Taylor Swift will be the first to tell you that she doesn’t have the best reputation—maybe even a bad reputation—and as she made clear with 2017’s reputation, she kind of does give a damn about it, because she kind of has to. This is a woman who built a career on being the girl next door, then America’s sweetheart… resident victim to some, and even a snake to a particularly angry faction of the internet.
But when it all boils down, Taylor Swift is a songwriter, one of the best of her generation. It’s easy for this to get lost behind the labels a woman as successful as Swift is forced to carry. It’s why her name is so easily and frequently left out of discussions of great lyricists, often swapped for male counterparts who get the luxury of separating their public image from their art.
With Lover, she reminds us of this in more ways than one. In some instances, like “The Man,” it’s in your face. “I’m so sick of running as fast as I can,” she sings. “Wondering if I’d get there quicker if I was a man.” It’s the age old putting oneself in another’s shoes scenario, a daydream of what a life that’s so seemingly perfect would look like gender-swapped.
On others, it’s hidden in the lyrics. “Death By A Thousand Cuts” is particularly clever, a breakup song inspired by the film “Someone Great” that boasts more than a handful of genius lines. The best, however, comes at the close of the bridge as she assures, “I’ll be alright, it’s just a thousand cuts.” It’s Taylor Swift at her finest, heartbreak tied up in a melodramatic bow.
She dips her toe into Carly Rae Jepsen waters on “I Think He Knows.” It’s one of many in the more recent trend of risqué Taylor songs that at first shock you, then quickly remind you that she is entirely a 29-year-old woman and no longer the girl in the bleachers. “It’s Nice to Have a Friend,” however, takes the title as the most Taylor-trying-something-different song, and boasts what I’m viewing as a nod to the “Big Little Lies” theme song.
While the chart-topping influences of Max Martin and Shellback are noticeably absent from Lover, Swift and frequent collaborator Jack Antonoff (of Bleachers fame) more than make up for the loss. The synth-heavy, spiritual sister to fan-favorite “Getaway Car,” “Cruel Summer” is a clear standout that easily should have been the album’s lead single. Any artist getting their hands on a vocoder machine is a method for a masterpiece, but when Swift does it, it’s nirvana.
Unlike 1989 and reputation, which for the most part stayed in one lane, Lover changes directions at a near constant pace. The Halsey-esque “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince” (a masterclass in Swift-ian storytelling that places her in a high school drama-setting with… Hillary Clinton?) does a 360 into “Paper Rings,” an almost punk rock record all too reminiscent of the early 2000s. “Soon You’ll Get Better,” a heart-wrenching ballad with The Dixie Chicks, is succeeded by the mellow saxophones on “False God” that fully made me cry in my car because of how good they are.
This, of course, all falls in line with the love-central theme of Lover, a body of work which aims to capture love in all its ups and downs and different forms. As her catalog thus far has made obvious, Swift is full of love—whether it be for someone else (“Lover”) or herself (the still choicey “Me!”), and Lover only further emphasizes this.
On “Daylight,” the album’s closer, she pleads (in the form of a poetic voice memo) to be “defined by the things that [she] loves” because “you are what you love.” To some, it seems like a stark contrast to the Swift we’ve been presented the last few years, but to those who have had the pleasure of knowing her from the start, it’s a nod to Taylor, and her work, in the purest form.