Music Reviews

Taylor Swift Lover

(Republic Records) Rating - 7/10

In 2017, Taylor Swift tried something new. With the announcement of her new album Reputation, she made a pivot towards playing the villain, playing into the cattiness that’s always been a part of her public image. Pop culture villainized her until she felt like she had to take up the mantle, but it didn’t really work. The response to her sixth album was polarizing, even though the record itself was great. Earlier this year, we got a new single titled Me!, and with it, Taylor shed that darker image and jumped straight back into Pop music with a capital P. The new record, entitled Lover, is one of her most straightforward records yet. The annoyance of the singles notwithstanding, the record is a return to form for Taylor, even if her pivot away wasn’t bad.

This record is surprising in its joyous simplicity, as most songs are just remarkable pop tunes. At the same time, for every simple and lovely pop song, there’s another insightful and meaningful one that packs an emotional wallop. Taylor is confident in her ability to load this record with catchy songs, often co-written by pop architects like Jack Antonoff or Joel Little, but she’s not afraid to go for tears on the country-tinged Some You’ll Get Better or the synthpop bolstered The Archer. You’re most likely to hear a hint of each Swift record so far, from the Reputation leftover You Need to Calm Down to the title track, that could be mistaken for a Fearless-era ballad.

What’s so fun about Lover is how sprawling it is, leaving space for collaborators, different styles, and ideas all over. Take the dreamy chorus of Cruel Summer, a track which ideally combines the talents of collaborators Antonoff and St. Vincent. With a synth-bass reminiscent of St. Vincent’s Los Ageless and a wash of synths reminiscent of Jack Antonoff’s latest EP with Red Hearse, Swift picked the best of the best to work on Lover. The common duo of Swift and Antonoff hits a new high with the track The Archer, where for the first time in ages, the facade of Taylor seemed to fall away. With a backdrop of lush keys and delicate harmonies, the fragmented nature of the lyrics hint at a self-awareness Swift usually lacks. The ending keeps building to a climax that never comes, with the thumping kick drum and swarm of synths, beautifully catching an emotional moment in midair with no catharsis.

The flipside to Lover is that it is so dense that it leaves space for a few moments that aren’t very good, particularly the first two singles. It’s understandable if one was hesitant based on the quality of Me! or You Need to Calm Down, with the former’s smug Brendon Urie feature or the later’s faux-inclusive mess of a second verse. But for every track that doesn’t achieve liftoff, there’s five or so perfect pop songs. From the sax-backed False God to the huge slow burn of Afterglow, each track on here has something beautiful to share. Lover is a plethora of things: a Taylor Swift genre sampler, an argument that Jack Antonoff is her best collaborator, a continuation of her problem with lead singles, and a collection of great synthpop songs, but the best part of it is that Taylor seems like she’s never been better. She’s unburdened by love, and that explosive happiness makes itself present across this record.