By Jennifer Bell
February 12, 2021
On Dec. 11, 2020, Taylor Swift dropped “evermore,” her second surprise album of 2020 and ninth studio album overall. “evermore” is the upbeat sister to Swift’s July album “folklore,” and it shares the narrative storytelling and folk/country-inspired sounds established by the summer album. These two albums mark a notable shift in Swift’s songwriting as she moves away from personal accounts of her life to instead combine imaginary characters, storylines and literary references to cultivate overarching themes and feelings.
Swift acknowledged her lyrical and musical shift in an interview with Apple Music. She said, “There was a point that I got to as a writer who only wrote very diaristic songs that I felt it was unsustainable for my future moving forward.”
Swift also tweeted just prior to releasing “evermore,” saying, “I loved the escapism I found in these imaginary/not imaginary tales. I loved the ways you welcomed the dreamscapes and tragedies and epic tales of love lost and found into your lives. So I just kept writing them.”
To further explore Swift’s latest album and the layers written into each song, it’s time to take a look at some fan theories, hidden easter eggs, and references.
“willow” is the first track on “evermore,” and the only one to have its own music video. The video is a continuation of the one accompanying “cardigan” from “folklore.” Swift sits at the same old piano, wearing the same outfit, following the same invisible string into the magical world first introduced in “cardigan.” This continuation of imagery suggests the two albums are telling stories from the same narrative world. Swift further confirmed their connection by releasing a number of EPs combining songs from both albums that share themes, characters and plot lines.
The sound and lyrics of “willow” belong uniquely to “evermore” and set a more upbeat tone for the album. The song has a flowing, syncopated melody. Swift sings in the chorus, “Wherever you stray / I follow / I’m begging for you to take my hand / wreck my plans / that’s my man.”
These lyrics, combined with Swift’s long, white dress in the video—possibly a bridal gown—have fans speculating that she is about to announce forthcoming nuptials with partner Joe Alwyn. Although Swift has denied these theories, it is undeniable that “willow” is one of the most uptempo songs on either 2020 album and follows a narrative of love and longing, rather than the heartbreak and loss that is heard on her many other songs.
After the cozy, romantic breeziness of “willow,” Swift immediately rips out her listeners’ collective hearts with the melodic, piano-backed lyricism of “champagne problems.” Swift sings from the perspective of a woman who went to a party to break up with her partner, who plans to propose to her that same night.
This immediate contrast to the wedding-dress vibes of “willow” is heart-rending and sends mixed messages about the state of love in “evermore.” What’s even more compelling about the song is that Swift co-wrote it with William Boughery, aka her partner, Joe Alwyn. When asked during her Apple Music interview how she could write such heartbreaking music while being so in love, Swift simply said, “Joe and I really love sad songs.”
Like every good Taylor Swift song, there are dozens of theories and Easter eggs attempting to dissect the particular brand of heartbreak in “champagne problems.” One TikTok user suggested that the song is about Swift and Karlie Kloss’ friendship—or theorized romantic relationship—and the subsequent loss of their connection. The TikTok connects the lyric “one for the money, two for the show” to a magazine spread with the same title that featured Swift and Kloss.
That same line, though, could also read as a reference to the Elvis song “Blue Suede Shoes.” This is not the only Elvis reference on the album, with Swift singing about Elvis’ hometown of Tupelo on “dorothea.” Theories have also connected lyrics from “champagne problems” to songs on “folklore,” including “the last great american dynasty,” “the 1” and “mad woman.” Whatever the truth behind it may be, it is clear that Swift knows how to write heartbreak and has given it to listeners in spades.
The prevailing fan theory about “gold rush” claims that the song is about Harry Styles, whom Swift briefly dated in 2012. The theory connects the song’s title to Styles’ hit song “Golden.” It also connects the lyric “with my eagles t-shirt hanging from the door” to a photo of Styles holding up a Philadelphia Eagles football jersey. The song itself takes place as a daydream reflecting back on a former lover, and most signs point to that lover being Styles.
‘tis the damn season’
“tis the damn season” is the one holiday song on “evermore,” written from the perspective of Hollywood starlet Dorothea as she returns to her hometown and reconnects with an old flame. It sets the scene for the narrative that runs between “tis the damn season,” “dorothea” and “ivy.”
The lyric “and the road not taken looks real good now” has also been speculated as being a reference to the Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken.” Swift has drawn inspiration from 19th century poets such as William Wordsworth and Emily Dickinson throughout “folklore” and “evermore,” adding to the forest-filled, literary world of the albums.
“tolerate it” elevates Swift’s literary easter eggs to the next level as she based the premise of the song around the book “Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier. Fans speculated about the reference, and Swift confirmed it in an interview for Apple Music by explaining:
“When I was reading, you know, ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier and I was thinking, ‘wow her husband just tolerates her. She’s doing all these things and she’s trying so hard and she’s trying to impress him and he’s just tolerating her the whole time.’ There was a part of me that was, you know, relating to that because at some point I felt that way so I ended up writing this song ‘tolerate it,’ which is all about trying to love someone who’s ambivalent.”
The song is a heartbreaking example of wanting someone’s love and appreciation and having it fall short. It demonstrates how Swift blends fiction, reality, references and emotion throughout “evermore.”
‘no body, no crime’ (feat. HAIM)
“no body, no crime,” an undeniable country bop, takes a sharp true-crime twist for an all-around wild ride. The song follows the murder of the character Este, named after HAIM sister and collaborator Este Haim, and the protagonist’s efforts to prove who the murderer is and get revenge. Swift said the song was inspired by her love of true crime podcasts.
The Easter eggs go deeper, though. Fans speculate that the song is based around the 1938 disappearance of 4-year-old Marjorie West, whose sister’s name was Dorothea. It cannot be a coincidence that Swift released this true crime song on the same album upon which she released songs titled “marjorie” and “dorothea,” though they’re about seemingly separate characters.
“happiness” has a similar vibe to “tolerate it,” largely because it was inspired by another classic novel, “The Great Gatsby.” On the surface it’s about a breakup, but like most Swift songs, it is laced with literary references. At one point she sings, “I hope she’ll be a beautiful fool,” a line said by Daisy Buchannan in “Gatsby.” She also sings, “All you want from me now is the green light of forgiveness,” an allusion to the infamous green light in Fitzgerald’s book.
Swift explained that “‘tis the damn season” is written from Dorothea’s perspective as she comes home from the holidays. “dorothea” is written either to or about Dorothea and has left fans wondering who Dorothea could be. The theory that most aligns with Swift’s songwriting is that Dorothea is about a lesbian relationship, and Ivy, from a later track, is singing about her in the song.
Another theory suggests that Swift chose the name Dorothea to announce the name of Gigi Hadid’s baby, in the same way she announced Blake Lively’s daughter’s name with the song “betty.” An additional theory says the song is about Swift’s friendship with Selena Gomez. Whatever the truth may be, the song is filled with longing and “nothing but well wishes” for Dorothea.
‘coney island’ (feat. The National)
Swift dueted “coney island” with The National lead singer Matt Berninger, each singing from one side of a broken relationship. Swift said she wrote the hook to resemble the typical lyricism of The National in hopes they would collaborate on the song.
Even with the lyricism intentionally resembling that of The National, Swift uses some lyrical phrases from earlier songs and albums, such as “Delicate” on “reputation” and “Out of the Woods” on “1989.” “coney island” puts the lyrics in a uniquely “evermore” context that demonstrates the continuities and changes that have marked Swift’s career.
“ivy” is the 10th track on “evermore,” mirroring “illicit affairs,” the 10th track on folklore.” As such, “ivy” tells the story of a character longing to be with someone else while stuck in their marriage. Like “dorothea,” some fans speculate that Ivy and Dorothea are/were a couple. That would mean “ivy” is sung from Dorothea’s perspective, as she longs to be with Ivy despite her marriage, just as “dorothea” is sung from Ivy’s perspective.
The trio of “‘tis the damn season,” “dorothea” and “ivy” would not be the first time Swift has left listeners with subtle queer subtext, and between the lack of any male pronouns or names and the album’s overall cottagecore vibe, the album’s lyricism elevates the sapphic state of affairs in Swift’s music to new heights.
‘cowboy like me’
“cowboy like me” is one of the more underrated and less discussed songs on “evermore.” It’s a love story between two con artists, which one article suggested is the album’s version of “Love Story.” The song is a fictional slow burn that continues the “evermore” distinct brand of musings on love and loss.
“long story short” feels the most autobiographical of all the songs on “evermore.” It alludes to the 2016 controversy between Taylor Swift and Kanye West, with nods to her brief and highly publicized relationship with Tom Hiddleston. The allusions to drama feel as though they are from an earlier album such as “1989” or “reputation,” but the subdued feeling of growth by the end of the song is all “evermore.”
“marjorie” is a tender moment on “evermore,” written about and named for Swift’s opera singer grandmother, who passed away when Swift was 13. A close listen reveals Marjorie’s voice mixed in with the backing track, a choice made even more touching by the lyric “and if I didn’t know better / I’d say you were singing to me now.”
“marjorie” feels like one of the most personal songs on the album, and Swift spoke openly about how emotional it was to record it. It is also the 13th song on the album—13 is Swift’s favorite number. The 13th spot on “folklore” was reserved for “epiphany,” a song about Swift’s grandfather.
“closure” is a post-breakup song that does not leave as many hints as other songs on “evermore.” The lyrics and the chorus are at odds with each other, with the lyrics about pain and spite as the chorus sings, “Yes, I got your letter / Yes, I’m doing better.” The tension between these lyrics represent the difference between what is said to an ex and what is actually felt.
The internet has not spent as much time unraveling the song, believing it could be about any number of Swift’s exes, past friends, or even her former producer, Scooter Braun. For an album filled with endings, breakups and losses, though, this song does a pretty good job of cultivating the theme.
‘evermore’ (feat. Bon Iver)
The Emily Dickinson poem “One Sister Have I in Our House,” written about her lover Sue Gilbert, ends with the line “Sue – Forevermore!” Swift released “evermore” on Dickinson’s birthday and closes with the song “evermore,” sharing the name of the album and the final line of Dickinson’s poem. For an album filled with subtle literary references, heartache and queer subtext, the title track really ties a neat bow around everything that is “evermore.”
Jennifer Bell is a junior studying professional and public writing. She works as the undergraduate media coordinator and a writing consultant at the Writing Center at Michigan State University. After graduation, she plans to pursue a career in the publishing industry as an editor. When she’s not working, Jennifer can be found listening to podcasts, wandering the outdoors or escaping into a book.