Taylor Swift at her most vulnerable is Taylor Swift at her best.
And on her seventh studio album, Lover, the singer rips the mask off the dark, defensive and dramatic villain she channeled on reputation to unveil the romantic dreamer who was there all along. While she kicked off her last album cycle with a scorching first single, “Look What You Made Me Do,” Swift makes it clear from Lover’s get-go that she’s no longer interested in counting years-old receipts.
“I forgot that you existed / It isn’t love, it isn’t hate / It’s just indifference,” she sings on the upbeat first track, a kiss-off anthem that makes you wonder why Snapchat and reality stars were ever so relevant in her life.
Instead of settling scores this time, Swift is focused on love.
On reputation two years ago, she was wary yet cautiously hopeful about a budding romance. Now, the 29-year-old — who in 2015 couldn’t fathom being in a healthy relationship at 30 (“I’ll probably still be single, let’s be honest. No one’s going to sign up for this and everything that goes with it,” she told The Telegraph four years ago) — is securely in love on Lover.
“I’ve loved you three summers now, honey / But I want them all,” Swift, who is rumored to be celebrating her third anniversary with British actor Joe Alwyn this fall, sings on the swingy, retro-feel title track, which elicits memories of proms from well before her time.
Though his name is never uttered on Lover, it’s clear Alwyn is Swift’s greatest muse. See: the self-written love songs “Cornelia Street,” “Daylight” and aforementioned “Lover,” which may very well be the love-struck siblings of her equally revealing heartbreak ballads “All Too Well,” “Last Kiss” and “Dear John,” from her previous albums.
But romance isn’t the only kind of love she explores.
“Soon You’ll Get Better” (ft. Dixie Chicks), a heart-wrenching tribute to her mother Andrea and her ongoing battle with cancer, will leave even Swift’s biggest skeptics misty-eyed. “But who am I supposed to talk to? / What am I supposed to do? / If there’s no you,” sings Swift, her voice fittingly reminiscent of the 14-year-old girl her mom used to accompany to Nashville’s Music Row.
While maturity certainly comes with age, it’s no stretch to imagine this different kind of heartbreak has pushed her to view her life — and her past — with a different perspective. On “The Man,” Swift again flips her public image on its head, as she successfully did on 1989’s massive hit “Blank Space,” and the metaphorically layered “Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince” reveals she’s come a long way from her simpler days of envying the cheer captain.
And not to worry: Swift may be in love, but Lover’s rare breakup tracks are standouts — and she far from plays the victim. “I blew things out of proportion / Now you’re blue / Put you in jail for something you didn’t do,” she sings on “Afterglow.”
From her earliest days performing as an undiscovered singer-songwriter at Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe, Swift possessed the unerring ability to make her listener feel simultaneously heartbroken, infatuated, vengeful, repentant and — most of all — hopeful, using simple words and hyper-specific memories.
Fifteen years later, that innate talent remains her most powerful weapon. Resilient and self-assured, Swift looks squarely into her future on her seventh studio album. Packing the emotional depth of Red and the artistic daring of 1989, Lover proves that, even after all these years, she’s still Fearless.
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