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April 16, 2024

In a time of hardship, Taylor Swift's two recent albums offer hopeful escapism

By SHIZHENG TIE | February 3, 2021


CC BY-SA 2.0 / Eva Rinaldi 

Taylor Swift explores concepts, such as learning when it’s time to let go, in her most recent albulms.

It’s been almost two months since Taylor Swift dropped evermore, her second album of 2020, when the world was devoid of severity, compassion and inspiration. It was a nice surprise to her fan base — myself included — after the initial release of evermore’s sister album in July of 2020, folklore.

Among songs of distinct themes and genres, I notice a common thread that strings together the two albums: escapism. Without a doubt, folklore and evermore are the culmination of Swift’s imagination and hard work amid a pandemic that shook the world, but they are also media Swift uses to distract herself from the woes, anger and tragedies of an unprecedentedly chaotic year. 

On August 21, Swift explained that she has her own way of looking at the songs on folklore: To her, they fit together thematically in different groups and “chapters.” The first one she shared is “folklore: the escapism chapter,” a collection of six songs including “the lakes,” “seven,” “epiphany,” “cardigan,” “mirrorball” and “exile.”

The six songs represent six different facets of escapism.

The first song and my favorite one, “the lakes,” tells of Swift’s yearning to escape from the chaos of the world to heal with her love. “The lakes” refers to the Lake District of England, where Swift vacationed with her boyfriend Joe Alwyn in 2019. The lyrics paint an image intertwined with dichotomies and contrast, often pairing sceneries of hopeful tranquility and emotions of helpless sorrow. 

“Take me to the lakes, where all the poets went to die,” Swift sings. The song evokes images of the natural environment and delicate emotions that, strangely, belong to both the particularities of Swift’s life under constant exposure and the struggles of mundane everyday life.

The remaining five songs also approach escapism from different angles. “Seven” tells the story of childhood sweethearts escaping from youthful fears and parental abuse. “Epiphany” is an anthem for veterans and other selfless fighters, namely the health-care workers in the COVID-19 pandemic, to help them escape from their world of grief. “Cardigan” is an enlightening healing melody that encourages people to escape to their inner selves after a broken heart and a relationship that didn’t go as planned. “Mirrorball” is Swift’s introspection at her life under the spotlight and her desire to escape from other people’s opinions and impressions of her life. “Exile” is a sad duet that tells of a failed love due to misunderstanding and miscommunication, as well as the escape afterward. 

Through portrayals of other people’s grief and joy, Swift indulges in more tales of fantasy and escapism in her second album, evermore. Instead of stories of her own love and heartbreaks, evermore depicts fictional affairs filled with compassion and empathy. It emphasizes Swift’s ability not only as an outstanding songwriter but also as an enchanting storyteller. 

willow” describes a defenseless infatuation, the lyric “that’s my man” repeating throughout like a spell of enchantment. “champagne problems” uses a combination of piano melody and heart-rending lyrics to recount how a girl turns down a marriage proposal despite mutual love.

no body, no crime” is a revenge tale not unlike Swift’s early work “Picture to Burn” or Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats.” Finally, “right where you left me” is a bonus track that outlines a whimsical story of a girl staying at the spot of a breakup for what feels like forever.

Even though I enjoyed all of Swift’s work and her insistence on escapism, I believe the essence of evermore is the four singles on the album that reflect Swift’s personal experience and edifications: “long story short,” “marjorie,” “evermore” and “it’s time to go.” In these songs, she recounts her stories of “clinging to the nearest lips” at a time of constant stress and hostility. 

Swift receives her inspiration from a kind, polite, clever woman who knows when to wield her power: her great-grandmother Marjorie. She furloughs her long-lasting pain and embraces her future, finally learning some lessons from failed interpersonal relationships (romantic or not) and letting go when it’s time to let go.

A month into 2021, I think this is what Swift is trying to tell us through evermore. Escapism is something dreamy and hopeful, as most of us have moments where we wish to escape from it all and run toward something true to ourselves. But even in a time of hardship and insecurity, Swift crafted two amazing albums and embraced songwriting, something she is truly passionate about, and portrayed for her listeners tales of heartache, loss and happiness. 

Similarly, we cannot simply escape 2020 and everything that went wrong. Escapism is not staying put or avoiding conflicts mindlessly but instead finding a moment of tranquility and then moving on, inspired to fight for a better future. 

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