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A Superswiftie Review of All the Songs from FOLKLORE and EVERMORE

by ALI RAE about a year ago in album reviews
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a track-by-track breakdown of all 34 songs from Taylor's new era

Anyone who knows me knows I am a die-hard Taylor Swift fan... I don't even think I talk about her that much but I must give off the Swifitie aura because even people I hardly know just KNOW.

Thus, I get asked quite often what my favorite Taylor album is, and what my thoughts are on this new folklore/evermore era. I've heard mixed opinions from fellow Swifties, and, just like my opinion of her best album (which we'll discuss another time), my opinions on the new Taylor aesthetic are kind of unpopular.

I have an (almost) equal appreciation for all Taylor’s albums… I have grown to love the different “eras” that have formed around each record, and love to see how her musical style and fashion tastes have developed over the years.

The folklore & evermore era is definitely the most unique of all her eras. While Fearless and Speak Now intersected on many fronts, and Red flowed to 1989 which flowed to reputation as her pop-based sound expanded.

But folklore stands on its own in Taylor’s catalog.

At least it did, until its little sister evermore came along.

With moody black & white and sepia tone photos of Taylor in big coats walking through foggy forests, folklore and evermore feature equally moody songs.

Unlike her previous work, these sister albums are grounded in piano melodies, soft acoustic guitar, and harmonies from the likes of The National, Jack Antonoff, and even Taylor’s long-time boyfriend, Joe Alwyn (a.k.a. William Bowery).

FROM “CARDIGAN” TO “WILLOW,” HERE IS A GOOD-BETTER-BEST RANKING OF ALL 34 TRACKS FROM FOLKLORE AND EVERMORE.

34. BETTY

I’m not much of a country girl, so the plucky guitar and harmonicas didn’t do much for me. Nevertheless, I can’t deny that betty has very cute lyrics and is a well-crafted country-folk song.

“If I just showed up at your party / Would you have me, would you want me?… I don’t know anything / But I know I miss you…”

33. DOROTHEA

The melody of this songs screams young Taylor. While it’s quietly catchy, and the “uh-huh” repeated through the chorus is seriously cute, I have a hard time connecting to songs that don’t make sense as stories being told by Taylor herself. I guess I’m just not into narrative songwriting… sorry Tay!

32. MIRRORBALL

Bittersweet lyrics with themes of adjacent self-confidence and disappointment, mirrorball is a slow and steady track that serves as a great background for a coastal drive… but beyond that, it doesn’t excite me much. It is a pretty song, but I had a hard time understanding the hype.

“I’m still on that tightrope / I’m still trying everything to get you laughing at me…”

31. CLOSURE

I had high hopes for this track… I love anything that addresses closure or the lack thereof. I’m not sure if it was just the influence of The National, but even my highly-trained ear simply could not figure out the rhythm of this song. I can’t not sit on the edge of my seat through the entire song because I’m constantly trying to figure out when the percussion beat will match up with the melody…

…It never does. Am I missing something?

30. HAPPINESS

“When did all our lessons start to look like weapons / Pointed at my deepest hurt? / I hope she’ll be your beautiful fool / Who takes my spot next to you / No, I didn’t mean that / Sorry, I can’t see facts through all of my fury / You haven’t met the new me yet”

The raw, poetic honesty of the lyrics make up for the over-simplified backing of happiness. This song sounds more to me like things she is trying to convince herself of than anything else… and, in breakups, there is certainly a time and place for that.

“I can’t make it go away it go away / By making you a villian…”

29. EVERMORE (FT. BON IVER)

“Gray November / I’ve been down since July…”

If those aren’t the most relatable lyrics for 2020.

(Except I think we’ve all been down since March.)

I was definitely expecting the “evermore” to be something more like “I’ll love you forevermore,” rather than “I had a feeling so peculiar / That this pain will be for evermore.”

Certainly not as strong as the Bon Iver duet from folklore, evermore is still a chill and beautiful song… rich with sadness and the feeling of winter. I wish the whole song was the same tempo as the quickened middle of the song… but overall I won’t complain!

28. EPIPHANY

I have an unpopular take on the Covid-19 pandemic and its effect on our society, so epiphany does not resonate with my lyrically. (Not going to open Pandora’s box any further than that.)

Yet, this song is beautiful, with some incomparable melodies that peak in the bridge that I just cannot get enough of.

“Just a little glimpse of relief / To make some sense of what you’ve seen…”

27. MARJORIE

I love that Taylor pauses in the core of evermore to pay homage to her late grandmother.

“What died didn’t stay dead / You’re alive, you’re alive in my head…”

I love the bridge of this song, but overall it is mainly a song that I think Taylor needed to write for herself, rather than for her listeners. Which I am more than happy to indulge her in.

26. ILLICIT AFFAIRS

“Take the road less traveled by / Tell yourself you can always stop…”

This song nails its subject matter so perfectly and poetically, it ends up just making me sad for those who get themselves caught up in affairs like this.

And for a singer who’s so famous for her bridges, this one ranks pretty high on the list of great bridges.

“And you wanna scream / Don’t call me “kid,” don’t call me “baby” / Look at this godforsaken mess that you made me / You showed me colors you know I can’t see with anyone else / Don’t call me “kid,” don’t call me “baby” / Look at this idiotic fool that you made me / You taught me a secret language I can’t speak with anyone else…”

25. MAD WOMAN

Out of all the backing piano melodies between the two albums, this might be one of the best. It sounds exactly how it should – like a woman scorned plotting revenge as she walks alone through a dark, gloomy forest.

And I’m SO here for that aesthetic.

“Every time you call me crazy, I get more crazy / How about that … I’m taking my time, taking my time / ‘Cause you took everything from me…”

24. IT'S TIME TO GO - BONUS TRACK

Taylor closes the folklore/evermore chapter perfectly with this subtly-nostalgic song, ironically saying goodbye to the cottagecore chapter of her career with a song about knowing when things are done and it’s time to move on.

“That old familiar body ache / The snaps from the same little breaks in your soul / You know when it’s time to go… / Sometimes giving up is the strong thing / Sometimes to run is the brave thing / Sometimes walking out is the one thing / That will find you the right thing…”

While this song clearly references scenarios she hasn’t herself experienced, like “20 years at your job / Then the son of the boss / Takes the spot that was yours,” elements of the song are clearly drawn from her own experience.

“15 years, 15 million tears / Begging ’til my knees bled / I gave it my all, he gave me nothing at all / Then wondered why I left / Now he sits on his throne in his palace of bones / Praying to his greed / He’s got my past frozen behind glass / But I’ve got me…”

Whether this verse is truly about Taylor’s backstabbing by Big Machine Records or not, there are certainly elements of her “past frozen behind glass.” It could mean the snippets of her life encapsulated in songs, or the memories of herself as certain times in her life that other people will always have of her, or even the millions of photos we all hold behind the “glass” screens of our iPhones. This poetic ambiguity is arguably what makes this song – and the rest of Taylor’s music – so magical.

23. INVISIBLE STRING

“A string that pulled me / Out of all the wrong arms, right into that dive bar / Something wrapped all of my past mistakes in barbed wire / Chains around my demons / Wool to brave the seasons / One single thread of gold / Tied me to you.”

After the many times I’ve listened to invisible string over the past few months, the more I’ve come to believe that this is one of the lyrically strongest tracks on folklore.

“Cold was the steel of my axe to grind / For the boys who broke my heart / Now I send their babies presents / Gold was the color of the leaves / When I showed you around Centennial Park / Hell was the journey but it brought me heaven…”

Another beautiful example of how well Taylor knows how to make a song simultaneously extremely personal and somehow nostalgic for every listener.

22. NO BODY, NO CRIME (FT. HAIM)

If this song doesn’t give the strongest Goodbye Earl vibes ever, I don’t know what does.

“Este wasn’t there Tuesday night at Olive Gardеn / At her job or anywhere / Hе reports his missing wife / And I noticed when I passed his house / His truck has got some brand new tires / And his mistress moved in / Sleeps in Este’s bed and everything / No, there ain’t no doubt / Somebody’s gotta catch him out”

And why does the mention of Olive Garden somehow make this song even better?

I know I said I don’t like narrative song lyrics, but I bend my rules for Goodbye Earl and friends.

“Good thing my daddy made me get a boating license when I was fifteen / And I’ve cleaned enough houses to know how to cover up a scene / Good thing Este’s sister’s gonna swear she was with me / (She was with me, dude) / Good thing his mistress took out a big life insurance policy …. No, no body, no crime / I wasn’t lettin’ up until the day he died.”

21. LONG STORY SHORT

long story short is the perfect peppy mix of closure from past mistakes and hope for the future. These themes are reminiscent of Lover, and the the upbeat, major key sound hints to Lover's bubblegum pop sound as well.

“Fatefully / I tried to pick my battles ’til the battle picked me / Misery / Like the war of words I shouted in my sleep / And you passed right by / I was in the alley, surrounded on all sides / The knife cuts both ways / If the shoe fits, walk in it ’til your high heels break…”

As Taylor tends to do, the lyrics in this song nod to other songs and eras of her journey, making the “long story” much shorter by briefly mentioning events and feelings that, in the past, she took entire songs like Wonderland, Look What You Made Me Do, and Getaway Car to explain:

“And I fell from the pedestal / Right down the rabbit hole (Wonderland) / Long story short, it was a bad time / Pushed from the precipice (Look What You Made Me Do/I Did Something Bad) / Clung to the nearest lips (Getaway Car) / Long story short, it was the wrong guy…”

“Actually / I always felt I must look better in the rear view (Breathe/White Horse) / Missing me / At the golden gates they once held the keys to (Look What You Made Me Do) / When I dropped my sword / I threw it in the bushes and knocked on your door (I Did Something Bad/Bad Blood) / And we live in peace / But if someone comes at us / This time, I’m ready.”

20. THE 1

“I hit the ground running each night / I hit the Sunday matinée / You know the greatest films of all time were never made…”

I still don’t feel like this song quite fits with the rest of folklore… I see the 1 almost as a sort of transition from Lover to the new era, with its upbeat tempo and major chord progression.

“I guess you never know, never know / And if you wanted me, you really should’ve showed / And if you never bleed, you’re never gonna grow / And it’s alright now…”

Beside simply being a fun and catchy song that attracts even one-off listeners, the 1 brings a sense of lighthearted nostalgia to anyone who’s had a “one who got away.”

“…if my wishes came true / It would’ve been you / In my defense, I have none / For never leaving well enough alone / But it would’ve been fun / If you would’ve been the one. / I, I, I persist and resist the temptation to ask you / If one thing had been different / Would everything be different today?”

A question I think we all have at least once in our lives… If one things had been different, could everything be different?

19. SEVEN

“Please picture me / In the trees / I hit my peak at seven feet / In the swing / Over the creek / I was too scared to jump in…”

The first verse of seven gives me serious “Bridge to Terebithia vibes.” But the second verse is my favorite:

“Please picture me / In the weeds / Before I learned civility / I used to scream ferociously / Any time I wanted…”

Already a hauntingly beautiful song musically, the lyrics to seven make it a chills-all-over-your-body kind of song. Taylor captures a poetic glimpse into the mind of a seven-year-old, who wants nothing more than to solve their friend’s problems.

“Sweet tea in the summer / Cross my heart, won’t tell no other / And though I can’t recall your face / I still got love for you / Pack your dolls and a sweater / We’ll move to India forever / Passed down like folk songs / Our love lasts so long…”

18. CHAMPAGNE PROBLEMS

“Your mom’s ring in your pocket / My picture in your wallet / Your heart was glass, I dropped it / Champagne problems…”

Against the simple piano-led background, the exquisitely-written verses of champagne problems truly stand out.

“Your Midas touch on the Chevy door / November flush and your flannel cure / ‘This dorm was once a madhouse’ / I made a joke, ‘Well, it’s made for me’ / How evergreen, our group of friends / Don’t think we’ll say that word again / And soon they’ll have the nerve to deck the halls / That we once walked through…”

For someone who (as far as I know) didn’t go to college, Taylor sure nailed the feeling of seeing a new class of students take over the campus. To spend four years somewhere and as soon as its over suddenly watch strangers begin to make memories in all the places where your memories took place seems like a violation.

That feeling, mixed with the harsh reality of having to decide what to do with the rest of your life after graduation, makes this song hit even more close to home on top of the denied proposal that she sings about.

All the feels!!

17. THE LAST GREAT AMERICAN DYNASTY

Now, I know I keep saying that I don’t like narrative song lyrics. But for some reason, The Last Great American Dynasty hit different. Maybe it’s the Gatsby vibe or the John-Mayer-sounding guitar, but whatever it is, I loved this track from my first folklore listen.

“She had a marvelous time / Ruining everything…”

16. RIGHT WHERE YOU LEFT ME – BONUS TRACK

There’s something about the hyperbolic nature of this song that makes it so great and so Taylor. With it’s folky instrumentation and subject matter, it’s quite reminiscent of Fearless and Speak Now… maybe this was her segway into Fearless (Taylor’s Version)?

“Did you ever hear about the girl who got frozen? / Time went on for everybody else, she won’t know it / She’s still 23 inside her fantasy / How it was supposed to be / Did you hear about the girl who lives in delusion? / Break-ups happen every day, you don’t have to lose it / She’s still 23 inside her fantasy…”

Maybe it was because I was a couple months out of being a heartbroken 23-year-old myself that this song hit close to home, but regardless it quickly became a favorite of mine as soon as the deluxe version of evermore was released.

Taylor demonstrates her expertise in lyric-writing yet again, with this bonus track holding its own next to evermore's lead single willow and cult favorite champagne problems.

“I’m sure that you got a wife out there / Kids and Christmas, but I’m unaware / ‘Cause I’m right where / I cause no harm, mind my business / If our love died young, I can’t bear witness / And it’s been so long / But if you ever think you got it wrong / I’m right where you left me…”

15. COWBOY LIKE ME

“And the tennis court was covered up / With some tent-like thing / And you asked me to dance / But I said, ‘Dancing is a dangerous game’ / Oh, I thought / This is gonna be one of those things / Now I know / I’m never gonna love again…”

I read an article the other day breaking down evermore, and I didn’t realize until I started reading that it was a total roast of the album. I happen to love it, and know lots of other people who agree… not sure why the article was so critical, as if the album sucking was a popular consensus. But beside that, one of the core issues they expressed about cowboy like me, an issue so great that they completely wrote off what they otherwise would’ve loved as an homage to Taylor’s country roots, was the fact that the song starts with the word “and.”

I had a physical reaction to reading that.

The first line is literally my FAVORITE part of the song. As a writer who loves to break the rules in the name of artistic license, I’m a sucker for poetry or song lyrics that start with “and” or “but.” I think it adds a level of depth to the story that follows… Like the singer is making it clear that the lyrics contained within the 4 minutes of the song do not lay out the whole story. For anything that is a real (albeit fictional) story, how could one song fit all the history and nuances of a relationship, especially one as outlandish and complex as the one written about in cowboy like me?

By starting with “and,” Taylor is saying, this is not where these characters began. They have brought baggage and past experiences with them, which will shape the decisions they make in the next 4 minutes and 35 seconds.

“I’ve got some tricks up my sleeve / Takes one to know one / You’re a cowboy like me / Never wanted love / Just a fancy car / Now I’m waiting by the phone / Like I’m sitting in an airport bar…”

While I’ve never been a fan of the country-folk sound, the rich narrative and the fluid meter of the lyrics (paired with the John-Mayer-esque guitar in the second half of the song), make cowboy like me irresistible.

“And the skeletons in both our closets / Plotted hard to mess this up / And the old men that I’ve swindled / Really did believe I was the one / And the ladies lunching have their stories about / When you passed through town / But that was all before I locked it down…”

A social commentary, country-folk narrative, and love poem all in one song? I want to be a cowboy like you too, Tay!

14. CONEY ISLAND (FT. THE NATIONAL)

“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…”

There isn’t a whole lot to this song musically, but something about it sounds so serenely sad, like sitting on a bench by the ocean under a cloudy sky, and I think that’s exactly what Taylor was going for.

And the lyrics, with the strong rhymes and solid iambic pentameter in the chorus, coney island is a great casual listen that builds on the narrative of impending heartbreak from other songs on evermore like cowboy like me and hoax (notice that allusion with the word “coaxed”? almost as if The National is singing from the perspective of the subject of folklore's last track hoax?)

“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?”

13. ’TIS THE D*** SEASON

It’s hard not to fall in love at first listen with the softened electric guitar in this song. And the verses that mentioned Methodist churches and neighborhood schools ring true to anyone who is from a small or suburban town… which means it resonates greatly with me.

“Time flies, messy as the mud on your truck tires / Now I’m missing your smile, hear me out

/ We could just ride around / And the road not taken looks real good now / And it always leads to you and my hometown…”

This is a solid, nostalgic song… the title and subsequent lyrics, though, make it come off too crass to be a favorite of mine, as someone who only listens to the clean version of the album.

But I can’t deny that this song is a major jam, and as a self-proclaimed Grinch I consider listening to this song to be my yearly dosage of Christmas music.

“I won’t ask you to wait if you don’t ask me to stay / So I’ll go back to L.A. and the so-called friends / Who’ll write books about me, if I ever make it / And wonder about the only soul who can tell which smiles I’m fakin’ / And the heart I know I’m breakin’ is my own / To leave the warmest bed I’ve ever known.”

12. THE LAKES - BONUS TRACK

As a major fan of “the poets” Taylor sings about in the lakes, this folklore bonus track stole my heart from the first listen.

“Take me to the lakes where all the poets went to die / I don’t belong, and my beloved, neither do you / Those Windermere peaks look like a perfect place to cry / I’m setting off, but not without my muse…”

For some reason I just love the use of “muse” by a woman describing her man… It’s a term traditionally only ever used to describe a woman, so when I first heard it I was very pleasantly surprised.

“I want auroras and sad prose / I want to watch wisteria grow right over my bare feet / ‘Cause I haven’t moved in years / And I want you right here / A red rose grew up out of ice frozen ground / With no one around to tweet it / While I bathe in cliffside pools / With my calamitous love and insurmountable grief.”

A catchy amalgamation of modern social commentary and allusions to Romantic poets, the lakes is one of my long-lasting favorites from folklore.

11. AUGUST

I didn’t really like august until folklore had already been out for a couple months…

I was actually offended when other Swifties were comparing august to the likes of Getaway Car and Cruel Summer (one of my fave TSwift songs of all time). But I kept hearing it while shuffling folklore, and after a few rounds the bridge of august would not get out of my head.

“Back when we were still changin’ for the better / Wanting was enough / For me, it was enough / To live for the hope of it all / Cancel plans just in case you’d call / And say, ‘Meet me behind the mall’ / So much for summer love and saying ‘us’ / ‘Cause you weren’t mine to lose…”

Ummm, hullo???

THIS IS FIRE.

Nothing like a good ol’ hometown heartbreak to increase relatability. Taylor continues alluding to the importance of the city mall on evermore in the song coney island:

“‘Cause we were like the mall before the Internet / It was the one place to be / The mischief, the gift wrapped suburban dreams…”

Anyone who grew up in suburbia knows the truth of this simile, and this is one of the many places where the progressive narrative between folklore and evermore shines through.

Even some of the lyrics from the verses and chorus nod to other songs: “Salt air, and the rust on your door” is reminiscent of the last great american dynasty and gold rush; “August sipped away like a bottle of wine” uses a wine simile like the first verse of willow; and, of course, “Will you call when you’re back at school? / I remember thinkin’ I had you” ties into the Taylor-professed “trilogy” between this song, betty, and cardigan.

Beyond that, though, august is simply a beautiful work of poetry. It repeats back in the second bridge with similar lyrics as the first bridge, bringing the nostalgic song full-circle.

“Remember when I pulled up and said, ‘Get in the car’ / And then canceled my plans just in case you’d call? / Back when I was livin’ for the hope of it all, for the hope of it all / ‘Meet me behind the mall'”

And, of course, the dorky-faced excitement that Jack Antonoff had while playing this song in The Long Pond Sessions makes me root for august even more.

10. IVY

Like she tends to do, Taylor somehow read my mind while writing her new album.

Not ready to reveal too many secrets just yet, but let’s just say that this song and many other songs on evermore perfectly coincide with the story I am currently working on. Maybe I am biased because of that, and that’s why I ranked this song so high on my list.

But it’s also just a great song.

I love love love the chord progression, and the plucky guitar and backing vocals give this song a “secret cabin in the woods” sound. Which, I think, is exactly what she was going for with the tenth song on her second “cottagecore” album.

“How’s one to know? / I’d meet you where the spirit meets the bones / In a faith forgotten land / In from the snow / Your touch brought forth an incandescent glow / Tarnished but so grand / And the old widow goes to the stone every day / But I don’t, I just sit here and wait / Grieving for the living…”

The article I mentioned previously that made a big stink about cowboy like me starting with the word “and” also had a whole section dedicated to why the poetics of the lyrics to ivy didn’t make sense… and once again, I wholeheartedly disagree.

The article, entitled “Taylor Swift Could Use an Editor” (which has since been changed to “Taylor Swift’s evermore feels like a rough draft”), discusses her lyrics as though the journalist is some kind of grammar genius. If I could make only statement of criticism for that article, it would be, “Haven’t you heard of the saying, ‘Know the rules so you can break them like a pro’?”

“In ‘Tolerate It,’ a devastating note from one side of a dying relationship, the narrator describes how her acts of service (she even set the table ‘with the fancy s***’) earned responses as frosty as Dessner’s piano riff. The Antonoff anthem ‘Gold Rush’ pulses with the relatable pettiness of resenting someone for being gorgeous; in the delectable chorus, Swift’s voice surges from sarcasm to desire. The sighing ballad ‘Cowboy Like Me’ shows how Swift’s love for conspiratorial romances draws out her knack for detail and scenery. It even has a killer opening word: ‘and.'” (https://bit.ly/3nTVnY6)

If this journalist even went to college, which to me seems doubtful when taking into account their amateur “grammar Nazi” nitpicking, I doubt they took courses on editing (which is how I learned how and when to break grammar rules artistically). But aside from their lack of understanding in this regard, they also don’t seem to understand the poetic quality of evermore, which is the heart and soul of the album. And this is why they didn’t like the album at all.

Then they continue on to bash ivy: “Then there’s ‘Ivy,’ a thesaurus sing-along: ‘Your touch brought forth an incandescent glow / Tarnished but so grand.’ Any editor might wonder if these are signs of first-draft work. The album appears to have tumbled out quickly, and the exuberant public reaction to Folklore could have messed with Swift’s quality-control calculations.”

I beg your pardon?

Go read some Shakespeare sonnets or Emily Dickinson poems and tell me you don’t see one instance in which the poet uses synonymous words. I understand that “incandescent” and “glow” don’t necessarily both need to be used to portray the meaning, but by using the adjective of incandescent Taylor is describing in more detail what the “glow” of romance is like – not a safe, steady flame; not a spark barely bright enough to see; it is “incandescent,” bright with many colors almost like light through a prism. Doesn’t that add more depth of meaning, rather than just saying “your touch made me glow?” Not to mention that it takes extreme skill to write lyrics in iambic pentameter with the correct amount of syllables that fit the melody.

(Also, why would an editor “wonder” if something is a “sign” of something? Wouldn’t you just say “The editor saw a sign that this might be a first-draft work?”)

But back to ivy. While I never condone extramarital affairs, the bittersweet passion of this song is irresistible.

“Clover blooms in the fields / Spring breaks loose, the time is near / What would he do if he found us out? / Crescent moon, coast is clear / Spring breaks loose, but so does fear / He’s gonna burn this house to the ground…”

The choppy background harmonies during the bridge come across as something like a musical representation of looking back and forth, back and forth, whether that be checking over one’s shoulder or not knowing which way to turn. Is that not the message of the song? Seems to me like she’s continuing to home a skill I have seen in John Mayer since I realized the background music of Stop This Train actually sounds like a train chugging on the tracks.

I also love that she uses “one” instead of saying “how was I to know.” I can definitely see the influence of all the reading Taylor said she did during quarantine on her lyrics… this is a very old British way of writing, which makes the lyrics sound more intellectual and mature to me. And I think this is a time in her career and in her life to take steps in that direction.

“How’s one to know? / I’d live and die for moments that we stole / On begged and borrowed time / So tell me to run / Or dare to sit and watch what we’ll become / And drink my husband’s wine.”

All I want to do now is move to a cabin in the snowy woods and drink tea by a roaring fire and listen to this song. Mission accomplished, Taylor. Mission accomplished.

9. PEACE

It took a few months of folklore for peace to work its way into my heart…

“I’m a fire and I’ll keep your brittle heart warm / If your cascade ocean wave blues come / All these people think love’s for show / But I would die for you in secret / The devil’s in the details, but you got a friend in me / Would it be enough if I could never give you peace?”

This strikes me as one of the most true, autobiographical songs on either of the two new albums. We know because of the media and fans, Taylor (as an adult) never has and never will have a normal, “peaceful” life. I have always admired that she doesn’t complain about this… she simply accepts it as a fact of life and still expresses great gratitude for all that her career has brought her.

I think that’s why I admire so much her acknowledgment here: “I could never give you peace.” She knows that’s not something that will change for her, but she understands that it could be a deal-breaker for someone who wants to be in her life.

“‘Cause there’s robbers to the east, clowns to the west / I’d give you my sunshine, give you my best / But the rain is always gonna come if you’re standing with me…”

In The Long Pond Session Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff talk about how musically this song sounds very peaceful… But what I hear in the syncopation and soft pulsing background is a near-peace, an almost-there, a kind of on-the-edge-of-my-seat anticipation that will (hopefully) lead to happiness. But there is still a twinge of doubt and vulnerability. Which, of course, is a major theme of the lyrics.

“And you know that I’d swing with you for the fences / Sit with you in the trenches / Give you my wild, give you a child / Give you the silence that only comes when two people understand each other / Family that I chose now that I see your brother as my brother / Is it enough?”

From the littlebit we know of Joe Alwyn, I think it is “enough” for him. But I guess we don’t really know for sure, do we?

8. GOLD RUSH

Like this hilarious youtuber, I too was “shook” by the smooth, slightly-electronic beat of gold rush. And then of course the lyrics. THE LYRICS.

“But I don’t like a gold rush, gold rush / I don’t like anticipating my face in a red flush / I don’t like that anyone would die to feel your touch / Everybody wants you / Everybody wonders what it would be like to love you / Walk past, quick brush / I don’t like slow motion double vision in rose blush / I don’t like that falling feels like flying ’til the bone crush / Everybody wants you / But I don’t like a gold rush…”

How she was able to fit with that many separate statements into just a few lines, AND still rhyme perfectly, is a mystery to me. Mad props, Queen Tay!

I also love how the second chorus doubles back to change the first by only a few words, yet entirely changes the meaning – taking back all the adventures the first chorus told us they had to reveal that they never happened, and never can. Tear.

“My mind turns your life into folklore / I can’t dare to dream about you anymore / At dinner parties / Won’t call you out on your contrarian wit / And the coastal town / We never found / Will never see a love as pure as it / ‘Cause it fades into the gray of my day old tea / ‘Cause it will never be…”

While gold rush goes by pretty quickly, it has been one of my favorites from my first listen. Just simply a catchy, bittersweet pop track.

7. EXILE (FT. BON IVER)

Never been a huge fan of Bon Iver, but I must say this song is a work of art.

“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 defendin’ now? / You were my town / Now I’m in exile seein’ you out / I think I’ve seen this film before…”

Nothing snatches up my heart like a shift to minor key in the chorus… which is done masterfully in exile's chorus. I also LOVE when the first chorus and second chorus build on each other, but have different lyrics. Especially because the first is sung here by Justin Vernon and the second by Taylor, this dichotomy really stands out.

“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 leavin’ out the side door…”

Then, of course, the magnificent bridge from the Bridge Queen herself.

“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)…”

It’s kind of great, too, how the repeated bridge simply faded out and that is the end of the song… much more fun than repeating a verse, in my opinion.

6. HOAX

“My only one / My smoking gun / My eclipsed sun / This has broken me down / My twisted knife / My sleepless night / My win-less fight / This has frozen my ground…”

As a total sucker for a good metaphor, from the first verse Hoax became one of my favorites. It is quite literally just a poem set to a pretty piano melody. And sometimes that is all a song should be.

“ My best laid plan / Your sleight of hand / My barren land / I am ash from your fire / Stood on the cliffside / Screaming ‘Give me a reason’ / Your faithless love’s the only hoax I believe in / Don’t want no other shade of blue but you / No other sadness in the world would do…”

Yet, the bittersweet center of this delectable song is my favorite:

“You know I left a part of me back in New York / You knew the hero died, so what’s the movie for? / You knew it still hurts underneath my scars / From when they pulled me apart / You knew the password, so I let you in the door / You knew you won, so what’s the point of keeping score? / You knew it still hurts underneath my scars / From when they pulled me apart / But what you did was just as dark / Darling, this was just as hard / As when they pulled me apart…”

No compliment I could give would do justice to that bridge.

5. THIS IS ME TRYING

This is me trying was also one of my second-time-around favorites.

“They told me all of my cages were mental / So I got wasted like all my potential / And my words shoot to kill when I’m mad / I have a lot of regrets about that / I was so ahead of the curve, the curve became a sphere / Fell behind all my classmates and I ended up here / Pourin’ out my heart to a stranger / But I didn’t pour the whiskey…”

The intense syncopation (to the point where sometimes it almost sounds like she just completely off-beat) was a turn-off initially, but has come to be one of my favorite elements of this song. I think the tone of the song and the weird beat goes hand-in-hand with the narrative she has crafted in her lyrics:

“And it’s hard to be at a party / When I feel like an open wound / It’s hard to be anywhere these days / When all I want is you / You’re a flashback in a film reel / On the one screen in my town…”

With those uber-relatable lyrics and the beautiful strings to kick it up a few notches, this song has the perfect build-up that plays into the hopeful “trying” the POV character is doing. This song is quite unique, but I have come to love it so much. (Hence the top-five rating.)

4. WILLOW

With a much different sound than the rest of the album, I still think willow started off evermore with a major bang.

“I’m like the water when your ship rolled in that night / Rough on the surface, but you cut through like a knife / And if it was an open-shut case / I never would’ve known from that look on your face / Lost in your current like a priceless wine…”

The article I shredded earlier also knocks the first verse of willow

“‘Willow’ opens with a gently plucked guitar riff creating a seesawing sensation, and Swift compares herself to water and her lover to a boat. So far, so fine. But for the verse’s emphatic final line, Swift uses an odd simile: ‘Lost in your current like a priceless wine.’

So, okay, her man, not her, is now the water. But: Are priceless wines commonly lost in currents? Like, is Swift referring to the Veuve Clicquot recovered from the Titanic? Or is she envisioning someone purposefully pouring wine into the sea on an expensive dare? Maybe I’m hearing the grammar wrong—is it that she’s lost in this lover in the same way a drinker might get lost in a drink?”

I happen to think that Taylor’s wine metaphor is consistent with the rest of her catalog and takes just the right amount of poetic license. Without putting forth any mental effort, I immediately gather from that lyric that the give-and-take, or “bait-and-switch,” of this relationship leads her to throw the best parts of herself, her deepest emotions and the core of her soul (the “priceless wine”) into the “current” (i.e. a strong force she has no control over) that is her lover. And while wine (especially a priceless one) should be able to lord the power to intoxicate over its beholder, even a whole bottle of alcohol is powerless against someone as wide and strong as a rushing river. I have been poring over the confusion this article displays with these lyrics, and the only thing I can think as that this journalist is, well, not bright.

“The more that you say, the less I know / Wherever you stray, I follow / I’m begging for you to take my hand / Wreck my plans, that’s my man / You know that my train could take you home / Anywhere else is hollow…”

Willow nails both the realities of falling into potentially one-sided or imbalanced love, and perfect meter and rhyme patterns. What’s not to love?

Plus its filled with straight-up lyrical gems. “Every bait-and-switch was a work of art” is a pretty irresistible line, as it “Life was a willow and it bent right to your wind.” And you know Taylor wrote “I come back stronger than a 90s trend” and smiled and said to herself, “I finally topped ‘Darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream.'” Tbh, she did.

3. TOLERATE IT

The only thing I’ve been hearing about tolerate it is that people either LOVE or HATE it.

I, personally, fell madly in love with it pretty quickly.

“I sit and watch you reading with your head low / I wake and watch you breathing with your eyes closed / I sit and watch you / I notice everything you do or don’t do / You’re so much older and wiser, and I…”

No matter what that stupid article says, I’m totally here for Taylor setting the table with fancy dishes as she contemplates the future of her relationship. Is it not the smallest details, the quietest moments that truly express the depth of our emotions? Especially when, later, she goes on to sing more about the dishes:

“I take your indiscretions all in good fun / I sit and listen / I polish plates until they gleam and glisten…”

The last minute or so of the song completely has my heart. I don’t know what else I can say beyond what the lyrics themselves say…

“While you were out building other worlds, where was I? / Where’s that man who’d throw blankets over my barbed wire? / I made you my temple, my mural, my sky / Now I’m begging for footnotes in the story of your life / Drawing hearts in the byline / Always taking up too much space or time / You assume I’m fine, but what would you do if I / Break free and leave us in ruins? / Took this dagger in me and removed it? / Gain the weight of you then lose it / Believe me, I could do it…”

Maybe I just got lucky that these lyrics fit perfectly with my (not-so) romantic history, but the melancholic, poetic beauty of the bridge it undeniable, as we hear the relationship go from a “man who’d throw blankets over my barbed wire” to her “always taking up too much space or time.” I feel you girl, I feel you. And I can’t be the only one.

“If it’s all in my head tell me now / Tell me I’ve got it wrong somehow / I know my love should be celebrated / But you tolerate it.”

2. CARDIGAN

Taylor Swift isn’t usually known for her singles… But cardigan dissolved that judgment for me.

“When you are young, they assume you know nothing / But I knew you / Dancin’ in your Levi’s / Drunk under a streetlight, I / I knew you / Hand under my sweatshirt / Baby, kiss it better, I / And when I felt like I was an old cardigan / Under someone’s bed / You put me on and said I was your favorite…”

Cardigan, I think, was the perfect lead single with which to usher in the new era of moody piano ballads, and I think its one of her strongest romantic nostalgia/introspection songs ever. Right away I fell for this new deep-voiced Taylor who appears for the first time in cardigan and pops up many more times throughout the two albums. She has clearly bene working on expanding her vocal range, and it’s certainly working to our benefit.

“To kiss in cars and downtown bars / Was all we needed / You drew stars around my scars / But now I’m bleedin’ / ‘Cause I knew you / Steppin’ on the last train / Marked me like a bloodstain, I / I knew you / Tried to change the ending / Peter losing Wendy, I / I knew you / Leavin’ like a father / Running like water, I / And when you are young, they assume you know nothing…”

Allusions to civilian staples like Levi’s, Peter Pan, and standing in line at the grocery store, along with the harsh realities like fathers leaving that many of us are too familiar with, makes cardigan a song equally compelling for Taylor’s suburban fans and fellow celebrities. Even Nina Dobrev shared a snap of herself in her cardigan, quoting the lyrics in the chorus.

“I knew you’d haunt all of my what-ifs / The smell of smoke would hang around this long / ‘Cause I knew everything when I was young / I knew I’d curse you for the longest time / Chasin’ shadows in the grocery line / I knew you’d miss me once the thrill expired / And you’d be standin’ in my front porch light / And I knew you’d come back to me…”

For such a sad, haunting song, it came as a surprise to me that the subject of the song came around and “came back to [her].” Unpredictable song endings (or really any narrative endings in any medium) are often the best kind.

And I stand by Taylor’s Instagram bio being replaced with this singular lyric: “you drew stars around my scars.” It’s one of the prettiest and richest lines from the song, and the whole album, and I’m still not over it!!!

1. MY TEARS RICOCHET

Now before I start getting angry Swiftie emails, hear me out.

One of my favorite things to research and study is the historic 16th-century rivalry between Queen Elizabeth I of England and Mary Queen of Scots. I was in deep study mode when folklore first came out, so after the first few times listening to my tears ricochet I realized, wait a second… this song fits almost PERFECTLY into the story of Mary and Elizabeth. If you know anything about these two queens, you probably know that Elizabeth (reluctantly) ordered the execution of Mary, her cousin and rival, in order to protect her own reign and unite England and Scotland. Her execution was abrupt, harsh, and extremely bloody; and though she had many flaws, Mary certainly didn’t deserve such a disgraceful spectacle.

My tears ricochet, if taken literally, is being sung from the perspective of someone who was killed to their killer, addressing the guilt and regret the killer likely has after what they have done. It starts at the funeral of the POV character as she recounts what led to that point:

“We gather here, we line up / Weepin’ in a sunlit room, and / If I’m on fire, you’ll be made of ashes too / Even on my worst day, did I deserve, babe / All the hell you gave me? / ‘Cause I loved you, I swear I loved you / ‘Til my dying day…”

Historically, Mary was always eager to meet Elizabeth and showed great respect and admiration for her. Yet Elizabeth made an excuse for every attempted meeting, and so they never met face-to-face. That is all I can think of when I hear “I swear I loved you / ‘Til my dying day.” Interesting…

Elizabeth was said to have gone into a nervous fit upon hearing the details of Mary’s execution… Doesn’t the chorus fit perfectly with this untimely, regrettable demise?

“I didn’t have it in myself to go with grace / And you’re the hero flying around, saving face / And if I’m dead to you, why are you at the wake? / Cursing my name, wishing I stayed / Look at how my tears ricochet…”

But then the correlation starts to get really serious… “You wear the same jewels that I gave you / As you bury me.” There are multiple recorded accounts of Mary gifting Elizabeth with jewels from her royal collection. Hmmm.

“I didn’t have it in myself to go with grace / ‘Cause when I’d fight, you used to tell me I was brave / And if I’m dead to you, why are you at the wake?” Mary fancied herself a “warrior Queen,” and Elizabeth was much less often on any battle lines. Elizabeth also, even after her execution, blamed many of her problems on Mary. Why are you at the wake of your self-proclaimed enemy, Elizabeth?

“I didn’t have it in myself to go with grace / And so the battleships will sink beneath the waves / You had to kill me, but it killed you just the same / Cursing my name, wishing I stayed / You turned into your worst fears / And you’re tossing out blame, drunk on this pain / Crossing out the good years…”

After many years of friendly correspondence in the earlier lives of Mary and Elizabeth, they slowly turned into enemies and Elizabeth caved to her Privy Council’s pleas and “turned into [her] worst fears,” becoming exactly what she never wanted to be – a queen-killer, like her father, the matricidal King Henry VIII. Not to mention that not long after Mary’s execution, Elizabeth famously defeated the unbeatable Spanish Armada, miraculously sinking the esteemed war ships in the sea off the coast of the British Isles. Am I the only one who’s seeing this???

I know this could be quite a stretch from a nerdy scholar, and there are many instances in which my interpretations of the lyrics could also be interpreted instead as discussing Taylor’s major falling out with Scooter Braun and Scott Borchetta. “You wear the same jewels that I gave you” could just as easily be referring to the money Scooter and Scott earned from Taylor’s musical catalogue, but an intellectual Swiftie can dream, right?

Even if my tears ricochet is much simpler than I am making it out to be, it is still an extremely unique take on the heartache that follows betrayal… betrayal taints “the good years” and thus causes emotional damage in a deeper way than other relational disappointments. Even the repetitive use of an unusual but beautiful word like “ricochet” displays that Taylor is stepping to a new level of craftsmanship with her songwriting, which she in all her fame could easily get away with not doing, and thus I admire it even more.

The more I study my tears ricochet, the more I love it and the more convinced I am that it is the strongest song in the cottagecore-era Taylor Swift. Which is funny, because it was the first song she wrote for this era, and also the only one that she wrote without a cowriter.

With that, I rest my case.

Until TS10,

-A

Click here to view the (stupid) article from The Atlantic that I reference in my reviews.

album reviews

About the author

ALI RAE

writer // reader // dreamer // punk princess

i exist somewhere between star wars & jane eyre with occasional detours to mars & idris.

aliraewriting.com

los angeles, CA

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