Taylor Swift Is at the Top of Her Game With ‘Lover’

The anticipation for “Lover” began back in February, with cryptic teasers and clues posted on Taylor Swift’s social media accounts. In April, the album’s first single, “Me!” (featuring Brendon Urie of Panic! At The Disco) was released, with an accompanying music video. “Me!” broke records on Vevo by amassing over 65 million views on its first day. The second single, “You Need to Calm Down,” also had an accompanying video, which featured various LGBTQ+ icons and was released during pride month. In the same month, Swift gave a surprise performance at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. 

There’s also been a different type of hype surrounding Swift’s seventh studio album, as it’s her first set of owned recordings on a newly inked deal with Republic Records, unlike Swift’s previous six albums, which were recorded on the recently sold Big Machine Records label. Swift has voiced her discontent about the sell and not owning the rights to her masters. “Lover,” in this sense, is an opportunity to begin anew with a another label, newfound independence, and a fresh sound.

“Lover” is an album with a lot to offer fans. In some ways, it’s a retreading of previous material, but reinvented into something completely new. Certain songs call back to earlier sounds, but the record primarily channels Swift’s signature pop style in a newer, lighter direction than her previous album, “Reputation.” At times it feels like parts of “Lover” could be “1989” dressed for Easter. There’s a lot of sing-rapping, cheerleader backing vocals, but most of all it’s chock-full with lyrics that deal with romantic pining, and the various trials and tribulations that accompany relationships. Songs like the title track and “Soon You’ll Get Better” build on the acoustic guitar-driven sound of her earlier records, but most songs are straightforward, mid-tempo pop, composed of kick, snare, synth, and Swift’s vocals shining in the mix. “Lover” applies a lighter, more playful touch than “Reputation,” and in many ways stands as a saccharine antithesis to it.

The opener, “I Forgot That You Existed,” starts out slightly bubbly and reserved. In the Spotify story behind the song, Swift notes that, “this song closes the book on ‘Reputation’ by resolving that whole conflict with a shrug.” She’s, of course, presumably referring to a decade-long saga with Kanye West, a conflict that felt a bit too involved on her last record. “Cruel Summer,” by comparison, sets the tone as something completely different. It’s a track that builds from steady sub and kick, with backing robotized vocals that lead into a giant chorus. Annie Clark (a.k.a. St. Vincent) is credited as a writer, with production by Jack Antonoff. According to Swift, she “wanted this song to feel like a desperate summer love.”

The title track, “Lover,” composed solely by Swift, was produced to feel like “it could’ve been played on wedding reception stage in 1970.” It has a touch of Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumors,” but includes all the bubbly Swiftisms fans have come to expect with lyrics like, “Can I go where you go? / Can we always be this close forever and ever?” and, “My heart’s been borrowed and yours has been blue / All’s well that ends well to end up with you.”

On “The Man,” Swift reimagines what her career would look like if she were a man. It includes lines like, “every conquest that I made would make me more of a boss to you,” and, “I’m so sick of running as fast as I can / Wondering if I’d get there quicker if I were a man.” The album’s third single, “The Archer,” opens with an atmospheric ‘80s-inspired vibe. It has a Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” quality about it. Lyrically, it deals with imagery of an archer and prey as a metaphor for partners in a cat-and-mouse type of romantic relationship.

“I Think He Knows” features a lot of Taylor Swift’s quickly delivered, rap-adjacent verses, with some high falsetto about pursuing a romantic partner. It’s a good pop song, but the celebratory sonic explosion at the end feels like it should have been more evenly-dispersed throughout the rest of the track. Swift states that the Lana Del Rey-esque, “Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince” is about “disillusionment with our crazy world of politics and inequality, set in a metaphorical high school” and “finding one person who really sees you and cares about you through all the noise.” It ends up being a slightly thematically muddled pop song. 

There’s a bit more of a throwback sound on “Paper Rings,” with its attempt to not use “any sounds that were very modern.” Live guitar and drums are a pleasant reprieve, and various ad-libs and count-offs are tossed in to make it feel more live. There’s a nice little chorus that includes the lyrics, “I like shiny things / but I’d marry you with paper rings,” which is intended to describe a love that transcends materialism.

“Cornelia Street” is a late album ballad recounting the beginnings of love. It’s a song that’s fearful of heartbreak, and describes vivid memories associated with a certain time and place (namely when Swift rented an apartment between 2016 and 2017 on Cornelia Street while she was renovating an apartment in Tribeca). “Death By A Thousand Cuts,” a song that compares the loss of a great love to a form of torture in ancient China, makes the claim, “saying goodbye is death by a thousand cuts.” The song features an interesting, crystalline-sounding arpeggiated piano sample and a violin. “London Boy,” with a sample from Idris Elba, is a fun song for the record, flipping the classic Estelle track, “American Boy,” which features and was partially composed by Swift’s nemesis, Kanye West.

“Soon You’ll Get Better,” featuring the Dixie Chicks, is a more acoustic-tinged track reminiscent of the country stylings from a younger Taylor. A song about how “desperate people need faith,” it deals with health complications of a loved one and the denial that can tower over the acceptance of a terminal illness. Lyrics like, “who am I supposed to talk to? / What am I supposed to do if there’s no you?” add weight to the track. The Jazz and R&B-infused “False God,” sprinkled throughout with soft breaths of sax, sounds like it borrowed a page from Sade’s songbook, as it analogizes a romantic relationship with religious imagery. “I know heaven’s a thing / I go there when you touch me, honey / Hell is when I fight with you / But we can patch it up good… We still worship this love, even if it’s a false god.”

The single, “You Need to Calm Down” is a song about people who put negative energy into the world. Vocal layering certainly shines here. “Afterglow” is a bit of a reserved track that states, “fighting with a true love is boxing with no gloves.” The song “Me!” features Brendon Urie of Panic! At The Disco. It’s a fine pop song, but feels a little too juvenile and clean, like the song for a Disney Channel Original Movie that doesn’t quite exist. When you hear Brendon Urie shout, “And you can’t spell awesome without me,” during the break, you have to wonder what career moves got him here.

“It’s Nice to Have a Friend” is a quaint song that makes use of steel drums, and regales the story of two friends who met in high school before getting married. “Daylight” is a solid closer, about doubting the existence of love, before finding someone and seeing the “daylight.” Lines like, “My love was as cruel as the cities I lived in / Everyone looked worse in the light,” show Swift as a standout in pop songwriting.

Overall, it’s hard to not view this record as a complete redirection from “Reputation.” It draws on various sounds and moments from Swift’s ouvre, but ultimately reinvents everything into a sound all its own. Antonoff’s production work does a lot of heavy lifting, but only in the sense that it helps Swift’s vocals shine. It’s not an instrumentally-dense record. “Lover” uses a soft touch on basic synth and percussion textures, but sometimes cuts loose and plays at more instrumentally-informed songs. Lyrically, it deals with much of what you might expect from Swift. It’s made from the eternal recurrence that consists of heartbreak as it leads to the renewal of blossoming love. It gets a little too sweet in some spots, but, generally, the brighter approach works as a return to form for the massive pop songstress. And, if starting fresh after a heartbreak is Swift’s whole “thing,” it makes sense to follow “Reputation” with “Lover” — an album that shines through with brighter optimism and promises of new things that are just beginning.

Lover” is available Aug. 23 on Apple Music.