Following her biting previous album, Taylor Swift is back with Lover: Lizzie Wright takes us through the albums highs and lows.
Lover came at a pivotal point in Taylor Swift’s life. The follow up to 2017’s reputation, which highlighted the more vengeful, grudge-holding side to Swift and saw her take control of the spiralling disaster that was her own reputation, using it to cement her status as a musical icon, has already led to Forbes magazine naming her the highest paid celebrity of 2019, with a string of awards (including the VMA for best music video for LGBTQ anthem ‘You Need to Calm Down’) to prove she earned the accolade.
However, the transition from reputation to Lover hasn’t been an easy one – album opener ‘I Forgot That You Existed’ is a lacklustre attempt at spinning the drama of Swift’s various public feuds into a quick dismissal, with lyrics often half-sang, half-spoken in an effort to come off casual. Whilst it is fully functional as a transition track from the two vastly different albums, it’s not a song that I’ll be saving to my playlist, leaving it for full playthroughs of the album only.
Despite the strong contrast between the song and the rest of the album, ‘I Forgot That You Existed’ is far from the most controversial track, with that title going to ‘London Boy’, a song heavily peppered with references to the city, which many, including The Gryphon’s Hannah Stokes, have dismissed as a typical American view of an idealistic Britain (because let’s be real, you’d never catch an actual English lad dead saying ‘darling I fancy you’ like he was some fanfiction version of Louis Tomlinson circa 2012).
The seventh release by Swift, whilst harking back to her older releases such as 2012’s Red, is definitely one of her most mature yet- whilst still containing the love songs she’s known for, she expands beyond boyfriends, with the self-appreciation bubblegum pop of ‘ME!’, which thankfully removes the ‘Hey kids! Spelling is fun!’ line from the original music video and single. Best of all is the Dixie Chicks collaboration ‘Soon You’ll Get Better’ a tear-jerking follow up to Fearless’ ‘The Best Day’ (both songs dedicated to her mother, who was recently diagnosed with cancer again) which is easily the most poignant of the album. The haunting lines ‘And I hate to make this all about me / But who am I supposed to talk to?’ perfectly sum up the fear of appearing selfish that anyone caring for someone ill tries to avoid, the emotions that Swift has clearly dug up from the darkest depths leaving herself exposed, and succeeding in breaking our hearts.
Even with the traditional love stories presented on Lover, Taylor Swift shows her growth as an artist, with no trace of the naivety that graced her previous releases, making reference to the fact that not every relationship will end happily, singing about the ending to a hot-girl summer with unwanted feelings in ‘Cruel Summer’, and the risks love entails on ‘Cornelia Street’, showcasing the battles against an omnipotent, god-like love in the clunky-versed but later redeeming-chorused ‘False God’ and openly discussing sexual attraction on the sultry ‘I Think He Knows’. ‘Afterglow’, a highlight of the album, sees her taking responsibility for a fight, and asking her lover to forgive her, a twist from the previous songs about troublesome relationships which often saw Swift discussing her partner’s flaws, not her own, letting her fans in on a new side of herself as opposed to the perfect pop princess she projected when she was younger.
But it’s her personal growth that marks the Lover era as a much more mature, open Swift. She recently took a political stance for the first time, after fans had been left disappointed by her lack of support against the Trump regime, which led to 65,000 people registering to vote in last year’s US midterms. ‘Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince’, a whimsical high-school-romance allegory for the political state of the US is a crowning moment of the album. The lyrics suggest a disconnect to Swift’s previous adoration of the idea of America, with herself often been deemed America’s Sweetheart (or the titular ‘Miss Americana’) and being known for throwing celeb-filled Fourth of July parties which have been noticeably absent since 2016.
Swift also gives us insight into the reason for her lack of support for the Democratic party in the 2016 US election (coinciding with the drama leading up to the reputation era) with the lyric ‘they whisper in the hallway “she’s a bad bad girl”’, saying to Vogue: ‘All people were saying was “She’s calculated. She’s manipulative. […] She’s a snake. She’s a liar.” These are the same exact insults people were hurling at Hillary. Would I be an endorsement or would I be a liability? “Look, snakes of a feather flock together. Look, the two lying women. The two nasty women.”’ The concern with sexism led Swift to finally release ‘The Man’, a song she says she’s ‘wanted to write for years’, in which she calls out the media industry about their double standards surrounding her dating history and even gives a fun nod to Leonardo DiCaprio’s lavish lifestyle, one she would be criticised for living. Arguably one of the catchiest songs on the album, this makes for a breezy dancey tune that expresses a powerful feminist message with none of the bitterness of ‘I Forgot That You Existed’.
The second single from the album, ‘You Need to Calm Down’, is where Swift has truly excelled her personal growth. From her previous silence on LGBTQ issues, in a short space of time she has risen as an important ally within the community, starting a petition for the Senate to support the introduction of the Equality Act, which would mean LGBTQ-identifying people would be protected from discriminatory acts under the law, and making a $113,000 donation to the Tennessee Equality Project. For someone coming from a country music background, where in the American South gay rights weren’t as desired as in more liberal states, Swift finally shows a dedication to supporting a large portion of her fanbase in their quest to live their lives unimpeded.
Frankly, on an 18-track album, you expect quite a few filler songs, a few that everyone wonders why they made the cut (looking at you ‘London Boy’), but Taylor Swift somehow manages to create a collection of songs that all contribute something meaningful to the record, building it up to be the ‘love letter to love’ that we were promised by Swift. The titular track is an over-dramatic, almost parodic tribute to Swift’s partner, but a beautiful love song nonetheless, about a love we all envision as ideal without taking itself too seriously. As the album closes with ‘Daylight’, where Swift references the Red era saying ‘I once believed love would be (burning red) / But it’s golden’, she chooses to focus on the happier side to life, focusing on what she loves- as she says in the outro ‘I just think that you are what you love’. Well in that case, I’m a lover.