Taylor Swift’s ‘Lover’ balances evolution with musical freedom

Ryan Reichard, Columnist

Out of the darkness comes the light, or so the saying goes. Emerging from the shadows of the divisive “Reputation” era, Taylor Swift is ready to shed her midnight snake skin for the warm, inviting, pastel colors that adorn the butterfly wings featured in the videos for her latest release “Lover.” Swift’s seventh album contains moods as big as the hair in her dreamy ‘80s throwback album. 

Not more than halfway through one listen to Swift’s “Lover,” the singer has already ventured into a musical landscape that she has not dared to go before. For one, Swift’s albums are generally tighter and more compact in terms of the number of tracks, with 2012’s “Red” previously holding the record for most songs at 16 until “Lover,” which contains 18 songs. 

Despite the length, “Lover” is not about the number of tracks, but rather what each of them represents individually and for the album as a whole. 

One of the best examples of this is on the track “It’s Nice to Have a Friend,” where at first listen, it can appear to be childish; however, the song is not about the ages represented in the lyrics, “Lost my glove, you give me one / ‘Wanna hang out?’ Yes, sounds like fun,” it’s about simplicity and the beauty that exists there. 

Even the production celebrates simplicity. From the absence of typical Swift instruments such as banjo, heavy beats and electric guitars, the song instead relies on a minimalist production centered around horns, gentle coos and steel drums. 

Swift is one of the few singers who does not fear vulnerability — instead, she embraces her vulnerability and turning it into her most apparent strength. Swift’s vulnerability has opened the doors for several of today’s top artists to walk though, with the most prominent being Ariana Grande — Swift paved the way for her to openly talk about her past relationships with Big Sean, Mac Miller and Pete Davidson.

While that was Swift being revolutionary, “Lover” is not revolutionary. Instead, the album is a more evolutionary body of work that is just as free, liberated, unhurried, fun and ungoverned as Swift herself. 

“Lover” has one main collaborator across the entirety of the album: Bleacher’s front-man Jack Antonoff, with whom she has previously collaborated on her albums “1989” and “Reputation.” It is apparent Antonoff had a hand in “Lover” with the album retaining a polished, updated 80s pop-rock sound that Swift explored on “1989” and that Antonoff’s band Bleachers is known for. 

“Paper Rings” is an 80s-inspired pop-rock jam complete with a “1-2-3-4” and an inspired Eddie Money key change that elevates the song to new heights. The 80s references don’t stop there; however, as in “Cruel Summer,” which Swift penned with Antonoff and St. Vincent, the lyrics portray a “Say Anything” scenario paired with polished synth production, that is revamped during the song’s climax when Swift lets loose and screams over the production, shattering any sort of refinement the song was going for and allowing the burning swirl of emotion to shine through the cracks in her vocals. 

Swift proves that vulnerability is her best strength on many of “Lover’s” deep-cuts the most prominent being “The Archer” and “Cornelia Street.” 

“The Archer” is the perfect balance of the desperation of “Back to December,” with the self-awareness of “Style,” with all of the flare of the 80s-inspired synths, with Swift’s vocals echoing in the background serving as a haunting reminder of her past ghosts and flaws. Across the track she heartbreakingly sings of who can love her after the glitter and shine has worn off, singing, “Easy they come, easy they go / I jump from the train, I ride off alone / I never grew up, it’s getting so old / Help me hold on to you.”

On “Cornelia Street” Swift attempts to repaint a picture of autumn days and street lights that she painted in her best song “All Too Well” from “Red.” But this time, “Cornelia Street” can be considered the successor to “Delicate” from “Reputation,” with references to drinks in a bar and cracks in the floor. Not to mention that the production of the two songs sound familiar, with both relying on a synth beat that follows a similar rhythm. 

Swift adjusts her tone and lyrics across the lengthy album enough to avoid it from becoming monotonous. The album’s title track is a welcoming, waltz-inspired song that has an undeniable warmth and romance to it thanks to the smoky, intimate production consisting of drums and a heavy focus on guitars. 

“Miss America and the Heartbreak Prince” is a social commentary on politics with cheerleaders interjecting for the complete high school experience. It’s dark, and in the course of many Swift songs, the melodrama works against all odds to become a stand-out track. 

Swift takes on misogyny in “The Man,” where she depicts what life would be like if she was a man. And for the most part, her point lands, depicting scenarios where had she been a man, the public and critical scrutiny would have been praise or been considered a typical “male trait.” 

The Dixie Chicks assisted ballad “Soon You’ll Get Better” is a heartbreaking note to Swift’s mom, who has had an ongoing battle with cancer. Across the track, Swift pianistically details long nights spent in the hospital, painting the kitchen to brighten up her mom’s day and which nurses she enjoys more than the others. All the while, Swift acknowledges her own selfishness in wanting to have her mom around, with her being the person Swift is supposed to talk to. The Dixie Chicks appear on the harmonies, balancing the tears and desperation in Swift’s vocals as she sings that her mom has to get better, simply because she has to. 

“ME!” and “You Need to Calm Down” are arguably the worst songs on “Lover” with their bland production and shallow greeting card lyrics being pushed as singles. “London Boy” isn’t much better, as Swift crams as many British clichés as she can into three minutes. The song is supposed to be a love song to her current boyfriend, Joe Alwyn; however, the song retains the perspective of an American who has never been overseas before experiencing it for the first time. 

Overall, Swift’s “Lover” is an ode to love in all of its forms. From heartbreak to beginnings, Swift is the captain and we are all along for the journey on her evolutionary ride. An easy four and a half stars from me, “Lover” is the album that Swift has been needing to make for years.