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coney island

Single | Featuring The National | evermore (2020)

“coney island” is the ninth track on Taylor’s ninth studio album, evermore (2020). It was written by Taylor, Joe Alwyn (under the pseudonym William Bowery) and The National members Aaron and Bryce Dessner, with production being handled by the latter two. It is an alternative rock and indie folk duet that counterpoints Taylor’s melodious vocals against Matt Berninger’s baritone, depicting a separated couple’s memories in Coney Island, New York City.

Background and Release

Taylor had collaborated with The National’s Aaron Dessner on her 2020 album folklore, an indie folk album that departs from the upbeat pop production of her previous releases. She and Dessner worked again on her follow-up album evermore, a “sister record” to folklore. This time, they also worked with Bryce Dessner, Aaron Dessner’s twin brother.

The Dessner brothers sent Taylor some of the instrumentals they made for their band, The National. One of those was what would become “coney island”. Taylor and her boyfriend, English actor Joe Alwyn, wrote its lyrics, and recorded it with her vocals. After listening to the demo, the Dessner brothers observed that the song feels very related to The National, and envisioned Matt Berninger (lead vocalist of The National) singing it, and Bryan Devendorf (drummer of The National) playing its drums. Aaron Dessner informed Berninger, who was “excited” for the idea. The band assembled, Devendorf played the drums, while his brother Scott Devendorf played the bass and pocket piano; Bryce Dessner helped produce the song. Recalling how the collaboration came about, Taylor said:

«I think I might have been coming from a place of somebody who's been in a relationship for decades and wakes up one day and realizes that they've taken their partner completely for granted. So whether you want to look at it from the perspective of somebody who's in a new or a very longstanding relationship, it just 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. I just found that interesting and we're really proud of this one. There were elements of it that immediately reminded me of Matt Berninger's vocal stylings and his writing and I targeted some of the lyrics of the second verse to sound like what he might do. I hoped that he might want to sing on it because we already had two members of The National on the song with Aaron and Bryce. So we got our wish and Matt sang on this song. He did such a great job, I'm a huge fan of the band and really honored that this was able to come together with The National.»

Taylor Swift
Matt Berninger said that work experience with Taylor was “like dancing with Gene Kelly. She made [him] look good and didn’t drop [him] once”.

Lyrical Parallels To Other Songs

The bridge of “coney island” contains a lot of references to Taylor’s past work, probably encouraged by the fact that she had spent the latter half of 2020 starting to rerecord her first six albums and keeping them fresh in her memory.

The first reference is “Were you standing in the hallway, with a big cake, happy birthday”, which calls back to the birthday party Taylor first mentioned in 2012’s “The Moment I Knew.” “Did I paint your bluest skies the darkest grey a universe away?” is almost directly lifted from her Speak Now ballad “Dear John” (“You paint me a blue sky, then go back and turn it to grey”). “Out of the Woods” is referenced when Taylor sings “And when I got into the accident, the sight that flashed before me was your face” (“Remember when you hit the brakes too soon? Twenty stitches in a hospital room”). Finally, the last line could be a nod to when Taylor won the Grammy for “Album of the Year” in 2016 and didn’t thank Calvin Harris, even though they were dating at the time. In the documentary Miss Americana (2020) Taylor says she felt completely alone at the time, and had no one to share that moment with.

Commercial Performance

All of the tracks on evermore debuted inside the top 75 of the Billboard Global 200 chart simultaneously; “coney island” was at No. 45. In the US, the song opened at No. 63 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 12 on the Hot Rock & Alternative Songs chart. The song reached No. 31 on the Canadian Hot 100. It further reached No. 15 on the Flemish Ultratop 100, and No. 43 in Australia. Upon service to US alternative radio, “coney island” reached No. 18 on the Billboard Adult Alternative Songs chart.

Critical Reception

Spin critic Bobby Olivier described “coney island” as a “wonderfully dark duet” that feels like “a lonely waltz down a Brooklyn boardwalk”, and praised the fusion of Taylor’s “wispy” head voice with Berninger’s bass. Chris Willman of Variety compared the song to “exile” (2020), another similar duet on Taylor’s preceding album, where former lovers take turns in blaming each other, with the opposite happening in “coney island”. Neil McCormick of The Daily Telegraph wrote that the song “offers an insight into where their aesthetics meet”, counterpointing Taylor’s “lucid, melodious voice” aside “the mumbled intensity” of Berninger’s baritone.

Lyrics

[Verse 1: Taylor Swift]
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?

[Pre-Chorus: Taylor Swift]
And I’m sitting on a bench in Coney Island
Wondering where did my baby go?
The fast times, the bright lights, the merry go
Sorry for not making you my centerfold

[Chorus: Taylor Swift]
Over and over
Lost again with no surprises
Disappointments, close your eyes
And it gets colder and colder
When the sun goes down

[Verse 2: Matt Berninger, Matt Berninger & Taylor Swift]
The question pounds my head
What’s a lifetime of achievement
If I pushed you to the edge?
But you were too polite to leave me
And do you miss the rogue
Who coaxed you into paradise and left you there?
Will you forgive my soul
When you’re too wise to trust me and too old to care?

[Pre-Chorus: Taylor Swift, Taylor Swift & Matt Berninger]
‘Cause we were like the mall before the internet
It was the one place to be
The mischief, the gift-wrapped suburban dreams
Sorry for not winning you an arcade ring

[Chorus: Taylor Swift & Matt Berninger]
Over and over
Lost again with no surprises
Disappointments, close your eyes
And it gets colder and colder
When the sun goes down

[Bridge: Taylor Swift, Matt Berninger, Both]
Were you waiting at our old spot
In the tree line, by the gold clock
Did I leave you hanging every single day?
Were you standing in the hallway
With a big cake, happy birthday
Did I paint your bluest skies the darkest grey
A universe away
And when I got into the accident
The sight that flashed before me was your face
But when I walked up to the podium I think that I forgot to say your name

[Pre-Chorus: Taylor Swift & Matt Berninger]
I’m on a bench in Coney Island
Wondering where did my baby go
The fast times, the bright lights, the merry go
Sorry for not making you my centerfold

[Chorus: Taylor Swift & Matt Berninger]
Over and over
Lost again with no surprises
Disappointments, close your eyes
And it gets colder and colder
When the sun goes down

[Outro: Taylor Swift & Matt Berninger]
When the sun goes down
The sight that flashed before me was your face
When the sun goes down
But I think that I forgot to say your name
Over and over
Sorry for not making you my, making you my
Making you my centerfold

General Information
ArtistTaylor Swift
Albumevermore
FeatureThe National
ReleasedDecember 11, 2020
Recorded2020
StudioLong Pond (Hudson, New York)
Scarlet Pimpernel (UK)
GenreAlternative
Length4:35
LabelRepublic Records
SongwritersTaylor Swift
William Bowery (Joe Alwyn)
Aaron Dessner
Bryce Dessner
ProducersAaron Dessner
Bryce Dessner
EVERMORE CHRONOLOGY
dorotheaconey islandivy
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