and bloodlines are the cure / For the great deceptions in a world that’s such a blur / We’ll stand the test of time”
5. Coming Up For Air by Signals In Smoke // A Love Song by Ladyhawke
There’s something about this song that I just can’t quite explain. It’s so beautifully simple. I love lyrically dense songs, songs that you could turn into a feature length film, but what I love about this song is that it doesn’t need to do that. The lyrics are uncluttered, guiding the emotion but leaving you to fill in the details yourself. But they’re intimate and uplifting, enhanced by a deeply emotive and beautiful melody. The production is rich and atmospheric and enveloping; and the colours and textures I feel in it are just gorgeous (I don’t know if that response to music is part of being autistic or some form of synesthesia or something else entirely). It’s just stunning.
Favourite Lyrics: “It ain’t over, love / This I swear / We’re coming up for air”
I freaking love this song. I listened to so much Ladyhawke during the last semester of my Masters but this song won the top spot with ease. I love the energy (and the colours) of the arrangement and the production – there’s something so pleasing to my ears about synth-pop music – and I love the story it tells, or at least the story that I interpret from the lyrics. To me, it reflects the contradiction of what real love is, that it is both easy and hard to truly love someone. With lyrics like, “You’ve opened my eyes to the oldest tale of time,” alongside the gleaming production, the song embodies the ease of love, proven by the fact that we have been falling in love as long as we have existed. The song is a celebration of that love. But then it also contains lyrics like “I’m falling down, too much to drink again / You pull me up and tell me how it could end” because sometimes love is having the tough conversations and making the hard choices. And we always come back to the same line: “This is what a love song sounds like.” Both of these instances are expressions of love, of the love stories we write and the love songs we sing to one another. That’s what I love about this song, that it allows these two ideas to coexist (just as they can and do in real life) in such a beautiful way.
Favourite Lyrics: “This could be my life, but it’s only words / To make me feel right when the meaning’s blurred / You’ve opened my eyes to the oldest tale of time / This what a love song, love song sounds like // I’m falling down, too much to drink again / You pull me up and tell me how it could end / This is what a love song sounds like”
Note: My friend and frequent collaborator, Richard Marc, released his second single, ‘Close To You,’ at the beginning of May. I cowrote it so I’m not officially including it on this list but you guys should check it out because Richard is really awesome.
6. good 4 u by Olivia Rodrigo
This song is such a jam. As I said in a post a little while back, I struggled to get into Sour, I think just because she was everywhere and everyone was talking about her and I just felt a bit like it was being forced down my throat and my natural reaction to that is to be perverse and do the exact opposite of what I’m being pushed to do. Maybe that’s a bit childish but I think it worked out in the end because if I’d listened to the album then, I don’t think I would’ve liked it. After giving it some time, I did listen to it and I do like it; I think it being my choice made all of the difference. I like a good handful of the songs (most of them album tracks, which isn’t unusual for me) but this one is just irresistibly fun. I love how it toes the line between righteous anger over being treated badly (“It’s like we never even happened / Baby, what the fuck is up with that?”) and pettiness (“Remember when you swore to god I was the only / Person who ever got you? / Well, screw that and screw you”) – because, let’s face it, we’ve all been there in some way or another. We’re allowed to be angry and call people out for their bad behaviour (I’m talking on an emotional level – society often has other opinions) but we’re also not always our most mature selves when we’ve been hurt by someone and I think this song reflects those two states of emotion well. I also love the swearing but I think it only works because it feels natural and emotional and not at all affected. It’s hugely relatable (I can definitely see a significant relationship of mine in it) and very cathartic to sing along to. I’m a fan of the arrangement and production too. I love the rhythm of the bass, the arrangement of the backing vocals (they’re fantastic, album wide), and her vocal delivery is fantastic: she’s so expressive in her singing and there isn’t a line where it feels like she’s ‘just’ singing.
Favourite Lyrics: “And good for you, it’s like you never even met me / Remember when you swore to God I was the only / Person who ever got you? / Well, screw that and screw you / You will never have to hurt the way you know that I do” AND “Well, good for you, you look happy and healthy / Not me, if you ever cared to ask / Good for you, you’re doing great out there without me, baby / Like a damn sociopath / I’ve lost my mind, I’ve spent the night / Crying on the floor of my bathroom”
7. Way Out by Richard Marc & Jaz Beeson // Renegade (feat. Taylor Swift) by Big Red Machine
This song is so freaking catchy that every time I hear it, it’s stuck in my head for days afterwards; ever since I first heard it, I’ve been waiting impatiently for it to come out so that when people ask me what I’m singing or humming or whatever, I can actually point them to it. The melody is just perfect, smooth and rich and beautifully matches the moody production. It’s a hard call but it may be my favourite production from Richard’s EP. The different elements just work together so well and I love how it builds, especially in the bridge with more and more layers of backing vocals. It’s just so atmospheric. By the time we land in the final chorus and that building tension falls away, it’s like breaking the surface and taking a deep breath after being underwater for too long. I love both Richard and Jaz as singers but there’s something about the tone of their voices in this song that just gets me every time. They sound so good together; their voices really compliment each others.
Usually, I like detail in lyrics but there are definitely exceptions and this is one of them. There’s something really cool about the way it sounds like you’re listening in on a conversation between two people and, because it’s their conversation, they don’t need to explain the details to each other because they both already know. So, even if we’re left out of the narrative loop a little, there’s a really gorgeous sense of intimacy about this song that I don’t think could’ve been achieved if it hadn’t been a duet.
Favourite Lyrics: “Leave me in the fallout, tell me when you come down, can you find a way out, way out?”
This song leaves me feeling very raw. I really relate to this song but in lots of different and confusing ways. Sometimes I feel kind of called out by it; I can imagine a relationship coming to this (given everything I deal with, I’m sure I’d be difficult to love). But I can also see my relationship with myself in the song. “There was nowhere for me to stay, but I stayed anyway” reminds me of how many times I could’ve given up but haven’t; “And if I would’ve known how many pieces you had crumbled into / I might have let them lay” and “And if I would’ve known / how sharp the pieces were you crumbled into / I might have let them lay” makes me think about how this journey (with my mental health and the discovery that I’m neurodivergent and managing all of these things) always seems to get harder and what it would’ve been like if I’d known where I’d be a year, two years, five years down the line when everything started to unravel, back when I was a teenager; “Is it insensitive for me to say / ‘get your shit together, so I can love you?'” and “Is it really your anxiety that stops you from givin’ me everythin’ / Or do you just not want to?” make me wonder what it is that makes it so hard to treat myself with kindness and patience, why I’m so hard on myself; “You fire off missiles ’cause you hate yourself / But do you know you’re demolishing me?” reminds me – painfully – of how much damage I’m doing to myself, some unwillingly but some willingly. And so on and so on. It’s a lot. It makes me very emotional but, even though it’s hard, it’s important to me too; songs that describe how you feel, especially when those feelings are complicated, are so rare and so special. It’s a beautifully written song and despite the heaviness of the lyrics, it’s very soothing to listen to. The melodies are exquisite and Taylor’s voice sounds incredible. Justin Vernon is definitely my favourite of her duet partners. Their voices sound gorgeous together.
Favourite Lyrics: “There was nowhere for me to stay, but I stayed anyway” OR “Are you really gonna talk about timin’ in times like these? / And let all your damage damage me? / And carry your baggage up my street? / And make me your future history?” AND “Is it insensitive for me to say / ‘Get your shit together, so I can love you?’ / Is it really your anxiety that stops you from givin’ me everythin’ / Or do you just not want to?”
8. Alibi by Kalie Shorr // Darling by Halsey
While the whole of Kalie’s EP, I Got Here By Accident, is fantastic, ‘Alibi’ is such a vibe. The arrangement and production – the warm tone of the guitars and the bass, the satisfying punch of the drums, Kalie’s soft but striking vocals – creates this fantastic energy and the melodies are so catchy; the song is frequently on repeat in my brain and I’m not complaining one bit. I love it. And I relate to it so much: I would do anything for my friends (grand theft auto, arson, and accessory to murder may be a bit far but hopefully you get my point). “If someone’s breaking your heart / Hold my beer, I’ll fight ’em” is a situation I’ve been in and I’ve absolutely said both “Tell me who to hate, yeah / You don’t have to worry / I don’t have to meet ’em / I believe your story” and “If you’re in trouble, make it mine,” although probably less eloquently. So this is definitely my friendship anthem. I was even writing a song along a similar theme when it came out.
Favourite Lyrics: “Anyone can be your best friend at a party / But if you dig a hole, then I’ll bury the body / No questions, I won’t ask why / I’ll be your alibi” AND “If you asked / I’d pick you up when you’re drunk downtown / Or go burn down your ex’s house / It’s like that / Completely unconditional” AND “Tell me who to hate, yeah / You don’t have to worry / I don’t have to meet ’em / I believe your story” AND “If it’s for you, it’s not a lie / If you’re in trouble, make it mine”
There were multiple songs I could’ve chosen from Halsey’s newest album: I love every song but I do love ‘Bells in Santa Fe,’ ‘Darling,’ ‘1121,’ ‘The Lighthouse,’ and ‘Ya’aburnee’ in particular. But in the end, ‘Darling’ is the one that just gets me every single time. It sounds beautiful, with the delicate guitar and heartfelt vocals (as well as gorgeous backing vocals), and the lyrics are stunning, with – I have no doubt carefully chosen – really emotive imagery, like “Really can’t remember where I left my spine / Carrying my body in a bag for dimes / hidden in the pages of the New York Times at home” and “I’ll kidnap all the stars and I will keep them in your eyes / I’ll wrap them up in velvet twine / And hang ’em from a fishin’ line / So I can see them any time I’d like.” Making sense of our mortality and our place in the world is a massive subject and very personal for a lot of people, myself included, but listening to this song always eases my anxieties a little, even if I still don’t have the answers I want.
Favourite Lyrics: “Ever since a little girl, I found it sweet / Drivin’ past a graveyard on a lonesome street / All the little flowers gave me somethin’ to believe in” AND “Couldn’t really tell you where they’d leave a stone / To visit me when I am dead and gone” AND “I’ll kidnap all the stars and I will keep them in your eyes / I’ll wrap them up in velvet twine / And hang ’em from a fishin’ line / So I can see them any time I’d like”
9. Radio Silence by Natalie Hemby
I had fallen in love with this song before I’d even finished listening to it that first time and I just love it more with every listen. The lyrics, the vocals, the arrangement, and the production… they’re all so incredibly beautiful, so perfectly matched to convey the emotion of the song. Trying to hold onto something, like a friendship or relationship, even as you can feel it slipping away from you is so deeply sad and so painful and even though you know you should let it go, you can’t help longing for what it once was. I can relate to this song on so many levels, to so many people and experiences in my life. It frequently brings me to tears but usually it’s more a relief cry, down to listening to a song that so perfectly describes a feeling I’ve had so many times.
Favourite Lyrics: “I tried to reach you through the growin’ static / I tried to replicate the fading magic / Did everything to keep the signal from dyin’ / All I got was radio silence / I tried to tell you that it’s gonna get better / I tried to put the pieces back together / Did everything to keep the signal from dyin’ / All I got was radio silence”
Note: My friend and frequent collaborator, Richard Marc, released his fourth single, ‘Nashville,‘ on the 1st September. I cowrote it so I’m not officially including it on this list but you guys should check it (and his previous tracks) out because he is absolutely awesome.
10. Like A River Runs by Bleachers
I absolutely love this song; I think it may be my favourite Bleachers song, which is saying something given how much I love ‘Wild Heart,’ ‘I Wanna Get Better,’ and ‘What’d I Do With All This Faith?’ to name a few. I just feel it so deeply and I really relate to many of the things that Jack Antonoff has said about it. As I said in my post for National Album Day 2021, “it just resonates so strongly in all the right ways.” The production is fantastic and fits so beautifully with the emotion and with the lyrics. And the vocals are exquisite. Listening to it, it feels like Antonoff’s voice is coming from inside my own head somewhere, which only makes it feel more personal, like he’s speaking my feelings into life. Lyrics like “The summer’s gone and I’m alone / And I get the feeling that you’re somewhere close,” “The rhythm of your wild heart / It beats, been beating since you’ve gone,” “And I know you’re gone but still / I will remember your light,” and “And if you see me in the darkness / I hope you know I’m not alone / I carry you with every breath I take” all hit really close to home. The chorus is especially stunning, uplifting and deeply emotional at the same time: “When I fall asleep, I can see your face / What I lost in you, I will not replace / And I could run away, I could let them down / But I will remember your light.”
Favourite Lyrics: “When I fall asleep I can see your face / What I lost in you I will not replace / And I could run away, I could let them down / But I will remember your light” AND “The summer’s gone and I’m alone / And I get the feeling that you’re somewhere close” AND “And if you see me in the darkness / I hope you know I’m not alone”
11. All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault) by Taylor Swift
‘All Too Well’ has always been at the top of my list of favourite Taylor Swift songs and while I loved the idea of the ten minute version, I don’t think I ever really thought we’d hear it. So while I don’t like the circumstances that brought us to the rerecordings, I am grateful for the positives that have come out of the whole mess. Like the ten minute version of ‘All Too Well,’ not that it feels like ten minutes when you’re listening to it. As much as I love the production of the 2012 version, I think it was important that they were different because they have very different emotional undercurrents and the production for the ten minute version matches the feel of the longer story, in my opinion at least. I’m also very pleased that it was Jack Antonoff who produced it since he is my favourite of Taylor’s collaborators.
I could talk about this song forever but I’ll try to be concise. The lyrics are beautiful, some of her best, and they tell us so much more of the story than the original cut. It connects to so many songs on the album, even more than it did before, and really broadens our understanding of both that time and what came after. I also love how naturally it flows through different phases of emotion (the fondness, the longing, the loss, the confusion, the shame, the anger, the pain, the invalidation, the grief…) without losing its way. And I think part of why it means so much to me (apart from my original attachment to the song and the album) is because of how, emotionally, it mirrors an experience I had. Lyrics like “And I was thinking on the drive down, any time now / He’s gonna say it’s love, you never called it what it was / ‘Til we were dead and gone and buried / Check the pulse and come back swearing it’s the same,” “You kept me like a secret, but I kept you like an oath,” “You said if we had been closer in age maybe it would have been fine / And that made me want to die / The idea you had of me, who was she? / A never-needy, ever-lovely jewel whose shine reflects on you,” and “Time won’t fly, it’s like I’m paralyzed by it / I’d like to be my old self again, but I’m still trying to find it” all bring back memories of that person and that time and while it was heartbreaking and traumatic, it is part of who I am. I think being able to pour all of that emotion into a song – and a song that good – is an incredible feat.
(‘All Too Well (10 Minute Version)’ was pretty much always a shoo-in for the top spot but I also really love ‘Nothing New.’ I love that we finally have a female-female duet and it’s such a beautiful song. The lyrics “I’ve had too much to drink tonight / And I know it’s sad / But this is what I think about,” “How long will it be cute / All this crying in my room / When you can’t blame it on my youth,” “How did I go from growing up / To breaking down,” “I know someday I’m gonna meet her / It’s a fever dream / The kind of radiance you only have at seventeen / She’ll know the way and then she’ll say she got the map from me / I’ll say I’m happy for her then I’ll cry myself to sleep,” and, of course, “And will you still want me when I’m nothing new?” all hit so hard. I definitely relate to it, both on a personal level and on a working-in-music level. I am kind of grateful that she didn’t release it on the original album because I think it would’ve been devastating, knowing that Taylor was feeling that way. I found ‘The Lucky One’ upsetting enough.)
Favourite Lyrics: [buckle in, folks!] “Oh, your sweet disposition and my wide-eyed gaze / We’re singing in the car, getting lost upstate” AND “I might be okay, but I’m not fine at all” AND “Wind in my hair, I was there / I remember it all too well” AND “You taught me ’bout your past, thinking your future was me” AND “And you were tossing me the car keys, ‘fuck the patriarchy’ / Key chain on the ground, we were always skipping town / And I was thinking on the drive down, any time now / He’s gonna say it’s love, you never called it what it was / ‘Til we were dead and gone and buried / Check the pulse and come back swearing it’s the same / After three months in the grave” AND “And I forget about you long enough to forget why I needed to” AND “‘Cause there we are again in the middle of the night / We’re dancing ’round the kitchen in the refrigerator light” AND “You kept me like a secret, but I kept you like an oath / Sacred prayer and we’d swear / To remember it all too well” AND “Well, maybe we got lost in translation / Maybe I asked for too much / But maybe this thing was a masterpiece / ‘Til you tore it all up / Running scared, I was there / I remember it all too well / And you call me up again just to break me like a promise / So casually cruel in the name of being honest / I’m a crumpled up piece of paper lying here / ‘Cause I remember it all, all, all / They say all’s well that ends well, but I’m in a new Hell / Every time you double-cross my mind / You said if we had been closer in age maybe it would have been fine / And that made me want to die / The idea you had of me, who was she? / A never-needy, ever-lovely jewel whose shine reflects on you / Not weeping in a party bathroom / Some actress asking me what happened, you / That’s what happened, you” AND “Time won’t fly, it’s like I’m paralyzed by it / I’d like to be my old self again, but I’m still trying to find it / After plaid shirt days and nights when you made me your own / Now you mail back my things and I walk home alone” AND “I’m a soldier who’s returning half her weight” AND “Just between us, did the love affair maim you, too?” AND “Just between us, did the love affair maim you all too well? / Just between us, do you remember it all too well? / Just between us, I remember it all too well”
Note: My friend and frequent collaborator, Richard Marc, released his fifth single, ‘I Don’t Know,’ at the start of the month. Again, I worked on the song with him so, again, it’s not officially on this list but I love it and it’s a great song; you guys should definitely check it out (along with his now complete EP) because Richard is just awesome.
12. All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault) by Taylor Swift
Yes, I’m still absolutely in love with this song. It’s been on repeat – in real life and in my head – ever since it came out. I’m not surprised at all.
Will there ever be a year when I actually keep to the twelve songs a year rule? Probably not. It keeps expanding every year, both in songs and in favourite lyrics. I’m not complaining; I’ll never complain about finding more music to fall in love with. Having said that, I am aware that these posts can get long! But I hope it was fun or interesting or both and, again, here is the playlist link if you’d like to listen to the songs I’ve talked about.
Category: favourites, music, special interests, university, video, writing Tagged: 2021, 2021 in songs, all too well, all too well ten minute version, andrew mcmahon in the wilderness, asd, autism, autism spectrum disorder, autistic, autistic adult, betsy lane, big red machine, bleachers, demi lovato, favourite lyrics, favourite music, favourite songs, halsey, jack antonoff, jaz beeson, kalie shorr, ladyhawke, lyrics, mental health, mental illness, music, natalie hemby, olivia rodrigo, production, richard marc, sarah close, signals in smoke, songs, songwriting, special interest, special interests, taylor swift, travis meadows
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.