Crate Digging Weekly: Taylor Swift’s two new albums defined my pandemic experience

“The surprise of both albums being released gave me the excitement I needed while sitting at home worried about the fate of the world,” writes Web Editor Marcy Wilder.

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Album covers “evermore” (left) and “folklore” (right) from Taylor Swift. Collage by Michelle Rodriguez Gonzalez.

Marcy Wilder, Web Editor

On July 23, 2020, Taylor Swift surprised the world with the announcement that she was releasing her eighth album, “folklore,” that night. On Dec. 10, she announced that her ninth album, “evermore,” was similarly releasing that night. Both of these announcements, and the subsequent albums, took the world by storm.

These albums have rooted themselves in my memory of the pandemic. The surprise of both albums being released gave me the excitement I needed while sitting at home worried about the fate of the world.

“folklore”

“In isolation my imagination has run wild and this album is the result,” wrote Swift in the release of “folklore,” and that is evident in the storytelling imbued in this album. With 17 total songs, I’m going to touch on my stand-outs.

“the 1” is the perfect start to the album, telling the story of two exes, or friends, reconnecting again for the first time in a while. It has both the light moments of the album, while also signaling the more melancholic aspects of it. It holds the aspect of the “what if,” especially with the bridge of “I persist and resist the temptation to ask you / If one thing had been different / Would everything be different / today?” It is also one of the first times you hear Swift casually curse, which is a big departure from being America’s sweetheart.

As one of the songs in the teenage love triangle (the other two tracks being “august” and “betty”), “cardigan” works both in that context and out of it. The shaker and pebble-dropping sounds start the song and then lead into the piano perfectly, as it sets the tone that the album is looking for. In the context of the love triangle, “cardigan” works as the reflection of a past relationship from Betty, with hidden clues in the lyrics. Out of that context, the song works as a message to overlooked young women, one of the album’s themes, especially with the lyrics, “When you are young they assume you know nothing” paired with “‘Cause I knew everything when I was young.”

The next song in the teenage love triangle is “august,” a song that had to grow on me after a couple of listens. It was actually “The Long Pond Studios” recording that made me appreciate the lyrics more, with the minimized backing track to allow the lyrics to take center stage more than the album version. The idea of “the other girl just wanted love,” especially in a high school setting, is something that I feel hasn’t been very explored in music, with revenge tracks against this “other woman” taking center stage (like the fan-favorite “no body, no crime” from “evermore”).

My absolute favorite song in the album is “betty,” the final song in the teenage love triangle. The guitar, the harmonica, the singing about missing an amazing woman; it may be about a boy apologizing for making a big mistake, but it holds all of the feelings of young stupid love you feel in high school. The build-up from the bridge to the final chorus gets your heart rate racing with the same nervous energy James, the character whom the song’s perspective is from, is feeling in the song. Also, rhyming “cardigan” with “car again” I find very funny.

What other artist could write a song about the history of their house in a country style without making it country? In about four minutes, “the last great american dynasty,” tells the story of Rebekah Harkness and the history of Holiday House. The bridge in this song is one of the great bridges in both of these albums, ending with the twist that the song is about Taylor Swift herself.

In the first of two vocal collaborations with Bon Iver, “exile,” combines both artist’s greatest strengths as vocalists. Just like “coney island,” in “evermore,” it is a little shocking to hear a man’s voice at first, but the story of a man trying to figure out where it went wrong with a woman wouldn’t be the same without it.

In “folklore: the long pond studio sessions,” Swift says upon hearing the piano tune for the time she thought, “Oh, this is female rage.” “mad woman” holds all of the feelings of wanting to just be angry without being judged and ostracized for it. The background of the lyric video is a fire, which perfectly fits the mood of the song and matches the feeling of inner anger.

“the lakes” is the best wrap-up I’ve ever seen in an album. It holds all of the energy of finding the person you love and wanting to run away with them away from the world, with a dictionary. The retro feel of the opening and all of the floral motifs, it encapsulates the timeless feeling the album will hold for me.

“evermore”

“In making [folklore], I felt less like I was departing and more like I was returning,” Swift said in the release statement for “evermore,” the sister album to “folklore.” It feels like an older take of the storytelling, with adult themes, as opposed to the childhood/teenage songs of “folklore.” With 17 total songs mirroring the last album, I’ll touch on my favorites.

“champagne problems” has the greatest bridge I have heard in the past years. As a pretty slow song, the bridge builds the emotion of the break-up the song details to lead into the final chorus. The echoing of voices in the line “‘She would have made such a lovely bride / what a shame she’s fucked in the head,’ they said” feels like an emotional breaking point, with the song slowing to an end soon after. This song feels like the true start to the album, better than “willow” did, and is a masterpiece of storytelling.

Clocking in at about three minutes, “gold rush” holds the feeling of romanticizing about someone you just passed by, wondering what life would be like if you had met. The song has minor lyrical shifts, changing from “I’ll call you out on your contrarian shit,” to “I won’t call you out on your contrarian shit,” and from “And the coastal town we wandered ‘round had never seen a love as pure as it,” to “And the coastal town we never found will never see a love as pure as it.” Both of these changes go under the radar if you’re not focusing on the lyrics, but these minor changes imbue the song with layers beyond the simple rush of a new feeling.

Songs about murder are fun, especially when it’s women taking revenge on men. Swift and HAIM’s collaboration in “no body, no crime” is pure country-murder magic, with the siren and techno-opening setting the mood for the ride you about to take listening to it. The sound of the song is completely different from anyone song on either album, except for the harmonica that is back from “betty.” The song also solidifies Olive Garden as one of the best places to plot a murder.

While I cannot confirm that “ivy” is a song about two women in past times being married off to men they don’t love while they love each other, it definitely feels like it. “ivy” is dark, witchy, and full of emotion, especially in the chorus beginning of “Oh, goddamn / My pain fits in the palm of your freezing hand.” I especially love the echoing of voices in the background of bridges and of some of the lyrics as the music builds at the end of the song.

“cowboy like me” is a song about two city con artists that fall in love with each other, with metaphors of cowboys tying the song to a past era. This song is filled to the brim with gorgeous writing and all of it is imbued with imagery. My personal favorites being: “Now you hang from my lips like the Gardens of Babylon / With your boots beneath my bed / forever is the sweetest con,” “And the skeletons in both our closets plotted hard to fuck this up,” “And the ladies lunching have their stories about when you pass through town,” and “Now I’m waiting by the phone like I’m waiting in an airport bar.” There are backing vocals done by Marcus Mumford, which add to the relationship aspect of the song, as he only backs when both characters are mentioned.

“closure” stands out from the rest of the album and has a very techno backing alongside the calm melodic piano. Also, in lieu of a normal backing track, the backing voices are mixed to sound robotic to stand out from Swift’s clear voice. The song is about a past enemy reaching out to try to make up for what fight between the two characters in the song, with the character the song is taking the perspective of responding coldly and aggressively. This leads to great lines like “Don’t treat me like a situation that needs to be handled / I’m fine with my spite / and my tears and my beers and my candles,” and “But it’s fake and it’s oh so / unnecessary.” The word “closure”, when sung in the song, is even written in quotations. It captures the feeling of lingering spite perfectly.

Finally, “right where you left me” ties up all of the country-style sounds the album holds. The upbeat nature of the song and lyrics about a girl still frozen at the moment. The song picks up in tempo when the lyrics take the perspective of the outside world and slows down when the song goes into the first-person of the girl herself, which I found very interesting.

In conclusion, both of these albums are fantastic and get better the more you listen to them. “evermore” didn’t originally click for me, but there was something about it that made me want to keep listening to it over and over, which ended up being the song “cowboy like me.” With the adult themes of “evermore” and the youth of “folklore,” I promise there is a song for you.

Marcy Wilder is the web editor for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet her @MarcyJWilder.