Trying to Become a Taylor Swift Fan, by GraciAnn Hicks
The first leaves fall to the ground to be crunched underfoot. The infamous Pumpkin Spice Latte has made its annual arrival. Stores scramble together displays of inflatable pumpkins and bedazzled cornucopia arrangements. The promise of the impending autumn season dances through the air.
And with the excitement of seasonal changes comes the anticipation of Taylor Swift fans wanting to blast evermore, dress in sophisticated plaid jackets, and put their hair in messy braids.
I have never been a Taylor Swift fan.
I jammed out to Love Story and You Belong With Me when they were popular, but during my middle school pop-punk-fueled “not like other girls” phase, I prided myself on not listening to mainstream music. Boybands, Justin Bieber, and Taylor Swift became artists that I dismissed. I’m embarrassed to admit that I even looked down on girls that were mega-fans of these artists.
Thankfully, character growth exists, and I now understand the error of my past ways. Music should be something to bring people together, not a means to tear each other down. But I still haven’t taken the time to intentionally listen to Taylor Swift.
Last year, when Taylor released her two surprise albums, she likened them to the four seasons, with folklore reflective of spring and summer, and evermore reflective of autumn and winter. As we begin the descent into colder months, I figured I would give evermore a try.
As I prepared to listen, I gave Taylor the benefit of the doubt. She seems like a genuine person who has appeared unproblematic throughout the years; she has also faced the misogyny of the music industry with dignity and grace. I wanted to be a fan. I wanted to root for her. I wanted to like her.
So, I listened to evermore with hopes of becoming a Taylor Swift fan.
When I deconstruct albums, I always do so from a lyrical, melodic, and instrumental point of view. In some aspects, evermore excels, while other areas left me unfulfilled.
Taylor’s talent as a storyteller shines through on her 2020 releases. In an interview with Apple Music, she gets candid about her past approach to songwriting and how it differs from folklore and evermore. For previous albums, Taylor focused on songs that could trace direct meaning to events in her life. In the realms of folklore and evermore, however, she creates fictional characters whose storylines bleed across multiple songs.
dorothea tells the story of a girl who pursues her dreams in Hollywood and leaves a lover behind in her hometown to wonder: “Hey, Dorothea, do you ever stop and think about me?” Dorothea visits her hometown for the holidays in ‘tis the damn season and temporarily reconnects with her lover. I appreciate that Dorothea has two songs dedicated to her story. It adds depth to the character, and makes evermore feel more like a concept album. I only wish more of the storylines carried over into other songs.
Taylor lays out the story of the couple in champagne problems who are “longtime college sweethearts [who] had very different plans for the same night, one to end it and one who brought a ring.” Taylor employs clear imagery with lines like, “Your mom’s ring in your pocket / My picture in your wallet.” The last chorus turns this imagery around as “my” is swapped for “her,” which indicates the lovers have moved on.
The song also touches on mental health with the lines “‘She would’ve made such a lovely bride / What a shame she’s f#@%ed in the head,’ they said” and “You won’t remember all my / Champagne problems.” “Champagne problems” is a phrase that has been used to belittle struggles by means of comparison to larger issues. These lines hint at a harsh reality behind the relationship: one where the woman was made to feel inferior. While most Taylor Swift love songs have happy endings, I enjoy her lyrical endeavor into darker territories.
One of the more dramatic tales of the album, no body, no crime appeals to true crime fans. It details the story of how a woman named Este discovers her husband’s infidelity, her husband murders her, his mistress takes her place, then Este’s friend and sister murder the husband for revenge. The lyrics “His mistress moved in / Sleeps in Este’s bed and everything / No, there ain’t no doubt / Somebody’s gotta catch him out” spell out this story arc. This song excels in creating a dynamic story that keeps listeners thrilled, wondering what will happen next.
The next track, happiness, is full of references to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The line “I hope she’ll be a beautiful fool” is an allusion to a scene wherein Daisy Buchanan reflects on the difficulties of being a woman. She states, “a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.” Later in the song, the line “All you want from me now is the green light of forgiveness” further alludes to how the titular character, Jay Gatsby, stares across the bay at a green light that represents everything he desires, yet can’t reach.
Although the lyrics in the chorus are simple, I find myself drawn to this song. It’s a more mature approach to a breakup song than we often hear from Taylor. I love the message that there was happiness during the relationship, even though it ended, and that happiness will come after it, too.
cowboy like me introduces two cons that fall for each other. The fourth verse reads: “Now you hang from my lips / Like the Gardens of Babylon / With your boots beneath my bed / Forever is the sweetest con.” This hints at the fleeting nature of their relationship. Although this isn’t one of my favorites from the album, I became invested in the love story and believe this song links audio storytelling and visual imagery well.
I have come to care for the characters of this album. Taylor has impressed me with the creativity she has displayed on the individual songs of the evermore. Even more impressive though, are the motifs that appear throughout the album.
The most prevalent motifs of water and boats are referenced in 6/15 songs on the album. Together, they represent love and relationships, sometimes turbulent and unpredictable, like the ocean.
The lyrical theme of water is introduced on the first track willow with the line, “I’m like the water when your ship rolled in that night / Rough on the surface, but you cut through me like a knife.” The line “Lost in your current like a priceless wine” also references water. In “willow,” the harsh start of a relationship is expressed through this motif.
The intro to gold rush returns to the water motif with the lyrics, “Gleaming, twinkling / Eyes like sinking ships on waters / So inviting, I almost jump in.” The lover in “gold rush” tempts the narrator with warm eyes that sparkle with potential. But behind the warmth are the cold waters that cause ships to sink. The intro hints that the relationship is doomed from the start.
In “happiness,” the narrator’s “eyes leak acid rain,” symbolizing an expired love. The song long story short supplies the line, “And my waves meet your shore,” which signifies emotional dependence on another person. In the closing track, evermore, the bridge reveals the narrator “on waves, out being tossed” and “shipwrecked.” The narrator was left with the pain of isolation that comes with the realization that another person can’t be your anchor.
"evermore" also uses certain colors to symbolize different ideas, specifically the color gold. To no one’s surprise, the best example of Taylor’s thematic use of color is the song “gold rush.” The color gold represents (supposed) perfection. In the eyes of the narrator, the love interest appears too perfect; therefore, she “[doesn’t] like the gold rush.”
The narrator doesn’t want to fall for this person, stating, “I don’t like the slow motion, double vision in rose blush.” “Rose blush” refers to wearing rose-colored glasses, or viewing a person or situation in an unrealistically positive light. The narrator doesn’t want to be blinded by love. The lyrics “And then it fades into the gray of my day-old tea” detail how the love goes awry. The comparison of the dull gray with the lively gold from before proves the narrator’s fears are reasonable. This, combined with the imagery of tea—something that elicits comfort on a cold day—gone stale, represents failed love.
Aside from the lyrics, evermore (the album) falls short for me.
Most of the songs lack a proper melody. They instead rely on the trick of most modern pop songs of repeating three notes in an attempt to sound catchy. I crave variety. I want a melody that impresses me with its range. I didn’t find that on this album. On my first listen, I wrote “boring melody” in my notes for about half of the songs. Subsequent listens didn’t change this opinion.
I also dislike how Taylor sings the chorus of songs like “willow” and “‘tis the damn season” in two octaves with no or little other harmony. It sounds awkward, and, for anyone who knows about harmony, it “goes against the rules” of writing music.
I appreciate the instrumental components of her songs more than the melody. I love the stripped-down approach that Taylor took with this album. It emphasizes her vocal ability and lyrics well, but I grow tired of similar instrumentation throughout most of the album. For some of the songs, Taylor’s vocal phrasing causes the melody and instrumentation to feel disjointed. The song tolerate it specifically feels like two different songs for the vocals and instruments.
The one song that I actually love the instrumentation for is “no body, no crime.” It feels energetic—and I’m a sucker for the harmonica.
So, did I become a Swifty? Will I be blasting her songs after breakups? Will I be rushing out to buy her next album?
I do, however, respect her as a talented lyricist and vocalist (not that I doubted if she is worthy of her spot as one of the leading figures in popular music). To me, the album proved that she is more than just a pretty face with a few catchy tunes. I will definitely return to “happiness,” “no body, no crime,” and “evermore,” and I will be sure to check out evermore’s sister album: folklore.