exile

Feat. Bon Iver | Single | folklore (2020)

“exile” is a duet that was released on Taylor’s eighth studio album, “folklore” (2020). It describes two ex-lovers seeing each other following a break-up. Justin Vernon of Bon Iver describes feelings of confusion about how quickly a lover moved on, while Taylor offers a perspective about repeated warning signs that the relationship was no longer working.

“exile” prompted many comparisons to Taylor’s 2012 track “The Last Time,” another song that discusses the downfall of a relationship. Much like “exile,” Taylor and featured artist Gary Lightbody’s voices contrast in tone, highlighting their differences. During the “folklore: the long pond studio sessions” Taylor and Aaron Dessner talked about how the collaboration came together:

“William Bowery is Joe [Alwyn], as we all know. And Joe plays piano beautifully. He’s always just playing and making things up and kind of creating things. ‘exile’ was crazy ’cause Joe had written that entire piano part and was singing the Bon Iver part ‘I can see you standing honey, with his arms around your body, laughing but the joke’s not funny at all’. He was just singing it the way that the whole first verse is. And so I was entranced and asked if we could keep writing that one. It was pretty obvious that it should be a duet because he’s got such a low voice and it sounded really could sung down there in that register. We’re really big Bon Iver fans and we know that Aaron knows him. But I was too afraid to suggest it. When I sent it to Aaron I was just like, ‘This is hopefully a duet, I don’t know who it would be with, who do you think would be good with this?’ And Aaron was like, ‘I think Justin would love this!’ And then he [Justin Vernon] wrote the whole bridge! He wrote, ‘So step right out, there is no amount…’ – like that whole bit. I kept thinking, ‘This isn’t really going to happen, Justin is going to change his mind about this because this isn’t a part of my reality. There’s no way this is going to happen. He’s gonna record the vocals and then decide that he doesn’t wanna be on the record’. And then that just never happened. He just is on the album and he’s just the coolest.” — Taylor Swift

In an interview with Pitchfork (2020), producer Aaron Dessner discussed how the collaboration came together:

“Taylor wrote that one with the singer-songwriter William Bowery. When Taylor sent it to me as a voice memo, she sang both the male and female parts—as much as she could fit in without losing her breath. We talked about who she was imagining joining her, and she loves Justin [Vernon]’s voice in Bon Iver and Big Red Machine. She was like, ‘Oh my God, I would die if he would do it. It would be so perfect.’ I didn’t want to put pressure on Justin as his friend, so I said, ‘Well, it depends on if he’s inspired by the song but I know he thinks you’re rad.’ Which he does. So I sent him the song and he was really into it. He tweaked some parts and added parts as well—the bridge where he says, ‘Step right out.’ The end too, and his choral parts. It was fun because Justin and I work on a lot of stuff together, so it was very easy and natural. At some point I felt like a superfan, hearing two of my favorite singers. This was all being done remotely, but it was one of those moments where your head hits the back of the wall and you’re like, ‘Fuck. Okay.'” — Aaron Dessner

“exile” is one of many “folklore” songs to contain a movie motif — other songs to do so include “the 1,” “this is me trying,” and “hoax.” Regarding the story of the song, Taylor spoke to a radio station in late August 2020:

“‘exile’ is a song that was written about miscommunications in relationships, and in the case of this song, I imagined that the miscommunications ended the relationship. They led to the demise of this love affair, and now these two people are seeing each other out for the first time, and they keep miscommunicating with each other. They can’t quite get on the same page, they never were able to. And even in their end, even after they’ve broken up, they’re still not hearing each other. So we imagined the beginning would be his side of the story, the second verse her side of the story, and the end would be the story of them talking over each other and not hearing each other. We’re really stoked about how it turned out because it really does seem to be about the tragedy of two people, of two ships passing in the night.” — Taylor Swift

CRITICAL RECEPTION
Upon release, “exile” received acclaim from music critics, who praised the duo’s vocal chemistry.
E! Online‘s Billy Nilles described “exile” as a “devastating dream” and wrote that the relationship that inspired it must have hurt because it “hits like a punch to the gut”. Clash‘s Valerie Magan called the song an “impassioned” and “scintillating” duet that best shows the “sonic beauty” of “folklore”. Christopher Roberts of Under the Radar included it in his list of the nine best songs of “folklore”‘s release week; he noted that “Swift and Vernon’s voices mesh together well” and the latter sounds like Peter Gabriel on the track. Writing for Consequence of Sound, Matt Melis named “exile” the “Song of the Week” upon the release of “folklore”, and called the duo’s pairing a “minor miracle in 2020”.

COMMERCIAL PERFORMANCE
“exile” debuted at No. 6 on the US Billboard Hot 100, giving Taylor her twenty-eighth top-10 hit and eighteenth top-10 debut on the chart, and Bon Iver’s first of both. The song was serviced to alternative radio stations on August 3, 2020, by Republic Records, as the second single from the album.

Lyrics

[Verse 1: Justin Vernon]
I can see you standing, honey
With his arms around your body
Laughin’, but the joke’s not funny at all
And it took you five whole minutes
To pack us up and leave me with it
Holdin’ all this love out here in the hall

[Chorus: Justin Vernon]
I think I’ve seen this film before
And I didn’t like the ending
You’re not my homeland anymore
So what am I defending now?
You were my town, now I’m in exile, seein’ you out
I think I’ve seen this film before

[Post-Chorus: Justin Vernon]
Ooh, ooh, ooh

[Verse 2: Taylor Swift]
I can see you starin’, honey
Like he’s just your understudy
Like you’d get your knuckles bloody for me
Second, third, and hundredth chances
Balancin’ on breaking branches
Those eyes add insult to injury

[Chorus: Taylor Swift]
I think I’ve seen this film before
And I didn’t like the ending
I’m not your problem anymore
So who am I offending now?
You were my crown, now I’m in exile, seein’ you out
I think I’ve seen this film before
So I’m leaving out the side door

[Bridge: Justin Vernon, Taylor Swift & Both]
So step right out, there is no amount
Of crying I can do for you
All this time
We always walked a very thin line
You didn’t even hear me out (You didn’t even hear me out)
You never gave a warning sign (I gave so many signs)
All this time
I never learned to read your mind (Never learned to read my mind)
I couldn’t turn things around (You never turned things around)
‘Cause you never gave a warning sign (I gave so many signs)
So many signs, so many signs
You didn’t even see the signs

[Chorus: Taylor Swift & Justin Vernon, Taylor Swift]
I think I’ve seen this film before
And I didn’t like the ending
You’re not my homeland anymore
So what am I defending now?
You were my town, now I’m in exile, seein’ you out
I think I’ve seen this film before
So I’m leavin’ out the side door

[Outro: Justin Vernon & Taylor Swift]
So step right out, there is no amount
Of crying I can do for you
All this time
We always walked a very thin line
You didn’t even hear me out (Didn’t even hear me out)
You never gave a warning sign (I gave so many signs)
All this time
I never learned to read your mind (Never learned to read my mind)
I couldn’t turn things around (You never turned things around)
‘Cause you never gave a warning sign (I gave so many signs)
You never gave a warning sign (All this time)
(So many signs) I never learned to read your mind
(So many signs) I couldn’t turn things around (I couldn’t turn things around)
‘Cause you never gave a warning sign (You never gave a warning sign)
You never gave a warning sign
Ah, ah

General Information
Albumfolklore
FeatureBon Iver
ReleasedJuly 24, 2020 (album)
August 3, 2020 (single)
Recorded2020
StudioKitty Committee Studio
(Los Angeles)
April Base (Fall Creek)
GenreIndie Folk
Gospel
Length4:45
LabelRepublic Records
SongwritersTaylor Swift
William Bowery (Joe Alwyn)
Justin Vernon
ProducerAaron Dessner
Official Lyric Video
Official Live Performance
Official Live Audio
Official Lyric Video
Official Audio