Taylor Swift recently went through some big changes in her career. She left Big Machine Records where her first six albums came out. Her seventh one, titled Lover, is released through Republic Records and sees Swift sticking to the pop route she started with 2014 album 1989, but in a more subdued and romantic way than what she showed on Reputation (2017). A Bit of Pop Music reviews the album track by track.
01. I Forgot That You Existed
Swift’s Reputation album mainly focused on her feuds with other artists and how the public perception of her changed. Although Lover promised to be more romantic and hopeful, Swift can’t help but start with a reference to her previous work. She sings about how she stopped caring about the existence of someone who “got out some popcorn as soon as my rep started going down”. She tells that person how she feels indifferent about them over a beat produced with Frank Dukes. There is a strong contrast between the cute sound of the finger snaps and light beat as opposed to the outspoken lyrics. The melody on this one is a true earworm. Not the best album opener as it is not really represents the record, but still an infectious little tune!
02. Cruel Summer
‘Cruel Summer’, co-written by Jack Antonoff and St. Vincent, brings back the breezy light electronic pop that Swift introduced on her 1989 album. In a similar manner to 2017 single ‘Delicate’, it describes the uncertainty of the early days in a relationship. The chorus is big and tailor made for radio, while the middle-eight, which is also used as an outro, is Taylor Swift at her best. She serves specific yet universally recognizable lyrics and challenges herself vocally with an expressive, almost screaming style. Single material right here!
Swift slows the pace down into smooth, swaying, romantic territory on the title track which was released as last promo single. This track might get dismissed by some as being to sugary and sweet, but Swift sets the mood so convincingly, one can’t help but to slowly sway along. Her vocals are warm and full of love when she sings about the lover she wants to spend the rest of her life with. This track takes a few listens to fully land, but the melody won’t leave your head after that and starts to stand out as one of the strongest on this record.
04. The Man
Although Swift worked with Jack Antonoff for the majority of the record, she also co-produced some tunes with Joel Little (Lorde, Broods) of which ‘The Man’ is the first. It is one of her most outspoken moments on this record. The track is about how there is still double standards between men and women in the music industry, but also in society more generally. Over a thick electronic production she addresses the criticism she gets for her dating life, while men like Leonardo DiCaprio (yes, she calls him out when singing ‘being just like Leo in St. Tropez’) do not nearly get as much hateful comments for being with countless women through the years. You tell ’em, Taylor!
05. The Archer
Promo-single ‘The Archer’ might be the most frustrating experience of this album, as it seems to be reaching for something it just can’t get to. The synth ballad is the type of song you would hear in a prom scene in an 80s high school movie, which sounds promising, right? The production is delicate and seems to slowly build up to something bigger, but a proper climax simply does not happen which leaves us with our hunger after every play. You just expect some kind of explosion, but it keeps plodding along. The melodies do not settle quickly either, but it has to be said that Swift delivers one of the most beautiful vocal performances in her career here.
06. I Think He Knows
Swift fastens the pace slightly on ‘I Think He Knows’, which describes the feeling of falling in love in the early days of getting to know someone. The Antonoff-produced tune is light and boppy and has an overall uplifting and hopeful vibe. The chorus is catchy enough, but there is nothing about this tune that stands out in particular. It is simply a bit faceless and in my humble opinion could have been left out to make the album a bit more compact.
07. Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince
On first listen, ‘Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince’ just seems to be a romantic yet dramatic midtempo pop tune about a high school love affair, but when you pay closer attention, you might find some double meanings in those lyrics. Swift sings about ‘high fives between bad guys’ and ‘feeling helpless’. The line ‘boys will be boys then, where are the wise men? Darling, I’m scared’ seems to refer to the way women are not protected enough by law from behaviour by men which is too often not condemned as it is seen as ‘boys being boys’. Swift found subtle ways for social commentary in her songs, without it sounding too preachy. These are some of the strongest lyrics on the album and the composition is one of the most compelling to be found here too.
08. Paper Rings
With ‘Paper Rings’, Swift returns to the uplifting love song territory, but this time with a swinging almost rockabilly-like rhythm. She declares that she would not mind marrying her partner with paper rings, although she normally cares about shiny things, underlining how she would give everything to spend the rest of her life with him. The lyrics are cheesy, but the playfulness of the production saves it from becoming too much of a cheese fest. It is a nice change of pace actually!
09. Cornelia Street
This track is about how the street in New York City where Taylor used to live reminds her of the early days in her relationship. If she was to break up with her current partner, she would not be able to roam Cornelia Street anymore. It is a cute message, but in terms of melodies and production, the tune does fall flat and ends up being one of the least memorable tracks on the record. Nothing offensively bad, but I personally would not have missed it if it did not make it on the record.
10. Death By A Thousand Cuts
Although Taylor’s lyrics are usually very personal, she does let other works inspire her too. The track ‘Death By A Thousand Cuts’ was created with Antonoff after Swift watched the movie Someone Great. The break up in the story line, made her fear a similar event in her own life, which inspired her to write the track. The title is used as something to describe the devastating pain a break up could cause. For me, this one of the stand out tracks after my first few spins of the album and remained on top ever since. There is something about that melody that makes me come back for more.
11. London Boy
On ‘London Boy’, Taylor does not just sing a love letter for her partner Joe Alwyn, but honours the city where he is from and actually all of Britain while she is at it. She describes how she fell for his accent and throws in a whole lot of references to English culture and life in London, of which most are a bit predictable and cheesy. Now, this song was never not going to be cheesy, but it could have done with some lyrics and melody lines that would give it a bit of an edge.
12. Soon You’ll Get Better (feat. Dixie Chicks)
For this album, Taylor finally had the chance to work with country legends the Dixie Chicks. They contribute background vocals and guitar to a very personal ballad Swift wrote for her mom. Mama Swift was diagnosed with cancer for the second time earlier this year and the song is about how Taylor does not want to lose hope for her mom getting better. The bridge in which she sings ‘I hate to make this all about me, but what am I supposed to do when there is no you’ is especially heartbreaking.
13. False God
For ‘False God’, Taylor goes all sensual on us with a slow jam dedicated to the passionate love affair she has with her partner. She uses religious imagery in the lyrics to describe the intensity of what they have together. The sexual tension here was mostly uncharted territory in her music before, but she pulls it off convincingly. Her vocals are softer and more seductive than before and take the melodies to an even higher level and that saxophone is simply heavenly! This is a clear highlight!
14. You Need To Calm Down
Although Swift got criticized for not speaking out politically earlier on in her career, she has become an activist for equality in recent years. ‘You Need To Calm Down’ is the most explicit example of this in her music so far. She takes on homophobes, telling them they need to take several seats and should stop screaming about everything they hate. At the same time she also addresses keyboard warriors posting hateful comments online and the people who try to create rivalry between female artists. She serves the message with an insanely catchy melody and a powerful electro pop production. What’s not to love here!?
Swift showed us with ‘Wildest Dreams’ that she could pull of a vivacious contemporary pop ballad with a production seemingly inspired by Lana Del Rey in her Born To Die era. ‘Afterglow’ has a similar sound with prominent drums and a grand, compelling chorus. Swift sings about taking the blame for things going south in a relationship and not wanting to hurt her partner. She tries to win him back by singing: “I need to say, hey, it’s all me, just don’t go, meet me in the afterglow.” Who could say no to that!?
16. ME! (feat. Brendon Urie)
Swift kicked off the era with a duet with Panic! At The Disco’s Brendon Urie. ‘ME!’ is an unapologetically poppy and catchy little tune that does the absolute most to put a smile on your face. The track is all about how you need to view yourself as worthy to be in a happy relationship. This message is presented in a campy manner that might not work for everyone, but there is no denying this song will be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. She even managed to make it slightly less cringy by taking out the ‘spelling is fun’ line that we heard in the single version.
17. It’s Nice To Have A Friend
The Dukes-produced ‘It’s Nice To Have A Friend’ tells the story of two children falling in love who end up as a married couple later on in life. There is simply no other way to describe the song than the word ‘cute’. The minimal production is perfect for this type of tune and the sample of the youth choir from Toronto Dukes used, is a nice little twist, of which the proceeds will actually go to the school for underprivileged kids the choir is a part of.
There was no other way for Taylor to close this album than with another romantic love song. In another ‘Wildest Dreams’-styled big midtempo drama, she describes how her past failed relationships made her doubt her abilities to be happy with someone else, until she found her current partner. It is a beautiful full circle moment she reaches on this record and therefore a perfect closer to this album that celebrates love and shows everything from a more hopeful perspective than predecessor Reputation.
With Lover, Taylor Swift delivers another big pop album on which at least half of the songs are potential hits. The album does miss the absolute heights that both 1989 and Reputation reached (like ‘Out of the Woods’, ‘Style’, ‘Delicate’ and ‘Getaway Car’), but it is easily more consistent and cohesive than the latter. Lover might take a little longer with its melodies to reach your subconsciousness, but once you get there, there is no denying that miss Swift did it again. She is not letting go of her dominating pop star status anytime soon. Moreover, she sounds like she is in a much better place than on her previous record, which shines through on this new collection of premium pop tunes.