Lover: Four writers examine Taylor Swift’s latest album

Taylor Swift may be the only artist who can dominate digital sales, streaming, and physical product sales. Because of this, a new album from her is a big deal. Four of our writers have spent time with Lover, the seventh album from Swift, which was released yesterday. Here are their thoughts.

The Most Taylor Swiftiest Album To Ever Taylor Swift

This is going to be a wildly biased review of Taylor Swift’s album Lover that was released today. We haven’t met yet, but I’m Katie and I have made a career by following the lead of the Pennsylvania born songstress.  Her music has also provided the soundtrack to the majority of my adult life. I essentially grew up with her. She’ll be 30 this year; I am 32. We’re peers. I have watched her fall on her face and be dragged for it every time. And have learned grace and resilience through those similar yet vastly different experiences. So this album mattered to me well before all 18 tracks were released at midnight.

I believe as an artist Taylor Swift has always had a clear message/mission with every studio released album. Speak Now was a response to critics claiming she was just another country teen who wouldn’t last, so she penned every last song herself. The album 1989 came to life the night she lost the Grammy for Red (which in my opinion it deserved to win) and she made a decision to change her sound completely. Most recently she released reputation as an to answer the very public response from the “Famous” Kanye drama, what had been a decade of being very politically indifferent, and just general over exposure that she felt pulled her away from telling her real story.

Enter Lover. This is the most Taylor Swiftiest album to ever Taylor Swift. Each song is more vulnerable than the next without sacrificing her uncanny ability to get a hook so deep into your brain even upon a single listen. Single Me! is a prime example of this; as probably what I would consider to be one of the weaker songs on the album – she knew that melody would have people humming and purposely attached a message that would encourage self-love and confidence especially in a society where social media is a measuring stick for self worth. So not only is she really good at it writing catchy melodies, she also does it with good intention.

With reputation being a response to the drama of the years preceding it, I appreciated deeply her immediately closing that chapter with the opening track “I Forgot You Existed”. She never pretends or ignores her lessons publicly learned, and by opening the album quickly reminding you of that, it allows the audience to open their minds to see who she is today. 

Highlights on this album for me include “The Man” which is song form of the argument I have been making about her for the past few years. As I consider her to be the same level artist as The Beatles and Michael Jackson, but due to being a woman there will always be a resistance to letting her achieve all that she could if she were a man. This song explains that double standard perfectly while winking at the audience with a smile. As a side note: “I’m so sick of running as fast as I can wondering if I’d get there quicker if I was a man” is a line so simple and clever it blows my mind that no one in the history of pop music has ever used that combination of words before. 

The song “Paper Rings” is a quick favorite for me, and I’ve already envisioned the drums kicking in at my wedding when the officiant announces my boyfriend and I “husband and wife” and people blow bubbles or some shit like that. “False God” is surprisingly the sexiest song on the album, I’m a sucker for a saxophone (its Freudian).

I think what I am most impressed about on this album is the range of tone. “It’s Nice to Have A Friend” sounds like a Flaming Lips song, while you can hear hints of Cold War Kids in the beat that supports “I Think He Knows”. Yet singles like “Me!” and “You Need to Calm Down” don’t really sound like anything else on the album.

I can hear her voice more clearly than any collection of songs she’s ever released before.

Katie Keller

“Soon You’ll Get Better” features the Dixie Chicks and I am not quite ready to talk about the weight of this song yet. But the line “And I hate to make this all about me. But who am I supposed to talk to. What am I supposed to do If there’s no you?” is etched into my actual heart muscle. Through the skin, past the rib-cage, buried deep into who I am as a person now. So we’ll unpack that song later.

I told a coworker that this is my favorite album she’s ever done, and he asked me fairly and sincerely if I say that about all her albums. And the answer is no. Until last night I remained steadfast in Red being her best album both lyrically and musically. This album takes that spot for me because as a long time fan, I can hear her voice more clearly than any collection of songs she’s ever released before. I don’t think she’s ever been so clear in what that voice is as she is today.

Obviously I am delighted to have 61 more minutes of Taylor tunes in my life. But on a much deeper level than that, I am relieved we’re still growing up together. That we are still experiencing parts of our lives parallel to one another so I can continue to have her music as a soundtrack to keep me strong until the next era. 

Katie Keller

Too Many Pieces In Taylor Swift’s Latest Puzzle?

Coming in at 18 tracks, there has never been a Taylor Swift album with more songs than Lover. The difference between her new album and some of her previous albums is basically a Ramones disc. It only has been 2 years since her last album, 2017’s Reputation, but Swift, clearly, has found a lot to be inspired by this year.

While I found Reputation one of Swift’s lesser albums (it’s the only album of hers I cannot listen to from front to back), Lover is a superior album in nearly every way. Gone are Max Martin’s grating sonics on tracks like “Ready For This”. Hit the curb, you weird Swede. 

T-Swift puts her fingers in a lot of bowls, and for the most part, it pays off.

Matt Drufke

Swift knows what she wants and serves as executive producer of this album as well as writing and production credits on every song. Also showing up a lot is Jack Antonoff, perhaps my favorite collaborator of hers. So… what kind of songs do we get?

The answer is complicated, mostly because there are lots of different styles of pop on Lover. T-Swift puts her fingers in a lot of bowls, and for the most part, it pays off.

 “Paper Rings” sounds like the best song from the worst part of Weezer’s career (and I know this doesn’t sound like a compliment, but it totally is). “Lover” sounds like a Mazzy Star single that we’ve never heard before. Songs like “I Forgot That You Existed” and “Me!” feel very much of the time, while there is something classically timeless about a track like “The Archer”.

In “Soon You’ll Get Better”, Swift has possibly made the best song of her career. Teaming up with The Dixie Chicks, Swift puts her heart into this song of watching someone fighting terminal illness. It’s sincere and precious and fragile and feels like the song we always knew she was capable of making. “Soon You’ll Get Better” is a near-perfect song from an Important (capital I) Artist (capital A) and a good reminder that Swift will remain on the scene for as long as she damn well pleases.

There are a couple of problems with Lover, and the fact that I haven’t talked about how laughably bad “London Boy” is just goes to prove the restraint I have. It’s not bad like what Max Martin gave us in some of Reputation’s worst tracks, but it’s so ridiculous and slight, it’s hard not to wish this track would just fly away from the album.

There’s one more issue with the album, and it’s confusing to explain. While the songs are (for the most part) quite good, the difference in tone makes some of the track selection a little jarring. The fact that I have to stop and think, “This sounds a lot different than the song before it, it feels a little…” means that I’m halfway through the next track by the time I finish my idea.

I get that we’re no longer in the age of the album, and maybe Lover is the new evolution of what’s to come with streaming and playlists. Because I like (almost) all of the pieces, but I’m not sure Swift used them to make the best puzzle she could.

But I know she’s got it in her. And I’m excited to see her next try.

Matt Drufke

A Full (Yet Somewhat Hollow) Experience

Taylor Swift’s Lover is a sixty-one minute journey through undiscovered ideas and untaken paths. Let me stress that production-wise, this album is full, lush, and crisp as a pop album should be. I won’t pick apart all eighteen songs, but the ones worthy of attention are touched on below.

As is the case with all Taylor Swift albums, there are some really great pop songs. “Cruel Summer” may be the best representative of the 1989-present era of her career. There is a strong hook, tonal changes, the talk-rap-singing thing she does now, and of course universally applicable imagery.

“Paper Rings” is a playful song that, after my third listen through Lover, is my clear favorite track. Lyrically, she hits her sweet spot of being feverishly in love and peppering in saccharine memories that drive a wholesome, halcyon tune.

As for the rest, well, meh. The title track feels like a million-dollar version of Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” without the desperation and yearning. “You Need To Calm Down” is a very well-produced pop song but oh boy does it feel like a reach. I like that she’s presenting opinions now, but all of them on this album just seem disingenuous.

I think “Cornelia Street” and “Daylight” are just fine, nice album fillers. Both are delightful, quintessential Swift songs that should get more plays than the vanguard of singles.

This project isn’t exceptional, it isn’t terrible, it’s just there,

Michael Grace

The Dixie Chicks collaboration “Soon You’ll Get Better” feels like a pretty harmony dressed up in a boring, uninspired gown. This could have been my least favorite song on the album, but it’s so ultimately forgettable.

And then there is “The Archer”, the low-bar of this album. There is a good song here, somewhere, but she never comes across it. This feels like The Killers’ “Human” without the gradual building up of emotional leverage. I can not tell if this song design is supposed to be an aesthetic or if it’s just laziness or misguidance. The latter two would be fine if the song was hidden on the album rather than used as pre-release promotion.

Which brings me to the opening track, typically used as a tone-setter. “It isn’t love, it isn’t hate, it’s just indifference” is a key line on the album. It evokes Revelation 3:16, ‘So because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I shall spit you out of my mouth’. Essentially God’s “do or do not, there is no ‘try’”. Lover feels like an honest try, and that’s about it. This project isn’t exceptional, it isn’t terrible, it’s just there, and will ultimately live in the dead zone of her career like Red.

Michael Grace

Swift Shares More And Grows Up A Lot

I’m going to be extremely transparent now; I’m not the biggest Taylor Swift fan out there in the world. I don’t believe in the idea of “guilty pleasure music”, but Taylor Swift is probably the musician who will ever get close to the designation. Not to say that writing this review was a chore in any kind of way, either. It’s hard to deny that Taylor Swift as a person is open and honest, while simultaneously a complete enigma, leaving everyone guessing what would happen next. She’s that one girl from college who would definitely overshare with her sorority sisters, but somehow no one seems to know where she’s from; she’s that woman in your office who is warm and inviting in person, but you wonder if she actually likes you because of her tone in her emails; her mom is also sort of your mom too, but you don’t know her like a sister. In a lot of ways, this is the charm of Taylor Swift as a songwriter; you KNOW who she’s talking about and if you don’t, you have a good feeling. But this goes beyond thinly veiled songs about friends and exs loved and lost; yes, one song might be about her boyfriend, but if you don’t know who her boyfriend is (because I sure don’t), why can’t that song be about YOUR boyfriend/girlfriend/crush? You know the people in these songs, whether it’s specifically who Taylor’s songs are about, or who you choose to place in those songs in effigy. And just the other day, we got 18 more songs about them.

This past Friday, after months of anticipation, Taylor Swift brought her cotton candy colored era in the form of Lover, her 7th album in her diverse musical repertoire, to the world. Like I said before, Taylor strikes me as this person who you know a lot about, but maybe keeps you at arm’s length. With Lover, things feel a little different now. Her first album on a new label after leaving Big Machine, this album seems to signify a shift in Taylor; she’s the same sorority girl you know, but she’s telling us more about her now. Yeah, we still don’t know about her hometown and what her dad does for a living, but we’re still learning a lot. And shit is heavy guys. 

I feel like in a lot of my previous brushes with Taylor Swift, specifically songs from her self-titled album and Red is full of reasonable spite; Joe Jonas was a prick one time as a 17 year old and Swift knew Harry Styles was a bad boy well before his solo career and they both did her dirty; “I Forgot You Existed” is a nice call back to those moments in her past and a good signifier that, yes, we can still think what happened is shitty; yes, your ex boyfriend made you pay for your half of the dinner during the break-up talk or maybe your ex girlfriend would be super vague about things you need to work on when she broke up with you over text, but those things were years ago and you have health insurance now, god damn it. When it comes to talking about past love, or love in general now, Taylor writes what I can only describe as a string of options for the eventual jukebox musical someone will make about a woman in her 20’s trying her best. Some songs that stick out are “Paper Rings”, “Cruel Summer”, and “The Archer” in this regard. “Cruel Summer” for instance, a song where she reveals she was falling for a different British guy who isn’t Loki while she was dating Loki proves itself to be a poignant song for anyone whose heart was somewhere else in a relationship, whether you’ve dated a trickster God or not. 

Yes, these songs are specific; “London Boy” is about Taylor’s London boyfriend, but your boyfriend has also probably dragged you all over a city in the interest of love and sharing more about himself and that’s pretty damn sweet, even if the song is super corny. Someone’s first dance as a married couple this year is going to “Lover”, and you’re going to throw up in your mouth a little, and then for a brief moment you’re going to wonder how the hell Taylor Swift wrote a song about the exact moment when you see a couple really unify. 

Taylor Swift is sharing a lot now, and that does present some problems, objectively.

Tim Nemec

Taylor making time to love herself, especially after her sort of scorched earth campaign with reputation, her previous album where she sort of went in on the perceptions of the media and particular celebrities who have a child named after a city have of her. This mostly manifests in “Me!” the lead single of this album era, where she spends the entire song singing with former emo heartthrob Brenden Urie about how she’s the shit now and you should be thrilled about that. It’s evidence that when you see your whole world burst into flame, you can still pick yourself up. 

Taylor Swift is sharing a lot now, and that does present some problems, objectively. Taylor is more politically aware than she used to be, and not exactly by her own choice, if you’d ask me. During the 2016 Presidential Election, Taylor was blasted pretty significantly by left leaning fans about her lack of vocal support for then Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton. Some went as far as to claim that her lack of voice during this time was a sign of support for Republican Candidate and current President Donald Trump. While in recent history, Taylor has verbalized that her lack of presence during the campaign as her understanding that she was worried she would do more harm than good, she’s also made good on being more vocal about her political stances, using her platform to call out a Republican official in her home state and advocating for the support of the LGBTQ community. 

When translating it to music, however, it’s a big clunky. With the release of her second single, “You Need To Calm Down”, she gained some significant push back about the authenticity of her intentions, as the lyrics felt like she just shoehorned a bunch of gay catchphrases into a song and the music video looked like she just wanted to parade her gay friends around to prove she has them. I definitely made fun of it. Taylor takes PrEP now and does poppers and clacks her fan at circuit parties, I would parrot back to my friends who more or less were making the same jokes. But with the release of Lover, while some of this feels a bit out of place, it’s nice to see Taylor try and grapple with the landscape of the America around her. In “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince”, she briefly touches on this in lyrics like “American glory/faded before me/now I’m feeling hopeless/ripped up my prom dress” and “the whole school is rolling fake dice/you play stupid games, you win stupid prizes”. Yeah, it’s a bit juvenile to compare the landscape of the terrible atrocities of America as a high school metaphor, but it is effective when the moral of the song is “yo, shit is fucked around here and it’s because a lot of us believed an idiot”. 

What hit me like a ton of bricks, however, is the one track on this album I felt like stuck out like a sore thumb, in the best way possible, and that’s “Soon You’ll Get Better” featuring the Muses of country music, The Dixie Chicks. When I listened to it for the first time, I was on the CTA, pretty much alone on a car, and my eyes started to fill with tears as I listened to Taylor tell the story about her mother, who has recently been diagnosed with cancer for the second time. The song hurts, and it hurts a lot for anyone who has had to sit helplessly on the sidelines to see someone you love battle something way bigger than they are. To be frank though, it’s endearing that Taylor decided to tackle this in music form. Yes, it doesn’t feel like it belongs on this pop heavy album, but Jesus Christ I hope the power of the Dixie Chicks and their incredible harmonies are enough to make things better. 

With Lover, Taylor has become more transparent than she ever has been in her music. Yes, we don’t know what the sorority girl’s middle name is still, but we know her boyfriend now, we know she’s been through it since the last college reunion and she’s working on herself, and we know her mom is a big fan of the Dixie Chicks. Taylor says it herself on her album closer “Daylight”, “I don’t want to be definite by… the things that haunt me in the night… I think that, you are what you love”. And Taylor Swift is a lot more than she used to be.

Tim Nemec

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