By Terrance Turner
May 11, 2021
Taylor Swift is in the building.
A frenzy has erupted on Twitter after it was revealed that Swift will be on hand to accept the Global Icon award at the BRIT Awards in England today. The award is given “in recognition of her immense impact on music across the world and incredible repertoire and achievements to date.” Billboard notes that Swift is the first American and first female artist to receive the award.
Earlier this year, Swift became the first woman ever to win the Album of the Year three times. After wins for Fearless (from 2008) and 1989 (released in 2014), Swift won the Grammy for Album of the Year in February for her album Folklore. That album came together while Swift was quarantined at home, her tour canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While isolated, Swift began watching movies…and getting inspired. “Early in quarantine, I started watching lots of films,” she told Entertainment Weekly. “Consuming other people’s storytelling opened this portal in my imagination and made me feel like, Why have I never created characters and intersecting storylines?”
That spurred her to begin writing what would become an unusual project. Swift ended up with songs about an imagined love triangle (“Cardigan,” “Betty,” “August”), one about a clandestine romance (“Illicit Affairs”), and another chronicling a doomed relationship (“Exile”). Others tell of sumptuous real-life figures like Rebekah Harkness, a divorcee who married the heir to Standard Oil — and whose home Swift purchased 31 years after her death. One song, “Epiphany”, references the COVID-19 pandemic and Swift’s grandfather, who fought in World War II. (He fought at the Battle of Guadalcanal and at Okinawa.)
Swift crafted the songs with longtime collaborator Jack Antonoff and the indie rock guitarist Aaron Dessner. They worked on the album separately, writing and recording and sending each other music files. “It was a very inspiring, exhilarating collaborative process that was almost entirely remote,” Dessner told Rolling Stone. The result was Folklore — a collection of 16 secretly-recorded songs that weave together fictional narratives and story arcs. In an essay that accompanied the album, Swift explained her writing process:
“In isolation my imagination has run wild and this album is the result, a collection of songs and stories that flowed like a stream of consciousness. Picking up a pen was my way of escaping into fantasy, history, and memory. I’ve told these stories to the best of my ability with all the love, wonder, and whimsy they deserve.”
Swift shocked her fans (and the world) by announcing the project via Instagram with just 24 hours notice before a surprise release of the album on July 24, 2020. The response was rapturous. Hailed by critics, Folklore became Swift’s seventh No. 1 album. Acclaimed for its mellow, folk-inspired acoustics, the album became the best-selling record of 2020 (and the only one to sell a million copies, according to Billboard.) But Taylor Swift wasn’t done yet.
On December 10, the superstar singer-songwriter tweeted: “I’m elated to tell you that my 9th studio album, and folklore’s sister record, will be out tonight at midnight eastern. It’s called evermore.”
The surprising release (at 11:00 pm CST) comes just five months after Swift’s latest album “Folklore”, which she recorded while in quarantine. Swift acknowledged her rather swift pace today via social media: “I’ve never done this before,” she said. “I’ve always treated albums as one-off eras and moved on to planning the next after an album was completed. There was something different about folklore.” What was different? Why the quick turnaround?
“To put it plainly, we just couldn’t stop writing songs. To try and put it more poetically, it feels like we were standing on the edge of the folklorian woods and we had a choice: to turn and go back or to travel further into the forest of the music,’ Swift wrote. “We chose to wander deeper in.”
“We” likely refers to collaborators Jack Antonoff, Justin Vernon, and Aaron Dessner, who worked on “Folklore”‘ with Swift. Another collaborator, “WB”, is William Bowery, a pseudonym for Swift’s longtime boyfriend, British actor Joe Alwyn. It is his contribution that will probably be the most scrutinized — along with Swift’s wardrobe. Tonight she releases the music video for her song “Willow”, which features her wearing a white lace bridal dress. MSN writers Carolyn Gomez and Jasmine Tresky asserted that “you can’t tell me that’s not a wedding dress”.
Gomez and Tresky also pointed out that Swift’s album Lover contains the lyric: “My heart’s been borrowed, and yours has been blue. All’s well that ends well, to end up with you.” Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue — a traditional rhyme that describes all the things a bride should wear on her wedding day. (Still no engagement news from Swift as of press time, though.)
In her liner notes, Swift writes: “I loved the escapism I found in these imaginary/not imaginary tales. I loved the ways you welcomed the dreamscapes and tragedies and epic tales of love lost and found. So I kept writing them. And I loved creating these songs with Aaron Dessner, Jack Antonoff, WB, and Justin Vernon.”
“Before I knew it there were 17 tales, some of which are mirrored or intersecting with one another. The one about two young con artists who fall in love while hanging out at fancy resorts trying to score rich romantic beneficiaries. The one where longtime college sweethearts had very different plans for the same night, one to end it and one who brought a ring.”
“Ever since I was 13, I’ve been excited about turning 31 because it’s my lucky number backwards, which is why I wanted to surprise you with this now,” Swift wrote in a letter announcing the project’s track list. “You’ve all been so caring, supportive and thoughtful on my birthdays and so this time I thought I would give you something! I also know this holiday season will be a lonely one for most of us, and if there are any of you out there who turn to music to cope with missing loved ones the way I do, this is for you.”
Tonight, after two number-one albums created during an incredible year, Taylor Swift made history by being named as the first female, first American (and first non-British!) recipient of the Global Icon award at the BRIT Awards. Swift delivered a poignant speech that acknowledged her creative co-partners and the loved ones that she says always have her back. But she also gave some sage advice to the artists in the building and those watching on television at home.
“Making Folklore and Evermore was one of the most unique, carthartic, extraordinary experiences I’ve ever had,” Swift said tonight as she accepted her award. She thanked Antonoff, Dessner, and Justin Vernon, among other collaborators. But she also thanked her friends and family. “If there’s one thing that I’ve learned,” she said, “it’s that you have to look around you every day and take note of the people who have always believed in you, and never stop appreciating them for it. Never take them for granted.”
Swift ended her speech with an inspiring closer.
“There are so many incredible artists in this room tonight and a lot of people watching, who have goals and dreams and ambitions for themselves. I need you to hear me when I say that there is no career path that comes free of negativity. If you’re met with resistance, that probably means you’re doing something new. If you’re experiencing turbluence or pressure, that proabably means you’re rising. And there mght be tines when you put your whole heart and soul into somethign and it is met with cynicism or skepticism. You cannot let that crush you; you have to let it fuel you. Because we live in a world where anyone has the right to say anything that they want about you at any time. But just please remember that you have the right to prove them wrong.”