Taylor Swift has many reasons to be angry.
And she used to be. In 1989, hints of her annoyance already emerged. She was tired of being known as the girl who only sang about her boyfriends, of being scrutinized for her every move. Celebrity wasn’t always friendly to her. ‘Another day, another drama’, she semi-raps in the messy culmination of years of built-up anger ‘Look What You Made Me Do’. The former country star had become a different person in Reputation. Snakes slid over the imagery at every turn, ideas of betrayal and pain tormented Swift in all her lyrics. It was an aggressive album, almost mechanical at times, like a cruel parody of the most industrial pop. It was a Swift we weren’t used to, surrounded by electronic beats rather than organic guitar chords. It might be the worst thing she put out in her career; but it was an honest depiction of an artist who didn’t know what to be anymore.
The pastel colours of Lover’s cover art contrast right away with the bold black and white of Reputation. If she used to look at us directly in the eye, this Swift looks down, averting her gaze. Right away, we know that what we’re about to get clashes with what came before it; and that might be a good thing.
If Lover is a far cry from its predecessor, it is also a logical continuation from it. Swift needed to work through these emotions heads on at first to be able to reflect on them as calmly as she does here. Reputation opened with dark, heavy beats; Lover’s opening track ‘I Forgot That You Existed’ is light and soothing. Trying to attribute a specific feud to the song is meaningless; the “you” that Swift addresses could be anyone. What she lets go of is not a single person, but resentment, fear, hate. From this introduction, she tells us that what will follow isn’t for her haters anymore. She’s done making efforts for those that only want to tear her down. This is an album directly for the ones that stuck around; from her heart to theirs.
The album wears its name well. Sometimes slow, sometimes slightly faster, her love songs always have a classical romantic feeling, like a well-filmed kiss in the rain scene does. The title track is her best one in years: tender without being mushy, intimate yet universal. No need for extensive production work. It feels like an eternity since we’ve heard only Swift and her guitar, and this honesty is refreshing. Not all of her relationship-centred tracks are as fairy-tale like. ‘The Archer’ is a more vulnerable look into past insecurities, ‘Paper Rings’ brings a touch of fun to the sometimes too serious prospect of marriage while ‘False God’ blows love up to religious-like importance. One thing remains constant: the vulnerability that Swift allows herself to share and invites us to take part in. She takes every opportunity to remind us that love is a beautiful thing. There’s no need to be afraid of sharing it with the world anymore.
These rose-coloured lyrics don’t mean that Swift likes everything about the way the world is. It might be precisely because she is at peace with herself that she can find the right words to talk about all the ways the world can be at odds with her. In ‘The Man’, she reflects in a dangerously catchy way on the ways her gender affected her career, and addresses her own experience with sexual assault and harrassment. Only two tracks later, ‘Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince’ talks about the recent backlash against Swift’s political engagement through a clever high school metaphor. She blends the cutesy touch of her early work and the maturity of a woman who learned that she lives in a world that rarely loves her back. The statement might not feel revolutionary, but it is a statement nonetheless.
In the end, the album is at its weakest when memories of Reputation shine through, through the much criticized ‘You Need To Calm Down’ and the obnoxious earworm ‘ME!’. In these instances, both her anger and joy ring empty, obscured by a will to be witty rather than say anything of substance. Other tracks with equal radio potential (like ‘Cruel Summer’ or ‘London Boy’) shows that she can have slightly more mindless fun without falling into the traps of these two hits, making these truly tasteless interludes quite the mystery.
Despite these small missteps, Lover remains Swift’s most honest output in years. ‘I wanna be defined by the things that I love’, she says in the album’s outro, stating in the most simple way the objective behind this chapter of her career. She accomplishes this in almost every single one of Lover’s eighteen tracks. This isn’t the album of a child country star, a hit making machine or a shady wannabe queen. This is Taylor Swift in all her imperfections and all her beauty. She spent too much time addressing her haters — this is an album for everyone who cares enough to listen. You won’t regret doing so.
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