Taylor Swift released her ninth album last week just five months after releasing her last album, “Folklore.” The newest, 15-track album, “Evermore,” features Haim, the National, and Bon Iver.
While her new music is a welcome surprise, many have been praising the pop-culture icon for using the power of music to magically fix 2020. She didn’t — and no other pop culture trend will.
This Swiftie has been jamming to Taylor’s classics for years, but Swift’s new album isn’t the savior of 2020, especially because it’s nothing new. Swift was busy writing music during isolation, but fans didn’t expect another new album this quickly.
When Swift released “Folklore,” the sister album to “Evermore,” in July, listeners were shocked. Gone were familiar tunes of young heartbreak and revenge, replaced by acoustic, banjo-filled, and melodramatic metaphors.
Compared to her previous lively, sing-along pop songs, for which the entertaining Swift is known, her breakout album was boring. While it was fun to see her try her hand at something new, sometimes success means sticking to what you know.
Swift’s dramatic and passionate songs have always been characterized by their commitment to a certain brand: her complicated love life. Of course, her bops have been over-exaggerated and superfluous at times, but never boring — because her style is so her. When she sang about good-for-nothing cheaters and fairytale endings, Swift’s style was distinct, something “Evermore” isn’t.
Over the years, listeners have heard stories from different stages of Swift’s life. The sort of passion she brought to the table made us feel whatever emotion she wanted us to. Now that Swift has rebranded herself as a folk artist, that’s changed.
While “Folklore” was acceptable because it was the first time Swift broke her country-pop chains — just as “Reputation” was quite the welcomed changeup from Swift’s previous music — the album was hyped enough that people could overlook its diminished quality. “Evermore” is just a sad continuation of that experience.
Take “Tolerate it,” one of the songs on “Evermore.” Detailing the story about a woman trapped in a thankless relationship, it presents a depressing, repetitive cadence. Fans have speculated that the song might be about Princess Diana and Prince Charles, who have a historically complicated relationship:
While you were out building other worlds, where was I?
Where’s that man who’d throw blankets over my barbed wire?
I made you my temple, my mural, my sky;
Now I’m begging for footnotes in the story of your life.
It’s a tragic story but not a clear one. Swift usually communicates her emotions directly, but this time listeners have to search for the metaphorical meaning behind each lyric. That’s not a bad thing in music; it’s just not what Swift does best.
Comparable songs on the album are “Happiness,” about an amicable divorce, and “Ivy,” about a married woman who has a secret affair. Both are riddled with metaphors relating to topics about which Swift has no personal experience.
“Champagne Problems” and “Evermore (feat. Bon Iver)” are two standouts on the album, but that’s only because they’re reminiscent of her old music. Their hooks are catchy, and it’s clear she has experience with the heartbreak and crises she communicates in the lyrics.
While this album isn’t really anything special, fans have been treating it as a coming grace. “Taylor Swift released two albums in 2020. Most of us are just trying to get by,” read one recent CNN headline. It’s become a trend to berate 2020 for being one of the most confusing, chaotic, and turbulent years ever.
The jokes are ubiquitous: “We just have to make it to 2021. Then things will get better.” But it’s wrong to assume the mere passage of time will create a better cultural, social, or spiritual well-being for our nation, and it’s dangerous to look to pop culture as an easy fix for all of society’s problems.
Can we all agree that @taylorswift13 is out here single handedly saving 2020
— Bishop Briggs ☃️ (@thatgirlbishop) December 12, 2020
It’s safe to say consuming too much pop culture is bad. You are what you absorb, and right now, we take in far too many social media posts, TV shows, and music to focus on real issues. We are pawns to every new trend, begging for the next click or “Like” for fulfillment.
Every new album or TikTok trend promises salvation from the darkness of 2020, but no fleeting viral video can drastically alter the state of the world or people’s minds. Unfortunately, no Taylor Swift album will lift spirits, produce a vaccine, or quell political polarization — especially not “You Need To Calm Down.” Music is powerful, but it will never bridge divides that are only solvable by civic engagement.
Enjoy music, but don’t assume it will make you a better person. Watch that TV series, but know it won’t teach you how to live. Most of all, stop trying to fix 2020 with anything besides prayer and action.