Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Lover (2019) Marks A New Beginning After A Winding Storm

Taylor Swift Lover Review
Very few artists in the music industry are known for their literal reputation. From a rising country star to a pop sensation, Taylor Swift became recognized for the drama – the men she was dating (or even seen with), feuds, the lack of using her voice in politics, and everything in between. Considering the number of records she’s broken and set, the awards she’s won, the genuine giving personality she’s known to have with her fans, her life in the public became more known than the music she was making.

Nothing could stop the apocalyptic summer of 2016, where her personal and professional life came to a head. Squeezed into a damn-if-she-did-damned-if-she-doesn’t corner, Swift reverbed the drama into her sixth album Reputation. A boisterous declaration against the black and white headlines, which spun opinions into facts and made no room for redemption, Swift simultaneously played into the persona of the witch getting burned as well as the torchbearer. Trying to regain some semblance of her career spiraling out of control, Reputation served all the rumors surrounding her image at that point up on snake-laden platter.

Despite fans recognizing that the Old Taylor was never literally dead, transitions between eras can sometimes lose fans along the way. Having become a bonafide Swiftie through Reputation, it’s hard to not be biased about its production and tone. A mix of angry and boisterous anthems, and vulnerable mellow confessions, it’s impossible to skip a track no matter how many times I’ve listened to it. But while watching the Reputation concert on Netflix the night before Lover released, I wondered if Taylor could handle losing the ‘swamp witch’ impression (as Taylor put it) and step into the daylight.

A long and winding career whirlwind, such as the one that Taylor endured, is not something most public figures – in film, music, or politics – emerge unscathed.

Except Taylor Swift.

And, this is where Lover comes in.

The dust has settled. The dark clouds have faded away. And the cotton-candy sky have started to peak.

On a first listen, Lover is a sprawling, almost convoluted collection of sounds, memories, and emotions to absorb. Initially, I was concerned about whether or not the tracks would pique my interest beyond the singles she released during the promo cycle. And the songs themselves seemed to blend lyrics and melody so seamlessly, it was hard to tell them apart. But somewhere along the away – between releasing months of easter egg hunts, anticipation and expectations, the songs that struck a chord with me instantly became stronger favorites, while others I didn’t love on a first listen have grown on more and more.

Sonically, her seventh album runs an upbeat gamut between pure pop escapism, sexy R&B, and country. There's callbacks to earlier songs and the tiniest details for us to decode. We find meanings within the meanings, which makes us feel like our work of hers is never done. But there’s a universal quality in her words too.

With bubble gum pop charm and almost a nostalgic outlook, she reaches out about sexism, cancer, individuality, and homophobia alongside pure glimpses of her diary in relationships and as a woman. In a very few takes she's able to combat sexism in The Man, equate her English boyfriend as the home for her heart in London Boy, and then open up about her mom's cancer in Soon You'll Get Better. Unburdened by the overexposure of her Grammy winning fifth album 1989, and the summer apocalypse of Reputation, Swift’s thirteenth year in the music industry combines a love letter to her fans and to her life – drama, romances, broken relationships, and all. Like life itself, her album is vast, charming, complicated, and a bit messy.

The album's foreword by Swift briefly delves unto the life lessons she learned from her journals - copies of which she release for her fans in deluxe editions. She encourages to practice letting go of the white noise, cherishing or capturing small moments, and being known for what you love instead of what you hate. A consistent theme in Taylor's work, however, has also exploring the various definitions of love. From holding into a fairytale image to surviving disastrous relationships, she's finally found a place where love is fully realized - you're afraid to be vulnerable, it makes you feel like a teenager but you also have to own to your mistakes, and sometimes it's okay to walk away. Out of the dark age of her reputation, Taylor’s found freedom in her creativity and voice. And you can finally hear and feel it stronger than ever before.

Rating: ★★☆

With 18 tracks, I thought it’d be fun to share my thoughts on each song. You can check it out below. Have you listened to Lover? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below!

It's hard for me to pick my favorites, but here's my top five: I Forgot You Existed, Lover (or The Archer - they're interchangeable), The Man, Cornelia Street, and Soon You'll Get Better. My least favorite is Death By A Thousand Cuts.)

I Forgot That You Existed Honestly, this was the best way to open the album. Taylor gives one last song to address the drama. Where This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things on Reputation was a declaration of leaving life ruiners behind to appreciate real friends, I Forgot That You Existed equalizes how the impact of someone could be the same as not being around. It's not going to win songwriting points, but similar to Me!, it's a relatable bop for those relationships that feel more like situationships.

Cruel Summer This is one of a few songs that grew on me. While everyone speculates about who her songs are about, I liked the general anonymity of this first lover-related song. As much as I could see this as a radio single, without the Cruuueeelllll Summmmerrrrr part, it'd be entirely forgettable for me. When it switches to Lover, I'm kind of like ‘well that one's over'.

Lover - Released only a week before the album, I was surprised to see Lover listed so early on the tracklist. But it's the perfect combo of lyrics, pacing, and production. In between all the pure pop songs, this one is stripped down and back to her country roots. Similar to The Archer, I wish it hadn't been released as a promo single, and were like presents I could open on Christmas and just be overwhelmed by how good they are instead of listening to them early. Still, it's one of my favorites.

The Man - The lyrics don't snap, they slap. It's a necessary track of poking holes in the patriarchy and what a man can get away with versus a woman. I love how she reclaimed 'bitch' because...well you know. The song itself feels like a natural statement on feminism, but doesn't feel as initially contrived as You Need To Calm Down music video when it first dropped (and has grown on me since then). 

The Archer - A weird perfect mix of a ballad - fast enough to get to the point but slow enough to let the lyrics sink in. It's one of the few songs from anyone that speaks to my anxiety in relationships as well as an individual. It's a perfect fit for the Track 5 Theory.

I Think He Knows - I don't know if it was intentional, but it totally reminds me of Prince's Kiss, and I'm here for it. Taylor dives a little further into talking about mature aspects of having a crush and making it intimate and seductive. She says a lot with saying very little, and that's powerful.

Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince - At first, I wasn't quite sure why it was so popular with fans, but it's definitely grown on me. I don't know how she manages to mix a Springsteen anthem of high school lovers and a fear of the state of politics, but it's wonderful.

Paper Rings - 1 part 90s girl band / rock, 1 part cheesy country, 1 part pop. It’s cute, and almost reminds me of the band at the end of 10 Things I Hate About You. I don't skip it when I listen to the album, but it’s kind of forgettable.

Cornelia Street - I don't even know how to describe this one. It's just perfect? Emotional and whimsical, and a great synth by producer Jack Antonoff. She exudes the memories of walking down memory lane while singing about the memories she created on Cornelia Street. TAYLORCEPTION.

Death by a Thousand Cuts - If it had a different title, I don't think I'd rank it so low. This is my least favorite song on the album. I just found the sugary upbeat tone and message at odds with each other...and it made me ironically laugh a little too hard.

London Boy - This is just so cute, to be honest. I've never fallen in love with someone from another country, and learned to love all of their quirks and where they're from, but this makes me feel like I've done it.

Soon You'll Get Better (Ft. Dixie Chicks) - I don't usually pick the most emotional song as my favorite...but this is it. Similar to Lover and The Archer, the lyrics are simple yet powerful. The production is beautiful. And her whispery voice is just heartbreaking. Songs like this don't come around often, and it's a real honor that she shared her fears about her mom's cancer diagnosis with us.

False God - Groovy is the first word that comes to mind. It's a jazzy almost R&B tune squeezing into the super pop tunes, and it's a great surprise. It's not about stardom or fame as much as I thought it'd be, but worshiping the person you're with almost as big as something greater than ourselves. It's sexy like Dress from Reputation.

You Need To Calm Down - As much as I love the music video, it also made me think that Taylor was overcompensating for having not been vocal about her politics before. Gradually, I've come to love the song because there still is a struggle for representation in the LGBTQ community by allies, especially for the equality act. It's a queer anthem I didn't expect, and I love and appreciate her efforts.

Afterglow - For some reason, this song feels like it should be a whole romantic comedy. lol Which is ironic because Taylor's admitting to making mistakes in a relationship and asking for forgiveness. The chorus is so addictive.

ME! (Ft. Brendon Urie) - Out of all the songs on this album, this is going to be the one I listen to the most. I don't even know why. It uplifts me. I don't mind the bridge because I know it's meant to be corny. If you hear someone scream SPELLING IS FUN no matter what state or country you're in, don't worry, it's just me trying to get justice for the fact that it was removed.

It’s Nice to Have a Friend - Taylor's written a few songs with the progression of a relationship from crush to marriage to a happily ever after. As one of those tracks, this one is so simple. The song also features Toronto's Regent Park School of Music, where licensing fees and royalties go to funding musical education for children in high-priority neighborhoods. I got to give it up for the quality of production she used.

Daylight - I wasn't crazy about Daylight until I heard Taylor play an acoustic / piano version on SiriusXM. WOW. It's a good reflection of her just stepping into the daylight.

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