Lover exemplifies Taylor Swift at her best: personal, yet universally compelling songwriting

A review of each song in Taylor Swift’s 7th studio album Lover, with an introduction to the context of Taylor Swift today.

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Photo credit: Music video by Taylor Swift performing Lover. © 2019 Taylor Swift

In the eventful summer of 2016 millions upon millions of snake emojis dominated social media. Since then, the internet mob, and the media eager for a scandal, have been relentlessly determined to drag Taylor Swift down, gaslighting her at every opportunity (even making fun of her during her high-profile sexual assault case in which she counter-sued her harasser for a symbolic dollar). With trending hashtags celebrating her “fall from grace”, the chaos of the 2016 elections where she kept her political opinions to herself, dealing with personal tragedies with cancer in the family, and celebrities either cheering for her downfall or keeping mum on the sidelines, Taylor went completely private and disappeared from the spotlight.

In several interviews this year, she hinted that she went through anxiety because of internet bullying, and that it pushed her to go into hiding. Speaking up was not possible, Taylor explains, because everyone she associated with would go down with her.

The reality, Swift says, is that she was totally broken. “Every domino fell,” she says bitterly. “It became really terrifying for anyone to even know where I was. And I felt completely incapable of doing or saying anything publicly, at all. Even about my music. I always said I wouldn’t talk about what was happening personally, because that was a personal time.” She won’t get into specifics. “I just need some things that are mine,” she despairs. “Just some things.” (The Guardian interview, 2019)

“Literally millions of people were telling me to disappear. So I disappeared. In many senses.” (Vogue magazine, 2019)

She later changed her mind and broke her silence with a lengthy instagram post. She shares: “ In the past I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions, but due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now.” Taylor then urged young voters to register and vote.

Taylor’s next album after her self-imposed exile was reputation, a sultry, sensuous revenge-inspired album that was also her most sonically and thematically cohesive album so far (she was also heavily inspired by Daenerys, Sansa, and Arya from Game of Thrones). With reputation, Taylor directly addressed her public image and her bullies with a few sharp songs, and she embraced the snake imagery, redefining its negative associations into a symbol of power. However, despite popular misconception, most of the songs were actually about her hesitance in pursuing happiness and love, after experiencing the lowest point in her career. She sings in Delicate: “This ain’t for the best / My reputation’s never been worse, so / You must like me for me.”

Taylor Swift’s sold-out and record-breaking reputation tour, her growing self-awareness and confidence in her relationships, her high-profile case in the wake of the #MeToo movement, and her political self-education by choosing to surround herself with meaningful friendships… these may have all contributed to making Lover her most genuine and outspoken album yet. Critics have been praising the album as Taylor at her most honest, but Taylor has always been known for her confessional songwriting. Rather, this is an album where she’s less guarded, less scared, less caught up on passionate, consuming, yet fleeting love. Taylor described Lover as a celebration of love in all its forms, “…a celebration of love, in all its complexity, coziness, and chaos.” After her former label Big Machine sold the rights of her past records to Kanye West manager Scooter Braun without her consent, Taylor moves on and declares that Lover is “the first album I’ve ever owned.”

It shows. Replete with religious imagery, allegories on disillusionment in America, and romantic, tender love songs, Lover is Taylor Swift maturing in the public eye, claiming full ownership of her life, her words, and her truth.

I had to take a few days to absorb the album before I could give a verdict (which is why I could never understand music critics releasing their ratings on the day of release…how could you judge something on first listen?). The timing was perfect: my first listen was alone in a hotel room, with a storm raging outside; subsequent listens were by the beach in Boracay, in an airplane, and walking home under a moody rain (I’d forgotten my umbrella). And so it goes: Lover, the review.

I Forgot That You Existed

The opening song of Lover is also a natural close for the reputation era, a coda to This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things. It’s a Taylor who’s moved on with a cutting snicker, secure that despite the drama, she’s still on top. I don’t really care about who this song is about, but the way Taylor drawled “It isn’t love, it isn’t hate it’s just…indifferennnce…so yeah” is deliciously petty. I really love how Taylor experiments with her vocal delivery in this album, sometimes speaking, giggling, or drawling instead of simply belting into song.

Best Lines:

I forgot that you existed
And I thought that it would kill me, but it didn’t
And it was so nice
So peaceful and quiet

I forgot that you existed
It isn’t love, it isn’t hate
It’s just indifference

Listen while: being successful in your life while your enemies are 1) forgotten or 2) outed as racists

Cruel Summer

Taylor’s co-writing with Jack Antonoff and St. Vincent is THE song. A 100% perfectly and cleverly crafted pop song which excites you into a frenzy until it reaches a crescendo, a climax with a euphoric release. When Cruel Summer rushes headfirst into the bridge, you’re out of breath and your brain is about to have a meltdown, but you continue to shout out the words with Taylor.

This is THE song, which means that Taylor won’t release this as a single as usual. For God’s sake Taylor listen to us for once.

Best Lines (that FUCKING BRIDGE):

And I snuck in through the garden gate
Every night that summer just to seal my fate
And I scream, "For whatever it’s worth
I love you, ain’t that the worst thing you ever heard?"
He looks up, grinning like a devil

Listen while: in the car, open windows, no traffic

Lover

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Photo credit: Music video by Taylor Swift performing Lover. © 2019 Taylor Swift

This folksy country ballad is Taylor Swift revisiting her younger years, complete with country vocals — but it also sounds like an old song with its jukebox quality production. The lyrics are so tender and nostalgic, making you yearn for this kind of love. The music video is her most romantic and symbolic yet, effused in a low sentimental light. Did I sob to this song while alone in a dark hotel room? …Maybe.

Best Lines:

My heart’s been borrowed and yours has been blue
All’s well that ends well to end up with you
Swear to be overdramatic and true

To my lover

Listen while: slow dancing with your Lover. Or by yourself. All valid!

The Man

One of the best songs Taylor has written, and in light of the globally impactful #MeToo movement, too. Every single line is quotable. Taylor Swift directly addresses how the media (and certain comedians) would negatively portray her since her teenage years — and the double standards she continuously faces while the music industry exonerates and celebrates male racists, misogynists and even rapists. While male celebrities’ girlfriends are “conquests”, Taylor is a “slut” for dating various men. Taylor “overreacts”, while men “react”. Taylor is cheeky with the lyrics, but she is also straight to the point. The song is relatable to women all over the world because it depressingly applies to women in any industry, whether its in entertainment,government, in business, gaming, or even in the academe.

Best Lines (I basically want to quote all the lyrics):

I would be complex, I would be cool
They’d say I played the field before I found someone to commit to
And that would be okay for me to do
Every conquest I had made would make me more of a boss to you

I’d be a fearless leader
I’d be an alpha type
When everyone believes ya
What’s that like?

I’m so sick of running as fast as I can
Wondering if I’d get there quicker if I was a man
And I’m so sick of them coming at me again
’Cause if I was a man, then I’d be the man
I’d be the man

Listen while: plotting to overthrow the patriarchy and having a hot cup of tea

The Archer

If there’s a song that fully embraces the “Lover” theme besides its namesake song, this is it. This dreamy 80s synthpop, movie soundtrack-like song is Taylor at her most vulnerable and exposed. Here, Taylor softly ruminates about the highs and lows of her career and relationships, being both the hunter and hunted.

Best Lines:

I wake in the night, I pace like a ghost
The room is on fire, invisible smoke
And all of my heroes die all alone
Help me hold on to you

I’ve been the archer
I’ve been the prey
Who could ever leave me, darling?
But who could stay?

Listen while: having a drink in a quiet pub on a weekday night

I Think He Knows

I Think He Knows was the kind of song that I thought that I would dislike on first listen (it starts with the kind of usual pop lyrics I’m not fond of) and then the chorus hits and it’s just SO MUCH FUN. Taylor’s “I got that uhh, I mean,” is kittenish and flirty.

My only complaint is that this is sandwiched between The Archer and Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince, which is really jarring in the album order. This should have been after Lover, as it explores a fun, new relationship.

Best Lines:

Lyrical smile, indigo eyes, hand on my thigh
We could follow the sparks, I’ll drive

Best Listened while: getting your flirt game on and steeling yourself for the approach

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One of the more arresting symbolic scenes in the Lover music video.

Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince

The personal is political: Taylor chooses to tell a story in her seventh song, one that seems familiar but proves to be very different. This is the song where you the listener goes, “Times — and Taylor — have changed.” Although peppered with references to Taylor’s earlier hit singles, such as images of highschool, cheerleaders, homecoming kings and queens reminiscent of Speak Now, the All-American imagery transforms into a metaphor for America’s dark underbelly, questioned and interrogated by Taylor herself. (Taylor shares in a spotify message that “This song is about disillusionment with our crazy world of politics and inequality, set in a metaphorical high school.”) The production is very Lana del Rey’s “National Anthem” and Badlands era Halsey.

Best Lines:

American stories burning before me
I’m feeling helpless, the damsels are depressed
Boys will be boys then, where are the wise men?

Listen while: angrily scrolling through twitter while plotting to overthrow the patriarchy

Paper Rings

Swifties of Twitter, forgive me: I’m not the biggest fan of Paper Rings. This is the song that feels a bit lost: better suited to Fearless or 1989, and too reminiscent of her other way too upbeat songs like Shake it Off. This actually was a jarring song in the album. But like with every Taylor song, the bridge is fantastic.

Best Lines:

I want to drive away with you
I want your complications too
I want your dreary Mondays
Wrap your arms around me, baby boy

Listen while: dancing with your friends during a sleepover. Basically the 22 music video.

Cornelia Street

This song is absolutely beautiful, and is one of the best in Lover. Taylor excels in the specificities of her song writing: she’ll vividly paint you a story, a glimpse of a specific moment or point in her personal life, but conveys an emotion that deeply resonates and that anyone can relate to. Taylor rented a house in Cornelia Street, New York for a brief time in her life, but anyone can relate to how memories of fleeting moments can have the most profound impact.

Best Lines:

I hope I never lose you, hope it never ends
I’d never walk Cornelia Street again
That’s the kind of heartbreak time could never mend
I’d never walk Cornelia Street again
And baby, I get mystified by how this city screams your name
And baby, I’m so terrified of if you ever walk away
I’d never walk Cornelia Street again

Listen while: walking home from work or school while the sun sets, anticipating the escape of dreams

Death by a Thousand Cuts

One of the most interesting and bold productions in a Taylor Swift song yet, and also features one of her most clever songwriting. I’m absolutely crazy about this song; Taylor and Jack (Antonoff) really did a fantastic job. It starts with an eerie childlike chant, followed by dissonant beats, and a mix of different instruments. The bass is dark and there’s also this tinny, sinister noise in the chorus and towards the end. The unique song structure, the chaotic sound, the production decisions are so intriguing! Every time I listen to this song again, I discover something new both in the writing and the production.

Best Lines:

You said it was a great love, one for the ages
But if the story’s over, why am I still writing pages?

and

Our songs, our films, united we stand
Our country, guess it was a lawless land
Quiet my fears with the touch of your hand
Paper cut stings from our paper-thin plans

Listen with: High quality headphones or earphones, with no distractions

London Boy

How can you hate a song opened by Idris Elba? Apparently some London locals were taking the piss out of this song because it shows an impossible commute, but Taylor didn’t actually visit all the locations in one day (duh). This is such a cute, fun, playful song, and in some points Taylor sounds like she’s teasing her boyfriend — haters are just bitter nitpickers at this point. Y’all need to lighten up once in a while. tl;dr I fucking love this song.

Best Lines:

And now I love high tea, stories from Uni, and the West End
You can find me in the pub, we are watching rugby with his school friends
Show me a gray sky, a rainy cab ride
Babes don’t threaten me with a good time
They say home is where the heart is
But God, I love the English

Listen while: traveling! Doesn’t have to be London, it’s such a feel-good song while you’re soaking in the sights.

Soon You’ll Get Better (feat. The Dixie Chicks)

This song is so hard to listen to because of its subject matter that I can’t repeat it sometimes. Written for her mother as she is re-battling cancer, Taylor’s voice sounds vulnerable and desperate, and her vocals go perfectly with the Dixie Chicks. Asking them to be her collaborators — especially with their respected status and activism — is country perfection.

Best Lines:

The buttons of my coat were tangled in my hair
In doctor’s-office-lighting, I didn’t tell you I was scared
That was the first time we were there
Holy orange bottles, each night I pray to you
Desperate people find faith, so now I pray to Jesus too
And I say to you

Ooh-ah, soon you’ll get better
Ooh-ah, soon you’ll get better
Ooh-ah, you’ll get better soon
’Cause you have to

Listen and: prepare yourself for an emotional onslaught

False God

Another absolute favourite. The low, sensual keys and the saxophone, Taylor’s understated singing, yet again more religious imagery (for her lover) in her signature unique lyrics, all contribute to making False God one of her more powerful, seductive songs yet. This is how I imagined how an indie track from Taylor would sound like. I would love for Taylor to have a low-key performance of this in an isolated jazz bar with dim purple lighting, or at least in the BBC Radio 1 live lounge.

Best Lines:

But we might just get away with it
Religion’s in your lips
Even if it’s a false god
We’d still worship
We might just get away with it
The altar is my hips
Even if it’s a false god
We’d still worship this love

Listen while: in a speakeasy, with a cocktail in hand, after listening to Chet Baker from a record player crooning and lamenting a lost love

You Need to Calm Down

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Photo credit: Music video by Taylor Swift performing You Need to Calm Down. © 2019 Taylor Swift

Twitter and the media critics accused Taylor of pandering for this song, oddly erasing or dismissing the supportive voices of the LGBTQ icons and activists who were involved in the music video in the first place — but despite the dismissiveness of stan twitter, YNTCD was a success in what it campaigned for: thousands of signatures for the Equality Act in the US. Actual tangible results thanks to a powerful message from one of the most globally renowned pop stars. When Taylor broke her political silence, it wasn’t all just lip service.

I actually really bop to this song because it’s sounds fun but the lyrics such a slap against homophobes and sexists! However, I do hate its placement in the album. It just makes no sense after False God and Soon You’ll Get Better, and needs to be somewhere next to Paper Rings.

Best Lines:

And we see you over there on the internet
Comparing all the girls who are killing it
But we figured you out
We all know now, we all got crowns
You need to calm down

Sing during: a protest for LGBTQ and womens rights!

Afterglow

I’ll be real with y’all, Afterglow sort of feels like an afterthought in Lover. With any other musician this would be released as their single, but in a Taylor album of truly brilliant songs this one feels a bit lacking. Perhaps it’s the production, because the lyrics are quite interesting (Taylor singing for forgiveness ala Back to December).

I’m indifferent about this song now but knowing me I’ll probably be obsessed with Afterglow a few weeks later. Lol.

Best Lines:

Fighting with a true love is boxing with no gloves
Chemistry ’til it blows up, ’til there’s no us
Why’d I have to break what I love so much?

Listen while: having a drink. A lot of my recommendations involve listening to Lover with alcohol. This is all the drunk references of Lover affecting me.

ME! (feat. Brendon Urie)

Sigh. When I heard this song for the first time, my heart dropped. There are no words to express how much I hate this song. How could two extremely talented artists whom I love most in this world produce…this? Anyways, it’s a Swiftie tradition for me to strongly dislike the first singles of each album (We Are Never, Ever, Getting Back Together and Shake it Off…just, why?)

I’m happy that Taylor is so happy and jubilant nowadays and wanted to express it in song… but this aint it for me. The only blight in the Lover album in my perspective. I respect anybody who finds joy and solace in this song, though.

Best Lines:

’Cause one of these things is not like the others
Livin’ in winter, I am your summer
Baby doll, when it comes to a lover
I promise that you’ll never find another like me

Listen only: when you have to increase Lover’s streams

It’s Nice To Have a Friend

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WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN??? WHY IS IT NICE TO HAVE A FRIEND??????

The queer energy is strong in this masterful, unique, shocking track. Shocking in the sense that it’s not what you normally expect from a Taylor album — it sounds like a companion piece for The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine and Sgt. Pepper and the Lonely Hearts Club Band, with its whimsical yet sinister production and its simple, yet intriguing storytelling. It kind of gave me the creeps in a good way. A journalist from Vulture asserts that the lyrics were practically the plot of the lesbian film Carol. Make of that what you will. :)

This is the most mysterious song in Lover that makes me so curious. I really hope that she shows us some behind the scenes on how this was crafted.

Best Lines:

Light pink sky up on the roof
Sun sinks down, no curfew
Twenty questions, we tell the truth
You’ve been stressed out lately? Yeah, me too
Something gave you the nerve
To touch my hand

It’s nice to have a friend

Listen while: obsessively trying to decode and debate the hidden message in this song. Seriously, it’s so disquieting for a Taylor track. WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?!

Daylight

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Photo Credit: Music video by Taylor Swift performing Lover. © 2019 Taylor Swift

Taylor leaves the masterpiece for last.

This song slowly grows on you as you listen — something that gently moves you, as you open the windows to greet a muted sun rising for the morning. Daylight sounds like that moment of anticipation between darkness and the dawn. This song made me the most emotional, because you could hear the wistfulness and hope in the breathy way Taylor sings, and how the song production swells until the climax, and the lines spoken with conviction at the end. The bridge is so breathtaking; Taylor references the youthful passion of her old songs (“I used to think love was burning red”), then sings that change is possible; that after all the pain there could be happiness and an imperfect, but nurturing and lasting love(“but it’s golden”).

Daylight is the perfect closing to Lover. It’s not the last page, but indicates a new chapter in Taylor’s life, one that leaves us fulfilled and excited for more to come.

Best Lines:

And I can still see it all (in my mind)
All of you, all of me (intertwined)
I once believed love would be (black and white)
But it’s golden
And I can still see it all (in my head)
Back and forth from New York (sneaking in your bed)
I once believed love would be (burning red)
But it’s golden
Like daylight

Listen: leave your house, put on some headphones, and take an early morning sunrise walk by the beach, lake, park, or any nature trail.

Szusza aka Surrealist Sushi is a genre-agnostic music Lover. You can email the author at surrealistsushi@gmail.com or follow her on twitter (surrealistsushi).

Surrealist Sushi has an MA in International Studies and a BA in Art, with interests in pop culture, history, and film.

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