Review: Taylor Swift – Evermore

Taylor Swift - evermore

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Taylor Swift’s folklore was one of 2020’s few saving graces. For myself and many other Taylor fans, the songs on that album were a salve to sooth some of the heartbreak and disappointment of this year. Even the discourse around the songs was a welcome distraction from all the bad things happening around us. That the album would never have come to exist, likely in any form, without the pandemic is one of the only positives in this remarkably net-negative hellscape we’ve been living in since March. So when Taylor announced that she’d be dropping a sequel album called evermore last Thursday, it felt a bit like lightning striking twice. The first album was a sepia-toned autumnal beauty shot through with the wistful strains of a dying summer—in 2020’s case, a lost summer. Released two weeks out from what could be the loneliest Christmas many people ever experience, evermore promised to be folklore’s wintry twin: a cold-weather soundtrack full of snow-strewn backdrops, frosty windows, and solitary reflections. Taylor positioned the album as her gift to everyone else for her 31st birthday, but it’s more like alternative Christmas music in a year when playing the usual celebratory Christmas tunes seems bizarre or even profane. Tis the damn season, folks, and Taylor Swift is here to get you through it.

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Review: Taylor Swift – Speak Now

Taylor Swift - Speak Now

Speak Now is the most pivotal album in the Taylor Swift discography. It’s not the one that started the story (2006’s self-titled debut) or the one that made her a global superstar (2008’s Fearless), nor is it her biggest album (2014’s 1989) or her straight-up best (2012’s Red). But it was on Speak Now where Swift took full control of her creative enterprise, came into her own as a songwriter, and established many of the key elements that would ground her career for the next decade. It also might be the album that, more than any other, sets the table for the next 10 years of country music, from the pop influences to the confessional style of songwriting. It is, in a word, a landmark.

Swift, unlike many mainstream country stars, was always a songwriter first and foremost. Her debut self-titled record dropped when she was just 16 years old, but she still had writing credits on all 11 songs (and wrote three of them solo, including the number-one country smash “Our Song”). On Fearless, she more than doubled that number, taking solo writing credits on seven of the 13 songs (including “Love Story,” which briefly became the best-selling country single of all time). Still, Swift racked up a lot of co-writes on those first two albums, particularly with veteran Nashville songwriter Liz Rose, who has 12 writing credits across Taylor Swift and Fearless. On Speak Now, the big selling point isn’t that it’s a concept album about wild romance and dramatic heartbreak (Red), or a leap into pop (1989), or a rejoinder to her haters (Reputation), or her “indie” record (folklore). No, the big selling point here is the simple fact that Swift wrote all 14 tracks by herself.

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Review: Taylor Swift – Folklore

Taylor Swift - folklore

Not many songwriters have ever been better than Taylor Swift at opening up a window into their own life. While songwriting is often a deeply personal artform, one of Swift’s greatest strengths has always been her ability to make listeners feel like she was singing to them from the pages of her diary. Some of her greatest songs—“All Too Well,” “Last Kiss,” “Long Live,” “Soon You’ll Get Better,” “Lover”—are snapshots of important moments or milestones of her life that she felt her fans deserved to live along with her: boys who broke her heart; triumphs of her young life; her mom’s battle with cancer; the relationship that might just stand the test of time. She’s always written these stories vividly, with details that make them feel as lived-in to you as your own memories: the places, the dates, the objects, the articles of clothing, the colors, the refrigerator light. Swift got so good so early on at telling her own story that, by the time she got to her most recent albums—2017’s Reputation and last year’s Lover—the songs had begun to feel like her chance to have the last word on all the tabloid bullshit that had built up around her life. The results were thrilling, but they sometimes lacked the lovely, unguarded scene-setting she’d perfected on Speak Now and Red. Instead of feeling like diary pages, the lyrics felt a bit like op-eds—still honest, still written with the strong voice of an obviously skilled scribe, but more clearly meant for public consumption. The thing that had made Swift seem most special at first—that you could picture her writing these songs in her bedroom, with no idea whether anyone would ever hear them—wasn’t as present anymore.

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Review: Taylor Swift – 1989

Taylor Swift - 1989

Over the past five or so years, few artists have displayed progression and growth more interesting to watch than Taylor Swift’s. In 2008, she was a global superstar with a multiplatinum album and a few world-conquering singles. In 2009, she was the Grammy darling. In 2010, she did the unthinkable for a pop artist of her stature and wrote an entire album without a single co-write. In 2012, she released her most ambitious work to date with a record that hopped half-a-dozen genres and showed immense growth in songwriting craft. And this past summer, she announced arguably the biggest move of her career so far by bidding farewell to country and fully embracing pop music.

In some ways, Taylor’s move to pop wasn’t terribly surprising. The biggest singles from 2012’s Red, “We Are Never Getting Back Together” and “I Knew You Were Trouble,” were both deliriously catchy pop gems, while 2010’s Speak Now was arguably just a pop album dressed up in organic full-band country arrangements. But for an artist who got her start in Nashville and who always made storytelling the core of her songs, the news that Swift was going to go full pop on her fifth album—titled 1989—truly was shocking.

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Review: Taylor Swift – Red

Taylor Swift - Red

The color red symbolizes a variety of emotions. The color represents courage and bravery yet also embodies passion, sensuality, and love. Still, notably, red marks anger and rage, even danger, warranting caution. In conjunction with all of these various symbols, it makes sense that Red is the title of Taylor Swift’s most ambitious, dynamic record yet.

Riding on the heels of three incredibly successful records, Miss Swift knows she has nothing to lose here. As a result, she doesn’t hold back anything throughout Red’s 16 tracks. Her fourth record flirts with pop sensibilities, redefines her inner-country roots, and delivers tender ballads – it has a little bit of everything. Simply put, she could not care less what anyone wants to hear; she’s bridging the “genre gap” more so than ever before and is not about to back down for a second.

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