How Jess Williamson Landed in the Orbit of Jack Antonoff and Taylor Swift

The singer-songwriter talks about her massively successful year, magical energy, and what’s next.

Considered from one angle, songwriter Jess Williamson has no idea how famed producer Jack Antonoff (Taylor Swift, Lana Del Ray, Lorde) heard her music. But what does a mechanism like a streaming platform or an algorithm matter when we’re talking about cosmic forces? In a different sense, Williamson has a damn good explanation for how she landed on the radar of Antonoff: “There is some kind of weird, magical Taylor Swift energy going on that started when I went to see her concert in Los Angeles, and I can’t really explain it, but something is happening here.”

For the uninitiated, Williamson is five albums into a solo career and released her most recent effort this past summer with Time Ain’t Accidental—a collection equal parts plaintive heartache and defiant self-celebration that resulted in her most captivating work to date. She’s also collaborated with Katie Crutchfield (Waxahatchee) on a project called Plains that wound up on President Obama’s recap of his favorite albums of 2022. The arc of her musical evolution has seen a gradual transition from sparse, avant-garde banjo songs to breezy country pop (with a stopover in the realm of psychedelic folk). While the newest record garnered glowing reviews and top marks from numerous outlets, its true impact came into sharper focus in the final weeks of 2023, as year-end reflections rolled in.

Outlets like Pitchfork, The Ringer, and Stereogum named the album among the best records of the year, but it wasn’t just media praise that Williamson noticed. “People were posting their Spotify Wrapped, and people were listening to my record, and they were listening to Taylor Swift in their top five,” she remembers. As an independent songwriter who’d risen through Austin’s small clubs and live music bars, Williamson never expected to be in the same conversation as Swift.

Some fans had made passing comparisons in the past, which Williamson always chalked to up a slight similarity in vocal quality. But in recent months, she’d started spending more time with Swift’s songs, including seeing the pop star live for the first time in August, and began to feel there might be something more there. “I think with my new record specifically, there’s an immediacy and a directness and a specificity to my lyrics around love and heartbreak that Taylor Swift has been doing for a really long time, and it’s really relatable,” Williamson says.

Then, the year-end attention on social media took an even more unexpected turn. On November 29, Antonoff posted a screenshot of his Spotify Wrapped to Instagram stories, revealing that Williamson’s song “Hunter” was his most-listened-to song of the year. “‘Hunter’ is a perfect song and recording I adore it so much,” the producer wrote.

With that kind of glowing admiration for an artist’s work, it’s fair to wonder if a collaboration between Antonoff and Williamson is imminent, but the songwriter says there’s no news to report… yet. “I don’t want to jinx it, but I messaged him and thanked him, and we’ve been in touch a little bit,” she says. With any luck, those cosmic forces will get to work on that stat. And perhaps they already are. Just this week, Williamson posted a video to social media from the Grammys, which shows her standing directly behind Taylor Swift.

Catch Williamson on tour in the U.S. beginning later this month and into March, and listen to her cover Daniel Johnston in a recent duet with folk rocker Shakey Graves.