Taylor Swift’s critically acclaimed Folklore was widely hailed as a masterpiece following its release this summer. The subject matter of the pop star’s indie venture was a notable departure from the tabloid-fodder songs of her past that detailed her dealings with famous boyfriends. Taylor herself said Folklore was an escapist fiction piece. The album dove into the experiences and feelings of characters, not the narrator herself.
Folklore‘s sister record Evermore, once more suprise-released by Swift this month, follows suit with more dialed down, sophisticated production. The tone of Evermore is again whimsical and folktalish, making it the perfect companion piece to the chapters Swift shared back in July.
Whereas Folklore‘s stories dart in many directions with different subjects, albeit successfully, Evermore presents a more succinct collection of tales– stories that broadly appear to explore one theme in particular: marriage.
Taylor’s past albums have certainly dug deep into relationships before. Some of her best work was inspired by painful breakups, spinning the melodrama of failed romance into radio hits that stick like grits. But the juicy A-list bits about Swift’s life are absent from Folklore and Evermore as she takes on the perspective of the every day woman. Again speaking in the third person, several tracks on Evermore use the unique voice of a wife.
Though rumors continue to swirl that Taylor is allegedly secretly married to her current beau Joe Alwyn, it’s safe to assume the songs about marriage on Evermore are largely fictional. Though Swift has all but reached veteran status in love and heartbreak, dating and marriage are truly worlds apart in terms of experience. Where the two may overlap in terms of romance, companionship or drama, marriage hinges far more on shared responsibility and devotion. Marriage is a partnership meant to last a lifetime, even if life slows, pains or at worst, becomes stale.
Be those themes difficult to capture in song, Taylor does just that in “Tolerate It,” a cry from a wife who fails to be truly seen by her husband. While this trope may be universally familiar in troubled marriages, the delivery from Swift is sensitive and empathetic, as with many of the emotional songs on the companion albums.
Lighter track on Evermore “Ivy” speaks from the perspective of a married woman knee deep in an affair. The speaker describes blossoming in their forbidden romance, as they had once been given the cold shoulder by love. Swift has outright confirmed many of the tales from songs on the two records interconnect in her creative storytelling canon. With this in mind, the speaker on “Ivy” may be the same wife from “Tolerate It,” whose marriage bends and breaks with the sands of time. Love songs “”Tis the Damn Season,” “Willow” and “Cowboy like Me” may then be the precursors to a hardened marriage; the falling-in-love part of the story before two fully become one in a subdivision with insurance payments and a family dog.
Another musical standout album from 2020 was The Chick’s comeback album Gaslighter. Unlike Swift’s recent works, Gaslighter is totally autobiographical, covering the divorce between lead vocalist Natalie Maines and ex-husband Adrian Pasdar. As detailed in the album, Maines’ battle to win her life back from a toxic partnership was devastating, involving mistresses, legal battles and the heartbreak of her children. Gaslighter is not a break-up album, it is a divorce album. Love lost may be painful, but the end of a marriage marks a greater turning point in ones life; to make it to the other side of a broken promise.
Both Gaslighter and Evermore share in acoustic honesty, be their subject matter discernibly fact versus fiction. Taylor and The Chicks had previously collaborated on Swift’s 2019 album Lover with the quiet “Soon You’ll Get Better.” The track served as a humble standout from other maximalist pop songs on the album, shedding concern for being a hit and bringing forth vulnerability in discussing Taylor’s mother’s cancer diagnosis. Calling on The Chicks for back-up on the song showed many Swift’s capability to step back into more country and folk inspired fare.
Parallels between The Chicks and Swift were also drawn between the 90’s hit “Goodbye Earl” and Evermore‘s “No Body, No Crime,” featuring indie-pop sister group HAIM. The career highlight for Swift is a narrative song not dissimilar to an Investigation Discovery night special; recounting one woman’s revenge on her best friend’s cheating husband. “No Body” is a callback to “Goodbye Earl” with an effortlessly cool and moody reimagining.
“No Body” is easily the best on Evermore and is slated to be the next album single, releasing next month (music! video! please!). Swift also leans into regularity in the track, singing about weekly meetups at Olive Garden and damning joint bank account statements. “No Body” is the nod to the marriages that end up on the news; the marriages no one expects to endure when they say ‘I do.’ The true-life “Goodbye Earl” or “No Body, No Crime” stories always involve the every day husband and wife and a regular marriage that tailspins into scandal.
The discussion of marriage on Evermore is a wide spectrum, starting with sweet, unguarded romance and ending with murder mystery. The latter is an extreme for most, but nonetheless a folktale in modern culture that sits in the brains of married people. Husbands and wives do crazy things when they enter a commitment that is binding, complex and deeply personal.
Overall, Taylor Swift’s maturity grows on Folklore and particularly Evermore as she steps back from her personal view and takes on experiences of the many. Love, marriage and divorce may be what we all know well but have trouble finding the words to tell our story. Evermore is a good place to look.