Mirabella Miller ’23
Taylor Swift has built her musical empire on a foundation of raw emotional honesty, releasing albums that resemble scrapbooks or diaries in their intensity and specificity. It’s the little details like the make and model of a car, or the color of a dress, that add invaluable body to Swift’s songs and transport listeners to her expertly crafted scenarios. Yet she has a way of making even the most particular of experiences universal in the way only a true songwriting mastermind can. For example, not everyone’s ex drives a “stupid old pickup truck”, but the majority of people have an ex whose picture they would like to burn.
This is why her relative happiness on her new album “Lover” is so impactful; Swift’s seemingly endless supply of heartbreak lets you know her expression of joy is real. On this album, Swift is very much in love (hence the title), even sparking engagement rumors with the release of the single “Lover” and its allusions to items being borrowed and blue. “Ladies and gentlemen will you please stand / With every guitar string scar on my hand / I take this magnetic force of a man to be my lover / My heart’s been borrowed and yours has been blue / all’s well that ends well to end up with you,” Swift sings, mesmerized by the ease of this relationship and her disbelief that it’s all really hers.
Swift’s previous album “Reputation” was incredibly polarizing among critics and fans alike. “Lover” feels more like a continuation of the glittering pop perfection that characterized “1989” (the album before “Reputation”) than the dramatic frustration of “Reputation.” She opens “Lover” with a track that provides a seamless transition out of that era. “I Forgot That You Existed” is a tongue-in-cheek dismissal of critics, past lovers, and a certain rapper that has embroiled her in multiple scandals. She laments these various groups for getting her “in her feelings more than Drake.” “I forgot that you existed,” she sings. “And I thought that it would kill me, but it didn’t / and it was so nice, so peaceful and quiet.”
Swift shines especially brightly on “Cruel Summer,” the timely anthem that immediately follows “I Forgot That You Existed.” Producer and frequent collaborator Jack Antonoff works his magic, making heavy use of a synthesizer to match the soaring exasperation of the lyrics. Swift falls apart over a summer love seemingly doomed from the start, singing “I’m drunk in the back of the car / and I cried like a baby comin’ home from the bar / Said I’m fine but it wasn’t true / I don’t want to keep secrets just to keep you.” She caps off that verse by taunting the object of her affection, yelling “I love you, ain’t that the worst thing you ever heard?”
Although the album is permeated by overwhelming happiness, she touches on her anxieties about her relationship on another standout track. “The Archer” is the fifth track of the album, which, according to an Instagram Live video posted a few days before the release of “Lover,” is the slot in which Swift always places her most personal songs. It’s moody and reflective and full of self-doubt, opening with the lines “Combat, I’m ready for combat / I say I don’t want that / What if I do?”
The metaphorical archer is likely a reference to the symbol associated with Swift’s astrological sign, the Sagittarius. Sagittarii are known for being incredibly open and adaptable people with plenty of vision, but are often independent to a fault and have trouble committing. These traits ring true in “The Archer”, as Swift sings “Easy they come, easy they go / I jump from the train, I ride off alone / I never grew up, it’s getting so old / Help me hold onto you.” There is further evidence that Swift is aware of her astrological sign; on “State of Grace”, the opening track to her album “Red”, she refers to her and a partner as “twin fire signs”.
Much has been made of Swift’s musical and personal growth, or lack thereof. She has a knack for telling stories about high school, complete with references to prom queens and cheerleaders, which many critics find irritating as she is now 29 years old. Some of these references do feel cloying, but she still deftly uses these themes on “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince.” She ties the dated tropes into her present on the chorus, opening it with the line “It’s you and me, that’s my whole world,” and singing “Voted most likely to run away with you” to cap it off. There is inexplicable comfort in only needing one person, and Swift ruminates on that throughout the album as she navigates being in a stable long-term relationship.
Many fans and critics alike are calling this a transitional album and are speculating as to Swift’s path forward musically. Some of the strongest clues lie in “False God”, a song that somehow avoided several expected pitfalls. This track is Swift’s take on seductive R&B, and helps her carve out a more mature pop niche that doesn’t alienate her younger audience. Additionally, the song highlights her natural voice, soft and airy as she sings “We might just get away with it / Religion’s in your lips / Even if it’s a false god”.
The only song featuring another artist on the album is “Soon You’ll Get Better,” an emotional country-tinged ballad about Swift’s mother’s battle with cancer. In a surprising (yet also perfectly fitting) move, Swift brings in the Dixie Chicks, country powerhouses who were arguably one of the earliest victims of what we now refer to as “cancel culture.” A few nights before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, lead vocalist Natalie Maines told the crowd at a concert in London: “We don’t want this war, we don’t want this violence, and we are ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas,” referring to George W. Bush. Fallout was swift and all-encompassing, and they were effectively barred from country music radio indefinitely. As a young pop-country star, Swift remembers this event relayed to her by public relations representatives as a cautionary tale to stay away from politics. This philosophy has cost her some fans, who noted her refusal to comment on certain events as other musicians of her stature became increasingly political. She has only very recently started to express her political beliefs, posting messages of support for democratic midterm candidates and voicing her acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community.
However, “Lover” does have its missteps; “The Man,” a coy song remarking on the sexism Swift has endured in the public eye throughout her career, feels forced. “London Boy,” an ode to the hometown of her boyfriend Joe Alwyn, comes across as corny. Swift stumbles when she tries too hard to reverse-engineer songs.
The consensus of “Lover” is that Swift has been forged by the fire of heartbreak and has emerged stronger and more resilient than ever. She is remarkably close to her happy ending, the one she’s been writing and rewriting since her first fairytale wedding depictions in “Mary’s Song” and “Love Story,” songs she wrote nearly 15 years ago. She has weathered the storm that comes with spending half of your life in the public eye, and is finding her place as a more mature pop star. For fans who have been through the ringer with Swift, it’s a refreshing feeling to see her mostly content and carefree. Even if this isn’t her most consistent or lyrically powerful album, you can’t help but smile along with her.
Image Credit: CNN
10/10, Volume XXIX, Issue 2