Inspired by our discussions of pop culture, and a previous Woroni column Skippy and Beagle, we – Avocado and Toast, two later year students looking for new forms of procrastination – will discuss a text in a way that’s second nature to us: in message form, with a healthy sprinkling of references and tangents. Up for discussion this time: Lover, Taylor Swift’s latest album.
Toast: We are both Taylor Swift fans, and we have many thoughts about this album, too many to fit here. So we’ll focus on our favourite six songs – yes, we ranked them – with some minor detours along the way.
Avocado: It’s surprising that we haven’t disagreed on our top six, as our tastes vary. I like upbeat songs like the ridiculous, but perfect, ‘Gorgeous’, while you prefer ballads and sadder songs. Our top six includes a mix of these, which is a good description of the variety of songs on the album as a whole!
T: Fair, but one of the things I enjoyed about this album is its coherence regardless of the tempo. The overall sonic-scape created through orchestrations, beats and backing vocals really hit me on first listen. There’s this overarching ethereal ‘aura’. The repeated, echoing “uh oh’s” on ‘You Need To Calm Down’ branch up like a butterfly unfurling its wings. This reflects the pastel liminality on the cover, and we hear different and compelling shades throughout the album.
A: I agree with you about the unity of sound, but I have some coherence issues! The transition from the airy, delicate sound of ‘Afterglow’ into the brash bubbliness of ‘ME!’ is physically painful.
T: I don’t hate the ‘Afterglow’ to ‘ME!’ transition, because there is a thematic lyrical link, but I get that it’s jarring. Then again, I just really love ‘Afterglow’! The orchestrations are minimal – a regular, thumping drum and guitar chords – giving great weight to the emotional lyrics. At the end, the guitar repeats the chorus’s melody, creating a literal afterglow.
A: ‘Afterglow’ is such a great song! Like some of the best songs on the album, it’s about taking responsibility for mistakes. Swift apologises, “sorry that I hurt you,” and assumes responsibility, “hey, it’s on me.” She’s just as self-aware in the most heartbreaking song on the album, ‘Soon You’ll Get Better’, which is about her mother’s battle with cancer. I love Swift’s attempts not to centre herself, as she sings vulnerably, “What am I supposed to do if there’s no you?”. On the plaintively stressed ‘you’, the backing cuts out, underscoring the unimaginable possibility that her mother will not “get better.”
T: Ah, the song I always cry at. I love the specificity of the colours in this song. The “holy orange bottles” and “I’ll paint the kitchen neon” evoke particular moments and feelings. There’s a different use of colour in ‘Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince’, perhaps my favourite song, as colour ties into its political interpretations. On one hand, “We’re so sad we paint the town blue” reflects the characters’ emotional states. Alternatively, blue is the colour of the Democratic party, and in “painting the town blue”, Swift is suggesting her political views. The song depicts her broader disconnect and horror with the state of politics, particularly the actions of the “bad guys”, a frustration she noted in a Rolling Stone interview.
A: It’s followed on the album by ‘Paper Rings’, along with ‘Cornelia Street’, creating the best three-track run since 1989. ‘Paper Rings’ is about commitment, and it’s a more upbeat reworking of some of reputation’s best songs. Instead of desperately escaping “in a getaway car”, here Swift “want[s] to drive away with you”. “I want your midnights” in ‘New Year’s Day’ becomes the more domestic “I want your dreary Mondays”.
T: It’s a stellar three-track run! Domesticity carries into ‘Cornelia Street’, which depicts an early relationship in a rented “place on Cornelia Street.” The introduction reminds me of flashback music, recalling specific moments in time. I like how often the music ‘drops out’. It’s widely noted that this occurs in Swift’s bridges, but here it’s at the start of the first and third choruses. This emphasises the emotional openness of “I hope I never lose you.”
A: The resounding falsetto chorus “I get mystified by how the city screams your name” creates a sense of premature nostalgia. This is also evident in the yearning, introspective “I’m so terrified of if you ever walk away,” foregrounding the intimate and the personal. If reputation was partly Swift creating a public persona, Lover is a more private album.
T: You hear that on ‘Cruel Summer’ too, which embraces the dichotomies of a hidden relationship. Traditional associations of summer are subverted: it’s ‘cruel’, mostly depicted at ‘night’, and gives way to feelings of ‘blue’. If on ‘Red’, “losing him was blue” and “loving him was red”, here red has brutal associations, as “If I bleed, you’ll be the last to know”.
A: The torturous relationship of this song reminds me of Romeo and Juliet, whose story Swift famously rewrote in ‘Love Story’. ‘Cruel Summer’ paints a more disturbing picture. If Juliet was waiting breezily “on a balcony in the summer air”, here the older Swift is desperately “always waiting for you to be waiting below”. When she “sn[eaks] in through the garden gate” it is, ominously, “to seal [her] fate”. ‘Cruel Summer’ restores the tragedy that she’d excised on ‘Love Story’. Lover often characterises relationships as violent, but the end of the album resolves this trope. On the final track, ‘Daylight’, she rejects the intertwining of violence and affection, singing “threw out our cloaks and our daggers because it’s morning now.”
T: “It’s brighter now,” and a great note to end on! While we haven’t talked about “the things [we] hate” on this album, and there certainly are things to dislike here, it’s still a great album. Fingers crossed the next single is ‘Cruel Summer’!
A: I am a major reputation defender, and while it may still be my favourite album to listen to, Lover’s coming close. It may be an overstatement to say “there’s nothing like this”, but the album reconsiders the past and points towards a “golden” future. While it’s not golden, ‘Paper Rings’ would also make for a great next single. Darling, it’s the one I want!