Taylor Swift Is Finally Free on ‘Lover’

BY MAYA GEORGI

When Taylor Swift released the playful, somewhat juvenile “ME!” — the first single off Lover — doubts about this new Swift era came. But quickly, the world learned it’s wrong to doubt the contending queen of pop.

On August 23rd, Swift dropped Lover, marking her newfound freedom with a truly transcendent masterpiece that is all her own.

Swift knew the stakes were high for this one. Lover is not only her seventh studio album, its release also falls on the 13th year since her first self-titled album was released. For anyone who has been keeping up with Swift – or even those who haven’t – you know that the number 13 is kind of a big deal for the 29 year-old. Within the first day of its release, it was clear that Lover is Swift’s best work yet. 

Lover opens up with the bouncy “I Forgot That You Existed,” giving the impression that Swift is stuck in her vengeful reputation era, even as she claims “it’s just indifference.” However, the album heads into a pleasant, love-driven direction with the playful production seen in “I Forgot That You Existed” steering the way. This bright soundscape allows for a carefree tone, reminding listeners: Taylor Swift is mature, and as she sings “it’s brighter now.”

Swift fully embodies bombastic 80’s pop and shows her mastery of the genre. No longer does it feel like she’s dabbling with a new sound, but rather like she created it. The second track, “Cruel Summer” showcases this perfectly with a slick beat and tantalizing loops interspersed. It’s addictive, just as the production masterminds — Jack Antonoff and Annie Clark (St. Vincent) — intended it to be. Antonoff’s notable credits appear throughout Lover but are distinct when it comes to the beautiful sonic space that “The Archer” lives in. “The Archer” is a refreshing slice of 80’s-influenced synth work with a simplicity that allows Swift’s resonating lyrics to stand out. Similarly, “Afterglow” and “Daylight” exist in this untouchable, pristine bubble.

“Cornelia Street” exhibits the cheerful keyboard-focused, 80’s pop sound Swift has refined since her 1989 days. Major chords create a melody that makes it feel as if it belongs at the end of Sixteen Candles, with an impelling bass and eventual burst at the chorus. As is the theme on Lover, though, these cinematic sounds carefully fall away to allow Swift to tell the detailed story in “Cornelia Street” with her signature falsetto. Swift seems to be conducting the pop genre into this reimagined 80’s-influenced-sound as the rest of the track list, including “The Man,” “I Think He Knows,” and “You Need to Calm Down” follow suit. 

The upbeat theme of Lover truly stands out in rock-influenced “Paper Rings.” It’s the most fast-paced song on the album, driven by bright guitars and fearless percussion. Here, it’s clear that Swift is free enough to experiment, all the while making the tender confession: “I like shiny things / But I’d marry you with paper rings.”

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There’s a dazzling haze...

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The pleasure of Lover is that it holds not just one, but three slow-tempoed, nearly acoustic songs that take fans back to memories of guitar-based, soft spoken albums Red and Speak Now. Title track “Lover” will make anyone, in love or not, swoon and cry at the waltz-tempoed love song. But, the real tears come out with “Soon You’ll Get Better,” where Swift sits and plucks her beloved guitar as she details her experience with her mother’s cancer. The song is even more heart-wrenching with a Dixie Chicks feature, which is Swift’s mother’s favorite band. Finally, Lover slows down once more on the second to last track, “It’s Nice to Have a Friend.” This haunting, two minute harp-infused song is quite strange and quite genius as it shows Swift yearning for the simplicity of her childhood, while stepping into her 30’s.

As always, the greatness of a Taylor Swift album lies in the lyrics. Lover proves that Swift can write one hell of a pop song, and even better ones with a mature lens. One of the overarching themes on Lover is, of course, love. But love comes in many forms and Swift uses the theme of love to explore the world at large, her own faults, and her maturity as she enters this liberated state.

On “The Man,” Swift admits to the exhausting female plight, singing “I’m so sick of running as fast as I can / Wondering if I’d get there quicker if I was a man.” But Swift’s confidence as she finishes up the chorus with “‘Cause if I was a man / Then I’d be the man” makes the song an instant feminist anthem. Swift really questions the world around her, specifically the United States in “Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince.” By masking it with high school allegories, Swift realizes “American glory faded before me.” Lines like “Boys will be boys then / Where are the wise men?” ring louder in the #MeToo era than maybe even Swift intended. 

Lover literally acts as a diary, just like Swift’s previous work. Even after all the criticism and shaming, Swift falls back on sharing the most intimate details of her life. The attention of detail creates great, relatable pop songs as listeners find their own stories in the garden gate, the blue painted wall, and all the self-reflective lines in between. 

The bridge of “Cruel Summer” hits like a punch as Swift belts “And I scream, ‘For whatever it’s worth, I love you, ain’t that the worst thing you ever heard?” two seconds before describing “he looks up grinning like a devil.” Who knew so much angst could exist in one line of a pop song? On “Cornelia Street,” listeners are submerged with the intense feeling of first falling in love and the fear of losing it: “I get mystified by how this city screams your name.” This sweet line is contradicted with the realistic admission: “I hope I never lose you, I hope this never ends.”

Despite Swift’s intimate details, the introspection of “The Archer” and “Daylight” take Lover to a mature, transcendent state. In “The Archer,” Swift is realizing she has the potential to push people, especially the ones she loves most, away. Perhaps, this is a childish trait she’s carrying as she sings “I never grew up / It’s getting too old.” This is vastly different from the way she used to turn other people’s criticisms into songs and frame them as self-aware. Now, Swift is using her own while attaching her fears to the statements. “And all my heroes / Died all alone / Help me hold onto you,” she says, repeating the last line throughout the song. The dark vulnerability in the middle of a pop song shines while leaving Swift exposed. 

On “Daylight,” the vulnerability takes on a more positive note. Swift is looking back on her life to this point, recognizing “There are some lines I’ve crossed unforgiven” and “I wounded the good and trusted the wicked” in a breathy voice. The song breaks into a dream-like, dazzling number as Swift admits: “I don’t wanna look at anything else / Now that I saw you” to her new lover. But Swift is only masking this grand transition with a love song. As Swift revealed in a YouTube live session, the album was almost about to be called Daylight. This song’s importance seems to be connected to what it represents: the state of grace Swift has finally reached. “Now I see daylight,” Swift sings, almost as if ascending into her freedom. No one can touch Swift when she is up here, owning her mistakes and choosing to not let them define her.

Lover is stuffed to the brim with gems and future pop classics, but it’s entire energy feels different. Perhaps, the true beauty of Lover is that Swift is finally free - free to write intimate lyrics without scrutiny, free to create as many pop songs as she wants, and free to love openly.

“I want to be defined by the things that I love,” Swift says in a fuzzy recording at the end of “Daylight.” Finally, in this new freedom of Lover, she has reached that.

Lead Image Credit: Valheria Rocha / Instagram