(December 11, 2020). Just when you thought 2020’s musical story was completely written and all that was left was for us to ride out the year with the annual onslaught of holiday tunes led by Mariah Carey’s perennial chart-topper, out comes Taylor Swift with a surprise release two weeks before Christmas and an album that is as far from yuletide-themed as the first day of summer.
T-Swizzle announced Thursday afternoon that, come 12 midnight Eastern time Friday morning, she’d be releasing her ninth studio album, entitled evermore. And in her best BTS move, she delivered her third album in the past 16 months and her third post-Scooter Braun, already equaling half the first six Taylor albums that, until recently, were under Braun’s control and have been the source of the biggest music ownership rights dispute this side of Prince-vs.- Warner Bros in the early ‘90s.
And just like that with its release, pop’s reigning princess – no, make that Queen – tactically shifted the musical universe and turned it on its edge. And just when we thought folklore – the year’s best-selling album and one of the few (maybe even the only one) that actually sold a million copies in 2020 – was Taylor’s pandemic-year legacy, out comes evermore, billed as folklore’s sister album, but one that instantly renders the older, five-month-old era done.
She’s rewriting 2020’s end just when we thought we had it all figured out. The year was supposed to end with Mariah’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” bookending the year the holiday classic started at No. 1.
Instead, “Willow” – the stellar, catchy, radio-ready first single and opening track from evermore – looks like it will be the last No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2020. It’ll certainly be eligible to enter the chart dated December 26, when a full week’s worth of radio airplay, downloads, and audio/video streams will have been tabulated (through next Thursday, Dec. 17).
Note that “catchy, radio-friendly” part.
Indeed “Willow” is no “Cardigan,” the counterpart first single from folklore, which topped the charts upon its debut this past summer but – like the rest of that album’s songs – didn’t exactly set radio station playlists afire. None of folklore’s songs even made the Hot 100 year-end chart for 2020, high quality as they may have been.
And while Taylor is billing evermore as a companion to folklore – a loose continuation of its folk-pop stories and themes (Swifties sleuths will spend countless hours examining its mini-plots, its trilogies, its metaphors) – the evermore songs just seem better, or at least more accessible.
‘Tis the damn season” indeed for Taylor. But, oh, the audacity of her to even put us in this predicament. It’s a boss move indeed, one that reminds us that Ms. Swift only plays by her rules, and those rules aren’t fair to mere music mortals.
Swift successfully navigated folklore to an eight-week (non-consecutive) reign on the Billboard 200 albums chart with the kind of very recent marketing moves – song bundling on streaming platforms, late vinyl releases, discounts – that would have had any reasonable person believing that folklore was it for a year we were all in a hurry to see end.
Swifties will tell you, however, that we should’ve seen evermore coming – the Easter Eggs were in plain view for us to see: a cryptic message here, a dropped new song title there – but how were we supposed to expect an album of 15 totally new songs (plus two additional in the deluxe version) in the same era we were all so focused on Taylor re-recording her pre-Scooter-dispute albums.
She even teased us with a “Love Story” drop that had this blogger, at least, ready to start the inevitable comparisons between the highly anticipated, impending new versions and the old classics (of course, Swifties can’t really play them side-by-side because that will unwittingly increase the streams for the original old albums, and Taylor doesn’t want that).
But those plans are now on hold and, seemingly – at least for pop music enthusiasts and Taylor’s Swifties – so is all that holiday music domination.
Instead, we get to feast on songs like the aforementioned “willow,” whose melody and lyrics – especially in the perfectly constructed pop chorus – are so catchy and easily remembered that you’ll be singing along on the second listen; and “no body, no crime” (featuring Haim), her 2020 version of the early-1970s cheating/murder-mystery story songs à la Vicki Lawrence (“The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia”) and Cher (“Dark Lady”). Just as in those ‘70s number one hits, the protagonist wields the murder weapon as Taylor avenges her friend Este’s demise at the hands of a cheating husband.
Familiar story, yes, but Taylor knows we haven’t had a good story song like that in eons, and there’s no harm in re-telling a tried-and-true fictional tale where only the names and circumstances (and decades) have changed.
Truth is, it’s hard to say which songs on evermore are the best. The two already mentioned get my vote for now, with “coney island” (featuring The National’s Matt Berninger) coming in a close third. The beautiful contrast in his deep baritone and Taylor’s familiar tenor vocals, by the way, are a magical thing that rivals any of the multitude of song pairings that dominated 2020, and should be concentrated on by Taylor and Republic Records as a potential single in early 2021.
Same goes for “gold rush,” another sweetly constructed pop song that has radio potential, assuming radio still has an appetite for Taylor’s sweet, pop songs.
Oh and you should be warned that the album’s title track (featuring Bon Iver) has a tempo change-up and cleverly crafted crescendo just after the halfway point that is pop’s version of “Sicko Mode” and gives the otherwise dreary song significant depth. It’s the album’s perfect closer.
But my opinions – like yours – will likely change with repeated listening. Having just started at 12:54 am eastern on Friday, December 11, I’m already way behind the nearly half-million people who, by that time, had already viewed the “willow” video on YouTube. The video – directed by Taylor herself – is a magnificent display of artistry and lights that will no doubt have enough Swiftie support to take its viral viewership into January and beyond.
First single: The “willow” video can be seen here.
Swifties will especially like the sly, knowing look their queen gives the camera in a close-up shot as she sings “I come back stronger than a ‘90s trend.”
Indeed Taylor does.
And if ever there was any such thing as a “comeback” album released only five months after its predecessor, itself the year’s best seller whose only black mark was its lack of “singles” success, evermore would be the case study.
And Swifties, not that it’s a priority, but you can resume your Christmas music listening schedule next week (after you’ve OD’d on evermore’s captivating tracks) in the final build-up to the holiday where Mariah’s “All I Want For Christmas” anthem will no doubt resume its dominance in many playlists and on the Billboard charts.
That is, at least until January, when we can once again devote our full attention to Taylor, then and evermore.
Recommended tracks: there’s not a bad song on evermore, but concentrate on these: “willow,” “no body, no crime,” “coney island,” gold rush,” “champagne problems,” “cowboy like me,” “ivy,” “evermore.”
DJRob is a freelance blogger from Chicago who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.
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