New album Lover sees Taylor Swift shake off the bitterness of 2017’s reputation with album opener ‘I Forgot That You Existed’ proclaiming indifference to the public feuding between her and Kanye West: “It isn’t love, it isn’t hate it’s just indifference”.
Yet the fact that the next track ‘Cruel Summer’ shares a name with a West GOOD Music compilation album is too much of a coincidence for us to buy the ever savvy Swift’s “I’m over it” charade. Rather, the album as a whole suggests that Swift now has bigger fish to fry than to spend more time and energy giving airtime to the already well-documented public feud.
Her politics are more prominent in this release than ever been before. The Joel Little (Lorde collaborator) assisted feminist anthem ‘The Man’ swipes at Leonardo di Caprio and his young girlfriends – “I’d be just like Leo in St Tropez” – as it critiques the differences in how men and women are talked about by the media. There’s even a nod to #MeToo with the line “When everyone believes you, what is that like?”, a movement Swift has already had her own involvement with, with the symbolic $1 settlement that she sought from DJ David Mueller after he assaulted her.
There’s a pervasive sense of frustration that there is unlikely to be any change to the status quo when the US President says things like ‘grab her by the pussy’, and members of the American and British establishment are associated with men like Jeffrey Epstein. The track ‘Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince’ epitomises Swift’s disillusion with Trump’s America with the refrain “Boys will be boys then / where are the wise men?”. The upbeat cheerleader-esque interjections of ‘O! K!” throughout the song are ironic assertions that the situation is anything but ‘OK’.
Swift has faced criticism for ‘You Need To Calm Down’, with some feeling it is a shameful attempt at getting LGBTQ+ listeners on side. The line “Why are you mad when you could be GLAAD?” is a reference to the American charity that advocates for LGBTQ acceptance. The LGBTQ+ star-studded music video closes with a call to action for fans to head to a Change.org petition directed at the Senate to support the proposed Equality Act in the United States, a fact which puts me firmly in the camp that believes this is a powerful gesture of support from an ally with a substantial platform.
The record as a whole encompasses the many forms love can take; from the romantic love of ‘London Boy’ which documents the artist’s relationship with British actor Joe Alwyn, the erotic love of the line “the altar is my hips” in ‘False God’, to the familiar love ballad ‘Soon You’ll Get Better’, which captures Swift’s struggle with her mother’s cancer, which returned earlier this year. This song is a bittersweet counterpoint to the carefree gratitude Swift has for her parents in ‘The Best Day’, from the 2008 album Fearless. As an adult aware of how cruel the world can be, she is anything but fearless when faced with the prospect of losing her mother, Andrea.
There’s also a nod to the first loves of Fearless in Lover, with the line “It’s like I’m 17, no one understands” in ‘I Think He Knows’, evoking the highschool angst of ‘Fifteen’ and ‘You Belong With Me’. The nursery rhyme elements of ‘The Archer’, which borrows from Humpty Dumpty with the line “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men, couldn’t put me back together again”, combines with the infantile ‘Spelling is fun!’ aside in ‘Me!’ to capture the childlike giddiness that accompanies falling in love, no matter whether you’re 15 or, like Taylor Swift, 29 years old.
There’s even a nod to matrimonial love with the rockabilly-esque ‘Paper Rings’, in which Swift sings: “I like shiny things, but I’d marry you with paper rings.” The paper cut motif in ‘Death By A Thousand Cuts’ is an interesting antithesis to this track, with the lyrics detailing the pain that being in love can inflict: “Tryna find a part of me you didn’t take up / Gave you so much, but it wasn’t enough / But I’ll be alright, it’s just a thousand cuts.”
There are other references to the destructive side of love, with chemistry turning into an explosion in ‘Afterglow’. This track is about accountability in love, with Swift taking blame for “blowing up” a relationship. There are drunk tears in the back of a car with the synth pop track ‘Cruel Summer’ (written with Jack Antonoff and Annie Clark/St. Vincent), and love as a game of cat-and-mouse, represented by the hand of cards motif in ‘Cornelia Street’. This song joins ‘Lover’ and ‘Daylight’ as the ones solely written by Swift on this record.
Swift’s songwriting has always been held up to intense scrutiny, with fans following every clue to pin down which of her lovers a track refers to. The specificity of the line “I’ve loved you three summers now, honey, but I want ‘em all” of the eponymous track ‘Lover’ is definitely a signal to fans that she is happy with her ‘London Boy’, Joe Alwyn, who she really ‘fancies’ and enjoys watching ‘rugby in the pub’ with his ‘best mates’. But with this album there is not the same level of investigative work to be done, Swift is quite literally laying her inner self open for you to read: the deluxe version of the record comes with a facsimile of the singer’s journal.
The 18-track release has been critiqued by some as trying to be too broad in order to keep everyone happy, but these reviews miss the point. As the fading voiceover of album closer ‘Daylight’ makes clear, this album is not for us – it is for Taylor herself: “I want to be defined by the things I love, not the things I hate, not the things I’m afraid of, not the things that haunt me in the middle of the night. I think that you are what you love.”
The overwhelming feeling listening to this record is that Taylor Swift finally, unashamedly, loves herself. And we’re so here for that.
Words by Beth Kirkbride