On 'Lover,' Taylor Swift shows tremendous artistic growth

Swift refines her sound and offers mature reflections on love

taylor-swift-lover

“I just think you are what you love,” Taylor Swift declares in a spoken interlude of "Lover’s" closing track, “Daylight,” an apt summary of the album, which Swift describes as being “a love letter to love itself.”

Swift has spent her whole career trying to describe true love in her songwriting. In the liner notes for "Red" she muses,real love shines golden like starlight, and doesn’t fade or spontaneously combust. Maybe I’ll write a whole album about that kind of love if I ever find it.” 

And with "Lover", she achieves that. In a call-back to "Red", Swift sings “I once believed love would be burning red/but it’s golden like daylight.”

"Lover" expands on the pop sound Swift started building with “1989,” refining and perfecting it with electric-pop anthems, lyrically strong ballads, ‘80s synth influences and rich storytelling. Swift paints pictures with her words in lyrics like “windows flung right open/autumn air/jacket ‘round my shoulders is yours.” 

But the most impressive song on the record by far is “Cruel Summer,” co-written with Jack Antonoff of Bleachers and St. Vincent. The track details a doomed summer romance, providing an interesting juxtaposition with the rest of the album, which is largely about Swift’s current long-term relationship. “Cruel Summer” is both lyrically and sonically perfect. 

In the driving pre-chorus, Swift declares, “devils roll the dice/angels roll their eyes/what doesn’t kill me makes me want you more” building to the most stunning chorus of Swift’s career, cementing the track as one of the best pop songs in the past ten years. 

Swift has always been a wordsmith. She wrote the entirety of her third album "Speak Now" at age 19. A younger Swift sang of “dancing around the kitchen in the refrigerator light” and “shining like fireworks over your sad, empty town.” But "Lover" is Swift at her most poetic, with lyrics like “I wounded the good and I trusted the wicked/Clearing the air I breathed in the smoke.”

She also reflects on her recent choice to become more politically vocal in “Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince,” a song ostensibly about a high-school romance that Swift has said is a metaphor for the 2016 election. She sings of “American glory fading before” her and pleads, “boys will be boys then/where are the wise men?”

"Reputation," Swift’s previous album, detailed the process of putting herself back together and being fearful of emotional vulnerability in the aftermath of the darkest period in her life. Swift describes it as an album that “seemed like nighttime,” whereas "Lover" feels “completely sunlit.”

"Lover" is a tribute to an enduring, grown-up love story. As Swift approaches 30, her love songs are no longer about finding a fairytale prince, but wanting her lover’s “dreary Mondays” and “complications, too.” 

Gone are her daydreams about picking out a white dress. 

Instead, she declares, “I like shiny things, but I’d marry you with paper rings,” because the relationship she’s built is more important to her than the performance of being in love. And this older, wiser Swift is getting better at owning up to her mistakes, too; in “Afterglow,” Swift croons, “It’s all me/in my head/I’m the one who burned us down” and “just don’t go/meet me in the afterglow.”

By the record’s conclusion, Swift has shaken off the demons of her past –– a fitting finale for an album about finding true love after all the “exes, fights, flaws.” 

On “Daylight,” Swift’s warm, hushed vocals murmur, “You gotta step into the daylight and let it go.” It’s a fitting conclusion to an album that feels warm like sunlight, a triumphant celebration of artistic growth, true love and self-acceptance. 

Arts desk can be reached at arts@ubspectrum.com.