We speculate on the hidden references, dual meanings, and production behind Swift's newest effort
The jury is out and it seems that being in love is a good look for Taylor Swift. Her seventh album Lover was released at midnight on Friday, spurring hundreds of thousands of excited fan tweets about the singer’s newest creative direction.
Gone are many of the subliminal shots towards Swift’s bevy of famous exes. Instead listeners get a return to form that, for the most part, allows Swift to continue to embrace and experiment with pop while providing the deeply personal, specific lyrics she built her career on.
Toward the end of the record, a voice recording of Swift explains the thesis of Lover: “I want to be defined by the things that I love,” she says, “Not the things I hate. Not the things that I’m afraid of. Not the things that haunt me in the middle of the night. I just think that you are what you love.”
Here EW gives a track-by-track breakdown of the new project, with insight into both the production of the song and the Easter eggs fans have been pointing out upon repeat listens.
“I Forgot That You Existed”
Swift starts her album with the only song that seems directed toward a perceived enemy. The first verse can certainly be interpreted as directed at Kanye West. The Drake reference (the closest fans are getting to a long-rumored Drizzy collaboration) helps that theory along since both West and his wife Kim Kardashian also have a beef with Drake.
As far as the second verse goes, it’s doubtful that Swift “would’ve fought the whole town,” for the rapper. They were never that close. There is merit to the idea that this verse is about Karlie Kloss, who is not confirmed as being out of Swift’s good graces, but has been seemingly bumped from the squad since Swift’s Reputation era: “Would’ve been right there, front row/ Even if nobody came to your show” fits the narrative that Swift has felt burned by her alleged former supermodel best friend.
The bridge with the lyric “Taught me some hard lessons” is too short and vague to pin down exactly who it’s about, but many fans are taking it as a sleight toward Swift’s ex Calvin Harris, who she had a falling out with over their hit song “This Is What You Came For,” which Swift wrote under a pseudonym, then outed herself and began getting more credit for the song than Harris thought was fair.
OK, so maybe Taylor Swift isn’t done referencing her beef with Kanye. This song, about the summer she spent canceled by Kardashian West, just so happens to share a name with the compilation album Kanye’s record label G.O.O.D. Music released in 2012.
That said, the primary focus of the track — co-written by Swift, Antonoff, and St. Vincent — is Swift meeting her current beau Joe Alwyn during that fateful summer in 2016, and how the “bad boy” comforted her.
If Easter eggs are any indication of what cuts Swift finds preferable, “Cruel Summer” is referenced in the “You Need to Calm Down” music video as a tattoo on Ellen DeGeneres’ arm, and some of the lyrics are shown in the “Lover” video as board game titles.
What more needs to be said about Swift’s newest single, the title track to her album? Here her and Antonoff craft a piercing declaration of love for Joe Alwyn — and is likely to double as Swift’s wedding song should she ever marry the actor. It was revealed by a dedicated Swiftie in attendance at one of the singer’s private listening sessions that “Lover” is Swift’s favorite song of her own discography.
Part of this era for Taylor Swift has been embracing queer artists, so it’s both interesting and notable how reminiscent this song, an “If I Were A Boy” of her own, captures the essence of a Christine and the Queens or Dorian Electra track — two examples of queer artists who also make songs that play with gender dynamics. The punch she packs with each lyric suits her.
This song was the third track Swift released in promotion of the album, but has anyone noticed it sounds a bit like “Come Clean” by Hilary Duff? Conjuring the sound of the Laguna Beach theme song is just pure candy for a lot of Swift’s core fanbase.
This song was one of the tracks heavily hinted at in the lead up to its release, with the “ME!” video including Cupid-like figures, and the “You Need to Call Down” clip having singer Hayley Kiyoko shoot an arrow at the number five. As far as Swift’s track fives go, and the fan theory that they’re always one of her most vulnerable songs on her records, Swift delivers.
“I Think He Knows”
This is just a great example of how Swift knows how to condense teenage-like infatuation into an effective pop song. The only lyric giving specific detail into her personal life is the reference to 16th Avenue, likely referring to Nashville’s Music Row, which is more than a throwaway line. Swift has a crush that makes her feel young, and therefore is taking listeners back to a familiar place when she was a teen becoming famous for writing songs like this.
“Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince”
This song continues the high school crush vibes, and probably is the Lover track most reminiscent of Reputation. Fitting then that this is being taken as Swift addressing her feelings on the political climate in which she began dating Joe Alwyn. If their relationship began in summer 2016, and in the narrative of the album so far is that they are still early into their relationship, the song can be interpreted as Swift explaining her complicated public image to her new lover.
Swift begins the song with a perceived Easter egg only the real ones will know, referencing her “Crazier” performance in Hannah Montana: The Movie, as well as nods to her dual roles in the “You Belong With Me” video. If lyrics like “American glory faded before me” and “The damsels are depressed” are to be taken as references to the 2016 election, Swift is trying to convey how she wanted to escape from the idea she’s America’s sweetheart now that she is not happy with the direction the country is going in.
On the album’s eighth track, Swift declares that her and Alwyn are exclusive. Timeline-wise she mentions events occurring in the winter, fitting in chronologically with the previous song where she may have been speaking about the November election.
As far as Easter eggs go, Swift hinted at the song by including paper rings in her “ME!” lyric video, and within the track she mentions painting a wall blue, which fans take as a reference to a photo of her painting that she distributed in the VIP boxes on her Reputation tour.
The song is maybe the closest Swift has come to punk music, but the shift at the bridge where the song begins to sound like a classic Go-Go’s tune shows how well Swift would have fared during the 1980s new wave craze.
London and Nashville both have a Cornelia Street, and are significant cities to Swift, but the Cornelia Street Swift is likely referring to here is the one in New York City. The singer had rented a townhouse there while her Tribeca home was being renovated, right around the time she began dating Alwyn. Throughout the song are lyrics that reflect Reputation songs that were perceived to be about Alwyn, such as “New Years Eve” and “King of my Heart.”
The song is clearly personal to Swift, being how many details she shares about her life within it, and the fact she has sole songwriting credit on it. The ballad falls in line with many of Swift’s past confessional songs like “Back to December,” but is given an updated, more contemporary production.
“Death By A Thousand Cuts”
Swift has already revealed that the song is about a breakup, and is inspired by seeing a relationship in flashbacks. The song is lacking a bit lore-wise, with not enough details to pinpoint if it’s about a specific person, or a composite of her exes, but the singer is accurate in calling it a “sad bop.”
Swift had been on quite a run of dating UK celebrities, from Harry Styles to Calvin Harris to Tom Hiddleston, before settling in with Alwyn, and here she once again embraces the public perception of her.
With all the soul-baring the singer does on the front half of Lover, it’s refreshing to have a fun, frivolous song that starts with audio of her Cats co-stars Idris Elba and James Corden discussing how to plan a date in London. Hard to tell if Swift brokered her deal with clothing designer Stella McCartney before calling herself the Tennessee version of the successful Beatles spawn.
The Anglophile jokes and accent work is fun, reminiscent of Swift’s twist on the “I still love you” line, allegedly mimicking Styles during her “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” performance at the 2013 MTV VMAs. However, “London Boy” does have an undercurrent of Swift explaining that she doesn’t need Alwyn’s homecoming to be luxurious, as she wants to see the more authentic sides of her boyfriend’s hometown.
“Soon You’ll Get Better” feat. Dixie Chicks
Wow! Gut punch. Swift has long been a fan of country trio the Dixie Chicks, with their song “Cowboy Take Me Away” being the first track she learned on the guitar. Fans knew a collaboration was bound to happen after noticing a pin dedicated to the band on her jacket for the cover of this very publication. She also had a framed photo of them prominently shown in the “ME!” video.
This song deals with Swift’s mother being re-diagnosed with cancer this year. It’s subject matter her co-writer Antonoff knows well, being that he lost a little sister to cancer while he was in high school.
Swift goes back to her country roots not to appeal to the fans clamoring for it, but as an authentic, heart-wrenching tribute bound to help many fans cope with the struggles that come with taking care of sick family members.
Since Reputation, Swift has been playing around with describing her relationship to Alwyn using religious imagery, but since “Don’t Blame Me” she has realized it may not be the healthiest metaphor.
Between lyrics equating romantic devotion with religious altars and communion wine, the singer continues to emphasize the important role New York City plays in her relationship with Alwyn.
It may be a bit of a stretch, but the song does feel like co-writer Antonoff found a way to sneak in some musical nods to one of his idols Bruce Springsteen, with the saxophone in the background and the cadence in which Swift delivers some of the lines. Needless to say, it all works out well.
“You Need To Calm Down”
Swift’s direct address to the haters, on the second single off Lover, has been polarizing to say the least. The track does benefit being played within the context of the album, though. The buzzing production is an interesting effect among the more adult contemporary-sounding collection.
It is still great that Swift is embracing the role of a famous LGBTQ ally, but the way she uses “shade” incorrectly in this song still burns.
Lover is very much a statement on how Swift has matured in terms of romantic relationships, and part of that has been taking accountability for her actions. Throughout the album, Swift acknowledges past patterns and faults that have lead to the demise of relationships (though things are never one-sided) and this song reflects that growth. Now that she is out of the honeymoon phase with Alwyn, she is doing her best to take preventative measures that keep the fire going with her British beau after a fight.
This is the second song on the album written with Frank Dukes and Louis Bell, and if the opening track was reminiscent of their work with Drake, this feels much like their work with Swift’s friend Camila Cabello. Dukes and Bell make great use of a pounding drum paired with Swift’s razor-thin falsetto, bringing an extra amount of vulnerability to each line.
“ME!” feat. Brendon Urie
We have established before this is definitely not Swift at her best, so to be more positive this time, let’s just say that this song, released as the first single to Lover and not very representative of the album as a whole, would have been a killer breakout single for teen idol JoJo Siwa.
Also, justice for the “Spelling is fun” line! The song’s references to spelling work even less now that Swift ousted the campy declaration between releasing the single and the album.
“It’s Nice To Have A Friend”
The penultimate Lover song is more fantasy than reality, with one light reference to touching hands that is a recurring motif in songs about Swift’s relationship with Alwyn. Some are interpreting it as the full narrative of a relationship, from meeting as kids to growing old together, but there is an argument to be made that the song is comparing the comfort Swift found in her greatest friendships to the comfort she finally feels dating Alwyn. It is as if once again she has found her match and is struck by the familiar feeling.
This is the third song on Lover with Dukes and Bell, who have used Caribbean influences before on No. 1 hits like “Havana.” The steel drum gives the song an ethereal effect, bracing audiences for the album to close.
The final song on Lover does an incredible job of explaining the whole point of the album. Swift weaves in references to past songs like “Out of the Woods” and “Red” to note how she is shedding the darkness she was living through in the Reputation era during which she met Alwyn, and focusing more on the positives in her life. It’s a great bookend to her twenties, and the promotion cycle of the album, which started with Swift giving Elle 30 things she has learned in her life.
Lyrically, Swift uses Lover to solidify her confidence in romantic relationships, but musically she also finally sounds settled into her role in pop. The album is as reflective of Swift’s working relationship with Antonoff as it is with Alwyn, and her journey toward finding what her sound is outside of country music, which has included experimenting with everything from dubstep to folk, is now complete.