Did you live for the hope of it all or just survived a long story short?
~Elijah Williams, Staff Writer~
Ladies and gentlemen of the Swiftie Nation! Our wonderful Queen has done it again! For those of you who are not in the loop, Taylor Swift recently released the deluxe edition of her ninth studio album, “Evermore.” The album features two brand-new songs, ‘It’s Time to Go’ and ‘Right Where You Left Me.’ With these new additions into the Taylor Swift discography, it’s time to decide once and for all, which alternative folk record is superior. Before we dive right in, one must provide precontext.
While it may feel like a decade has passed, only a mere eighteen months have passed since Swift’s 2019 release, “Lover.” The pastel aesthetic that dominated the era seemed to take Swift into a new direction. One where it was all about being in love rather than taking shots at famous feuds and fawning over exes. However, just like with everybody else’s plans, 2020 put an abrupt hold to many global events. There goes the highly anticipated Lover Fest, Swifties.
Instead of wasting away inside her house with Joe Alwyn during quarantine, Swift’s ambition and productivity proved to have worked in her favor. Last July, Swift surprised the whole world as she released her eighth studio record, “Folklore” with only sixteen hours of promotion. The sixteen-track alternative indie folk record was met with universal acclaim as critics complemented its relaxed atmosphere, Swift’s deep songwriting and complex word choice. She became the first artist to debut at number one the Billboard 200 and the Hot 100 with the lead single, ‘Cardigan.’ In addition, “Folklore” quickly became the best-selling album of 2020 within the United States.
While running off Folklore’s success, Swift continued writing behind-the-scenes. During the last few months of 2020, the ‘Cardigan’ singer continued to work with The National on producing brand-new tracks. These new songs would ultimately culminate in Swift’s ninth record, Evermore. Like her previous record, Evermore received universal acclaim with many critics citing the album as a thematic sequel to Folklore. Released within the same rollout as Folklore, Swift was the first artist to simultaneously debut at the top of the Billboard 200 and Hot 100 with ‘Willow’.
Now it’s the time to dive into both albums and decide a clear winner. First up, “Folklore.”
“Folklore” is a more concrete story. This is an entire album that is primarily made from Swift’s own imagination, therefore no more decoding which song is about who. Quite Frankly, the entire album of “Folklore” can be transformed into a two hour theatrical film – that’s just how superb Swift’s songwriting has grown over the course of nearly fifteen years. The eloquence yet simplistic backing instrumentals really give off the cool-airy pandemic vibes that the world desperately needed. The aesthetic of this era proved to be sonically different from most of her eras. The last time we had a grayscale/black and white era was the 2017 album, “Reputation.” While “Reputation” may be considered underrated today, Folklore proves to be arguably her magnum opus.
Dissecting into the sixteen tracks on the album, the songs that stand out the most are “The 1, Exile” featuring Bon Iver, Mirrorball, Betty, and Hoax. ‘The 1’ starts the record off with Swift describing an imaginary encounter with a former partner and how she could have been the one. As the only song that includes a feature, Swift continues to establish this new alternative persona by working with Bon Iver on “Exile.” From a critic’s perspective, “Exile” depicts those unspoken words exchanged between the two estranged lovers established in “The 1.” Track number six, “Mirrorball,” almost gives off a nostalgic vibe of pre-pandemic life. Dedicated to the cancellation of her LoverFest Tour and the pandemic lockdowns that rocked the world in March of 2020, “Mirrorball” is one of the few songs on the album that encourages fans to take comfort in her music in such uncertain times.
Near the end of the record comes “Betty,” one of the three songs that were famously involved with the James-Inez-Betty love triangle. I would get into the whole James-Inez-Betty love triangle, but that deserves its own min-article for another day. Considered the fan-favorite of the album, “Betty” is more or less an apologetic track written from the perspective of boyfriend cheating, James towards Betty. This song is also remiscencent Swift’s older work, more specifically “Back to December.” The last of many standout tracks is the album closer, “Hoax” that haunts the listener with its beautifully slowed piano stylings masked with heart-wrenching lyrics. While describing the toxic relationship that is on the verge of ending, the song itself ends “Folklore” on a despondent note of tragedy.
Overall, this album seems to hit all the sweet spots that Swift fans have enjoyed with each subsequent album release. Not only has gone on to break records, but critics have defined Folklore as one of the best albums to listen to during a pandemic. “Evermore,” on the other hand, has some big shoes to fill.
Following nearly five months after Folklore, Swift did it again and surprisingly dropped another album. The ninth record, “Evermore” was released this past December and had been described as the younger sister to “Folklore.” Surrounded in a more wintry theme and color, the album has just as much to give as her previous record.
For the standard fifteen-track record, the highlights are objectively: Willow, Champagne Problems, No Body, No Crime featuring Haim, Coney Island, and Evermore featuring Bon Iver. “Willow” kicks off the record and the era itself as it provides a more optimistic folk sound that was missing in Folklore. “Champagne Problems,” which has been called by Swiftie fans the new “All Too Well,” entails a mournful relationship of a difficult girlfriend whose personal struggles and demons eventually cost her a caring partner. The song ends with the girlfriend witnessing her ex following similar steps towards marriage to another woman. The dramatic whodunit “No Body, No Crime” featuring Haim, standouts primarily due to the fact that this is Swift’s first mystery-style song. The high intensity filled single describes a woman named Este who has been tragically murdered by husband who quickly rebounds with the mistress waiting on the sidelines. The narrator succumbs to her desires and kills Este’s husband, while quickly devising an alibi.
“Coney Island” featuring the alternative rock band, the National is another nostalgic track that has sharp similarities to “Mirrorball.” Based upon the real location, the song recalls the feelings of years’ past and the memories of a broken couple in that area. Both Swift’s melodic vocals and the National’s rough tone have drawn some comparisons to “Exile,” but are more subdued. On a grander scale, “Coney Island” helps the listener travel to a time when Coney Island and other thrilling amusement parks were thriving and a centerfold for many relationships. The last song on the record, Evermore, includes the work of Bon Iver once again. The album-closer is also reminiscent of “Hoax”: a slow piano ballad. However, what separates ‘“Hoax” from “Evermore” is that “Evermore” includes a fast-paced back and forth bridge with Bon Iver before ultimately slowing back down again. It is also one of the only few songs off both albums that clearly refers to Swift’s recent history, from her role in the critically-panned film “Cats,” to her proclaiming her political affiliation before the 2020 Presidential election. Overall, the record ends on a cold and dark tone, but still provides a hopeful outlook on what’s ahead even in times where life is unpredictable.
As a critic, I do have to give “Evermore” credit for being more experimental in terms of song concepts and production, especially near the end of the album. While there is rich and complex songwriting in “Evermore,” while “Folklore” is arguably the more superior alternative album. I said what I said! “Folklore” can be described as her most intimate album in her catalogue so far. Not to mention, the desolate and emotional weight of the sixteen-record track pulls at the strings of the audience even when they are already at their worst, hence a pandemic.
Even though we never got that rumored third alternative folk album (and her tenth overall), Woodvale, It looks like Taylor Swift has done it again. If you have been living under a rock the past week, the “Evermore” singer recently released her re-recorded version of her 2008 hit, “Love Story.” She also announced that the first of her many re-recorded albums, “Fearless,” will be released on April 9th. Judging by the mainly positive reception by the fandom, it seems that Swift can now put the pen down and revisit her old hits as they have been considered folklore. Until the next album release, or should I say re-release.