December 11, 2020
evermore is a sister album that only crystallizes Taylor’s strengths as a songwriter, as she moved further away from the candid autobiography that defined her music since her 2006 debut. She felt relieved to be able to tell other people’s stories for a change:
“My world felt opened up creatively. There was a point that I got to as a writer who only wrote very diaristic songs that I felt it was unsustainable for my future moving forward. So what I felt after we put out folklore was like, ‘Oh wow, people are into this too, this thing that feels really good for my life and feels really good for my creativity… it feels good for them too?” — Taylor Swift
BACKGROUND AND RELEASE
Taylor announced evermore on December 10, 2020, after blocking out her Instagram feed with one image, as she did when she announced folklore in July of the same year. She wrote:
“To put it plainly, we just couldn’t stop writing songs. To try and put it more poetically, it feels like we were standing on the edge of the folklorian woods and had a choice: to turn and go back or to travel further into the forest of this music. We chose to wander deeper in. I’ve never done this before. In the past, I’ve always treated albums as one-off eras and moved onto planning the next one after an album was released. There was something different with folklore. In making it, I felt less like I was departing and more like I was returning. I loved the escapism I found in these imaginary/not imaginary tales. I loved the ways you welcomed the dreamscapes and tragedies and epic tales of love lost and found into your lives. So I just kept writing them.” — Taylor Swift
The album announcement came as a surprise, even to insiders: While Taylor had said in interviews that she’d been writing, there was no suggestion that a new album was in the works, let alone weeks away from release.
“Ever since I was 13, I’ve been excited about turning 31 because it’s my lucky number backward, which is why I wanted to surprise you with this now. I also know this holiday season will be a lonely one for most of us and if there are any of you out there who turn to music to cope with missing loved ones the way I do, this is for you.” — Taylor Swift
“I feel differently today than I felt the day after releasing folklore because, even the day after releasing folklore, Aaron and I were still bouncing ideas back and forth and we just knew we were gonna keep writing music,” Taylor told Apple Music‘s Zane Lowe on the release day of evermore. “With this one, I have this feeling of quiet conclusion and this weird serenity of, ‘We did what we set out to do and we’re all really proud of it’, and that feels really really nice.” Dessner shared his feelings in an interview with Billboard:
“folklore almost immediately was treated as a classic or a masterpiece. It was elevated fairly quickly and had been commercially really successful, so obviously it’s hard to follow something like that up. But one of the things I love about evermore is the ways in which [Taylor] was jumping off different cliffs. The ability she has to tell these stories, but also push what she’s doing musically, is really kind of astonishing. It’s like I went to some crash course, some masters program, for six months.” — Aaron Dessner
TRANSITION FROM FOLKLORE TO EVERMORE
Taylor and Aaron Dessner didn’t expect to make another record so soon after folklore. As they were putting the final touches on Taylor’s album in summer 2020, the two artists had been collaborating remotely on possible songs for Big Red Machine, Dessner’s music project with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver (who also dueted with Taylor on the folklore track “exile”). “I think I’d written around 30 of those instrumentals in total,” Dessner recalled. “So when I started sharing them with Taylor over the months that we were working on folklore, she got really into it, and she wrote two songs to some of that music.”
One was “closure,” an experimental electronic track in 5/4 time signature that was built over a staccato drum kit. The other song was “dorothea,” a rollicking, Americana piano tune. The more Dessner listened to them, the more he realized that they were continuations of characters and stories from folklore. But the real turning point came soon after that album’s surprise release in late July, 2020, when Dessner wrote a musical sketch and named it “Westerly,” after the town in Rhode Island where Taylor owns the house previously occupied by Rebekah Harkness and where her song “the last great american dynasty” takes place. “I didn’t really think she would write something to it — sometimes I’ll name songs after my friends’ hometowns or their babies, just because I write a lot of music and you have to call it something, and then I’ll send it to them,” Dessner said. “But, anyway, I sent it to her, and not long after she wrote ‘willow’ to that song and sent it back.” Taylor told Zane Lowe in an interview for the 2020 Apple Music Awards:
“With folklore, one of the main themes throughout that album was ‘conflict resolution’, trying to figure out how to get through something with someone, or making confessions, or trying to tell them something, trying to communicate with them. 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.” — Taylor Swift
Following the lush, ghostly, woodland aesthetic of folklore, evermore takes upon a wintry theme, extending as a yuletide sequel of the former’s cottagecore. The album cover artwork of evermore, photographed by folklore collaborator Beth Garrabrant, shows Taylor standing in a wooded area, looking at a forest, and facing away from the camera. Her hair is styled in a French braid, and she is wearing a single-breasted, brown and orange checked coat, which was sustainably designed by Stella McCartney.
TAYLOR’S SECOND REMOTE COLLABORATION
Coming less than six months after folklore, a songwriting masterclass that produced some of the best music of Taylor’s already prolific career, evermore continued the ethos of its predecessor: twinkling piano, lush strings and plucked guitar, as Taylor spins vibrant yarns about real and imagined characters. And like her last album, evermore was cowritten and produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner and Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff. Taylor’s partner Joe Alwyn also returned as a co-writer on three songs, under his pseudonym William Bowery:
“I would say that it was a surprise when we started writing together, but in way it wasn’t because we have always bonded over music and have the same musical taste.” — Taylor Swift
Additionally, evermore was also Taylor’s second product of remote collaboration. Prior to the pandemic, her collaborations were usually done in the same room, but the nature of the times necessitated ingenuity. Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner joined Taylor for a recorded performance of folklore, but had not been together in the months before that to craft the original album. In a similar vein, evermore was mostly constructed through virtual communication. Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon features on both albums and has songwriting credits, yet he and Taylor were never in the same room. Taylor told Zane Lowe in December, 2020:
“folklore: the long pond studio sessions was the first time that Jack, Aaron and I were in the same room, and I still haven’t been in the same room with Justin Vernon, who has now collaborated on two albums heavily. We’ve talked but we’ve just never been in the same space together. It’s pretty wild.” — Taylor Swift
WRITING AND PRODUCTION
Even more spontaneous than the album that preceded it, evermore features more eclectic production alongside Taylor’s continued project of character-driven songwriting. It also includes an even wider group of collaborators, like HAIM and Dessner’s own band The National. Taylor recorded most of her vocals at Aaron Dessner’s Long Pond Studio in September, 2020. She stayed after after the production of the concert film folklore: the long pond studio sessions had wrapped. Aaron Dessner recalled: “It was crazy because we were getting ready to make that film, but at the same time, these songs were accumulating. And so we thought, ‘Hmm, I guess we should just stay and work.’”
“The ideas were coming fast and furiously and were just as compelling as anything on folklore, and it felt like the most natural thing in the world. At some point, Taylor wrote ‘evermore’ with William Bowery [Joe Alwyn], and then we sent it to Justin, who wrote the bridge, and all of a sudden, that’s when it started to become clear that there was a sister record […] And with Taylor, I think it just became clear to her what was happening. It really picked up steam, and at some point, there were 17 songs.” — Aaron Dessner
There weren’t limitations to the process, according to Dessner. It was really impressive to him that Taylor could tell these stories as easily in something like “closure” as she could in a country song like “cowboy like me,” which is much more familiar, musically. “But to me, she’s just as sharp and just as masterful in her craft in either of those situations. And also, 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,” Dessner said. “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.” Fittingly, the code name used for evermore was November.
LYRICS AND THEMES
Much of the 17 tracks on evermore are “mirrored or intersecting” tales, Taylor explained in the liner notes. These stories are dripping with murder and intrigue and tortured romance. Con artists and Hollywood dreamers inhabit the richly varied world of evermore, which in some ways is even more spellbinding than folklore. Co-writer and producer Aaron Dessner described his collaboration with Taylor as one of the most special musical connections of his life:
“I’ve rarely had this kind of chemistry with anyone in my life — to be able to write together, to make so many beautiful songs together in such a short period of time. Inevitably, I think we will continue to be in each other’s artistic and personal lives. I don’t know exactly what the next form that will take, but certainly, it will continue. I do think this story, this era, has concluded, and I think in such a beautiful way with these sister records — it does kind of feel like there’s closure to that. [Hopefully,] there will be other records that appear in the future.” — Aaron Dessner
By painting evermore as mostly escapist fantasy, Taylor dispels the usual gossip hounds that slaver over her work, allowing the album to stand alone as its own weird and wonderful thing. She delights in slipping between personas: One minute, she’s reconnecting with a high-school sweetheart over the holidays, playing house at her parents’ home until she jets back to LA (“’tis the damn season“). The next, she’s haunting a small-town Olive Garden plotting revenge with the HAIM sisters (featured on the scorching “no body, no crime,” a mischievous return to Taylor’s country roots).
But it is the elegant simplicity that makes Taylor’s songwriting so continually astonishing, planting daggers in your heart with tossed-off turns of phrase. “willow” and “tolerate it” are lyrical standouts about falling for less-than-stand-up guys, while “ivy” ranks among the most devastating love songs Taylor has ever written. Other highlights of the more-than hourlong album include “marjorie,” a tribute to Taylor’s late grandmother, and “champagne problems,” co-written by the once-mysterious William Bowery. The latter song delicately recalls a rejected marriage proposal, and features an all-time opening line: “You booked the night train for a reason so you could sit there in this hurt.” It’s the kind of lyric that many songwriters would spend entire careers trying to write, telling us all we need to know about this character’s emotional state. That it comes so effortlessly to Taylor is the least surprising thing about evermore.
evermore was met with widespread acclaim upon release, with several critics admiring its kinship with folklore and Taylor’s expansion of her musical boundaries. Distinguishing her as an unrivaled songwriter, Brodie Lancaster of The Sydney Morning Herald found evermore traveling deeper into Taylor’s fictitious narratives, and praised the depth and variety of its characters. In congruence, American Songwriter designated folklore as the “archetypal older sister — a careful, yet hopeless romantic” whereas evermore is the “bold, scrappy younger one”, with the latter being a yuletide evolution of the former’s sound. Spin critic Bobby Olivier thought that the “career-redefining” album finds Taylor at her prime, joining “the pantheon of songwriters who consistently deliver despite unimaginable expectations”. He and several other critics regarded evermore as an even stronger work than folklore.
By the time Taylor unveiled the album, most publications had already issued their year-end best albums lists for 2020. evermore was included on lists published after December 11, 2020, topping those by USA Today, NJ.com, and Variety critic Chris Willman.
Republic Records reported evermore sold one million copies in its first-week worldwide, marking Taylor’s third album in 16 months to do so, and her eighth consecutive studio album to achieve it. Aided by evermore and folklore, Taylor was 2020’s top streamed artist on Amazon Music across all genres. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) named her the best-selling soloist and female artist of 2020, and second overall.
evermore debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and topped the chart for four weeks. Unavailable in physical copies during its first week and supported only by digital music and streaming platforms, the album opened with 329,000 units, consisting of 220.49 million on-demand streams and 154,000 pure copies; it earned the biggest sales week for an album since her own folklore, as well as since bundles and concert ticket offers stopped factoring. evermore is Taylor’s second number-one album in 2020 and eighth consecutive number-one debut, making her the third woman with eight number-one albums, behind Barbra Streisand (11 number-ones) and Madonna (9). Alongside folklore at No. 3, Taylor became the first woman in the chart’s history to simultaneously have two albums in the top-three. The gap between the number-one debuts of folklore and evermore was 140 days, breaking the Guinness World Record for the shortest gap between two chart-topping albums by a woman on the Billboard 200.
All of the album’s 15 tracks entered the Billboard Hot 100 simultaneously, generating five top-40 hits. evermore became Taylor’s third album to chart all of its standard tracks together, after Lover (2019) and folklore. “willow” landed at No. 1, scoring her seventh number-one single in the US, second number-one hit in 2020, and the third number-one debut of her career. Despite its availability for the last two weeks of 2020 only, evermore became one of the top 10 best-selling albums of 2020; its sister record, folklore, was the top best-seller of 2020.
The album scored its fourth week atop the Billboard 200 in June 2021, when it rose 73 spots to No. 1 with 202,000 units, following its vinyl release. 192,000 of that sum were pure sales, surpassing her own Fearless (Taylor’s Version) for the largest sales week of 2021. It marked the 53rd chart-topping week of Taylor’s career, extending her record as the female act with the most weeks at No. 1 in Billboard 200 history and the third-most weeks overall, only behind the Beatles and Elvis Presley. evermore sold 102,000 vinyl copies in the same week, breaking the record for the biggest sales week for vinyl albums since MRC Data began tracking sales in 1991. As a thank you, Taylor wrote:
“This one hit me hard. I’m so in my feelings (more so than usual!) over what you all did here for evermore. Blown away by how much you care, and how long we’ve been caring about each other Love you, so very much.” — Taylor Swift
|Released||December 11, 2020|
|Studio||Long Pond (Hudson, NY)|
Scarlet Pimpernel (UK)
Ariel Rechtshaid’s house (LA)