Ranking the Highs and Lows of Taylor Swift’s Eclectic New Record ‘evermore’

A promotional photo for the “lonely witch” remix of Swift’s lead single “willow”

Max Wanger

A promotional photo for the “lonely witch” remix of Swift’s lead single “willow”

In July, when Taylor Swift did the unthinkable by surprise-dropping her eighth studio album folklore, fans around the world were not ready. It was the perfect quarantine album — somber, succinct, and full of fantastical tales to escape into — and it was the most highly reviewed album of her career. But on the morning of December 10, she one-upped herself, writing on social media, “tonight the story continues.” She couldn’t leave well enough alone; she had more to say, more music for this stripped-down chapter in her discography, and she was ready to put out evermore.

evermore is folklore’s more experimental sister. It’s both sadder and brighter, with a few more missteps along the way, incorporating even more sounds into her repertoire than she has before thanks to producer Aaron Dessner. But make no mistake: it is not merely the discarded songs from folklore. On evermore, Swift once again reminds us — as if we needed to be reminded — of her strength as a songwriter and a storyteller, only further cementing her legacy in music history.

As is tradition (see: Lover & folklore), we’ve endeavored to rank all the tracks from evermore. After much deliberation and rethinking our choices an exhausting amount of times, here is our list, from worst to best.

The evermore CD in its natural habitat (Luke Chinman)

17. closure

We just can’t get past all the clanking. It makes our heads hurt. It sounds like a metal zipper in the washing machine, a computer throwing up, a robot taking its last breaths, and being inside a pinball machine, all at the same time. We think Dessner grabbed the jackhammer instead of the drums by accident and recorded it in a restaurant kitchen during the dinner rush. But Swift needs a good blunder every now and then.

Best line: “Guilty, guilty reaching out across the sea / That you put between you and me / But it’s fake and it’s oh so unnecessary”

16. happiness

Don’t be fooled by the title: “happiness” is easily the most somber on evermore. Swift writes about the ending of a relationship, but instead of the anger or raw emotion that has sometimes accompanied similar tracks, “happiness” is written with an understanding of inevitability and a recognition that such inevitability doesn’t make the end any easier (“No one teaches you what to do when a good man hurts you and you know you hurt him too”). It’s an interesting sentiment unexplored across Swift’s discography, but the song suffers from meandering instrumentals that lack enough energy to properly serve the lyrical complexity.

Best line: “And I pulled your body into mine every goddamn night now I get fake niceties”

15. dorothea

On “dorothea,” Swift seems to be writing from the perspective of … her friends? Yeah, it’s a bit strange. Dorothea — the main character — is a pop star who left her town behind for a Hollywood life of glamour and magazine covers, but Swift sings that she will always have a place back at home if she wants an escape from the fame. Perhaps this is Swift’s way of recognizing her hometown friends, or maybe projecting the friends that she wishes she had. Regardless, it does give another look at the story of the more compelling “‘tis the damn season,” the fourth track on evermore, which Swift says is about the same star actually revisiting their hometown.

Best line: “But are you still the same soul I met under the bleachers?”

14. it’s time to go

The true final track of evermore, bonus song “it’s time to go” is autobiographical and quite therapeutic. Swift is evidently still processing all the effects of her choice to leave Big Machine Label Group in 2018. Even though she used to refer to Scott Borschetta as a father figure and no doubt thought her musical future would be with Big Machine, it’s clear that even before the latest scandals with Scooter Braun, her time with the label was anything but easy. In addition to delving into why she left Big Machine, this song nods to her experiences leaving other types of relationships too (maybe a friendship or something more with Karlie Kloss?). We can pick at the lyrics all we want, but it is undeniable that in “it’s time to go,” Swift just sounds tired — tired of running, tired of giving up, tired of having to do the brave, strong thing over and over again. 

Best line: “He’s got my past / Frozen behind glass / But I’ve got me”

13. no body, no crime

Taylor Swift has always loved true crime TV, so in her web of fictional tales, it was only time she wrote a murder mystery song to match. “no body, no crime” is something of a cross between Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats,” with full-fledged country acoustics. And, of course, she names the characters after her friends — this time it’s Este of the HAIM sisters, the band that also gets a feature credit for their backing vocals and a brief spoken line: “she was with me, dude.” It continues Swift’s pattern of offering her female collaborators only harmonies rather than whole verses (see “Soon You’ll Get Better” ft. The Chicks), but she makes up for it with a cleverly evolving chorus, the shivers you get when she sings a word so mundane as “reports,” and the taste of country twang we love.

Best line: “Her husband’s actin’ different, and it smells like infidelity”

12. champagne problems

“champagne problems” is simply devastating, joining the ranks with folklore’s “exile” of sad breakup tracks written with Swift’s boyfriend of four years, Joe Alwyn. This is certainly an odd dynamic, but there’s no denying that the pair have a knack for pulling at heartstrings. “champagne problems” tells the story of a failed proposal between college lovers, and Swift’s signature vivid lyrics transport the listener right to that stairwell landing where everything fell apart. With oscillating ah’s that outline the shape of champagne bubbles and a bridge to rival Swift’s best, “champagne problems” is a formidable masterpiece of storytelling and imagery. 

Best line: “‘She would have made such a lovely bride / ‘What a shame she’s fucked in the head,’ they said”

11. long story short

“long story short” tells one of the few autobiographical stories on the album. With the wisdom of hindsight and the confidence of being in a healthy long-term relationship, this track is the tl:dr of Swift’s whole love life. Though mostly carefree, she manages to sneak in some signature vulnerability with lines like “I always felt I must look better in the rearview.” “long story short” is fun, and even though it’s sometimes confusing, (what does “If the shoe fits walk in it / ‘Til your high heels break” even mean?) that confusion was the general mood of her twenties, making later lines like “If the shoe fits walk in it / Everywhere you go” that much more satisfying. 

Best line: “Pushed from the precipice / Clung to the nearest lips / Long story short it was the wrong guy”

10. right where you left me

Critics of Swift have forever said she can’t move on — from breakups and grudges — and so that’s exactly what she leans into on “right where you left me.” It feels like quintessential Taylor Swift: it could be the restaurant where she met her summer fling from “Mine,” the same mascara from “New Romantics,” the same dust from “Holy Ground.” Swift proves on this track that the most heartbreaking stories can be simple, and as you are swept away into her dreamy choruses of “you left me,” beguiled by the nostalgic banjo we haven’t properly gotten from her in years, and taken by the onslaught of clever lyrics, you can only wonder how she can keep making the same stories feel new again.

Best line: “I stayed there / Dust collected on my pinned-up hair”

9. cowboy like me

The most understated song on evermore, “cowboy like me” tells the story of two gold-diggers falling in love — almost an alternative ending to “Getaway Car.” Though not credited as a feature, the earthy vocals of Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons emphasize the melancholic tone of the song. Still, the lyrics of “cowboy like me” are incredibly evocative and ultimately warm; lines like “You’re a bandit like me / Eyes full of stars” and “Now you hang from my lips / Like the Gardens of Babylon,” are positively dreamy. Now, we have no idea how she came up with the idea to write a song about two con-artists falling in love at a wedding, but we’ll take it. Dancing, after all, is a dangerous game. 

Best line: “Forever is the sweetest con”

8. gold rush

evermore may technically be listed as an alternative album, but “gold rush” proves that Swift is a pop artist at heart. The track is one of few collaborations with Jack Antonoff on the album, known by fans for his work on Swift’s three pop albums. “gold rush” is a bit of a musical oddity, with notably different verse and chorus chord progressions, delivering the glorious effect of an entire story packed into a three minute song. Fans have even noticed a striking similarity to Lorde’s “Green Light,” another Antonoff production, which is high praise if I’ve ever heard it. And a line about “day old tea,” I mean, what’s not to love!

Best line: “I don’t like that falling feels like flying til the bone crush”

7. willow

Though not as strong as “cardigan,” Swift’s lead single on evermore still paints a beautiful world to get lost in. “It sounds like casting a spell to make someone fall in love with you,” Swift wrote to her fans during the music video premiere, and she uses a perfect combination of string plucking, cadence, and breathy vocals to bewitch the listener as well. Even the sole questionable choice, the out-of-place line “Come back stronger than a 90’s trend” is sung with such a familiar smugness — paired with a knowing look to the camera in the music video — that Swift manages to pull it off. 

Best line: “I’m like the water when your ship rolled in that night / Rough on the surface but you cut through like a knife”

6. tolerate it

It’s tradition for Swift’s fifth track on each album to be her most emotional and, even on folklore — Swift’s first album of fictionalized stories — her most personal. On evermore, Swift partially breaks from that tradition, resulting in “tolerate it,” a gripping track about doing everything you can to be noticed, but not a narrative specific to Swift herself. However, the power behind her words isn’t diminished, and the final chorus packs a satisfyingly-triumphant punch that still holds up to her more diaristic works.

Best line: “I made you my temple, my mural, my sky / Now I’m begging for footnotes in the story of your life”

5. ivy

On “ivy,” Swift embodies a married narrator with a temping suitor, not a character you would usually root for. But you kind of do. She sings with such a convincing wistfulness, underscored by the beautiful metaphor that is an infidelic love as voracious as growing vines. Swift paints stunning images on every line, backed by Justin Vernon’s woodsy vocals and the trusty team behind both folklore and evermore — Jack Antonoff and Aaron Desner — for some enchanting instrumentation. And we would be remiss to not highlight the bridge, where Swift could have just ended the song but instead throws in a couple more “goddamns” for the most satisfying finish.

Best line: “Crescent moon / Coast is clear / Spring breaks loose / But so does fear”

4. majorie

Marjorie Finlay was an opera singer who dreamt of becoming famous. She’s also Taylor Swift’s grandmother. Finlay died when Swift was young, but she obviously left her granddaughter with quite an impression. Though “marjorie” has simple lyrics, it is by no means a simple song and is resonant with anyone who has lost a loved one. It is layered with the guilt of not investing in relationships before it is too late, the burden of carrying ancestor’s dreams, and the desire to live by their words of wisdom. Finlay herself even makes an appearance in the song, with recordings of her singing as background vocals. “marjorie,” though specific to Swift, of course, appeals to the deepest of human emotions — love and loss — in a way she has only otherwise achieved in “Ronan.” 

Best line: “All your closets of backlogged dreams / And how you left them all to me”

3. ‘tis the damn season

“‘tis the damn season” combines a Christmassy atmosphere with country lyrics and pop catchiness: quite an odd mixture, but it works exceedingly well. The track tells the story of ex-high school sweethearts returning home to spend the holidays with family, only to find themselves embroiled in heartache that may or may not lead to romantic entanglements. This song is about longing — one only needs to listen to the passionate “write this down” to hear it. On “‘tis the damn season,” Swift references both Robert Frost (“the road not taken looks real good now”) and calls back to her country roots: “Messy as the mud on your truck tires” feels a lot like the creek beds she turned up on “Mary’s Song” and the Chevy truck from “Tim McGraw.” What can’t this woman do? 

Best line: “It’s the kind of cold / Fogs up windshield glass / But I felt it when I passed you”

2. coney island

As much as we wish Swift collaborated with more women, we can’t deny that her voice just works with male singers. Such is the case in “coney island,” where Aaron Dessner’s band The National snagged a feature and his brother Bryce Dessner contributed vocals. The haunting song is typical of much of Swift’s discography in that she mourns lost love, but unusual because it references multiple of her past partners — at least four of them. By using the imagery of the rundown amusement park of the same name, “coney island” evokes just the type of melancholic nostalgia we need during the isolation of COVID-19. “coney island” is irresistible because it shows that what is broken may still be beautiful, that memories of blue skies may keep us company within loneliness.

Best line: “Lost again with no surprises / Disappointments, close your eyes and it gets colder and colder”

1. evermore

“evermore” is the best healing journey in all of Swift’s discography — even topping the “Forever and Always” – “Last Kiss” – “Holy Ground” three album arc. The title track moves from complete desolation to a hopeful finish, with the turning point coming when Bon Iver enters, representing beau Joe Alwyn. Basically, this track sums up all of 2017’s reputation. “evermore” is winter, and the end opens up to the budding potential of spring. If you listen closely enough, you’ll hear drums that sound like a heartbeat gradually get stronger, as if Swift was coming alive again. 

Best line: “And I was catching my breath / Barefoot in the wildest winter / Catching my death”