lover
"Lover" expresses a more selfless, optimistic and universal message of love than any of Swift's previous albums. (Illustration by Dorie Timan, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis)
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lover

Is it really all sunshine and rainbows?

Taylor Swift just released her seventh studio album, “Lover.” Coming off the heels of the vengeful, brash “Reputation,” “Lover” is a breath of fresh air for listeners, and probably for Swift herself considering the last few years she’s had. The first several singles from the album were accompanied by bright, technicolor music videos that posed a stark difference from the black and white palette of “Reputation.”

And the songs themselves are also quite different; they talk about bringing light and love to herself and others, rather than focusing on getting back at her enemies. But does the rest of “Lover” live up to that dream? And is it just a return to pre-“Reputation” era Swift?

The world collectively gasped back in 2017 when Swift uttered the now-famous words in “Look What You Made Me Do”: “I’m sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh, cause she’s dead.” But is she? If the snake’s transformation into a swarm of butterflies in the “ME!” music video is any indication, she was just hiding. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The country-turned-pop icon’s previous albums were critically and commercially lauded, even earning her two Grammys for album of the year. “Reputation,” on the other hand, collected exactly zero Grammys (and only one nomination), and was largely considered to be one of her worst albums; as a weird mix of sentimental love songs and revenge anthems, it just didn’t feel very cohesive.

“Lover,” however, does everything “Reputation” could not. It doesn’t ignore her past feuds (they are mentioned directly only once, in the opening track, “I Forgot That You Existed”), but it doesn’t obsess over them either. Instead, love once again takes center stage in Swift’s music — this time, with longtime boyfriend (or maybe fiance?), actor Joe Alwyn.

But her love is not tainted with jealousy, infidelity and drama, as it was in albums like “Red” and “Taylor Swift.” During those album cycles, Swift was plagued with thoughts of all the ways she had been wronged in her relationships, sparking songs like “Picture to Burn” and “I Knew You Were Trouble.” The love she has now seems to be the most genuine Swift has ever experienced, forming the most honest, heartwarming record Swift has ever made, with songs like “It’s Nice To Have A Friend” and the title track, “Lover.” But she also acknowledges that nothing is ever perfect on songs like “False God.”

Some of the highlights, though, come in the form of songs that do not even revolve around romantic love. No matter how you feel about it (it’s … fine, in my opinion), “ME!” is a great ode to self-love. And “You Need To Calm Down” is really catchy and fun, despite its questionable intentions. “The Man” discusses sexism in Hollywood and how women should stop feeling bad for being mad about it.

And — in what I think is the most emotional song on the album — “Soon You’ll Get Better,” featuring the Dixie Chicks, masterfully portrays how it feels to watch a loved one struggle with a serious illness (Swift’s mother is currently battling cancer). Each of these songs has its own unique message that has nothing to do with who you fall in love with, but everything to do with other kinds of love.

The general theme of the album is love, with Swift herself stating at the end of the final song, “Daylight,” “I wanna be defined by the things that I love, not the things I hate, not the things I’m afraid of, the things that haunt me in the middle of the night. I just think that you are what you love.”

Unlike any of her past works, “Lover” is exactly what it claims to be, and exactly what Swift wanted it to be. It is the first album Swift has crafted that she owns completely, having been separated from toxic label executives and industry drama (goodbye, Scooter Braun), and it truly does feel like it’s all her, and all love.

So while the singer’s previous albums are great (I will stan “1989” forever) and “Lover” is quite similar to the style and sound of her albums before “Reputation,” it is definitely a distinct, beautiful album of its own. It is not a return to country, it is not a breakup album and it is not another “Screw all my haters! I’m better than you!” rant; it is something completely new, in a way.

If you brush past the rainbows and childlike façade of the art direction, you will find a true piece of art that touches on important and political subjects through deep lyrics and bubblegum pop. While Swift’s other albums have stayed relatively shallow, mostly just brushing on the topic of quickly-fleeting love and a few musical takedowns, “Lover” breaks the mold, reflecting her new, socially-conscious persona.

That being said, “Lover” is not Swift’s best album; in the eyes of critics, that continues to be “Fearless,” while in the eyes of the general public, “1989” will never go out of style. But it is certainly a phenomenal effort, and nowhere near the worst.

If I had to give it a title, I would say that “Lover” is Swift’s happiest album; that much is obvious from the colorful aesthetic that she’s chosen. There is no denying the joy bursting from Swift’s voice and the giddiness she exudes when talking about her true love. It is palpable and infectious. It is an invitation to let go of all those voices reminding us of what we’ve done wrong, of how we don’t measure up, and to find who or what makes us happy, in the way that Alwyn makes her happy. And I don’t know about you, but I intend to take her up on her offer.

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