Swift's ebullient return to form

American singer and songwriter Taylor Swift performing at the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards on Monday.
American singer and songwriter Taylor Swift performing at the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards on Monday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Taylor Swift's buoyant new album celebrates love in all its complications and glory, and sees her sending a big kiss-off to more troubled times



Taylor Swift


4 stars

If Taylor Swift's last album Reputation (2017) seemed combative and retaliatory, her latest and seventh one, Lover, is a sunlit and ebullient return to form.

As the title suggests, a good part of the album sees the 29-year-old American singer-songwriter, one of the most successful stars in the current pop climate, celebrate love in all its complications and glory.

The title track, an old-school waltz sure to be played in many romantic settings, contains mock wedding vows ("With every guitar string scar on my hand/I take this magnetic force of a man to be my lover"). The buoyant Paper Rings also touches on matrimony ("I like shiny things, but I'd marry you with paper rings").

The album also sends a big kiss-off to more troubled times. Cruel Summer, co-written with acclaimed singer-songwriter St. Vincent, alludes to the fallout from her 2016 public feud with rapper Kanye West and his wife Kim Kardashian, but also lauds a bad boy-turned-lover for helping her weather the storm.

Glittery pop tune and album opener I Forgot That You Existed sees her finding closure from past drama ("I forgot that you existed/It isn't love, it isn't hate, it's just indifference").

It is a fitting follow-up to pre-album single ME!, the pop showtune duet with Panic! At The Disco frontman Brendon Urie. It was released earlier this year and celebrates self-love.

While she has been careful to keep details about her relationship with current beau, British actor Joe Alwyn, under wraps, tracks such as the catchy London Boy and lyrics that seemingly point to their three-year relationship indicate that she is in a much happier place.

Yet Swift is also contemplative about past relationships. Afterglow, a melancholic pop track with gauzy synths and minimal beats, sees her mulling over past mistakes: "I'm the one who burned us down/But it's not what I meant/ Sorry that I hurt you". The Archer details insecurities about previous relationships ("Cause all of my enemies started out friends").

Acoustic ballad Soon You'll Get Better is a throwback to Swift's country beginnings that features guest vocals from Dixie Chicks, and a heartbreaking paean to her mother, who is suffering from cancer ("And I hate to make this all about me/But who am I supposed to talk to?").

Length-wise, Lover is a generous album with 18 songs and a run-time of slightly over an hour.

It could do with tighter editing, though. Tracks such as I Think He Knows and its pseudo-rap, as well as Cornelia Street's average minor-key pop, feel unnecessary.

Swift makes greater impact when she takes decisive stances - from You Need To Calm Down's strident support for the LGBTQ community and The Man's sharp takedown of gender inequality ("I'm so sick of running as fast as I can/Wondering if I'd get there quicker if I was a man") to Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince's dig at the divisive American political climate.

The singer also recognises that one does not have to be defined by the low points in our lives, and ends the album with the hope-filled Daylight ("You gotta step into the daylight and let it go").

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2019, with the headline 'Swift's ebullient return to form'. Print Edition | Subscribe