What do you think of when you hear of Taylor Swift? Maybe you remember her younger days with majestic long, curly blonde hair lamenting about unrequited romance while shedding “Teardrops on My Guitar”. Or maybe you think of her more recent work like the techno-pop masterpiece that is her album 1989 or her angsty no-holds-barred Reputation era. Regardless of how you perceive her style or how much you may know about her, Taylor Swift continuously smashes fan expectations with her notorious Easter eggs and shrewd business tactics. In the wake of the devastating sale of her back catalogue to Scooter Braun by her previous record label Big Machine Records, Taylor has taken matters into her own hands. Her latest album Lover, fresh out of the studio, is the first one that she will own. And until she can re-record her entire back catalogue in 2020 rendering Scooter’s masters useless, she even sprinkled in familiar melodies into Lover which fans have picked up on and discussed at length throughout social media.
She’s been through a lot, but she’s stronger now. And according to Taylor’s Instagram post, Lover is “very much a celebration of love, in all its complexity, coziness, and chaos”. Without further ado, let’s dive into this celebration track-by-track:
1. I Forgot That You Existed
This sassy track is equal parts bubblegum pop and jubilant emancipation. Singing about finally feeling free from an unrequited crush, Taylor proclaims “It isn’t love, it isn’t hate, it’s just indifference”. One of the more stripped-down tracks on the record, this song is really characterized by a quiet staccato guitar in the background layered against bass-range wind instruments punching on beats 1 and 3. Her giddy schoolgirl giggles and sarcastic ad-lib at the end really drive this message home, and it all makes for a great album opener. I myself can admit that when I first heard this song, I started actually cackling at how clever this is – but in my case, how much I related to that feeling of trying desperately to get over someone. And in this small way, Taylor reminded me that it’s really okay to forget the people that just don’t give you a return on your emotional investments (“I thought that it would kill me but it didn’t”). In fact, it’s more than okay – it’s actually pretty damn great.
2. Cruel Summer
“What doesn’t kill me makes me want you more.” As a thematic continuation from “I Forgot That You Existed”, Taylor reminds listeners that it’s okay to let a person go, but it still can be filled with a lot of complicated emotions. Populated with a synthesizer holding down the beat, this largely electric track really comes alive at the bridge section, which I think is where the real magic happens. Borrowing the vibe and almost rap-like melody of “Getaway Car” from Reputation, the bridge proclaims “I’m drunk in the back of the car / And I cried like a baby coming home from the bar / Said ‘I’m ﬁne’ but it wasn’t true / I don’t want to keep secrets / Just to keep you”. I literally cannot help but head bang along to this bridge because it’s just so slick, you probably know the feeling. The drum beat is also just about identical to that of the one in “Getaway Car”. This song feels like summer, with its techno-laced brightness meant to be blasted out the car windows at the beach and paired with a moment of raspy vocals at the end of the bridge section. The mentions of the color blue contrast thematically with Red, her 2012 release where Taylor explored what she thought was true love at the time. But of course, people grow up, things change, and even though it can be gritty and complicated, Taylor may have found it in just a different hue than expected.
The title track, true to its name, is one of the most intimate on the record. A chill drum beat pairs nicely with decadent swelling piano chords. In this one, Taylor explores that love that she has allegedly finally found, with lyrics like: “Can I go where you go? / Can we always be this close forever and ever?”. Also, fans have speculated that the repeated “My my my’s” mirror the early track on Taylor’s self-titled 2006 childhood puppy love release “Mary’s Song (Oh My My My)”, which is one of the biggest clues that she very well may be engaged (or even possibly married) to current beau Joe Alwyn, in addition to the vow-like bridge of this newer song. A central theme of this album is joining together her past childhood with her present, so as this nostalgia plays front row, Taylor reminds listeners not only who she is now, but where she came from. Watch the official concept video for this song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-BjZmE2gtdo&feature=youtu.be
4. The Man
Very likely the most blatantly feminist anthem on the album, “The Man” makes some interesting points about gender bias in society and how unfair it is for the pay gap and other double-standards to be such hallmarks of our world. A not-so-subtle nod to her notorious dating record, Taylor muses “They’d say I played the ﬁeld before I found someone to commit to / And that would be ok /For me to do/ Every conquest I had made would make me more of a boss to you”. This song challenges these problematic perspectives against a poppy beat that is every bit as joyful and danceable as anything else, even if the message is actually quite serious. It may even be fair to say that this song is an updated version of Beyoncé’s “If I Were a Boy”. The bridge breakdown gets especially saucy but drives home that point pretty well, I’d say: “What’s it like to brag about / Raking in dollars and getting bitches and models / And it’s all good if you’re bad / And it’s okay if you’re mad / If I was out ﬂashing my dollars / I’d be a bitch, not a baller”. Well said, Tswift. Well said. And I think you just wrote the next biggest girl-power anthem to grace our ears.
5. The Archer
Another stripped-down track featuring Taylor’s breathy vocals with lots of dramatic reverb. This song is more introspective than anything else, and features the very mature perspective of feeling both sides of an argument: “Who could ever leave me darling / Who could stay?” The pounding beat remains constant in this song, but it’s not at all socially irritating the way it can be sometimes. Rather, it’s pretty symbolic of finding that one person who can weather the storms with you no matter how rough things get. The opening and losing line of “Combat, I’m ready for combat” also harkens back to one of her early unreleased tracks “Battle” (which I would heartily recommend listening to).
6. I Think He Knows
This sultry vibe comes in full-force with Prince-cognizant falsettos in the chorus, ruminating about sexual tension so often present while being infatuated. In that in-between phase between defining a relationship and mutually liking one another, Taylor brings the listener into this power-pop anthem with all the attitude and excitement of having a new love interest. “He got my heartbeat skipping down 16th Avenue” mimics the prominent bass beats likely mimicking that heartbeat. “I think he knows he better lock it down or I won’t stick around” also hits just the right notes, and harkens back to the earlier tracks of this album where Taylor suggests not wasting time on someone unless they can reciprocate in all the ways you need them to. This bridge section, like so many of the others, also shines with very staccato, desperate lounging: “Lyrical smile, indigo eyes, hand on my thigh / We can follow the sparks, I’ll drive”. It’s definitely different than her other work but definitely a welcome addition to the album.
7. Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince
I’m just gonna go ahead and say that this is probably my favorite on the album. It features probably the most synergistic blend of childhood and adulthood, with its mentions of high school drama and true love as metaphors for more adult problems. The fairytale trope of a prince also shines through, making Taylor feel demure, yet powerful in her delivery of this piece amidst the turbulence that she has experienced through superstardom and the toxicity of living in the spotlight. The whole chorus is just so good but this is my favorite moment of it: “It’s you and me, that’s my whole world / They whisper in the hallway, “She’s a bad, bad girl” / The whole school is rolling fake dice / You play stupid games, you win stupid prizes“. Obviously high school can be a toxic atmosphere filled with hormones and petty jealousy, but Taylor recalls it in such a deeper dream-like quality which speaks volumes about her current life and more grown-up perspectives. Also, the melody and vibe is very cognizant of Reputation’s deep cut “So It Goes” – acting as another middle-finger up at Scooter Braun. You go, girl.
8. Paper Rings
This song features a very vintage sock-hop feel, not totally unlike the vibe of up-and-coming band The Regrettes or even Meghan Trainor who have risen in popularity as of late. In this tune, Taylor basically is saying that she doesn’t care about material objects as much as just being committed to the one she loves. “I’m with you even if it makes me blue” also nods back to her fixation on colors and how prevalent blue is symbolically in this piece. “I hate accidents except when we went from friends to this” is a really cute line that I really love, and the brightness of this song is likely the most cheery on the album.
9. Cornelia Street
Swelling piano chords and synthesized tones fill the soundscape as this song takes off, ruminating about the locations and memories that can come along with a relationship. And more literally, it’s referring to a street in London where she was rumored to live near her lover (see what I did there), Joe Alwyn. The constant motif that Taylor repeats is that if her love didn’t last, she wouldn’t be able to revisit the place it all happened: “And I hope I never lose you, hope it never ends / I’d never walk Cornelia Street again / That’s the kinda heartbreak time could never mend”. This also exhibits how strong her lyrical abilities are as Taylor avoids straight rhyme, almost always opting instead for a slant that allows the emotions and the message to shine center stage. “Cornelia Street” is a story told almost in reverse, or perhaps from the inside-out. And it’s so very well-done.
10. Death By a Thousand Cuts
A haunting chant (which also sounds a bit creepily insane) of “My my my” (yet another harkening back to “Mary’s Song”, perhaps?) begins this song, and then it gives way to a bright guitar lick more cognizant of a ukulele in tone and quality. Taylor begins with a toned-down version of the chorus, and then launches into furious piano trills alongside the verses. It’s a break-up song in essence, but holds within it an unrelenting feeling of hopefulness buried within it. The hook is especially catchy: “Saying goodbye is death by a thousand cuts / Flashbacks waking me up/ I get drunk, but it’s not enough/ ’Cause the morning comes and you’re not my baby”. Taylor seems unenthused with this whole situation, but her strength comes through when she reminds the listener “I’ll be all right, it’s just a thousand cuts.” The depth of her emotions and her ability to portray them so eloquently places her head and shoulders above just about any other pop act today. Bonus fun fact: Taylor wrote this after watching the Netflix film Someone Great, which was written by Jennifer Kayton Robinson after listening to Swift’s 1989. Wild, right?
11. London Boy
Joe Alwyn is from London, in case you didn’t know. And well, Taylor is absolutely in love with him – as if that wasn’t implicitly obvious. Rumor has it that it’s even his voice that provides the opening ad-lib on this track, which is an interesting addition for sure. Trumpets are a welcome accent to this song, which is a super sweet ode to all things London, mentioning some cultural motifs and typical locales: “You know I love a London boy, I enjoy nights in Brixton / Shoreditch in the afternoon / He likes my American smile, like a child when our eyes meet / Darling, I fancy you”. Similar in sonic quality to the other songs on this record, with some techno elements and bass beats, it fits very well on this album and has a really sweet vibe to it – which seems to be the heartbeat of Lover as a whole.
12. Soon You’ll Get Better
Cue the tissues – you’ll need them for this one. But it’s easily the most emotional track, and it’s truly lovely. More cognizant of Taylor’s very early self-titled album, “Soon You’ll Get Better” is a tender ode to her mother’s battle with cancer and the toll it has taken on their family. Completely acoustic with immaculate vocal harmonies with the Dixie Chicks blend seamlessly with Taylor’s breathy, emotional voice. Occasionally a violin pops in as an accent, but it’s far from overbearing. Andrea Swift has suffered from recurring cancer and it’s understandably a devastating reality to cope with. Taylor ruminates on this with the powerful lyrics: “You make the best of a bad deal / I just pretend it isn’t real” as the swelling vocals rise and blend together in a heavenly harmony that seems to transcend the bleakness of a hospital stay. This track is pure magic – it’s raw, and painful, and so beautiful in the ugliness of its reality.
13. False God
This song is probably the most R&B styling that Taylor has produced in a while. And for that reason, I really didn’t resonate with this one as much stylistically. Also, not totally loving the saxophone in this context, as it just feels a little forced in my opinion. Lyrically though, it is pretty much as strong as any of her work: “And I can’t talk to you when you’re like this / Staring out the window like I’m not your favorite town / I’m New York City, I’d still do it for you, babe / They all warned us about times like this”. Definitely still give it a listen, it’s meaningful even though I personally don’t feel as connected to it as some of the others.
14. You Need to Calm Down
A bright and poppy anthem about acceptance and friendship, this tune could easily be the song of the summer. It is a bit more political than I’ve seen from Taylor in the past, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing even if I personally prefer my music to exist beyond the realm of politics. But hey, at least she’s addressing things that she feels are important – that’s always a good thing. Techno bass beats and layered vocal harmonies make this a very full track that sits very well with the other songs on this album. Clever lyrics like “Say it in the street, that’s a knock-out / But you say it in a tweet, that’s a cop-out / And I’m just like,’Hey! Are you OK?'” add a sassy twist to the song, and the colorful music video is definitely whimsical and creative. You can watch that HERE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dkk9gvTmCXY
This song also just didn’t totally resonate with me, but it’s hard to put my finger on the reason. It could be the lack of varying rhythms or dynamics, or maybe the lyrics just didn’t tell a clear enough story for me to grab onto. But it features a very prominent beat for a mid-tempo song, and Taylor’s shimmering vocals shine amongst powerful imagery: “Fighting with a true love is boxing with no gloves / Chemistry ’til it blows up, ’til there’s no us / Why I had to break what I love so much? / It’s on your face, and I’m to blame, I need to say”. Her honesty and realism is still here throughout, and maybe this one will have to grow on me a bit but it definitely has potential.
This was the lead single of the Lover era, and I remember staying up late to watch the premier of this song and video. And it did not disappoint – I also enjoyed the collaboration with Brendon Urie. Genre-wise, that was unexpected and quite fun. Swelling piano chords set up the verses with staccato marching beats for the pre-choruses until it all sonically explodes for the choruses. The message here is all about self-love and confidence, which I can totally get behind – it’s bright, cheery, and quite effective as a personal mantra. My only question about the album version of this song is why Taylor removed the iconic “Hey kids, spelling is fun!” at the top of the bridge. I had heard that some people didn’t like it – and sure, it may have been a little odd, but it was sweet and endearing. Now I keep hearing it in my head and I find that a bit unnerving. But regardless, it was a strong lead single, and you can hear the original version amidst the dazzling video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FuXNumBwDOM
17. It’s Nice to Have a Friend
Cute, very cute. Don’t love the trumpets though – they feel very out of place in this more Mary-Poppins turned schoolgirl serenade with interestingly Oriental-sounding steel drums and harps. The childlike voice of this is very sweet though, and being a shorter, more simple song, it functions well as a sort of interlude toward the end of the album. However, the stream-of-consciousness style of lyricism shines here as it all feels very authentic, dream-like, and epistolary. The story of this song is pretty understated and you might miss it if you’re not careful, but it begins with a childhood friend, then older teenagers, and then married adults musing about friendship in the more complex dynamics of romance.
A striking conclusion to a lovely album that feels like a warm hug and a cup of tea with an encouraging friend, “Daylight” dazzles not with flashiness, but rather a calm sort of maturity that permeates every note that Taylor sings. Some of my favorite lyrics from this track would be: “Luck of the draw only draws the unlucky / And so I became the butt of the joke / I wounded the good and I trusted the wicked / Clearing the air, I breathed in the smoke”. Visually powerful and viscerally intense, Taylor leaves her adoring fans with the calm reassurance that it’s okay to change, grow up, and move past the things that were once comfortable in order to avoid being held back. This song is a new start, a breath of fresh air after previous angst, and a chance to begin again. She ends this song, and the entire album with the spoken words in imperfect audio that seems far away, almost like a final goodbye: “I wanna be defined by the things that I love / Not the things I hate / Not the things that I’m afraid of, I’m afraid of / Not the things that haunt me in the middle of the night / I, I just think that / You are what you love.”
For the first time in forever, Taylor seems truly and completely happy. And no matter what anyone says, no matter how good she is at writing breakup songs, I for one, am happy she seems to no longer have a need for them. I’m here for happy Taylor, and hope this current relationship will be her Forever and Always.
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