Arts and Entertainment

Taylor Swift’s New “Lover”: Herself

Taylor Swift's newest album “Lover” reveals the side of the artist that loves, not hates.

Reading Time: 6 minutes

“Fighting with true love is like boxing with no gloves.”

These are lyrics from one of Taylor Swift’s newly released songs, “Afterglow.” Yes, Taylor Swift is back and better than ever.

The American singer-songwriter and record producer has certainly come a long way from

her country roots of “Tim McGraw” (2006) to settling, albeit rather jaggedly, into the pop world with "Blank Space" (2014) and "Look What You Made Me Do" (2017). She's broken countless sales and music chart records, selling more than a million copies of four consecutive albums [“Speak Now” (2010), “Red” (2012), “1989” (2014), “reputation” (2017)] in their respective debut week. Swift has achieved immense acclaim and a towering number of awards from MTV, the AMAs, Billboard, and Grammys. And after almost two years since her last album “reputation,” this renowned artist dropped her latest masterpiece and seventh studio album “Lover” on Friday, August 23.

The album drop did not come as much of a surprise to many loyal fans. Swift is known for sprinkling hidden clues in her music videos months before album releases. Posted in late April this year, “ME!”, one of the lead singles of her album and a collaboration with Brendon Urie of Panic! at the Disco, was not only a tone-setter, but also a music video full of Easter eggs. The self-empowerment song featured an opening scene with a snake slithering across a colorful, chalk-covered sidewalk and vanishing into a swarm of butterflies, and the title of her album and next single “Lover” on a neon pink sign with a heart in place of an “o.” One of Urie’s lines in the opening scene between him and Swift is “You need to calm down,” which turned out to be the title of another one of Swift’s singles, dropped later in the year in June.

And with such soaring expectations and long months of buildup, Swift's “Lover”

indisputably rose to the occasion. The 61-minute-and-48-second album spans 18 tracks, the highest number of songs bundled into a Swift package since “reputation.” Already 450,000 units have been sold and 14 tunes have taken Spotify's U.S. Top 15 on the first day. But its success is due less to how mainstream and chart-topping her music-video singles are (like “1989”), and more to how it stands alongside her past albums, her journey as a female solo artist in the cutthroat music industry, and herself. Each of the 18 songs in “Lover” covers a diverse range of styles and subject matters.

If “reputation” was a masterful showcase of female badass-ery, “Lover” is a

stellar rendition of Taylor Swift as Taylor Swift. Think pastel hues and cotton candy clouds. It's warm and inviting, a resurrection of the artist “reputation” marked the death of. It's not a mix-and-match of genres like “Red” or the confident declaration to switch to pop in “1989,” but a disparate collection of poetic verses, styles, and ideas. Swift bundles up all the drama, heartache, and "edge" into a peculiar, but pleasant, parcel of beauty.

It's not a Taylor Swift album without some romance, heartbreak, references, and shade,

and “Lover” is no exception. "In my feelings more than Drake," she belts in her first track, "I Forgot That You Existed," an upbeat and light melody accompanied by soft piano and fading background vocals. It's a fitting first track, a clever transition from her previous darker album, with the singer musing how her past controversial vendettas and bad blood should stay in the past. "Cornelia Street" tells of an early relationship Swift had while living in her New York City apartment in Tribeca. "Death By a Thousand Cuts," which the artist says is an inspiration from the Netflix film “Someone Great” (2019), speaks of gut-wrenching heartache and references "The Story of Us" (2010) in, "If the story's over, why am I still writing pages?"

A majority of these tunes are likely about Swift's current boyfriend Joe Alwyn, an

English actor. From the body-swaying title track "Lover" with its slight winter holiday vibes, to the quirky "fancy you"s of "London Boy," and to the religiously seductive "False God," “Lover” progressively appears to be less about shading her rivals and more about her current happiness. “I Think He Knows” is a finger-snapping, uptempo number also about Swift gushing about her boyfriend, with lyrics such as “Lyrical smile, indigo eyes, hands on my thigh / We could follow the sparks, I’ll drive.”

Furthermore, a couple of these numbers present some of Swift’s political and social commentary. "You Need to Calm Down" is the epitome of a sassy Swift, biting back on online haters with sharp words of "snakes and stones never broke my bones." While showcasing Cher’s quote, “Mom, I am a rich man,” a nod to another track “The Man,” the music video is a proud proclamation of her support for pride and LGBTQ+ rights. "The Man" stands out as a subtle, not-so-subtle callout to the rampant sexism women face, especially in the music industry. Here, Swift connects to her fans: she isn't above them. She goes through the same thing. She summarizes the complex, sometimes misunderstood issue in such a brilliant yet simple way, with a catchy chorus of "I'm so sick of running / As fast as I can / Wondering if I'd get there quicker / If I was a man […] If I was a man / Then I'd be the man."

The more sentimental songs are undoubtedly "The Archer" and "Soon You'll Get Better."

The former discusses the infamous dramas Swift was associated with, including "playing the victim" and "snake" with Kanye West and Katy Perry, with lyrics such as "all of my enemies started out friends" and "Who could ever leave me, darling / But who could stay?" But perhaps more emotional is the latter track, featuring Dixie Chicks, a poignant tune dedicated to Swift's mother, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2015 and re-diagnosed earlier this year. Dixie Chicks, a country musical group of three, is her mother's favorite band. "What am I supposed to do / If there's no you?" is heart-rending by itself.

Another standout is "Cruel Summer," agreed upon by many to objectively be the best one

in the pack for its head-bopping beat and breathtaking vocals. And it's no coincidence that the song bears the same name as West's 2012 album. Summer of 2016 was Swift's lowest point when she faced off in a feud with West and Kim Kardashian. Nevertheless, the song narrates the fragility and uncertainty of love and is definitely a summer bop.

A looming dark cloud in this cotton candy production, some may point out, is that at age 29, Swift's lyrics still reminisce of high school sweetheart, most evidently in "Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince." At first listen, it may seem so. The old Taylor came to the phone, but some preferred the new Taylor—the one who took artistic risks and didn't play it safe. With lyrics like "Waving homecoming queens / Marching band playing," it's evocative of her "You Belong With Me" (2008). But it’s equally as important to realize that teenage romance is Swift’s specialty. “It’s Nice To Have a Friend,” for instance, mentions school bells and sidewalk chalk, but lyrics such as “Church bells ring, carry me home / Rice on the ground looks like snow” depicts how her concept of love has evolved.

But perhaps what’s most striking is the album cover, which bears an interesting,

easy-to-miss detail. Throughout the album, Swift frequently mentions blue feelings, indigo eyes, and pink skies, but the final track "Daylight" introduces a new hue: gold. She sings, "I once believed love would be black and white / But it's golden […] I once believed love would be burnin’ red / But it's golden." Black and white is a reference to the color scheme of “reputation” and burning red “Red.” If one were to gaze at the plethora of colors in the backdrop of the album cover from left to right, it's wispy clouds of pink fade into blue, into indigo, and finally, into golden, as if the album both visually and musically ends the whole experience glittering not in the spotlight, but in love.

And so, she concludes her album with these spoken words, “I want to be defined by

things I love, not the things I hate, not the things I'm afraid of […] You are what you love." Lyrics such as these are the driving force of “Lover.” Swift is vulnerable and unafraid to be so. It's an unlikely fusion of a dreamy love story sprinkled with feminism, LGBTQ+ representation, and most importantly, self-love. She exudes confidence in her vulnerability. And that imperfection is what makes “Lover” raw, emotional, and her.