Taylor Swift’s narrative has become bigger than the artist herself. At this point in her career, having accomplished so much and broken innumerable records, Swift’s imprint on the music industry is a looking glass experts can utilize in analyzing the future of the industry. Her sales prowess and transition into the streaming age is equal parts an insight into the industry’s evolution as it is to the artist’s continued longevity as a pop superstar.
With Lover, Swift attempts to equate the unparalleled successes of her past four records, each achieving first week sales of over 1 million copies domestically. As the week nears its end, Swift’s Lover already has the biggest sales week of 2019 and, although she may not eclipse the numbers of reputation, this success is no small feat.
The question is, why has Taylor Swift managed to maintain massive success for over a decade, when most pop stars only achieve this with, at most, a single project? The answer lays in her sweeping, epic 18-track seventh album. With her most cohesively produced, confident, and lyrically rich record, Swift creates an album that will perhaps be remembered as the defining moment in her impressively lengthy career.
With the exception of the swift kiss off of the narrative of 2017’s reputation in the album opener “I Forgot You Existed,” Lover is very much a direct sequel to Swift’s most culturally influential album 1989. Adopting a similar, 80s inspired pop sound, Lover exists as most sequels do– it’s bigger, more ambitious, and often less polished than its predecessor.
At 18 tracks, the album suffers from a lack of the refinement that made 1989 such a groundbreaking collective work. Without a “Blank Space,” “Style” or “Wildest Dreams” supporting the record, no single track feels like a huge standout upon initial listen. “The Man” is the biggest signifier of this pitfall, with an underdeveloped chorus retracting what could have been an incredibly powerful single. With that said, lyrics like “If I was out flashing my dollars, I’d be a bitch not a baller” make the verses and biting bridge strong enough to allow the song at least partially succeed. It shows Swift forgoing the Max Martin tinge in favor of an emphasis of lyricism and the storytelling that made her a mainstay.
Although Lover may not contain the strongest one-offs in Swift’s pantheon, it exists with the purpose of being an album. It presents the most expansive production of any Swift album, managing to blend genres in the vein of Red, the narrative depth of Speak Now, and the euphoric joy of 1989.
This is encapsulated on the crux of the album, “Lover.” The single sways with the ease of reputation sleeper hit “Delicate,” the 70s doo-wop of Red deep cut “The Lucky One,” and the immersive storytelling of Speak Now tracks “Mine” and “Speak Now.”
Building upon the single, the remainder of Lover showcases some of Swift’s strongest songwriting, proving her ability to create an easy to follow narrative under the guise of a glossy pop confection. This is evident on the Avril Lavigne inspired “Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince” and “Death By A Thousand Cuts.” On the former, Swift utilizes an extended metaphor of high school drama laced with the harrowing political climate to create a mini universe in which she and her lover undercut their noisy environment to inhabit their own nugget of existence. With the latter, Swift pops off with one of her most passionate bridges since “All Too Well.” These are just a few of the many well-written tracks on Lover.
Swift proves her growth further in vocal prowess on many of the collection’s more anthemic moments. This is notable on should’ve-been-single cut “Cruel Summer.” Co-written by frequent collaborator Jack Antonoff and alt rocker St. Vincent, the bop is reminiscent of “Style” with enough flair to stand on its own. Ms. Swift’s baby growl is an album highlight, as she chants “He looked up, grinnin’ like a devil!”
Just when Lover seems to begin to lose steam, the final act offers three incredible moments in “Afterglow,” “It’s Nice To Have A Friend” and album closer “Daylight.” Each track shows a rare perspective from Swift. On “Afterglow,” she admits her faults to her lover. On “It’s Nice To Have A Friend,” the singer incorporates Caribbean steel drums and a choir with a restrained, hook-less vocal. On finale “Daylight,” she cleverly alludes to past lyrics and exhibits how much she has grown as an artist.
For an album with this many tracks, its all the more impressive to see the quality song after song. The only truly ill constructed single is the album lead “ME!” featuring Brendon Urie of Panic! at the Disco. What could’ve been an alt-pop banger in the vein of Urie’s past work with his group, “ME!” comes across as a weak ploy to promote individuality and course correct Swift’s sound. It’s a truly puzzling track from a promotional standpoint. Is the effort to de-individualize her image and provide a clean slate? Perhaps. Is it successful in doing that? Maybe. Was it worth releasing one of the worst singles in her career? Probably not. Its conceit is ironically discredited by her catering to bubblegum pop cliches – something she pleasantly avoids with the majority of the record.
Lover is as intentionally imperfect as its unapologetic creator. In embracing the facets of her personality and the genre experimentation that has defined her career, Taylor Swift continues to prove her longevity.