Taylor leaves behind stories of her reputation, for fresh tales of limerence and gratitude.
Taylor leaves behind stories of her reputation, for fresh tales of limerence and gratitude.
Text: Alex Kazemi
Two years ago, Taylor Swift released reputation, a controlled response to the chaotic events in her life at the time. It was an existential album for the social media age that challenged the notions of public image and identity urging listeners to think philosophically, not just about themselves, but about her multiple selves: the artist, the celebrity, and the person.
The hardcore shadow-pop of reputation was an important moment for our culture in the late 2010s, in the past few years where it felt like every other song on the radio was about hedonism or narcissism—there was something emo and comforting about hearing the self-loathing lyric “My reputation’s never been worse” in every restaurant and store you walked into.
reputation brought Taylor Swift to the villainous anti-pop star status of her American nightmares, and thank God for that, because out of that chaotic cocoon came the beautiful butterfly that is her 2019 follow-up, Lover, perhaps her most intimate album yet. Here, we bear witness to what it means for her to go full Taylor Swift, embracing her true self after the pop-exhaustion of recording an album of multiple Taylor Swifts as a means of self-preservation and self-protection. On this album, she’s reclaiming her narrative.
This album is full of the classic TS epigrams and writing chops she impressed the world with when she released her first record in 2006. The consistency and cohesion in this record of contemporary 2019 pop could be a nod to the stability, security, and confidence she feels about her current life. Lover has the jams to skip around your house to as well as the songs for you to cry alone in your bedroom to, and, if you're lucky enough, to enjoy with your lover. But, these songs have a larger goal in mind. They are the stories of mega-superstar Taylor Swift, a human being in love, experiencing all the beautiful complexities, unwrapped feelings, and trials of that process in the form of love letters masquerading as songs to a confidant. Like a true poet, the person she trusts the most with her feelings is the whole wide world.
As much as some people get off on the idea of Taylor Swift being cold-blooded and reptilian, her microscope on herself and the world around her, and deep empathy with warm blood are the most beautiful gifts she’s been offered. Lover is her publicly returning those gifts to herself after the world tried to take them away.
Lover is Taylor leaving behind the world the public built for her and returning to her world, and letting us back in, totally fearless. These songs are ripped from Taylor’s diaries, a new beginning of innocence. It’s not how we think things are happening, it’s her saying, “Look, this is the truth. Take it or leave it, but I need to be honest.” The truth is, right now, Taylor Swift is happy and in love, and, oh God, what she can do with these emotions.
I Forgot That You Existed
“I Forgot That You Existed” opens the record as a beautiful summer day, a purification ritual; burning sage to dispel the darkness of the last few years while sharing her new nuanced way of responding to drama. “It isn’t love, it isn’t hate. It’s just indifference…” She gets in a few laughs about how fun it is to move on from toxicity. “I thought that it would kill me, but it didn’t.”
On “Cruel Summer,” Swift gets right to the California highs. She confesses the speed she is willing to proceed with in a relationship, all summer long. You almost want to dive right in with her. The screams in the song feel like an ode to her new feeling of not caring anymore. “I don’t wanna keep secrets, just to keep you/ I snuck in through the garden gate every night that summer just to seal my fate.” Love is an altered state of consciousness and she’s ready to trip out.
“Lover” is the shoegaze serenade to secure attachment it seems she’s been waiting her whole life to write. The chorus is so classic Taylor Swift you may just get transported back to the goosebumps you felt when you first discovered her music, whether it was downloading a MySpace rip of “I’d Lie” or hearing “Our Song” on the radio. “I’ve loved you three summers now, honey — I want 'em all.”
The gorgeous dream sequence and poetic feeling of holding on for dear life in her voice as she slips into fantasies are what make “Lover” shine so bright. This is like listening to someone rediscovering their innate nature of believing in true love and soulmates after the world has attempted to destroy those ideals. “With every guitar string scar on my hand, I take this magnetic force of a man… to be my Lover!”
“The Man” is where Taylor goes full-on Hanes white tank top and spits her rage at the patriarchy with Alpha-coolness. “The Man” makes you wonder what it would be like if Taylor was viewed in the public’s eyes as a savage, not a snake. “Wondering if I’d get there quicker if I was a man.” What if all the famous drama and chaos surrounding her life has more to do with her gender rather than her strength of character and complex identity? As much as the media has tried to paint Taylor as a soft ingenue, she’s always been full of divine masculine energy, and she owns the sad truth that people might see that if she wasn’t a woman. “Could all be separated from my good ideas and power moves?” The song could be misunderstood as self-indulgent but it brings a real feminist voice to the collective pain and struggles of every woman. “When everyone believes you, what’s that like?”
The gruesome goth cut “The Archer” haunts the record like a poltergeist. This is Lover’s moment of sleep-paralysis, exploring Taylor’s mutable-fire fears and Sagittarius indecisiveness. “Who could ever leave me, darling, but who could stay?” Anyone with an Instagram account has dealt to some degree with the trials of celebrity, so Taylor may think she’s alone singing “I see right through me, they see right through me…” but she isn’t. Who in 2019 hasn’t ever scrolled through their Instagram in a self-hate spiral, looking down at the highlight reel of their calculated grids saying, “Damn. Wait. Am I fake as fuck? This is only one side of me, they don’t know the dark.” Taylor knows this feeling on a mega-scale but humanizes it. It’s not exclusive to her. She realizes anyone can feel stressed out by the complexities of being a person.
I Think He Knows
Swift is full of heart eyes on “I Think He Knows,” taking us through the stages of sexual awakening during an all-consuming crush. “It’s like I’m seventeen, no one understands…” She’s so full of desire, she fears sharing it. “Want to see what’s underneath that attitude..” Um, naughty…
Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince
“Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince” seems like a visit to Taylor’s younger, bright-eyed idealistic self. Taylor today might find her adolescent past disturbing, remembering her approach to love with such helpless blind optimism, attracting dark characters on her journey. Are there consequences to our daydreams of romance? “American glory faded before me, now I’m feeling hopeless/ripped up my prom dress…” The chorus is even confusing, “It’s you and me, that’s my whole wide world. They whisper in the hallway, she’s a bad bad girl.” Is this a grown-up, 10-year-reunion look back at who she truly was as a teenager, or is high school a metaphor for the insulated industries of Hollywood and celebrity, and the image she held as an All American prom-queen archetype, that was infamously tarnished overnight?
The overexcited bubblegum banter of “Paper Rings” captures the sweetness of endless possibilities of meeting someone dope and wanting to be around them all the time. The image of “paper rings” may be the childlike feeling of dress-up, the rehearsal of getting ready for something real, and the song shivers with innocence. “I want to drive away with you, I want your complications too. I want your dreary Mondays!” Limerence is a word Swift must think about a lot.
Everyone has that one place in their city that reminds them of someone, whether it is a lover or a friend. “Cornelia Street” takes us into the first five minutes of falling for someone new, the stars aligning, the past lives reconciliation, the “there must be something in our astrological charts to blame for this” moment. It goes hard for the innocence of allowing ourselves to be vulnerable enough to fall for someone. It’s not always easy to be blinded by starlight, because the truth is when we do meet someone like that, all we can think about is, “What if I lose this?” Taylor is sharing those fears while also being in one of the world’s most-watched, high-profile relationships. She knows the conversations whispered about her on the street better than anyone. She’s open about the uncertainty of love. “I’m so terrified of if you ever walk away, I’d never walk Cornelia Street again. That’s the kind of heartbreak time could never mend…”
Death By A Thousand Cuts
“Death By A Thousand Cuts” shows Swift reliving the pain of accepting that a relationship that she’d idealized and wanted to work out didn’t, and there was no way it could have ever been how she thought it’d be. Listening to this, we remember that losing a person, when they are still alive and on this planet at the same time as us, is excruciating because their details don’t ever go away. “What once was ours is no one’s now…”
Instead of sharing candid snapshots on Instagram of her relationship, Taylor takes us through a voyeuristic film roll of her London days with her boyfriend on “London Boy,” where she is feeling those exciting clips of exploring your lover’s culture and the world with them for the first time. “You can find me in the pub, we are watching rugby with his school friends…” A song can tell a story better than an Instagram filter, ain’t that true, mate?
Soon You'll Get Better (feat. Dixie Chicks)
The Dixie Chicks-assisted “Soon You’ll Get Better” is a painful look at the reality of Swift struggling with her mom’s on-going battle with cancer, all the fears she feels of what life would be like without her, and the desperation of returning to a relationship with a higher power. “I just pretend it isn’t real…” It’s heartbreaking and comes from the deepest, most private waters of her heart. That she even decided to share this experience is a testament to her authenticity as a writer.
“False God” takes us through the trials of dealing with a counterfeit lover and how blind faith in a relationship can sometimes become delusional. Is it push-pull? “Daring you to leave me, just so I can scare you.”
You Need To Calm Down
The power of “You Need To Calm Down” isn’t just in its shock-value bizarro pop and political activism, it’s in its calling out of the problem of the misogynistic stan culture that poisons the internet, in which women in pop are viewed as blow-up dolls to pit against each other. “Comparing all the girls who are killing it, well we’ve figured you out/We all got crowns, you need to calm down.” Expose it to sunlight, Taylor!
“Afterglow” shows Taylor being honest and responsible about the painful anxieties she gets plagued by during a relationship, in which, sometimes, feelings are not facts. “I blew things out of proportion, put you in jail for something you didn’t do/Thought I had reason to attack but no…” Most people with relationship trauma have a fear of abandonment and every little thing that can remotely remind them of a toxic-ex can create a feeling of “trust issues” and it can be hard to sort through the perceived feelings versus the real feelings. Taylor knows love is not all some fever dream and takes accountability for her fears. “Sorry, that I hurt you/It’s on me…” There is something sad about listening to someone as powerful as Taylor in this state, when she’s alone, when there is no glamour, no makeup, no business strategizing, no award show after-parties, just a human being burdened by the fear of sabotaging the mysterious force that she has no control over: Love.
“ME!,” a tribute to self-love, also comes from a place of surrender—coming to terms with a brutal part of growing up is we can’t manage everyone’s perceptions of us, and sometimes there may just be something to being called “dramatic” multiple times by people in our lives. TS is finally ok with this. “I know that I'm a handful/ I know that I went psycho on the phone…” It’s not satire anymore, or self-preservation, it’s pure truth coming directly from her and finding self-love in the complexities of being a human being. “I promise that you’ll never find another like me.” It’s simple but powerful.
It's Nice To Have A Friend
“It’s Nice To Have A Friend” is a creepy suburban lullaby that keeps you on edge. You have no idea where it’s going. “Something gave you the nerve to touch my hand, it’s nice to have a friend…” As you go deeper, you learn the song is about the other side of love—having a friendship with your romantic partner.
“Daylight,” the finale of Lover closes with a hard ending of self-forgiveness that created a discovery of self-reliance. “There are so many lines that I’ve crossed unforgiven…/I wounded the good, and I trusted the wicked…” There is liberation in accountability, and self-empowerment in giving up the cycles that cause you to surround yourself with toxic people. Stepping out of darkness, she learns that cleanliness is next to Godliness. This is how she knows there is hope for the future and the next decade of her life. “I’ve been sleeping so long in a 20-year dark night, and now I see daylight…”
For Taylor, it’s not about the drama anymore or reacting to what you can’t control. Lover is about enjoying the world and focusing on what you can control, and remembering what you truly love in the process. Lover isn’t being birthed out of anywhere, it’s the light that comes after chaos—blind optimism doesn’t always need to get you in trouble, sometimes it can turn us into butterflies. Lover is about understanding that the concept of love isn’t restricted to romance, it’s about gratitude for the details, the highs, the lows, your relationship with yourself and those around you, and everything in between. If you will choose, this life, not a person, can become your lover.
If reputation was Taylor’s life in black and white, Lover is Swift’s life returning to color, and, God, what a relief, because we all know Taylor Swift loves a full palette to paint with.