Crooning country lyrics over guitar chords taught to her by her computer repairman, a young, blue–eyed Taylor Swift moved to Nashville hoping to land a music career. Sixteen years later, endless narratives written by and about her have been broadcast across the world, plastering her with an image she cannot escape from. The serial dater, the snake, the crazy ex, the white feminist—the list goes on. How does one work to rewrite these stories everyone takes to be fact? How does one establish a sense of self when their career seems to belong to everyone else?
These are the questions Swift seeks to answer with Lover. An 18–track project, the artist’s seventh studio album establishes a “new Taylor.” The release of her previous album, Reputation, in 2017 addressed how her public image plummeted and how she hasd changed—as if giving herself a clean slate to work with. It left the audience asking what exactly her future would entail.
Lover's first song, “I Forgot That You Existed,” shows Swift grappling with those who eagerly watched her reputation sink, and she comes to the passive aggressive solution that she doesn’t care for them. It is an odd opener; she seems to be talking through the verses, and doesn’t quite set the tone of the album successfully. Yet, it contains moments that are inherently Swift–like. Her sarcastic laughs between lines are reminiscent of those in “We Are Never Getting Back Together” from 2012. More moments like these shine throughout Lover, such as the ache in her voice when she sings “You’re not my baby,” in “Death By A Thousand Cuts.”
Lover is Swift doing what she does best: telling stories. Instead of dealing with contrived images, she lets us into the actual life she has been living. In “Cornelia Street” she narrates the beginnings of her relationship with actor Joe Alwyn. The lyrics, detailing autumn air and being led on, are matched with a mirage–like melody. In “Paper Rings” she maintains the confectionary, lovesick image that the 2012 Swift harbored, while still singing about getting high and dirty dreams. There are signs of maturity stemming beyond love stories and breakups. And it seems to be working for her, as well. She has shed the jaded attitude that embodied "Reputation," no longer confessing that she had been in hiding before owning up to her tarnished name. "Lover" overall is much more enjoyable, as she sounds like she has been enjoying herself much more lately.
One of the highlights on the album is “The Man,” a three–minute fantasy where Swift imagines the success she would reap if she didn’t have to contend with sexist double standards. “I’d be a fearless leader / I'd be an alpha type / When everyone believes ya / What's that like?” Its valuable message is met with a catchy, bossy chorus and exudes the frustration Swift holds against the industry. Vocalizing political issues is not unknown to Taylor. Her single before the album's release, "You Need To Calm Down," is centered around a campaign for the Equality Act to support LGBTQ+ rights. While this is a great stride against accusations of her being silent among the political turmoil encompassing modern America, there is a sense of theatrics and marketing that meet her loud campaigning. It does not seem to be a matter of who she is advocating for, but rather why she is speaking so publicly about it. And at times, it comes across as inauthentic, unlike her growling about secret love in "Cruel Summer."
Lover is a long album, so some may find themselves skipping through some songs on first listen. This is a common theme in her career, as her 2012 "Red" stretched for sixteen tracks. Certain songs shine through, such as the high–register vocals in “I Think He Knows”; others fall under the blanket of simple writing, like “It’s Nice To Have A Friend.” It makes the overall project at times awkward, as if she were stuffing tracks into wherever they seemed to fit best. The singles she put out earlier were unique enough to stand on their own—but when seen in the actual album, they feel out of place (specifically “ME!” featuring Brendon Urie).
The final song she released before the album came out, however, is perhaps the focal point of the entire project. “Lover" is timeless, a simple ballad that one catches themselves swaying to as if in an empty ballroom. The lyrics are excellent, as Swift brings us into the intimate world she shares with her partner. It is sweet without being sticky, while the wedding–speech bridge is both personal and dreamlike. In this song, Swift doesn't worry about people's opinions of her love life or her reputation—she has found comfort in those she knows best, regardless of who is watching. It reminds us of the old Taylor Swift once again, and feels like it could be placed anywhere in her career despite the maturity of the lyrics.
How does Lover hold up as being the latest forefront of Taylor Swift's career? Does it deliver us new secrets of the wide–eyed girl who disappeared from the public eye and returned, political agenda and celebrity call–outs intact? Not really. Instead, it offers us the same content we looked for in Swift's music back in 2010: strong songwriting, fairly simple production, and lots of details straight from a novel. She has proven that she can alternate between genres while still being herself. With this project, Swift has recognized that she is wholeheartedly herself, and wants us to know the intimacy in what that entails. While it may not be her strongest album yet, it is definitely her most earnest, and one worth the listen.