Album review: Taylor Swift’s ‘Lover’ constructs a highly relatable, mature narrative of love
(Courtesy of Republic Records)
Aug. 23, 2019 3:49 p.m.
This post was updated August 25 at 9:03 p.m.
Gone are the days of a fantasy-focused Taylor Swift; in “Lover,” she instead finds beauty in a world marred by imperfections.
Swift released her seventh studio album Friday – the first published under Universal Music Group/Republic Records and the first she owns. With 18 songs, the record could have easily been packed with fillers, but every track feels absolutely crucial in telling the story of a public figure who finds solace from a cruel world in the arms of those important to her. Swift sheds the need for public adoration and past relationships through “Lover,” leaving in its place a newfound focus on the kinds of love that really matter.
Setting the scene for a sonically diverse – yet perfectly cohesive – album, the songwriter begins her journey of moving on in “I Forgot That You Existed.” The track bounces the album’s narrative past Swift’s old relationships, a result of the saxophone-esque note used in place of a bass-and-drum beat typical of Swift’s past works. In lines like “It isn’t love, it isn’t hate, it’s just indifference,” the final word is spoken – Swift can’t be bothered to finish singing the lyrics because she’s so over the past.
The upbeat energy continues into “Cruel Summer,” the rumored-to-be third single off the album. The song intricately marries the indie pop production of Bleachers’ discography perfectly to Swift’s vocal runs and swooning choruses, which makes sense since the band’s lead singer, Jack Antonoff, co-produced the song. The lyrics paint the picture of her contradictory new romance – an “unbreakable heaven” but also a “cruel summer.” If it’s to be a single, the song’s sure to storm radio airplay in coming weeks.
The album’s namesake follows, and Swift has fallen for this “fever dream” from the prior track. Beautifully stripped-back guitar and drums play behind the album’s most romantic song. Mimicking wedding vows, Swift sings “I take this magnetic force of a man to be my lover” as the bridge reaches its emotional crescendo.
In case anyone forgot, Swift has often made tabloid headlines for her “feuds” within both relationships and the celebrity realm. But in “The Man” and “The Archer,” she toys with the idea of how others perceive her.
In the first, she realizes that the world tears women down for the same things they let slide for men. In the second, she wistfully confides to her new romantic interest that her past missteps often hurt people. Early verses lament, “Who could stay?” but the track ultimately ends with “You could stay,” as Swift accepts that this new relationship is made to survive.
Later tracks further explore the concept of lasting love despite an environment that is certainly not picture-perfect. “Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince” is sonically akin to her prior album, “reputation” – her voice is filtered through a synthesizer at times and the bridge screams with raw emotion – but it luckily comes off more genuine. The crafty lyrics play on high school tropes, as a school-going Swift is hated by peers but adored by a metaphorical high school sweetheart.
The singer then embraces the playful side of love in “Paper Rings.” Complete with muffled vocals and subtle punk influences, the track channels the best of 2000s high school romantic comedy film soundtracks – it’s old-school pop perfection.
Swift trades out fairytale imagery for poker in what may be the pinnacle of storytelling on “Lover.” The vulnerable lyrics of “Cornelia Street” compare Swift and her boyfriend’s first interaction to the manipulation typical of card sharks. But he reveals his hand, proving that he’s serious about her. In the emotion-charged bridge, Swift breathlessly whispers “I hope I never lose you” before launching back into smooth synth-and-drum production.
From “Soon You’ll Get Better” through the end of the album, the narrative addresses love outside of the romantic realm. Swift deals with the pain of watching a family member battle a life-threatening health issue – which is deeply personal considering she revealed in 2015 that her mother was diagnosed with cancer. Lyrics have never and will never hurt as much as when Swift, accompanied by the Dixie Chicks, croons “Who am I supposed to talk to?/ What am I supposed to do/ If there’s no you?”
In the album’s leading two singles, Swift deals with self-love and the importance of supporting friends. “ME!” – fans’ first taste of the album in April – is a refreshingly far cry from the insecure lyricism of “Delicate,” one of the final singles from “reputation.” And “You Need To Calm Down,” alongside its accompanying music video, is a celebration of sexual identity. The singer enlisted longtime friend and proud LGBTQ+ celebrity Todrick Hall to help create the song’s powerful visuals supporting the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.
The album comes to a mature conclusion in “Daylight,” revealing a songwriter and celebrity that’s much smarter and wiser than ever before – not the hard character of “Look What You Made Me Do.” The slow tune explores how Swift “wounded the good” and “trusted the wicked.” But she’s learned from her mistakes and is finally ready to step into the daylight with her partner.
In an album so focused on love, Swift’s artfully mastered storytelling makes “Lover” relatable to all audiences, including those without a significant other in their lives – speaking from personal experience.