Willow (song)

Last updated

"Willow"
Taylor Swift - Willow.png
Single by Taylor Swift
from the album Evermore
ReleasedDecember 11, 2020 (2020-12-11)
Recorded2020
Genre
Length3:34
Label Republic
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s) Aaron Dessner
Taylor Swift singles chronology
"The 1"
(2020)
"Willow"
(2020)
"No Body, No Crime"
(2021)
Music video
"Willow" on YouTube

"Willow" (stylized in all lowercase) is a song recorded by American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift, released on December 11, 2020, through Republic Records. It was released alongside her ninth studio album, Evermore (2020), as its lead single. The opening track of the album, Swift wrote the song with its producer Aaron Dessner.

Contents

Using a metaphor to dub life as a willow tree, "Willow" is a chamber-folk love song built around picked guitars, glockenspiel, flute and strings. Swift compared the song to casting a love spell. An accompanying music video, directed by Swift, premiered the same day as the song's release. The video is a continuation of the storyline from her preceding video for "Cardigan" (2020), and sees a golden string guide the singer through a mystical saga and lead her to her lover. "Willow" received acclaim from music critics, who complimented its romantic lyricism and guitar-centric sound. The song topped both global Apple Music and Spotify charts upon release; it marked one of 2020's biggest song debuts on the latter, and peaked at number two on the Billboard Global 200.

"Willow" debuted atop the Billboard Hot 100, scoring Swift her seventh US number-one single, third number-one debut, and second chart-topper in 2020. It held the top spot of the Hot 100 while Evermore opened at number-one on the Billboard 200, making Swift the first act in history to simultaneously debut atop both the charts in two separate occasions, following Folklore and "Cardigan". "Willow" broke the record for the biggest downward movement from the number-one spot of the Hot 100, when it descended 37 spots in its second week due to Christmas songs flooding the chart. "Willow" also topped Billboard Hot Alternative Songs, Hot Rock & Alternative Songs, and Digital Song Sales charts, and reached number one in Australia, Canada and Singapore, and top-3 in Ireland, Malaysia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

Background and release

"Willow" is about intrigue, desire, and the complexity that goes into wanting someone. I think it sounds like casting a spell to make someone fall in love with you.

Swift, American Songwriter [1]

After the release of Folklore, Dessner casually composed an instrumental track "Westerly", named after the location of Swift's Rhode Island home. An hour later, Swift wrote "Willow" to the track and sent him back the finished song. [2] "Willow" was a surprise release made available on December 11, 2020, alongside Swift's second surprise album, Evermore, as its lead single . [3] The song was written by Swift and its producer Aaron Dessner, who had worked with Swift on her eight studio album, Folklore (2020). Dessner programmed the track and played drums, percussion, keyboards, synthesizers, piano and electric, bass and acoustic guitars. The orchestration was provided by Bryce Dessner. Greg Calbi, and Steve Fallone mastered the track at Sterling Sound, Edgewater, New Jersey, while Jonathan Low mixed it at Long Pond Studios in Hudson Valley, New York. [4]

On December 13, 2020, Swift's 31st birthday, an electronic "Dancing Witch" version of "Willow" was released, remixed by Swedish producer Elvira. It was followed by an acoustic "Lonely Witch" version on December 14, and a synth-driven "Moonlit Witch" version on December 15. [5] [6] [7] A video for the "Lonely Witch" version featuring behind-the-scenes pictures from the "Willow" music video, and a video for the "Dancing Witch" version featuring the storyboards from the "Willow" music video, were uploaded on Swift's YouTube account December 15, 2020. [8] [9]

Composition and lyrics

The song portrays life as a willow tree (pictured), and life-changing love as a wind that bends the tree. Weeping Willow by Pond.jpg
The song portrays life as a willow tree (pictured), and life-changing love as a wind that bends the tree.

"Willow" is an indie folk [10] and chamber folk [11] song with a hip hop-leaning rhythm reminiscent of Swift's 2017 album, Reputation . [12] It is built around a glockenspiel, drum machines, cello, French horn, electric guitars, violin, flute and orchestrations, and is characterized by its "breathless" chorus. [4] [13] The song is mostly set in 4
4
common time
with 2
4
bars in the chorus. It has a tempo of 84 beats per minute. It is written in the key of E minor and Swift's vocals span from E3 to B5. [14] Constructed in verse–chorus form, [12] it follows the chord progression Em–D–Em–D–Em–D–C. [14] Lyrically, "Willow" is a love song [15] that conveys themes of hope using several metaphors. [16]

Critical reception

Patrick Ryan of USA Today named "Willow" as a lyrical standout on Evermore. [17] In his The New York Times review of Evermore, Jon Pareles complimented "the restlessly intertwined guitar picking" instrumentals in "Willow" as one of the album's most flourishing music. [18] Paste critic Ellen Johnson commended the song as a "graceful opener" to Evermore, [19] while Bobby Olivier of Spin called it an earworm suited for beach bonfires. [20] Writing for The Guardian , Alexis Petridis opined that "Willow" could easily function as a "pop banger" if synthesizers, auto-tune and programmed beats replaced its "tasteful" acoustic arrangement. [21] Variety critic Chris Willman wrote that the song represents Swift's state of mind, and deemed it a cousin to "Invisible String" and "Peace", the eleventh and fifteenth tracks on Folklore , respectively. [22] Rolling Stone named "Willow" as one of 2020's best pop collaborations, praising the pairing between Swift and producer Dessner. [23]

Commercial performance

"Willow" debuted at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, scoring Swift her seventh number-one single in the US, and making her the first artist in history to debut an album and a single at number one simultaneously at two occasions, previously achieving it with Folklore and "Cardigan" (2020); "Willow" was Swift's third number-one debut on the Hot 100 after "Shake It Off" (2014) and "Cardigan", and second chart-topper in 2020. The song is also Swift's 29th top-10 hit on the Hot 100, surpassing Mariah Carey and Stevie Wonder as the artist with the sixth most top-10 entries in the chart's history, and extended her record among women for the most debuts in the Hot 100's top-10, with 19. [24] The song collected 30 million streams, 12.3 million radio impressions, and 59,000 downloads in its first week. [24] In its second week on the Hot 100, "Willow" descended to number 38 due to holiday songs rushing to the top region of the chart during Christmas week. It marked the biggest downward movement from the number-one spot in the chart's history, surpassing "Trollz" by 6ix9ine and Nicki Minaj. [25] In its third week, Willow climbed up 15 spots to number 23, on the Hot 100 chart dated January 9, 2021. [26]

The song also debuted atop the Billboard Digital Songs chart, further extending her record for the most number-one hits on the chart, with 21. [24] On the Billboard Hot Rock & Alternative Songs chart, "Willow" placed first, followed by 13 other tracks from Evermore. It gave Swift her second number-one hit on the chart, after "Cardigan". On the Billboard Hot Alternative Songs chart, Swift claimed 16 spots led by "Willow", besting Machine Gun Kelly's 12 simultaneous entries. The song topped Billboard Alternative Streaming Songs and Alternative Digital Song Sales charts as well. [27]

In Canada, "Willow" debuted at number one on the Canadian Hot 100, generating Swift's seventh number-one hit in the country, as well as "Champagne Problems" charting at number six. With this, Swift accumulated 30 top-10 hits in the country. [28]

On the UK Singles Chart, "Willow" arrived at number three, shifting 35,183 units in its first week. [29] It gave Swift her eleventh top-5 hit in the country; it was blocked from the top spot by two Christmas songs. Accompanied by Evermore tracks "Champagne Problems" and "No Body, No Crime" at numbers 15 and 19 respectively, "Willow" constitutes Swift's 21 top-20 entries in the country. [30] Similarly, "Willow" also landed at number three on Irish Singles Chart, alongside tracks "Champagne Problems" and "No Body, No Crime" at numbers 6 and 11, respectively, increasing Swift's total amount of Irish top-50 hits to 38. [31]

In Australia, Swift simultaneously topped both albums and singles charts. "Willow" opened atop the ARIA Singles chart, marking Swift's seventh Australian number-one hit and the second in 2020, following "Cardigan". [32] In New Zealand, "Willow" launched at number three on the Top40 Singles chart, with other Evermore tracks "Champagne Problems", "No Body, No Crime" and "Gold Rush" landing at numbers 24, 29 and 34, respectively. [33] On Billboard Global 200 and Global Excl. U.S. charts, "Willow" peaked at numbers 2 and 5, respectively. [34]

Music video

An accompanying music video for "Willow", directed by Swift, was released along with the song. [35] It is Swift's third self-directed video, following "The Man" and "Cardigan". [36] The video describes the experience of yearning for someone and life's twists along the way to finding the right person. [37] Claire Shaffer and Althea Legaspi, writing for Rolling Stone , described the video as calling back to familiar scenes from Swift's past. [38] On December 15, 2020, a behind-the-scenes video [39] and a "Before And After" video featuring the original video footage side by side with their corresponding digital storyboard shots, illustrated by Vincent Lucido, were released. [40]

A scene in the "Willow" music video, where Swift is trapped inside a glass box, unable to join her love interest. Taylor Swift - Willow (music video screenshot).png
A scene in the "Willow" music video, where Swift is trapped inside a glass box, unable to join her love interest.

Synopsis and analysis

The "Willow" video starts where the "Cardigan" video left; [41] Swift, drenched from her oceanic voyage, sits covered by a warm glow of the rustic cabin. A golden string (referencing the Folklore track "Invisible String") leads her to an alternate reality inside the back of her magical piano that helps her to traverse time and space. Swift has used the color gold to represent her boyfriend, Joe Alwyn, throughout her albums Reputation (2017), Lover (2019) and Folklore (2020). The piano opens into a rabbit hole under the roots of a willow tree in an autumnal forest, on the other side. Swift emerges from the willow, embarking on a mystical journey guided by the magical thread. She sees a reflection of herself with a man (Korean American dancer Taeok Lee) in a moonlit pool. [1] [42] [37]

The string later leads her to a scene from her childhood, where the child versions of Swift and Lee are seen playing together with the string, suggesting that the pair is destined to be together. Swift exits the tent and finds her adult self at a carnival tent party, where she performs with a golden mist-emitting lute inside a glass box (a reference to Folklore track "Mirrorball") dressed in an off-white Zimmerman dress and bridal Jennifer Behr headpiece. While Swift finds Lee, she is trapped inside the glass box, which Swift described before the video's premiere as a metaphor for her feelings about fame. She then realizes that the only way out is to follow the magical thread through the rabbit hole under floor of the glass box, a scene that may represent Swift hitting rock bottom before finding a golden path once more. [1] [42] [37]

The scene shifts to a wintry forest, where Swift emerges hooded in a cloak reminiscent of her video for "...Ready for It?" (2017). She joins other hooded dancers who gather in a circle to perform a ceremony around a bonfire that oozes lots of golden mist and magical orbs. Swift has referenced witchcraft in older songs such as "...Ready For It?", "I Did Something Bad" (2017), and "Mad Woman" (2020). While dancing, she finds the golden string once again and follows it, leading her back to her cottage. Lee pulls off his mask and looks at the departing Swift in despair. Swift exits the piano wearing a new gown, representing the journey back to her roots as a changed person due to her experiences in the outside world. At the end of the string, she finds out that she is not alone in the cottage and that the string has guided her to back to her lover, Lee, while the lyrics "every bait-and-switch was a work of art" play. The scene sees Swift appreciate the obstacles in her life that led to their relationship. The hook that she repeats throughout the song—"I'm begging for you to take my hand / Wreck my plans, that's my man"—finally comes true at the video's end. The couple walks out the door, holding hands, into a forest shrouded in golden sunlight. [42] [1] [37]

Production

The cinematography was handled by Rodrigo Prieto, who worked on the "Cardigan" video as well. Swift did not reveal to Prieto or the technical crew that the video was for a new album or song, so the video was shot without using the song. The shooting took place under strict COVID-19 pandemic safety measures, including testing protocols, as advised by Directors Guild of America, Screen Actors Guild and International Cinematographers Guild. [42] The entire crew, including Swift and Lee, had their masks on; the pair took off their masks only during action. The dancers in the scene depicting witchcraft had their masks on while performing, thus their faces are not visible in the video. [42] A color-coded system was used to signify which crew member could be close to the set and the actors; anybody in immediate vicinity of a scene had to wear a red wristband. Face shields were used whenever Swift or any cast was approached. The video was shot without a camera operator, using a crane-directed remote camera. [42]

The pre-production phase was a back-and-forth interactive process between Swift, Prieto and other technicians. Swift wanted the video to conclude back in the cabin (as with "Cardigan") and that her lover, Lee, would be inside when she returns. Upon further discussion with Prieto and team, it was decided that both Swift and Lee would leave the cabin at the end. Swift initially developed the idea for the video as set at night, but then decided it would daytime. For the witchcraft scene, Swift didn't want to use a real bonfire due to the 2020 California wildfires. Instead, she conceived of using magical orbs. [42]

Ethan Tobman, the production designer, presented Swift with reference images and ideas for the sets, and one of them was having magenta leaves on the ground, which the singer liked. Tobman also suggested the idea for the autumnal forest. He worked with his art director, Simon Morgan, over Zoom. For the bonfire scene, Morgan and Prieto, gaffer Manny Tapia and key grip Donald Reynolds, soundstaged first and taped the space in the center where the magic orbs would be. The distance was measured to the blue screen background, and taped the spots of the trees, and mapped the lighting for the set of the carnival scene. [42]

Track listing

Credits and personnel

Credits adapted from YouTube. [52]

Song credits

  • Taylor Swift – vocals, songwriter
  • Aaron Dessner – producer, songwriter, vocal recorder, drum machine programmer, percussion, keyboards, synthesizers, piano, electric guitar, bass guitar, acoustic guitar
  • Jonathan Low – vocal recorder, mixer
  • Bryce Dessner – orchestrator
  • Greg Calbi – masterer
  • Steve Fallone – masterer
  • James McAlister – synthesizers, drum machine programmer
  • Bryan Devendorf – percussion, drum machine programmer
  • Yuki Numata Resnick – violin
  • Josh Kaufman – electric guitar
  • Clarice Jensen – cello
  • Jason Treuting – glockenspiel
  • Alex Soop – flute
  • CJ Camerieri – French horn
  • Thomas Bartlett – keyboard, synthesizers
  • Benjamin Lanz – modular synth (music video only)

Music video credits

  • Taylor Swift – director
  • Rodrigo Prieto – director of photography
  • Jil Hardin – producer
  • Chancler Haynes — editor
  • Ethan Tobman – production designer
  • Regina Fernandez — production designer
  • Joseph Cassell – stylist
  • Sunshine Madsen — stylist
  • Joe Osborne – first assistant director
  • EV Salomon – co-first assistant director
  • Ingenuity Studios – visual effects
  • Grant Miller — visual effects
  • David Lebensfeld – visual effects
  • Jumanah Shaheen — visual effects
  • Rebecca Skinner – executive producer
  • Kathy Palmer – co-producer
  • Manny Tapia – gaffer
  • Alexander Griffiths – key grip
  • Vincent Lucido – storyboarder

Charts

Chart performance for "Willow"
Chart (2020–2021)Peak
position
Australia (ARIA) [53] 1
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40) [54] 30
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders) [55] 40
Belgium (Ultratip Wallonia) [56] 7
Canada (Canadian Hot 100) [57] 1
Czech Republic (Singles Digitál Top 100) [58] 54
France (SNEP) [59] 111
Germany (Official German Charts) [60] 46
Greece (IFPI) [61] 20
Billboard Global 200 [62] 2
Hungary (Single Top 40) [63] 20
Ireland (IRMA) [64] 3
Italy (FIMI) [65] 70
Lithuania (AGATA) [66] 25
Malaysia (RIM) [67] 2
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40) [68] 34
Netherlands (Single Top 100) [69] 61
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ) [33] 3
Portugal (AFP) [70] 20
Singapore (RIAS Streaming Chart) [71] 1
Slovakia (Singles Digitál Top 100) [72] 50
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan) [73] 67
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade) [74] 21
UK Singles (OCC) [75] 3
US Billboard Hot 100 [76] 1
US Adult Contemporary ( Billboard ) [77] 18
US Adult Top 40 ( Billboard ) [78] 14
US Mainstream Top 40 ( Billboard ) [79] 21
US Hot Rock & Alternative Songs ( Billboard ) [80] 1
US Rolling Stone Top 100 [81] 3

Release history

Release formats for "Willow"
RegionDateVersionFormatLabelRef.
VariousDecember 11, 2020Original Republic [43]
December 13, 2020"Dancing Witch" [44] [45]
United StatesDecember 14, 2020Original Adult contemporary radio [82]
December 15, 2020 Contemporary hit radio [83]
Various"Lonely Witch"
  • Digital download
  • streaming
[46]
December 16, 2020"Moonlit Witch" [47]
ItalyDecember 18, 2020OriginalContemporary hit radio Universal [84]
United KingdomDecember 25, 2020Republic [85]
January 2, 2021Adult contemporary radio [86]

See also

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