evermore: Taylor Swift’s glass menagerie of endings and almosts’.

©Beth Garrabrant

If folklore was Swift roaming the woods in late summer, looking inward but also starting afresh and seeing things from a pure, new perspective, then evermore is Swift looking at strangers’ hopes, dreams, loves and losses through the dark of a frosted glass of winter, and fully revelling in her ability to tell other people’s stories in a way that still hurts. folklore is about beginnings and evermore is a glass menagerie of endings and almosts’. 

If you have read Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie then you know all about Laura’s glass collection of animals. A collection that symbolises not only the fragility and innocence of Laura herself but also the fragility of Laura’s inner and outer worlds, which all shatter when her one hope in the dark gets snuffed out like a candle in an empty room. There are stories and moments in Taylor Swift’s ninth studio album evermore that often feel like Laura and her glass menagerie. 

‘champagne problems’ for instance, which is, in my opinion the best song on the album and even rivals Swift’s magnum opus ‘All Too Well’s. ‘champagne problems’ tells the story of two college sweethearts in a relationship; one who envisions a proposal and a happily ever after and one who doesn’t. The song is pretty much a study in that split-second switch when one experience turns our outlook from naïveté and idealism to jadedness and cynicism, a switch that can’t ever be flipped back again, “How evergreen, your group of friends/ Don’t think we’ll say that word again”. 

What is most heart wrenching about ‘champagne problems’ is both the pronoun changing in the first and last verse but also that you never really know what the phrase ‘champagne problems’ actually means? It is repeated every four lines in the chorus; once in the middle and once at the end. The line could be interpreted as a judgement on love breaking as being merely a “champagne problem”, or is it referring to the female character being a champagne problem, i.e., having mental health problems – “She would’ve made such a lovely bride/ What a shame she’s fucked in the head,” they said” – or perhaps, just not fitting the crowd that the male character belongs too.

Because I dropped your hand while dancing/ Left you out there standing/ Crestfallen on the landing/ Champagne problems //And hold your hand while dancing/ Never leave you standing/ Crestfallen on the landing/ With champagne problems

©Beth Garrabrant

‘tolerate it’, which was inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, also very much feels like part of the glass menagerie. Fragility mixed with naivete is never a good combination. With a Swiftian retelling of the love story between Max de Winter and Mrs de Winter, Swift gives the young wife a voice and an agency in a situation where her love is met with ambivalence. In her interview with Apple Music, Swift said, “there was a part of me that was relating to that because at some point in my life I felt that way”

I wait by the door like I’m just a kid/ Use my best colors for your portrait/ Lay the table with the fancy shit/ And watch you tolerate it

Because evermore is very much about endings or rather almosts and if-onlys, it is that much sadder than folklore. There is a deep longing to evermore that folklore only brushed against. ‘my tears ricochet’ and ‘happiness’ are both about a relationship ending and souring but ‘happiness’ is about the bit after the ending. The bit where you look around after the wreckage and wonder how you hang onto the good in the midst of a separation? ‘happiness’ feels like that step removed from where Swift left off in ‘my tears ricochet’. 

There’ll be happiness after you/ But there was happiness because of you/ Both of these things can be true/ There is happiness

‘Marjorie’ is a song that deals in the most final ending of all, death. Like ‘epiphany’ from folklore eulogized Swift’s paternal grandfather, ‘marjorie’ memorialises her maternal grandmother Marjorie Finlay who died when Swift was a young teenager. Finlay was a classically trained virtuoso. She majored in music at college, and in 1950 won a talent contest to go on the radio show, “Music With the Girls”. She sang with the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra and hosted her own TV show. In the accompany music video, Swift shows old family footage of Finlay, all glamourous complete with bouffant hairstyles and winged eyeliner. There is even footage of a young Swift sitting on her grandmother’s lap as Swift places her tiny baby fingers on the keys of a piano.

My grandmother died in 2014 and I still miss her desperately. Like Swift, I worry about forgetting her, I wish I had asked her more about her life before she had children and grandchildren and asked her to write it down, but most of all I wish I could just hear her voice again. I might not be able to her my grandmother’s voice again, but Swift takes old opera recordings of her grandmother and puts them alongside her own voice in the song. So, when Swift sings, “And if I didn’t know better/ I’d think you were singing to me now/ If I didn’t know better/ I’d think you were still around/ I know better/ But I still feel you all around”, it isn’t just wishful thinking, Marjorie is alive, even if only for a few moments.

‘coney island’, a duet with The National’s Matt Berninger and at one point in time I found it to be a bit of a lyrical overload. There is so much said but not enough space, instrumentally that is, to unpack it. However, after four or five listens, it has become a firm favourite of mine. The conversation between Swift and Berninger about an ill-fated relationship is rich, complicated and beautifully cinematic. The imagery they both provide allows you to see the slow unwind of the relationship and how each decision they both made, leads each of them back to the same place in their minds: coney island. 

And I’m sitting on a bench in Coney Island/ Wondering where did my baby go?/ The fast times, the bright lights, the merry go/ Sorry for not making you my centerfold

Where endings and almosts intersect is on the love song ‘cowboy like me’, which next to ‘champagne problems’, is my favourite song from evermore. The song mirrors ‘champagne problems’ in many ways. The pronouns switch in the chorus and post-chorus; the lyrics are intricate enough to fill a scene but vague for you to imagine yourself in the shoes of either character; and the bridge is the moment when it “shift gears”, in Swift’s own words, and tells the full story.

I think what I love about this song is that it paints a picture of two outsiders, two cowboys or con artists, for who love used to be their biggest con until they fell in love with each other. The line, “With your boots beneath my bed/ Forever is the sweetest con”, is so gently reassuring, utterly sensuous and beautifully melancholic. It perfectly captures that moment where vulnerability and bravery come together, with the two characters choosing to love one another despite knowing the ephemerality of forever. 

The music is also so perfect. Its languidness and softness, the inevitability of falling in love in its arrangement and melodic structure, the male backing vocals by Marcus Mumford, which add a richness and masculine energy to the song so you do feel like there are two fully formed characters in the song and you can hear them. All of this makes the song what it is, a perfect love song for those of us who understand melancholy and who understand that saying forever really is the sweetest con. 

Eyes full of stars/ Hustling for the good life/ Never thought I’d meet you here/ It could be love/ We could be the way forward/ And I know I’ll pay for it/ You’re a cowboy like me

On evermore you can feel Swift fully settling in and luxuriating in writing stories about others, imagined or not. If folklore was an experiment to see if she could write outside of her experiences, then evermore is her confirmation but with the added dimension of bringing her own feelings to the table and stitching them into each character. You can hear her passion, sadness, heartbreak, lust, fully and clearly realised in these songs compared the songs on folklore, even when they aren’t about her. 

This year has felt like a year of fragile almosts’ and evermore is a perfect representation of that and all the sadness that accompanies the feeling.

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