I didn’t become a “Swifty” until the summer of 2017. After basically ignoring her music as presumably vacuous pop drivel, I decided to give her music a chance and began listening to, well, all of her stuff. It didn’t take long for me to realize she is exceptionally talented, especially as a songwriter. The clincher for me was her song “The Lucky One” from her Red album (which I consider her record best to date). It is a brilliantly crafted piece about the tragedy of celebrity fame, which so many crave but which typically oppresses and often destroys those who achieve it.
I regard my awakening to the genius of Taylor Swift as also an awakening to my own latent sexism. I had allowed the fact that she is a very attractive female to keep me from taking her seriously as an artist. In subsequent conversations with several men, I have sensed a similar tendency in them, and some have admitted this to me. Anyway, lesson learned.
One of the things I find most impressive about Taylor Swift’s songwriting—in addition to the clarity of her lyrical themes and her uncanny knack for musical hooks—is her insight into human nature. Many of these insights, of course, concern negative aspects of human nature (e.g., selfishness, dishonesty, unfaithfulness, fickleness, etc.), but she often celebrates human goodness as well. Regardless of the relational context, Swift is reliably observant and a powerful commentator on the human condition.
These gifts are on full display in her recently released seventh album, Lover. Over all, I think it is about as strong as anything she’s done before. But stylistically it is the least she has advanced from one album to the next. Her progression from country to electronic pop over the course of her first six albums is impressive, but Lover ends that evolution, parking somewhere between 1989 and Reputation from a stylistic and production standpoint.
Personally, I like the fact that there are actual drum kits used on several songs. It adds to the albums energy and also makes for some variety. The title track is especially rich because of this, effecting an ambience reminiscent of some spacious 1950s-era ballads.
Some highlights, it seems to me, are “Death by a Thousand Cuts,” “Paper Rings,” and “ME!” But, lyrically, “The Man” stands out—one the best songs you’ll ever hear regarding gender double standards. “Cruel Summer” is extremely catchy, featuring wonderfully sassy background vox. Delicious. “I Forgot that you Existed” and “You Need to Calm Down” are vintage Taylor Swift digs. Great songs.
“Cornelia Street,” “The Archer,” and “Soon You’ll Get Better” provide a contemplative touch to the album that was mostly absent from her last two records. The latter song concerns Swift’s mother’s continuing bout with cancer. I don’t know how she sang it without crying. I suspect those were some emotional recording sessions.
The weakest tracks are “False God,” “I Think He Knows” and, especially “It’s Nice to Have a Friend.” Those would have been solid B-sides, but they’re not needed on this album, which would have been a tighter, more consistently strong record without them—and still 50 minutes long.
So Lover is another fine effort by popular music’s best young songwriter. To sum up my feelings about Swift’s music these days: It isn’t hate. It isn’t indifference. It’s just love.