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epiphany

folklore (2020)

“epiphany” is the thirteenth song on Taylor’s eighth studio album folklore (2020). It is a homage to healthcare workers and their selfless services during the Covid-19 pandemic. In the prologue for the album, Taylor explained that the song also touches on her grandfather’s experience in the military during World War II.

Background and Lyrical Theme

folklore was conceived by Taylor as figments of mythopoeic visuals in her mind, a result of her imagination “running wild” while isolating herself during the Covid-19 pandemic. One such imagery was of her paternal grandfather Dean, who fought at the Battle of Guadalcanal, an American military campaign against Empire of Japan, fought between August 7, 1942, and February 9, 1943, in World War II. Taylor also mentioned another imagery that visualizes “hands held through plastic”, in reference to the quarantine protocols that were followed during the pandemic. These two concepts formed the central theme of “epiphany”.

«I remember thinking, ‘Maybe I wanna write a sports story.’ Because I had just watched The Last Dance and I was thinking all in terms of sports, and winners, and underdogs. But actually, what I had been doing really frequently up until that point was I had been doing a lot of research on my grandfather who fought in World War II at Guadalcanal, which was an extremely bloody battle. And he never talked about it. Not with his sons, not with his wife. Nobody got to hear about what happened there. So my dad and his brothers did a lot of digging and found out that my granddad was exposed to some of the worst situations you could ever imagine as a human being. So I kind of tried to imagine what would happen in order to make you just never be able to speak about something. And when I was thinking about that I realized that there are people right now taking a twenty minute break in between shifts at a hospital who are having this kind of trauma happen to them right now, that they probably will never wanna speak about. And so I thought that this is an opportunity to maybe tell that story.»

Taylor Swift
A homage to healthcare workers during the Covid-19 pandemic, the song’s lyrics describe the devastation caused by the pandemic, while deeming doctors and nurses as soldiers on beaches, correlating their emotional distress to that of her veteran grandfather Dean at the Battle of Guadalcanal. In the first verse, Taylor sings of Dean on the 1942 battlefield, attending to a soldier bleeding out. In the second verse, she switches to a 2020 medical ward which has patients breathing with difficulty and nurses attending to faltering patients. She parallels the pressure both sets of workers endure as they help patients and serve their country while experiencing trauma, witnessing death, and having to reconcile with that to continue serving. Taylor told Aaron Dessner during folklore: the long pond studio sessions (2020) that she found the experience of being able to write such vulnerable songs with him very freeing:

«I often feel that there have been times in my life where things have fallen apart so methodically, and I couldn’t control how things were going wrong, and nothing I did stopped it. I just felt like I’d been pushed out a plane and I was scratching on the air on the way down. I just felt like the universe was doing its thing. It was just dismantling my life and there was nothing I could do. And this is a weird situation where – ever since I started making music with [Aaron] – I felt like that was the universe forcing things to fall into place perfectly and there’s nothing I could do. It’s one of those weird things that makes you think about life a lot. This lockdown could’ve been a time where I absolutely lost my mind and instead I think this album was a real floatation device for both of us [Aaron and her].»

Taylor Swift

Production

While Taylor penned the lyrics to “epiphany”, Aaron Dessner composed its instrumentals and produced the song. It is an ambient and chamber-pop tune set to a glacial piano, a howling brass and orchestrals. Dessner stated that he imagined “glacial, Icelandic sounds with distended chords and this almost classical feeling” when Taylor described the idea of the sound she wanted for “epiphany”. Therefore, Dessner slowed down compositions from different instruments and reversed them to create a “giant stack of harmony”, and added piano for a cinematic trope. Melodically, it is a hymn, displaying Taylor’s reverent and “angelic” vocals. Aaron Dessner said:

«For 'epiphany,' she did have this idea of a beautiful drone, or a very cinematic sort of widescreen song, where it’s not a lot of accents but more like a sea to bathe in. A stillness, in a sense. [...] To me, it’s like a nurse, doctor, or medical professional, where med school doesn’t fully prepare you for seeing someone pass away or just the difficult emotional things that you’ll encounter in your job. In the past, heroes were just soldiers. Now, they’re also medical professionals. To me, that’s the underlying mission of the song. There are some things that you see that are hard to talk about. You just bear witness to them. But there’s something else incredibly soothing and comforting about this song. My brother did really beautiful orchestration of it.»

Aaron Dessner

Live Performance

Taylor first performed “epiphany” together with Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff for her concert film/documentary folklore: the lond pond studio sessions (2020).

Critical Reception

Sarah Carson, reviewing for I, deemed “epiphany” a “spectral” track that immortalizes the Covid-19 pandemic. Maura Johnston of Entertainment Weekly also called it spectral, writing that the song is driven by “Swift’s exploration of others’ inner worlds”, which allows her to “take on new voices”. The Atlantic writer Spencer Kornhaber dubbed Taylor’s vocals in the song a “translucent beam”, with her syllables falling “slowly like ash”. He added that a song like “epiphany” should not work for “a woman of great privilege” like Taylor, who connects two traumas that “aren’t her own”, but it does work because she “writes with a care and empathy that feel almost priestly”. Writing for Slate, Carl Wilson wrote that Taylor describes these scenes in “warm measured syllables” similar to Kate Bush’s 1989 song “This Woman’s Work”. Annie Zaleski of The A. V. Club wrote that the composition of “epiphany” echoes the “glacial piano work” by Canadian musician Sarah McLachlan, while the New York Times‘ Jon Caramanica compared it to works by Irish singer Enya.

Commercial Performance

Upon the release of folklore, “epiphany” debuted at No. 57 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, No. 11 on the Hot Rock & Alternative Songs, and No. 24 on the Rolling Stone Top 100. The song further reached No. 29 on Australia’s ARIA Singles Chart, No. 27 in Singapore’s Singles chart, and No. 44 on the Canadian Hot 100.

Lyrics

[Verse 1]
Keep your helmet, keep your life, son
Just a flesh wound, here’s your rifle
Crawling up the beaches now
“Sir, I think he’s bleeding out”
And some things you just can’t speak about

[Chorus]
With you I serve, with you I fall down, down
Watch you breathe in, watch you breathing out, out

[Verse 2]
Something med school did not cover
Someone’s daughter, someone’s mother
Holds your hand through plastic now
“Doc, I think she’s crashing out”
And some things you just can’t speak about

[Bridge]
Only twenty minutes to sleep
But you dream of some epiphany
Just one single glimpse of relief
To make some sense of what you’ve seen

[Chorus]
With you I serve, with you I fall down, down
Watch you breathe in, watch you breathing out, out
With you I serve, with you I fall down, down
Watch you breathe in, watch you breathing out, out

[Outro]
Only twenty minutes to sleep
But you dream of some epiphany
Just one single glimpse of relief
To make some sense of what you’ve seen

General Information
Albumfolklore
ReleasedJuly 24, 2020
RecordedMay–July, 2020
StudioKitty Committee (Los Angeles)
GenreAmbient
Length4:50
LabelRepublic Records
SongwritersTaylor Swift
Aaron Dessner
ProducerAaron Dessner
FOLKLORE CHRONOLOGY
mad womanepiphanybetty
Archie Dean Swift
Song Artwork
Live Performance
Lyric Video
Official Audio
Official Live Audio