Taylor Swift’s seventh studio album, Lover, is the work of a woman who knows who she is. Gone is the bitterness of her last album, Reputation. Gone, too, is some of the naivety of her earlier work. This is the creative output of a self-possessed singer; someone who knows her place in the world. She’s forgiven or forgotten or moved on from the anger of Reputation – and embraced her trademark candy-sweet pop roots. She’s also given us thoughtful ballads and political bops, because she’s ready to take a stance on issues that matter to her a person. This is a self-assured album from an artist who is more confident in her abilities than ever before – and frankly, it’s a pleasure to hear.
Taylor Swift has always infused her music with her moods and her heart, which has been a welcome glimpse into the life of an otherwise staunchly private celebrity. She’s rarely spoken to media in recent years, preferring to let her music speak for itself. If we are to guess at the emotional state of one Ms Taylor Swift based on these new tracks, it’s clear that this is a woman very much in love. Not just with a man, but with the very concept of a good and decent love. Perhaps even with a life she feels belongs to her now, more than it ever has.
We know precious little about Taylor’s relationship with British actor Joe Alwyn (this is a woman who possibly travelled inside a suitcase to avoid public scrutiny). Unlike her relationship with former beau Tom Holland, which was all convenient pap shots and gauche tank tops, this relationship has been quiet, secluded, secret. It’s belonged to Taylor and Joe. As someone who genuinely cares about this pop star’s emotional well-being, I can only hope this means it’s real love. In the title track of this album, Lover, which we have already had as a single, and another track called London Boy, we get little clues about the couple’s happiness and it’s not only very catchy, but endearing. On a track called Paper Rings, she proclaims that this is the man she wants to marry (“I like shiny things / But I’d marry you with paper rings”). In the song Cornelia Street, she sings about when she first got together with Joe Alwyn, which we think is a little under three years ago. She also hints at their flaws, too: “I thought you were leading me on / I packed my bags, left Cornelia Street”.
Really, in this album, we’re spoiled for songs about the cosiness, warmth and pleasure of being in love – it’s joyous and sweet. If you happen to be in love with someone – maybe you feel like you can’t tell if you’ve known them “20 seconds or 20 years” – it’s comforting and familiar. In fact, if you’ve ever known love, there’s something here for you. And something for anyone who’s ever been broken and learned to heal: the first track on this album is called I Forgot That You Existed and it’s a very funny little ditty about moving on with your life. It ensures that the album isn’t saccharine, with all its celebration of romance. So too does a song called The Man, which is a feminist riff on the idea that Taylor would’ve been treated differently if she had been a male celebrity (“I’m so sick of running as fast as I can / Wonder if I’d get there quicker if I was a man”).
And the album isn’t just about romantic love. There’s a completely gorgeous ode to friendship called It’s Nice To Have A Friend, which could secretly be dedicated to former nemesis Katy Perry, but might also just be in tribute to all the friends Taylor famously surrounds herself with, and indeed the very idea of friendship. Then there’s the fiery track, the fight song: You Need To Calm Down, which is Taylor’s long-awaited foray into political opinion, as she takes on trolls, haters and homophobes. And the shameless bop: Me! Feat. Brendan Urie. There’s also a soft, tender ballad about Taylor’s mother’s illness, Soon You’ll Get Better, which features the Dixie Chicks. It’s a simple, loving song about wishing for the recovery of someone you love: “Soon you’ll get better / Because you have to.” Taylor seems to be endorsing all forms of love here and it’s powerfully delightful.
Taylor Swift’s seventh studio album is also the first one she owns. It belongs to her, both legally and emotionally. It is the work of a woman who isn’t afraid to feel, to believe in love and to fight for what she thinks is right. She tweeted that she couldn’t be more proud of it – and that shows. These 18 tracks are confident, catchy and sensitively written – as all the best Taylor Swift music is.
I’ve been listening to 1989 again a lot recently, which I happen to think is the closest thing we have to a perfect pop album. It meant a lot to me at a time in my life when I needed some heartbreak anthems. I’m ready to play Lover on repeat now, in celebrating of being in love, just as Taylor Swift intended.