Josh Ong – Music Editor
Swift has returned with her most pop-centric, yet mature album to date.
There’s nothing more mainstream than Taylor Swift. From music through to style, and now politics, Swift’s antics seems to be the topic of popular conversation no matter the magnitude. Alongside this fame comes a level of scrutiny that the majority of people cannot relate to; there’s little in her life that isn’t played out in the public eye. However, having bounced back from being ‘cancelled’, following the notorious ‘Kimye’ Famous drama, to becoming Forbes’ highest earner of 2019 through the most successful North American tour in history, Swift has returned with her latest work, Lover.
In a complete contradiction to my opening remarks, there does remain a place that Swift has successfully managed to resist the gaze of media attention; her love life. Where the songstress has a historically difficult relationship in overcoming archaic, incorrect, and frankly sexist, stereotypes of source material stemming merely from failed relationships and breakups, since the reputation era, she has deliberately left everyone uninvolved in the dark. Armed with only a name and a few paparazzi pictures from across their three years together, there was little tinder to set the rumours of doom afly. Before today’s release, fans’ desires for insight into her relationship was limited to Gorgeous, a particularly positive anthem for the naivety and alluring factor of relationships in their infancy. Lover leaves no stone unturned. Where her previous album sought its listeners to find love amidst the noise, Lover canvasses its true feelings from the rooftops; an homage to everything Swift loves, both romantically and otherwise.
The time preceding this album was one previously unexperienced by Swifties and locals alike. Through the changing Instagram aesthetic to the readoption of regular social media use, following the self purported ‘full swamp witch’ aura that came along with its predecessor, Swift put herself back on the radar. Alongside the drastic juxtaposition of visuals came the abundance of aptly named ‘clown theory’, striving to crack the seemingly endless easter eggs she had buried just about everywhere. As more from the album has been revealed, it’s become increasingly evident that Swift has never had greater control of her own destiny, both in terms of masters and art direction. If there was ever a need for a reminder that she is the world’s greatest PR representative, you don’t have to look any further than this album’s pre-release campaign to see a virtuoso at work.
Since the initial release of ME!, followed by You Need to Calm Down, The Archer and the titular track, Lover, Swifties have been plagued with dilemma in attempting to decipher the direction in which it was all going. Where fans have always upheld a particularly troubled relationship with the lead singles from upcoming albums, this year’s release lies as no exception. Where ME! disappointed a decent proportion of fans through it’s seemingly ‘childish’ tone, with little thanks to its spelling related line from the bridge (which now finds itself notably absent from the album version), many fans have taken to Twitter this morning to vent their frustration towards the choice of lead single when, arguably, any of the other seventeen tracks could have taken the mantle. Whilst Swift could release just about anything at this point and still receive a large share of radio airtime, it’s easy to understand why the ‘poppiest’ of all of the album was selected by her and the label. However, it’s equally of note that none of the four songs released before today are within my current five favourite tracks.
Aside from Red, there lies no other of her albums as sonically diverse as Lover. From the early 2000s excitedly-shouty Ting Tings vibe of Paper Rings, to the late noughties broad electronica M83 sound present in False God, it is a tribute to Swift’s range. Furthermore, in terms of instrumentalism, this is her most multifarious work. Where we see the return of the 80s synth that elevated 1989 above it’s teen-pop competition used in conjunction with the evermoving drums of reputation, we also see the return of the banjo and fiddle, a particular omission in her later discography.
It would be easy to palm away the shift towards the more electronic sound and move into the charts as the decline of the traditional craft of songwriting by Swift; this is simply false. From her Dixie Chicks collaboration to her references to Chris Stapleton’s Tennessee Whiskey and Country past interwoven throughout the album, it’s clear that her DNA as a songwriter first and foremost remains the lifeblood of all of her work. Where other artists may lose their original fans in daring to move away from the genre that made them, Swift’s success has been keeping a grasp on listeners through maintaining her core audible essence, which extends far beyond just her voice.
The album draws most of its collaborative production between the duo of Joel Little and Jack Antonoff, with the latter progressively increasing his notoriety in producing some of the deepest cutting tracks of the few years across a multitude of different artists’ albums. The stylistic differences between the two are strikingly clear; where Little produces the more radio-friendly ‘mainstream’ hits, Antonoff follows hot on the heels of his success of reputation’s Getaway Car in creating some of Lover’s introspective symphonies amidst a broadly diverse soundspace that tend to fall under the ‘hidden gem’ category. Whilst the differences between the two could be argued to be a negative aspect, I’d argue it’s more of an attestation to the malleability of Swift’s vocals across a range of genres.
Where Swift may have found herself back within the public gaze, she has now done so on her own terms. In building upon the traditional popstar model used across the 1989 era with renewed positive values and a documented firmer stance on cultural issues such as LGBTQ+ rights and sexism, she has established herself as the standard-bearer for the modern popstar. Lover has demonstrated that she is far beyond merely shaking off any negativity thrown in her direction; by justifiably retaliating and stating that ‘You are what you love’, she has found her ultimate success through spreading her newfound peace to others. Through this diverse and eclectic collection of infectiously joyous bops accompanied by the tear-jerkingly sombre melodies of helplessness and loss, Lover is a true triumph. There remains some mystifyingly beautiful about her music; whether she’s speaking of breakups or personal mortification at the nonattendance of romantic interests at your birthday party, her lyricism rarely fails to hit the mark.
The snakes may be gone, but she hasn’t lost her bite.