Just when you thought you couldn’t feel any worse about your lack of productivity this year, Taylor Swift’s pair of surprise albums folklore and evermore materialised, seemingly out of thin air, offering up one last – carefully aestheticised and hauntingly acoustic – slap in the face. It wouldn’t be so bad if they weren’t so good, turning away from the saccharine Lover, in search of music that is richly complicated, both sonically and lyrically. Although undoubtedly artworks in their own right, evermore and folklore are self-proclaimed ‘sister albums’, constantly questioning and answering each other in a uniquely coded and typically Swiftian dialogue.

At a glance: The top 10 tracks

10: peace (track 15, folklore)

9: the 1 (track 1, folklore)

8: cowboy like me (track 11, evermore)

7: the last great american dynasty (track 3, folklore)

6: no body, no crime (ft. HAIM) (track 6, evermore)

5: willow (track 1, evermore)

4: exile (ft. Bon Iver) (track 4, folklore)

3: ivy (track 10, evermore)

2: seven (track 7, folklore)

1: happiness (track 7, evermore)

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Swift has long been acclaimed for her ability to regenerate, famously shifting from country to pop in the early 2010s, but this year’s metamorphosis is undoubtedly her most impressive feat to date. With the help of long-time producer Jack Antonoff and new collaborator Aaron Dessner (of Ohioan rock band The National), these two works offer up an addictive softness of sound, setting the perfect backdrop for a new kind of lyrical storytelling. A sequence of fairy tales positioned carefully on the line between fact and fiction, these songs make for a mesmeric collection of scenes that show off Swift’s ever-strengthening ability to capture moments not only in her own life and imagination, but also in those of others. In the spirit of ambitious intertwining, here are ten of the best stories the two albums tell:

10. peace (track 15, folklore)

A metronome beats throughout this truly excellent testament to Swift’s relationship with British actor Joe Alwyn. It is one of the few tracks explicitly anchored in Swift’s own life, exposing her anxiety – in the midst of fame and all its trimmings – over being unable to provide her partner with peace. Unashamedly understated, the track feels almost like a poem set to music and serves as a prelude for the experiments to follow on evermore.

 9. the 1 (track 1, folklore)

As Dessner points out in the brilliantly made ‘long pond studio sessions’, folklore’s opening track perfectly sets the tone for what is to come, that is a Swift unafraid of change (“been saying yes instead of no”) and brutal honesty (“In my defense I have none”).

 8. cowboy like me (track 11, evermore)

A western in under five minutes, complete with backing vocals from Marcus Mumford. This banjo and narrative heavy love song has echoes of early Lana Del Rey and a spectacular bridge that makes up nearly half the running time.

 7. the last great american dynasty (track 3, folklore)

The first taste of folklore’s intensely narrative-based storytelling, this track acts as a biography for the previous owner of Swift’s Rhode Island home, Rebekah Harkness. In a classic third to first person twist after the bridge, Swift ties herself to the story while also giving space for a descent into the pre-supposed, which allows the rest of the songs to stretch out of themselves and into the fantastical.

 6. no body, no crime (ft. HAIM) (track 6, evermore)

The grandest departure from reality these albums offer, this collaboration with trio HAIM tells the story of a murder mystery. It importantly reminds us that Swift is still unafraid to have fun with her new, mature sound, though not at the expense of great songwriting. The track contains some of her sharpest lyrics to date, peppered with zingers such as “that ain’t my merlot on his mouth / that ain’t my jewellery on our joint account”.

 5. willow (track 1, evermore)

Great lyrics, great melody, great surprise falsetto, topped off with a classic Swift-style bridge. Nothing not to like here.

 4. exile (ft. Bon Iver) (track 4, folklore)

Penned by Swift, Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon, and Swift’s boyfriend Joe Alwyn (under the pseudonym William Bowery), this two-sided break up story delicately unfolds a series of miscommunications and is, of course, lyrically perfect from start to finish.

 3. ivy (track 10, evermore)

A tight acoustic pop number bolstered by vocals from Vernon, ‘ivy’ offers a take on forbidden love that harks back to 2008 hit ‘Love Story’. It is made by its soaring chorus, in which Swift exclaims triumphantly “Oh! Goddamn! My pain fits in the palm of your freezing hand”.

 2. seven (track 7, folklore)


Mountain View

Evermore: A Personal Reflection

The most ‘folk’ track the two albums offer, ‘seven’ is a stripped-back love letter to childhood innocence and friendship, in which she demands that her listeners picture her “before she learned civility” and reflects poignantly on the virtues of youthful imagination.

 1. happiness (track 7, evermore)

I’m just going to say it: this is the best break-up song Swift has ever written. Finished just a week before evermore’s release and tear-jerking from start to finish, as its narrator oscillates between hopefulness and hopelessness in the face of divorce, ultimately reaching the beautifully simple conclusion: “there is happiness”.