Taylor Alison Smith is without a doubt the voice of this generation. From her country roots on albums like Fearless and Red, to full on synth-pop on 1989, and even to rapping with Future and Ed Sheeran on Reputation (yes it was weird), Swift has captured the attention of the world in a way unlike any star of this time. She returned with last year’s Reputation, an album centered around Swift’s new baddie “Snake Queen” persona. As much as Swift wants to change her image with each album cycle, one thing always shines through, her usually excellent songwriting. Swift constantly writes efficient, lyrical atom bombs like, “You tell me ‘bout your past, thinking your future was me,” from “All Too Well.” These diaristic compositions bring the listener intimately close and are the reason Taylor Swift is the gargantuan force she is. Now, Swift is back once again with her seventh album Lover. Gone is the dark and gothic imagery from Reputation, replaced instead with butterflies, winking heart eyes, and cats galore. Swift’s decision to put out the song “Me!” as a lead single was definitely a choice. Featuring Brendon Urie, this song explodes with technicolor major notes and bubblegum pop lyrics celebrating uniqueness, all to the point where it sounds like it could be a rejected song from The Secret Life of Pets 2 soundtrack. However, I am happy to say that Taylor Swift delivers once again on Lover, even if it does have more issues than normal.
The snark of Reputation is absent on this release, instead, Swift finds tension in all the complexities of love. She wrote, “This album is a love letter to love itself,” and Swift flourishes when writing about love.
Swift finds melodic euphoria on the album’s second track, “Cruel Summer.” She sings flirtatiously over a pounding drum in the verses about a new lover, and lets loose on the catchiest chorus on the whole album. She ends the track screaming, “For whatever it’s worth / I love you, ain’t that the worst thing you ever heard?”
Another great pop song on the record is “Paper Rings,” a song that sounds like the soundtrack to a Target Christmas commercial in the best way. Swift speak-ings over a punchy pop-punk drum arrangement, punctuated with spirited “Oh!”s and “Hey!”s. Fluttering with nervous energy, Swift sings about the joy of relationships with lines like, “I’m with you even if it makes me blue / Which takes me back / To the color that we painted your brother’s wall.” This song is Swift at her best, combining broad strokes with minute details to immerse the listener in her world. Another highlight from the album is “Cornelia Street,” a New York City anthem. Also, “Death by a Thousand Cuts,” is a cute song that ties into the extended metaphor of her relationship as a story. “The Archer,” is a synth-underscored song that is all build up, perfectly embodying feelings of tension. All are sung over what sounds like someone playing piano on Adderall.
Arguably the best song on the album comes mid-way through with “Soon You’ll Get Better.” Swift goes back to her country roots on this heartbreaking and hopeful ode to the power of love. Swift’s mother Andrea has been diagnosed twice with cancer and Swift uses evocative lyrics like “Holy orange bottles, each night I pray to you / desperate people find faith, so now I pray to Jesus too,” to personalize this story with understated specificity. Swift finds power in subtlety on the chorus, harmonizing with The Dixie Chicks over acoustic guitar, while repeating the mantra, “Soon you’ll get better.” Behind all the shtick, Taylor the storyteller still comes out.
While the album does have some remarkable highlights, there are a few low points as well. “You Need to Calm Down” is just a confusing mess of a song. The first verse is addressed to her haters (a group Swift is NEVER good at writing about.) It then turns into a song for gay rights. The song’s production sounds good, but the lyrics are just so cringey. She chants, “Cause shade never made anybody less gay,” sounding like a white girl who just watched RuPaul’s Drag Race for the first time. It’s great that Taylor Swift has taken a political stance, but come on Taylor, I know you can do better than this. And, the song “Me!” is too precious for its own good. Swift even removed the line “Hey Kids! Spelling is fun!” from the album version of the song due to complaints from fans. These blips in quality do harm to the record, but can’t strip it of its special charms. All in all, Lover is another great Swift album, honing in on what she does best, with little hints of what she doesn’t. The old Taylor is back from the dead, and we welcome her with open arms.