Taylor Swift has arguably been one of the most influential artists since her debut album in 2006. She’s broken countless records set by prominent male artists, such as the Beatles. But throughout her career, there has been a stigma surrounding what she writes about in her music. Since she was a teenager, people critiqued her personal life rather than her music. She couldn’t be around a male celebrity without there being tabloids the next day suggesting they were in a romantic relationship, and warning him to play nice so that he wouldn’t become the subject of her next song.
In 2017, Taylor Swift released an album titled “reputation”. It was essentially the acknowledgment of her reputation of being a serial dater, her controversial friendships that ended badly, and her general relationship with the public eye. Her tour sold out, and fans received some of her most grown-up music yet. Songs like “Dress” and “King of My Heart” give us a glimpse into her current relationship with British actor Joe Alwyn. She writes about a much more healthy seeming, open kind of love than we’ve seen in other songs where there’s always a sense of hesitancy, fear, anxiety, and heartbreak (see “Out of the Woods”, “All Too Well”, and “Haunted”). While the revenge bops like “Look What You Made Me Do”, and “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” were fun to listen to, they sometimes drew away from what I thought the theme of the album was meant to be. This was, discussing Taylor’s acknowledgment of her negatively portrayed public image and reputation – but in reality, she was finally in a positive place with her self image, as well as within a relationship.
But maybe she wasn’t quite there yet, because the feuds and issues she was discussing within a few of the “reputation” songs were written when everything she had gone through was so fresh. And when we enter the era of “Lover”, the theme is stated clearly in the song “Daylight”. But that one will be saved for last since it’s the last song on the album.
The first song, titled, “I Forgot That You Existed”, acknowledges the previous album. She’s giving us a blank slate, with lyrics like “I thought that it would kill me but it didn’t” and “it isn’t love/it isn’t hate/it’s just indifference”. These lines show clear growth, maturity, and strength she seemingly developed throughout the entirety of her career but specifically through the thick of the “reputation” related drama. The song has been thought to be about multiple people, such as Calvin Harris, her ex of a long time who never had one of Taylor’s hits dedicated to or about him. Others have speculated that it is entirely about everyone who has caused her wrongdoings and pain within her career and that it is the first album in the song to establish that they are not going to have any more songs written about them.
The second song, “Cruel Summer” was an automatic fan favorite. The angelic beat and vocals are nothing short of mesmerizing. But the lyrics are what most stand out; we are quickly thrown into Taylor’s love story from the beginning. “Cruel Summer” depicts her uncertainty surrounding the relationship, given the fact that her previous relationships have made her hesitant about new ones. One of the best parts of this song is the bridge where Taylor sings, “I don’t want to keep secrets just to keep you” as well as, “And I screamed for whatever it’s worth/I love you ain’t that the worst thing you ever heard?/He looks up grinning like a devil”. The line about secrets references how hers and Joe’s relationship was not public, and how with this album she’s addressing that she doesn’t want to hide her relationship and jump through hoops to maintain its success. The line “I love you ain’t that the worst thing you ever heard?” could be referring back to Taylor’s self-proclaimed negative reputation, and expecting Joe to not want her to feel so strongly for him. But when he looks up smiling, it’s because he feels the same. And as Swift writes on “reputation”: “My reputation’s never been worse so/he must like me for me” (Delicate). The lines back to back also have great meaning, because hearing “I love you ain’t that the worst thing you’ve ever heard” on its own depicts failed relationships and uncertainty. Getting a smile or grin in response shows that Taylor received a positive reaction after expressing her emotions.
Track 3 is “Lover” which the album is titled after. “Lover” might be my favorite song on the album, because the first thing I thought when I heard it was that the song exudes what true love should feel like. The bridge of the song sounds like it was written to be wedding vows, “Ladies and gentlemen will you please stand?/With every guitar string scar on my hand/I take this magnetic force of a man to be my lover/my heart’s been borrowed and yours has been blue/alls well that ends well to end up with you/swear to be overdramatic and true to my lover.” The words that come to my mind when I hear this song are: being wrapped up in a warm blanket, romantic, first dance song for a wedding, true unwavering love, intimate, and special. There isn’t much to analyze or unpack, it’s just something that makes you feel like you’re warm and fuzzy inside.
The fourth song is a bit different from the majority of the songs on this album. It’s called “The Man” and discusses sexism that Taylor has faced since the beginning of her career. One of the lines is: “They’d say I played the play the field before I found someone to commit to/and that would be okay for me to do/every conquest I made would make me more of a boss to you”. This undoubtedly references how men are perceived as more powerful with both their status, wealth, and amount of women they’ve been with. But when a woman is rich and has a great status, it is still shameful for her to have multiple partners and takes away from her credibility. Another line is: “When everyone believes you/what’s that like?” Potentially referring to sexual assault or other forms of violence against women where they are oftentimes not believed. Taylor was one of the main supporters (emotionally and financially) of Kesha during her sexual assault case against Dr. Luke. Taylor also fought and won her sexual harassment lawsuit for only one dollar to make a point about holding perpetrators of sexual/physical violence accountable. A similar lyric within this song was, “(if I was a man) they wouldn’t shake their heads and question how much of this I deserve/what I was wearing/if I was rude”. This could also be referencing similar workplace and business-related scenarios where when a woman is in charge, or in Swift’s case, on top of the music industry most of the time there’s backtalk suggesting she’s undeserving. There are also implications that you have to be polite and dress appropriately, especially for stars like Taylor who grew up while they were in the industry and acquired a young fan base. She was critiqued and even heavily protested by former fans, who mostly represented Christian groups and organizations outside of concerts for wearing “revealing” costumes on her “1989” and “reputation” tours and for abandoning her country roots. Another two powerful lines are one in the chorus that says, “I’m so sick of running as fast as I can/wondering if I’d get there quicker if I was a man”. There’s a popular image of a male being on an escalator while a woman’s climbing stairs. While they can both get to the top of the staircase, one has a much more paved path and Taylor makes this distinction. She’s running as fast as she can to get where she is, whereas most of the men in this field already have a paved path. The other line is, “If I was out flashing my dollars/I’d be a bitch, not a baller” referencing how men in her industry are praised for being exuberant and flaunting their wealth whereas she would be shamed and called overly flashy, or be boasting. Simply put, men who do this are ballers and women who do this are referred to as “bitches”.
Rihanna experienced this online when she posted a picture holding a luxurious bag and someone said she should have spent the money elsewhere, she was quick to shut it down by revealing a charity donation and saying she’s allowed to treat herself with her own hard-earned money. Swift is also consistent in donating to charities as well as treating fans to special surprises and gifts ranging from wedding appearances and presents to help them with housing, hospital, or college fees.
Next, we have the fifth song. If you’ve been a fan of Taylor’s work for a long time, you know that the fifth track of the album is one of the most important and heartfelt. Songs like “All Too Well” (Red), “Delicate” (Reputation), and “Dear John” (Speak Now) have all been accredited as being some of the most emotional and heartfelt Swift songs of all time. Track 5 has become a legacy she has to uphold, and while they’re typically sad, “Delicate” broke that pattern but kept the same whispy, sincere and angelic vocals. “The Archer” doesn’t disappoint. Every single word choice within it is beautiful, and I could easily write a separate article about it. One of the lines discusses how she’s searching for her partner’s “dark side”. The way I interpreted this was viewing somebody as too good to be true, she’s sang about bad boys for so long that she’s pretty much wondering what’s wrong with this one. But if you have to search for it, it likely isn’t there. The song is borderline a poem, which makes it stand out so much. One of my favorite lines is “I cut off my nose just to spite my face/and I hate my reflection/for years and years”, the imagery of doing something to spite your own body could very closely be connected to body dysphoria, an issue commonly faced by women within the music and acting industries. Hating one’s reflection for a long time also reaffirms this, showing that it’s something difficult to move past. The last line from this song that I thought was important to mention is: “I wake in the night/I pace like a ghost/the room is on fire/invisible smoke/and all of my heroes died all alone/help me hold onto you”. The first four lines show that whatever she’s experiencing is so exclusive to her, she’s describing a room on fire and burning within it but the event being unnoticed and “invisible” to others which ties into the other themes of the song; searching for someone else’s darkness, self-hate or doubt, and a large sense of loneliness. The last two lines contribute to the theme of loneliness and she repeats “help me hold onto you” throughout the song. This could also tie into what she’s stated before about the uncertainty and fears about past relationships, and wanting her partner to help her keep him in her life because she’s unable to cope with the idea of losing him.
“I Think He Knows” is our sixth song on the album which picks up the pace with a fun beat, with incredibly fun vocals where Taylor spends a lot of time using high pitch tones. This is mostly a self-confidence booster for Swift rather than complimenting her partner; which is something different that we haven’t seen much in her previous songs. It’s also an extremely refreshing choice to put right after a very vulnerable song about insecurity in yourself and in your relationships – because this song is the opposite. She says things like “he’s so obsessed with me and boy I understand” and “he better lock it down/or I won’t stick around/cause good ones never wait”. It has one of the most fun sounds and makes you feel good that the security within this relationship contributes to her security within herself, but she’s not reliant on this relationship for that security either.
Track 7, “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince” may be the longest song title Taylor’s ever written. Which suits the content of the lyrics because there are different meanings of the song people have pointed out. The most prominent one is about the 2016 election results. Lyrics like “American glory faded before me” and “I saw the scoreboard and ran for my life” allude to Swift’s previous days of being America’s sweetheart, but no longer feeling that way or projecting that identity or label when she was no longer happy with the state of the country. The scoreboard references the polling numbers, and ultimately Trump winning the election. A line in the chorus, “They whisper in the hallway she’s a bad bad girl” is thought to be about Hillary Clinton, and the remarks made about her during the election season. Ultimately, it’s an extremely powerful, sassy, and ultimately catchy song with an incredible meaning behind it.
“Paper Rings” is our eighth track on the album which is arguably the most fun. It’s a very sock hop sounding song that makes you resist the urge to dance. But the lyrics are another heartfelt ballad. The bridge of the song which says, “I want to drive away with you/I want your complications too/I want your dreary Mondays” which is a more wordy way to say, for better or worse. The entire song has been compared to wedding vows, the line “I like shiny things but I’d marry you with paper rings” could just mean for rich or for poor. Despite having the most fun beat out of all the songs, it doesn’t stray away from the powerful, romantic, deep love that the other songs exude.
“Cornelia Street” is the halfway mark of the album, and is one of the fan-favorite songs especially after photos of the apartment discussed in the song. It’s a song that Taylor seemingly holds near and dear to her heart, as she wrote it alone in the very apartment that she references in the song. It seems to be telling the same story that’s told in “Cruel Summer”, similarly expressing the anxiety surrounding the beginning of her relationship. Except this one is expressed a little less angsty, with the loud declarations of love. Instead, she’s taking a softer approach to her struggle in trying to dissect what her partner may be feeling for her by saying, “I hope I never lose you/Hope it never ends/I’d never walk Cornelia Street again/That’s the kind of heartbreak time could never mend/I’d never walk Cornelia Street again”. Instead of seeming a little irritated at her inability to foresee where this relationship is going as she does in “Cruel Summer”, she’s instead expressing that in spite of her love for NYC, and specifically this gorgeous apartment and neighborhood she was staying in, it would be too painful to relive it without him. That’s a much more beautiful, romantic, sweet and soft version of the emotions “Cruel Summer” is portraying. It shows how amazing she is as a songwriter that she can write the same story twice while making the listener feel two different emotions depending on how she tells it.
I can’t begin to describe Track 10, “Death by a Thousand Cuts”. Apparently, Taylor wrote it after watching the movie “Someone Great” on Netflix, so it’s written based on a fake breakup. The song is lengthy, and the lyrics are all so beautiful, but the bridge is my favorite. the beginning of the bridge is, “My heart, my hips, my body, my love/Tryna find a part of me that you didn’t touch” and the ending of the bridge is, “My time, my wine, my spirit, my trust/Tryna find a part of me you didn’t take up/Gave you so much, but it wasn’t enough/But I’ll be alright, it’s just a thousand cuts”. The way it sounds and the emotions she’s expressing are just so beautiful and rich, and I have to admit that I was glad there was still a breakup song on her album about being fulfilled in her relationship because she’s so good at writing them. I also think she might have pulled some of the emotion out of Cornelia Street with the pondering on the hypothetical heartbreak she’d face without the person she’s finally felt security in.
“London Boy” is another fun song like “Paper Rings”, with a little bit of a more traditional Taylor beat. The song is like walking through London, and fans have joked about how Taylor probably used a map when writing it because of all the locations she references Joe showing her. She also references Stella McCartney, who designed clothes in collaboration with Taylor based on the “Lover” album. It’s a fairly simple song but is definitely in the top five “fun” songs on the album. A fun fact is that in the chorus, you can hear one of Taylor’s cats meowing.
Track 12 is titled “Soon You’ll Get Better”, and features the Dixie Chicks which is Andrea’s favorite band. It is quite possibly the saddest song Taylor has ever written, because I have only mustered up the courage to listen to it three times, and have cried each time. It voices the extremely personal and intimate pain Taylor has been facing throughout her mother’s cancer treatment, apparently, her family had an entire discussion about whether or not to include the song on the album. Their decision to include it was based on the fact that it could help other fans experiencing the same thing feel comforted and understood. The way she sings the song, as well as the words she chose to use, are a perfect synopsis of what this experience feels like and I’ve never heard a song that causes me to feel the way that this song does. While it’s one of her most beautiful songs ever, she doesn’t plan on ever performing it live due to the fact that it was difficult for her to record it in the studio.
“False God” also competes for my favorite “Lover” song, because her vocals are very stripped down and acoustic. The lyrics are also some of my favorite of hers ever, comparing her relationship or their love for each other as a “false god” or false idol that the couple worships. One of my favorite lines in the song is, “I know heaven’s a thing/I go there when you touch me, honey/Hell is when I fight with you/But we can patch it up good/Make confessions and we’re begging for forgiveness/Got the wine for you”. Similarly to “Death by a Thousand Cuts”, “False God” has so many beautiful lyrics and sounds in the song that it’s better to just listen to it than describe. It’s easily another one of her most beautiful songs ever written and performed.
The back story behind writing the song “You Need to Calm Down” is one of my favorites. Taylor was with Todrick, her friend who helped her direct the music video, and he asked her what she would do if her son was gay. She said she was upset and scared that he had to ask, but realized that if her close friend wasn’t sure about her stance, neither were her friends. Todrick said he wasn’t sure about her stance on allyship towards the LGBTQ+ community because her fanbase started out (and still largely remains) southern, right-leaning groups of people. Since her roots are country and very southern bred, Taylor stayed out of the political scene in avoidance of causing a ruckus between her two types of listeners. She often said that part of this choice was because she felt that she was too young, and not yet educated enough as a voter and as an adult to influence others on their political choices. But after the outcome of the 2016 election, where she has been openly disappointed regarding the hateful claims people have been making in honor of the president (or the president’s claims himself) she knew it was time to start projecting her voice in favor of others. She also caused a huge spike in voter registration for the midterm elections, so don’t be surprised if she does it again in 2020! The song is also extremely upbeat, fun, positive, and reminding others, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
“Afterglow” is one of the most relatable, honest, and vulnerable songs of Taylor’s career. It’s kind of the aged version of “Back to December”, where she’s apologizing for her mistakes in a relationship she cares deeply about. She expresses deep regret for seemingly overreacting about something that happened between her and her partner; wanting desperately to fix it and keep this person in her life. But the song also exudes something deeply familiar and relatable. Taylor seems to be explaining that she’s hung up on the past, where she usually has her heartbroken. She dated people that were much older than her at the time she was with them; they often used or cheated on her. Calvin Harris’s song “This Is What You Came For” which Taylor wrote and sang on made over half a million dollars, and he had the audacity to say after it’s success that he wouldn’t work with her on an interview. She’s been betrayed and blindsided by the men she’s dated, as well as the men she’s befriended or worked within her industry, and that must make it hard for her to trust people she’s currently friends with or in a relationship with. That’s what “Afterglow” is all about. She starts the song with, “I blew things out of proportion/now you’re blue/Put you in jail for something you didn’t do/I pinned your hands behind your back, oh/Thought I had reason to attack, but no”, while she is apologizing, she’s also explaining to her partner that there’s something that’s making her act this way but she never justifies it. In fact, in the chorus, she takes full accountability by saying: “Hey, it’s all me/In my head/I’m the one who burned this down/But it’s not what I meant/I’m sorry that I hurt you”. This is a much more grown-up Taylor and it’s so clear that she’s able to recognize her own mistakes without invalidating her own pain. It sounds almost as if she’s having a conversation with her partner, apologizing while trying to tell him why she tends to react a certain way to certain things.
“ME!” Was the debut song of the “Lover” album. It was definitely the most pop-y sounding song on the album and featured Brenden Urie. The video was super fun and colorful, and it was ultimately a positive “love yourself” kind of song, that ties in well to the theme of “Lover”. The colors of the video also introduced her aesthetic which would carry on throughout the era, and she got to meet and take home her third cat Benjamin Button who she met on the set of the video.
“It’s Nice to Have a Friend” is our second to the last song on the album, and also simulates a lot of wedding-esque imagery and feelings. It tells a story of two kids who are friends and aging together. The ending is their wedding day, where they get married in a church. While some listeners have assumed it’s another song Taylor wrote about Joe, it also sounds like a rendition of “Mary’s Song”, which was about a couple Taylor knew growing up who were best friends throughout their youth, high school, and adulthood when they got married and have remained together since. The story is incredibly similar in this song to the storyline in “Mary’s Song”, but it could very well be about both couples.
“Daylight” is another song that vies for the title of my favorite Taylor Swift song of all time. She references old albums like “Red”, when she sings “I once believed love would be burning red/But it’s golden like Daylight”. She’s essentially wrapping up all of the growth, maturity, and lessons she’s learned throughout the entirety of “Lover” all into one song. She finally understands what love is and means to her, she’s content, at peace, and has one last revelation in the song when she says at the end in what sounds like a voicemail: “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.”
The album is my favorite, and what I believe to be the best yet because Taylor, in my opinion, has been trying to get that message across since the start of her career. In her debut album, she explored love and heartbreak, anger and passion. She then moved into the era of “Fearless” with songs like daydreams, where she hypothesized what Romeo and Juliet would have been like if they lived. She wrote a similar ideal love story of her own on “Speak Now” with the song “Mine”, wrote the greatest heartbreak anthem of all time with “All Too Well”, on 1989 with the song “Clean”, she dove into the recovery phases of heartache and what that looks like. Her last album, “reputation”, seemed like it was grasping at “Daylight” and “Lover” all along but she just wasn’t there yet. And now she’s reached what all of the past albums showed she was striving for: peace, love, contentness, and happiness. The album isn’t just the best because of her beautiful and diverse sounds or incredible lyrics. But simply because she has reached a point where she was able to, as the last song recits, “step into the Daylight, and let it go.”