The folklore & evermore Era
But even in her downtime, curtains drawn on her celebrity, Taylor was creating. The isolation seemed to have sparked her creativity, leading her to write and record an entirely new record in collaboration with producers Jack Antonoff and The National’s Aaron Dessner. It’s hard to overstate the number of surprises involved here: Taylor was usually extremely deliberate in how she scheduled her music, but no one saw “folklore” coming. The album was announced less than 24 hours before its release on July 23, 2020, only 11 months after “Lover.” It was the first time she had put out a project on less than a two-year schedule. Taylor didn’t bother with the extensive teasing release of past albums; she announced her work on Thursday, rolled it out on Friday and then sat back over the weekend and enjoyed the warm response. And then there was the music itself, which set words sung from a new range of perspectives against lush acoustic arrangements that evoked folk music and chamber pop. “folklore” was a big left turn in style and subject matter; it also earned Taylor some of the best reviews of her career.
BECOMING AN ALTERNATIVE ARTIST
While the rest of the world was busy baking banana bread and on endless Zoom quizzes, Taylor was secretly working on the record, teaming up with The National‘s Aaron Dessner and Bon Iver‘s Justin Vernon, alongside long-time collaborator Jack Antonoff and partner Joe Alwyn (under the pseudonym William Bowery). Made from scratch in the first quarantine era, “folklore” was recorded at Taylor’s home in Los Angeles, and written and produced in remote collaboration. Choosing this approach may have been purely a function of circumstance, but Taylor had been due for a rebaptism for some time. Therefore, “folklore” is not only significant in terms of artistry, but also in terms of Taylor’s career. She was 30 years old. She had been a superstar since she was a teenager. She had done the pop thing to the absolute ultimate. And she had been trying to figure out how to continue what had been a remarkable and in some ways almost unprecedented run — eight albums with arguably no dip in popularity. Yes, “reputation“, some people had issues with it, but it was still a massive seller and massive subject of conversation. And here she was at a place where very few pop artists ever get. So how does she make a turn, become more innovative, maybe and explore different aspects of herself?
In releasing “folklore,” Taylor was clear and direct about her intent and her work. The album marked a conclusion (temporary or not was unclear) to her long march into the teeth of contemporary mega-pop. It was what a lot of fans had been waiting for all along: a lengthy, emotionally-wrought indie album. Its heart is folk storytelling. Its vision is a grey-blue soundscape: an autumnal album dropped on us in the heat of summer, the first full project of this kind from Taylor, inhabiting a truly melancholy space she’d mainly hinted at in past ballads. Her new direction was clear: alternative folk.
SUPPORTING INDEPENDENT RECORD STORES
Taylor gifted signed CD copies of “folklore” across the US, including to Nashville’s Grimey’s, where she had also covered three months of salary and healthcare for employees at the start of the pandemic. Reckless Records told Rolling Stone: “We sold them like normal CDs, so we were able to make some money.” The idea was to partner up with Record Store Day to give something cool for indie stores to sell to drive some foot traffic into stores to help those affected by the pandemic. The copies sold out nationwide in a matter of hours, so Taylor sent a second batch out to stores a few weeks later.
THE BIGGEST ALBUM OF 2020
“folklore” is the biggest album of 2020. It pulled in close to 2,3 million album-equivalent units and saw the biggest sales week of 2020 — the biggest, in fact, since her own 2019 album, “Lover” — and topped the Billboard Hot 200 chart for eight weeks. Beyond its 1,1 billion on-demand audio streams, “folklore” was the highest-selling album of the year, with over 1,2 million sales.
THE QUINTESSENTIAL QUARANTINE ALBUM
In quarantine, any album release found new resonance. But Taylor, being Taylor, was always destined to conjure up a powerful reaction. It’s not a stretch to say that “folklore” will go down in history as the definitive quarantine album, and not just because of the record’s homespun, folksy presentation. Without the pressure of having to write radio hits or build up her usual prolonged album-release schedule — full of music videos, Easter eggs, and Good Morning America performances — Taylor shed the über-pop trappings of her previous album, “Lover”, for a project that put her once-in-a-generation songwriting talent front and center. “folklore’s” 17 tales of lost love, coming-of-age, and redemption provided the world with solace and catharsis just when it needed it most. Songs like “august” and “mirrorball” will persevere long after this pandemic is over — and so, evidently, will Taylor Swift.
Taylor always commemorates her December 13 birthday by doing something special: having a gigantic party, announcing a Netflix tour special, or appearing at the high-profile Jingle Ball at Madison Square Garden. In 2020, however, she celebrated turning 31 with an even bigger surprise: Roughly four and a half months after releasing the critically acclaimed “folklore” Taylor announced its “sister record,” a studio album called “evermore”.
The tale of how “evermore” came to be is the stuff of first loves, holiday rom-coms, and Taylor Swift songs. Crafting the woodsy surprise album “folklore” in isolation, Taylor felt the spark of something exciting and new, and knowing all things must pass, wanted to make it linger just a little longer. If the periods of hibernation between Taylor’s records once felt crucial to the drama of her returns, her music now was filled with these momentary silences and breakthroughs. After a career spent striving for the next level of stardom, she discovered a more sustainable path for evolution. On “evermore,” she seems at peace with her past, in a suspended moment of transition, letting the world follow along as she learned: Don’t just get settled, she told us through this bounty of material. Get stronger.