Does Taylor Swift still hold a grudge ? From the opening moments of Lover, you’d be hard pressed to think otherwise. At a first glance, it would seem that the venomous tongue so prominent on Reputation (2017) is on the warpath again, feuding against Kanye West, Katy Perry or her ex… But the superstar has more tact and good sense than to needlessly prolong any in-fighting. Maintaining a mostly indifferent stance to the much-publicised conflicts, her seventh album blends romantic pop, deep introspection and socio-political commentary on the United States as a whole, whilst never straying too far without reminding us of her country singer-songwriter roots.
The first and foremost example is the acoustic gem Lover, where she pays tribute to her partner of three years, Joe Alwyn. Far from being sirupy, she has a few humorous notes: "Swear to be overdramatic and true to my lover / And you'll save all your dirtiest jokes for me". The waltz’s light-hearted tone is follow by The Man’s activist synth-pop. She jokes: "If I was flashing my dollars I’d be a bitch not a baller". The title itself is a clear explicitation of her feminist message – how would she have been portrayed by the media if she had been a man ? – her questioning stance verges on disillusion, albeit with some nuance, with Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince. American high schools are reinterpreted as a symbol of the United States’ decline: "American glory faded before me / Now I'm feeling hopeless, ripped up my prom dress / Running through rose thorns, I saw the scoreboard / And ran for my life". Swift also dedicates You Need To Calm Down to all the homophobic haters, as a way of telling them that their outrage and agitation are in vain.
The best moments of Lover are those where the 29-year old reduces the cotton-candy production to a minimum, letting the listener get a glimpse of her private life – outside of any real-life-fantasy boyfriend. Soon You’ll Get Better could have just been acoustic filler – a simple, calm moment intended to make these 18 tracks more digestible. However, by tackling her mother’s cancer, the ensuing chaos and panic, and her own feelings about that traumatic time, Swift centers the focus of the album on the diverse experiences of love, with a newfound maturity. Lover might be a pop record, by one of the biggest superstars in the past decade, but it’s also the proof that in 2019, the genre doesn’t necessarily rhyme with empty or tasteless.