Taylor Swift will not go quietly into her thirties. On the heels of turning the unassuming 3-1, she unexpectedly dropped her second album of the year, evermore — shaming all of us who couldn’t finish reading even one book in 2020.
Evermore is Swift’s continued foray into folk and indie rock, which she kicked off earlier this year on the sister album folklore. After a decade of resentful pop bangers — like “Better Than Revenge,” “We Are Never Getting Back Together” and “Bad Blood” — that characterized her twenties, Swift is settling into an epoch of resolve. With tunes about reconsidering her indignation toward exes and accepting her permanently snobby dissenters, evermore is the sound of someone embracing the cluttered emotions of growing older.
Just look at her last two album covers. On folklore, Swift stands in a forest, captured in black and white. Evermore’s cover is a portrait of Swift’s back in an ombre windowpane jacket as she stares, literally, “Out of the Woods.” Her perspective and temperament have shifted.
Swift said the year 31 was especially significant for her: It’s her lucky number 13 backwards. Her fellow 31-year-olds and 1989 kids, however, say she might be the first person to actually look forward to turning this unassuming age. On evermore, it shows.
“This is an album that could come only after someone’s had 30-plus years of successes — and missteps — to clarify what they value, and where they really want to put their energy,” says Cameron Scheetz, a video producer for the A.V. Club.
But not all 31-year-old gay twunks agree on Swift’s newfound peace is sincere. “Hi, I am 31 and my opinion is that it’s bad,” Michael Fails, a video maker in New York, says. Fails takes issue with his queer peers canonizing Swift as a gay icon. He still sees her as the self-pitying teen who sang “She’s the cheer captain and I’m on the bleachers” on her 2009 hit “You Belong With Me.” “Well, you still went to the game, babe, and anyone who supports high school sports isn’t someone I feel I need to stan,” Fails says. (Do not expect Fails to attend his next high school reunion.)
On evermore, Swift enlists her fellow 31 Club member Danielle Haim for a murderous escapade. Haim (famously of the band Haim) collabs on the song “No Body, No Crime” about a cheating ex her sister Este Haim might’ve killed. It’s the standout track for listeners who prefer the fantastical folklore, Swift’s first real endeavor to sing about people other than herself. “I do love ‘No Body, No Crime’ even though it doesn’t fit the tone of the album at all. But I like the country feel of it and, of course, all women love a revenge story,” says Lauren Scott, who’s famously 31 and from Los Angeles.
Some say one of the joys of turning 31 is ending your Saturn Return — when the planet Saturn returns to the exact position when you were born. It’s a period characterized by major introspection and personal changes, often occurring between 28 and 32 years old. Announcing the album on Twitter last week, Swift noted, “There was something different with folklore. In making it, I felt less like I was departing and more like I was returning.”
Swift is ending her Saturn Return by ditching her penchant for giving each album an expansive and distinct thesis. “Saturn happened to return just after Tay released Reputation, which set the course for her next three years. She was forced to repair her relationship to the media, the music industry, and eventually, to her self,” says Suzy Exposito, a 31-year-old astrology scholar and music reporter for the Los Angeles Times.
Of course, this is a generous reading of Swift’s new album. She’s a saccharine singer who seems to have everything she wants in life but love. A less positive reading of her discography may note that she wanders through new genres — like pop and now indie rock — once fans tire of her old sound. Still, it’s rare for a female Top 40 artist, especially the highest-grossing woman in music — to be given the room and time to grow and evolve as an artist. It’s common for pop artists to shapeshift from album to album. However, unlike Madonna, Lady Gaga and Kesha, who all flirted with country-inspired albums, Swift started out Nashville; the world’s introduction to the teenage songwriter was a track titled “Tim McGraw.”
Perhaps that’s what makes evermore feel like Swift’s most adult work yet. It’s the artist at her most divisive and audacious: Who releases two albums full of all-encompassing, wistful love eulogies during a pandemic? Some may call it tone-deaf, but to me, Swift is leaning into a lack of concern about how she’s perceived.
There is no pivot here. Evermore’s lack of an overwrought, self-serving artist’s statement is a sign that Swift actually understands herself better than ever. “What I like about evermore is that it feels as though there’s a delicacy here that has been missing in her last few albums,” says Ryan Killian Krause, a 31-year-old TSA (Taylor Swift Apologist) and writer in New York.
Maybe that’s the most honest thing about being 31, particularly in a pandemic that’s halted normalcy. Swift is settling into where she’s at, instead of trying to prove to anyone who she thinks she might be. “I am proud of my fellow 31-year-old for refusing to let her 31st be anything but meaningful,” says Nick Andersen, a podcast producer from Cambridge, Massachusetts. “That’s the energy I hope to carry forth into this year of my life, too: confident, calm and connected with the friends who helped me get here.”