A few weeks ago I posted reviews of 1989 and reputation, Taylor Swift’s last two albums, in an attempt to get pumped for the release of Lover, her newest project, which I was apprehensive about. Revisiting those albums, and let’s be honest, the earlier ones as well, did the job. On release day I went early to Target and bought the album. Several copies of it in fact as I got swept up in all the excitement of the two other ladies there for the same reason, and the Target employees setting up the displays. It reminded me of how I felt with Taylor Swift’s other releases. Anticipating new music should be fun, and there’s nothing quite like listening to a new album all the way through for the first time. Some songs will catch you right away, others need a few plays to get into. So, I gave into that feeling, and now that I’ve had some time to digest the album, let’s get into my thoughts on Lover.
“I Forgot That You Existed”
I’ve said it before, Taylor Swift knows how to pick an album opener. This is a laid back brush off to what is presumably a former boyfriend, though it could apply to any of her “haters.” It feels effortlessly nonchalant despite the fact that the point of the song, that she’s forgotten someone existed, is impossible to do while singing about how much she doesn’t think about them any more. It’s a light track that allows the listener to easily slip into what is to come over the next seventeen tracks.
A solid follow up to the previous song that keeps the low-key vibe going. With eighteen tracks, a majority of which are under the three and a half minute mark, it feels like there should be a sense of urgency in the first few, that they would have fast tempos and insistent lyrics. That’s not the case, and I like that Swift doesn’t seem to be in a rush at the start of the album. She seems to be floating around this cool, carefree state of mind, and it works really well. It’s as though she’s saying, don’t worry, just let the music wash over you, and I think the best reaction is to do just that.
I was not a fan of this when it was first released as a single, and it was one of the reasons I was apprehensive about the album. However, it has since grown on me. I think it is a charming song celebrating a well-established relationship. Swift has so many songs about the new feelings rush of a budding romance, and the inevitable crash and burn of failed ones that it’s nice to see something celebrating the consistent glow of a successful one. It’s also the most country sounding song on the album, which appeals to me.
This is the first song to feel off for me on the album. Here is my issue: Taylor Swift has been a successful singer, songwriter, and businesswoman for the last fifteen years. She hasn’t yet hit 30 and she’s a multi-millionaire and has won dozens of awards. So some of the lyrics snag a bit as inauthentic/whiny. Yes, she has to deal with things a normal person would never dream of. I can’t imagine what it is like to have every aspect of your life scrutinized by the public. On the other hand, she literally marketed this album with versions that include pages from her diaries (I know because I purchased some). She is inviting the public into some very private moments, and when you do that, people don’t always react the way you want them to. Though I think she often invites the media beast in as much as she complains about it, the song is catchy.
Another one of the first round of singles that I wasn’t enthusiastic about. The lyrics are fine enough, though I don’t think they are quite as brilliant as some critics have been saying. The music leaves something to be desired, and as a result the song feels bland. It falls especially flat when considering that its place on the album (track five), and its melancholic feel puts it in direct comparison to “All Too Well” from her album Red, which is by far the superior song.
“I Think He Knows”
After a couple of lackluster songs, Swift swings back into the cool groove she set up early on with this upbeat track about that rush that comes with the start of a new relationship. It’s light and airy without being trite. This also sets the trend for the rest of the album, there are some fun, energized tracks followed by a few less enthusiastic ones and so on.
“Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince”
Supposedly this is Swift’s protest anthem, and I can see where people are drawing that conclusion from the lyrics. What I can appreciate about the song is that whatever that message is, it is subtle enough to pass by on the first couple of listens. This means that even those who oppose her can listen without feeling excluded. Plus, it won’t feel dated in a few years. All that said, the song is a little dystopian sounding but with a pretty catchy chorus.
Now we get to my favorite song on the album. This is Lover’s “Stay Stay Stay” but with a pop rock twist. It sounds as though it could fit right in on the Josie and the Pussycats soundtrack. It has a very early 2000s girl pop power rock vibe, and the entire thing has a frantic energy that practically screams for you to immediately jump up and dance along. To quote Swift (at the end of “Stay Stay Stay”), “It’ so fun!”
Despite this being a ballad, I actually really like it. It’s a soft, vulnerable confession of insecurity and fear where Swift tells her “lover” just how badly she would be hurt if they ever broke up. She knows she would be so devastated that she wouldn’t be able to go back to the places they’ve been together. It is both that beautifully unguarded admission, and a wonderfully sweet tribute to the relationship that she admits this place is so meaningful to her.
“Death by a Thousand Cuts”
After a string of pretty solid tunes, we hit another snag. Again, the song isn’t terrible, it’s just a bit blah in comparison to the others. The lyrics are actually quite good, and poetic. It’s the music that lacks anything interesting to contribute, and since this is a musical album, and not a poetry book, the song falls flat. With an album this stuffed, there were bound to be some duds.
This track has the opposite problem of the previous one. The lyrics aren’t really clever but the music is fun, and it has a singsong feel that works well. It could easily cross over into the annoying side of things but it hasn’t yet been around enough for that to happen so it ends up being cute rather than cloying.
“Soon You’ll Get Better”
Right when Swift gets you thinking she’s just making a light-hearted album of love songs, she gut-punches you with this track about her mother’s struggle with breast cancer. She collaborates with the Dixie Chicks to deliver a powerful, emotionally fueled song that anyone who has dealt with the severe sickness of a loved one can relate to immediately.
This is the first forgettable song of the album. The other mediocre tracks have had at least one thing going for them, whether it was a particular line, or that the music was snappy. This track stays at the same monotone the entire time and doesn’t have anything interesting in terms of lyrics or music to offer up in exchange.
“You Need to Calm Down”
I do not like this song. I didn’t like it when it was first released as a single, and then the video was released and I liked it even less. As part of the album, I appreciate that it has a purpose in communicating Swift’s message but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to be skipping it on every replay. I have thoughts on the song but too many to hash out in a format like this. I’ll just say that I think it’s hypocritical and condescending without at least being catchy. I’m also not sure I could phrase it better than Emily Jashinsky over at The Federalist. If you’re interested in a more thorough analysis of the song and video, you should check out that article.
I think I like the chorus of this song, I just can’t quite tell because I don’t find any of the other verses interesting or memorable. I like the idea behind the song, that Swift is admitting to overreacting to something that happened in a relationship, and is owning up to it. Perhaps on further listens this will grow on me but for the time being it falls into the middling pile.
Nope, even in the context of the overall album, I still hate this song. Though it is nice that they removed the “Spelling is fun” line from the final album version. It was just so disappointing to hear this song after anticipating the first single off her new album, and knowing that Brendon Urie was on the track (I’m a huge Panic! at the Disco fan). I don’t think it’s original, catchy, or insightful in anyway, meaning it doesn’t make it fun to listen to, which is what I think she was going for.
“It’s Nice to Have a Friend”
This may be the weirdest song from a Taylor Swift album, and I really like it. There’s something intriguing about the plucking effect of the music going along with Swift’s straight delivery of the lyrics. She also does this thing where she almost whispers the word “Friend” at the end of that line, as though she’s sharing a secret with the listener. It all adds up to a strangely creepy-yet-sweet vibe that oddly works.
I feel like this is meant to leave more of an impact than it does. Then again, maybe it is supposed to be the fade away of the album. Swift has set up the rest of the album to feel less momentous and more laid back. This song kind of does that. She even says in it that she once thought love was “burnin’ red” but realizes now it is “golden.” Gold is a much milder color compared to red and would be more likely to be associated with good feelings and easy vibes. It isn’t bad but it also isn’t memorable and as a bookend to album, it leaves things wanting.
Lover as a whole is something of a mixed bag. It has some really strong tracks, and the theme is solidly reinforced throughout. It also has some of the worst Taylor Swift music of her seven albums, and over-a-decade long career. The second half isn’t nearly as strong as the first but it does have some creative twists that hit the mark. Overall, I like the album, and I would probably place it just above reputation, and 1989. It works as a pop album but it doesn’t quite reach the insights or emotional resonance of Red or Speak Now.