Exeposé writers discuss pop superstar Taylor Swift’s new album.
‘Swear to be overdramatic and true to my lover,’ sings Swift at the climax of the album’s title track. Any misgivings of the pop superstar should be eliminated upon hearing the song; a waltz that sounds like the product of a grown-up Speak Now from its lovesick lyrics to acoustic guitar. Swift’s voice grows from her lower, matured tone to a falsetto in the chorus, declaring that the subject of her song (Joe Alwyn) is, indeed, her lover.
Lover starts where reputation leaves off. The last few songs on reputation are dedicated to Alwyn, and Lover begins with the overly petty ‘I Forgot That You Existed’, a song about forgetting the drama, ironic to the point that she had to write a song about it. However, it is one of the album’s few proper missteps. Lover takes the best parts of reputation and amplifies it; ‘Cruel Summer’ is an explosive synthpop song in the vein of ‘Getaway Car’ (credit to Jack Antonoff for the incredible production), and the pulsating synths of ‘Delicate’ return on the nostalgic ‘Cornelia Street’.
But the theme of Lover is its greatest weakness, for it gets tired across its 61 minute runtime. ‘Paper Rings’, ‘Death By A Thousand Cuts’, and ‘Lover’ are some of Swift’s most romantic songs, but nearly all of the album’s second half is either forgettable or a complete mess; ‘London Boy’ is a lyrical catastrophe that functions as an awful parody of ‘American Boy’, and ‘ME!’ was so widely criticised that Swift removed the line, ‘Hey kids, spelling is fun,’ from the song. However, ‘Daylight’ manages to be memorable, pleasant to listen to, and maintains the standard of lyricism expected of Swift. Most poignant of all is the lyric ‘I once believed love would be burning red,’ a throwback to Swift’s magnum opus of heartbreak.
Lover also explores themes of social equality, but with mixed results. ‘You Need To Calm Down’ is another song where its lyrics destroy what is a very good instrumental, and in contrast, ‘The Man’ is a smartly written song ruined by its outdated electropop sound. Swift gets it right with ‘Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince’, an indie pop song similar to early Lana Del Rey and Halsey that uses the metaphor of high school to criticise the rise of Trump. ‘Boys will be boys then, where are the wise men?’ she questions desperately.
It’s this emotional urgency that makes much of Lover a compelling listen, but too often Swift slips into romantic complacency or loses the wit that gives her lyricism a spark. A few songs shorter, and Lover would join the pantheon of great Taylor Swift albums, but as of now it exists as a serviceable comeback after the disaster that was reputation.
It’s this emotional urgency that makes much of Lover a compelling listen
I hereby declare myself a ‘London Boy’ apologist.
I’ve got a complicated relationship with Taylor Swift. I was a huge fan of both Red and 1989, both of which are strong examples of fun pop albums. But as the reputation era was ushered in, it became difficult to listen to Taylor Swift’s music without engaging with what was shifting into an over-dramatic, petty, and quite simply annoying pop culture personality. I opted out of Reputation, and wasn’t easily drawn back in by the singles released ahead of Lover – with the exception of the title track, they seemed overly sugary and somewhat cringe-worthy. (And this is coming from someone who still bops to ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’.)
When the album came out I checked it out, purely out of interest, and I was hooked. Opener ‘I Forgot That You Existed’ interacts with the same ideas reputation was fixated on but in a much lighter way, reflected in its simple orchestration. ‘Cruel Summer’ feels like classic post-Red Taylor, building to a quintessentially powerful middle-eight. ‘The Man’ dips a (small) toe into the world of feminism, and ‘Paper Rings’ epitomises the album’s romantic theme without seeming over-the-top.
My personal favourite track on Lover is ‘Death By A Thousand Cuts’, the backstory of which went viral after the album’s release: it’s inspired by Netflix film Someone Great, charting the ups and downs of a complicated breakup. It’s the lyrical highpoint of the album, as well as having a less uniform structure than we might expect from a Taylor song.
Then comes ‘London Boy’, which shut down Twitter as Londoners fell over each other trying to come up with new ways to criticise it. As a non-Londoner, I have no qualms about loving the track, which is for me one of the catchiest on the album. It might not speak accurately to the experience of anyone who’s ever actually lived there, but it’s good fun and echoes the energy of classic tracks like ‘22’.
Admittedly, it all goes a bit downhill after the joy of ‘London Boy’, with the album’s second half playing host to several forgettable tracks as well as a couple of the aforementioned nightmarish singles. Nevertheless, the closing track is pleasant and the overall experience of the album is certainly a positive one. I’m thrilled about this new era for TSwift and hope we can leave reputation far, far behind us.
It’s [‘Death By A Thousand Cuts’] the lyrical highpoint of the album, as well as having a less uniform structure than we might expect from a Taylor song
In the ever-evolving Taylor Swift style, the musician’s most recent album Lover showcases a fusion of past country-folk ballads and present mainstream pop music. Songs like ‘Cruel Summer’ and ‘London Boy’ compel a loud and obnoxious sing-along, whilst ‘Afterglow’ and ‘Lover’ offer a sombre tone, giving you a reason to cry other than the fact that her England tour dates are yet to be released.
As Swift said herself, Lover is an album meant to be seen and heard live. ‘Cruel Summer’ provides the ultimate festival feels and her duet with Brendon Urie in ‘ME!’ packs a powerful punch, combined with the presence of mega high notes and thousands of screaming fans from a live audience, it’s enough to set heart rates racing just imagining it.
Her other feature on the album with the Dixie Chicks uses soft guitar strums and beautiful banjo melodies. The stripped back vocals in ‘Soon You’ll Get Better’ offers reminiscent fans a sweet reminder of Swift’s country roots.
Though her knowledge of London underground could do with some refining (see lyrics to ‘London Boy’), she clearly found her way to Swifties’ hearts.
Released in Pride Month, the music video for ‘You Need To Calm Down’ is abundant with support for the Equality Act – a bill that “protects LGBTQ+ people from discrimination in their places of work, homes, schools, and other public accommodations”. The final ten seconds of the video urges fans to “show our pride by demanding that, on a national level, our laws truly treat all of our citizens equally”. Over five hundred thousand fans have signed the petition.
Another stand out song is ‘The Man’. Though a somewhat misleading title, the song takes a feminist twist, tackling the very stereotypes Swift herself has fallen victim to. With the name Taylor Swift frequently being synonymous with the phrase ‘Serial Dating’, the lyrics “I’m so sick of running as fast as I can, wondering if I’d get there quicker if I was a man” allow Swift to summarise her experience of prejudice within the music industry.
Whether it be through romantic heartbreak, broken friendships or an inherently sexist and patriarchal industry, Swift has always presented a raw and honest image through her music – the album Lover is no different.
Lover is an album meant to be seen and heard live
Taylor Swift has a long career behind her. She is a successful creative and her ability to stay relevant through the years is but one of the factors that make her so significant in pop culture. Lover is the newest example of her artistry, and despite a few flaws, the album stands as one of her best efforts yet.
The opening track, ‘I Forgot That You Existed’, waves goodbye to a past era by addressing an imaginary ex-partner. The song could be taken literally, but it’s likely that Swift is playing with a subversion of the theme she is best known for: exes and heartbreak. The minimal sound works perfectly as a prologue to the rest of the album. The production and the sound throughout Lover is strong and coherent, flawlessly moving from cinematic soundscapes to stripped back acoustics and even dabbling with the experimental. We have to thank the ever-present Jack Antonoff for this, who Swift has been working with since her album 1989.
Swift has reached a point of maturity and peace, where she doesn’t take herself too seriously (if she ever did); ‘London Boy’ is a funny ode to her partner, Joe Alwyn – she probably laughs at all the internet jokes about its stereotypes, too. On the other hand, gems like the understated ‘The Archer’ or ‘Soon You’ll Get Better’ feel raw and humbling in their sincerity.
And yet, the album simultaneously contains some of Swift’s best songwriting to date, and some of the laziest. ‘Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince’ is a politically charged American Dream allegory, but ‘ME!’, a collaboration with Brendon Urie, is underwhelming and its lyrics are more worthy of a beginner than of someone with a fifteen-year musical career. There is space for lighthearted songs in Lover, but ‘Paper Rings’ is a higher quality take on this type of song, an early 2000s upbeat hairbrush-mic moment.
Nevertheless, Lover is as thematically strong as the rest of Swift’s discography. It shows self-awareness and genuine expression, and an eclecticism that doesn’t take away from the cohesiveness of the themes in the writing: political content and protest have their place, as do the bad moments of a relationship. Although the album drags on in the last half, and it’s arguably too long (something that could have been solved by releasing a deluxe edition), most of the songs are engaging and varied – there’s quick bops mixed with tracks that slowly grow on you.
Swift is a skilled, versatile songwriter, and Lover does not disappoint. It shows a grown woman who has decided to do the scariest thing a pop artist can do nowadays: become strong not in spite of, but because of her vulnerability.
[Lover] shows self-awareness and genuine expression, and an eclecticism that doesn’t take away from the cohesiveness of the themes in the writing