Album Review: Taylor Swift – ‘Lover’

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“I wanna be defined by the things that I love. Not the things I hate, not the things I’m afraid of.”

Those are the words echoed through a muffled recording by Taylor Swift in the closing track of her new album Lover, a clip that isn’t a throwaway comment at the end of a record. It’s a testament that is not only heard but felt all throughout the album, a pumping heart that is keen on surviving instead of struggling to breathe. A certain air of confidence and vulnerable strength that has been missing in the past few years of Swift’s work. 

With the drop of Swift’s newest record, Lover, there was heavy speculation and apprehension on how this record would be directed following the mixed-reviews and darker undertones that Reputation possessed. But, unlike Reputation, where Swift leaned into the criticism and negative public perception to try and take back the reigns of her image and well… reputation to create something more broody and detached from what everyone, up until then, had known her to be- Lover does the exact opposite. Lover does what Reputation set out to do but never conquered, and it does it in a way that doesn’t feel orchestrated or inauthentic. Because Lover is a synth-pop, bleary haze of pastels and freedom, bathed in high-spirits and high-heads. It’s absorbed like a sticky-sweet treat, being satisfied by the last bite even if your tummy aches a bit. Because Lover is aloof in a way that previous works of Swift’s haven’t been, and this is the first time it’s genuinely felt that she doesn’t care anymore about what anyone else has to say about her.

Going back to a similar blueprint that 1989 was built from, Lover takes the best of the synthesizers and slick production that record held while decorating it in the same power of embellished words and frames that were the stars of Speak Now and Red– making this 18-track album the perfect cross of Swift wielding her greatest talents. Written and produced alongside Jack Antonoff, the infectious synths start out almost instantly as opener “I Forgot You Existed” revels in a constant, quirky beat of electronics and keys that is hard not to head-bop along to. As bubble-gum pop as it gets, Swift leads this fun track with her signature voice and half-spoken lyrics that she does so well. 

The song bleeds into “Cruel Summer” which is, without a doubt, the standout of the record sound and quality wise. It trembles with synth-waves before the chorus soars with dreamy vocals, detailing how insufferable it is to be in a complicated relationship with someone that’s only offered on borrowed time. It also blooms the lyrical prowess- something that was lacking on Reputation. With verses like, “Devils roll the dice // Angels roll their eyes” and “Say that we’ll just screw it up in these trying times, we’re not trying,” it taps into the familiarity and cleverly written repertoire that Swift is known for. 

“The Man,” which seems to be influenced by Haim, acts as both a feminist and personal anthem lashing out against the misogyny perpetuated in the entertainment industry against women, and, in this scenario, herself. Tackling the topic of hypocritical behavior that men can get away with while “if I were out flashing my dollars, I’d be a bitch, not a baller,” the song is masked in an upbeat swing and drenched in self-confidence. Swift isn’t putting herself down or showing any sign of insecurity. Instead, she is recognizing her worth in a fucked-up industry, fully committing to the notion that “if I were a man, I’d be the man,” all while sounding as aloof as one possibly can be.

Another power-pop track “I Think He Knows” showcases Swift’s range which is featured throughout Lover. An airy but strong soprano melody that perks up the ears and texturizes the record. But, it’s in the power-ballads that truly grip and bind one to Lover. Always being her strongest suit, Swift’s voice scratching over haunting synths or isolated guitars evokes that raw vulnerability in her tone that is hard to dismiss. “The Archer,” the gloomy ballad of inadequacy and self-infliction addressing her relationships and inner-demons, belting out thoughts like “I’ve been the archer // I’ve been the prey // Screaming, “Who could ever leave me? But who could ever stay?” evokes emotion, sitting uncomfortably in every listener’s ears as they reflect on the one who made them feel the same. It’s the first time that Swift is stripped completely bare on the record. 

“Cornelia Street” is a tear-jerker, reminiscing on lyrical structure familiar to Red, as the track details being too invested in someone, knowing how terrifying it is to give so much of your fragility and vulnerability to someone that could leave. Stating that she could never walk Cornelia Street again if they left, it’s the fear of losing someone so important that precious things you hold dear will perish without them beside you. And the collaboration with The Dixie Chicks “Soon You’ll Get Better”, plucked away with the touch of southern mandolins, proves to be the most personal and impacting songs from Swift since “Best Day.” Both songs journey down her love for her mother, but Lover focuses on her mother’s battle with Cancer, a song that perfectly illustrates the jagged perspective of a daughter that forces herself to be strong during the process even though she’s breaking on the inside.

A final highlight of the record, “False God,” shows a different side of Swift’s musical world, an intimate jazz track that croons the saxophone. A musky lust haze follows the entirety of the song, using metaphors to compare her body and his touch as alters and false gods. It leads to fascination of future Swift releases that could feature slinky tracks such as that one. 

Unlike Taylor Swift’s past work, it is without a doubt that Lover breaks the chains that had been cuffed to her for so many years. Instead of records controlling her, she is taking back her freedom and vulnerability as an artist and as a woman, and crucially doing so in a way that comes across organic and personable to her – a journey of self-care and brighter visions of color. Lover demonstrates the overwhelming fact that Taylor Swift is in love- not only in her relationship but with herself. And it’s the basis of her finding that unconditional love within herself that makes Lover a knock-out record, presenting Lover as the beating heart of Taylor Swift’s rebirth.

Disappointing / Average / Good/ Great / Phenomenal

Hope Ankley / @Hope_ankleknee

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