When Taylor Swift announced her 2019 studio album ‘Lover’ and led with the overly bubblegum flavored ‘ME’, it was widely regarded as an overcorrection following her darker, hip-hop nodding sixth record ‘Reputation’. While ‘Reputation’ sold over a million units in it’s first week, it failed to produce any lasting hits and was perceived as a costume that did not fit well on her. ‘Lover’ returned her to the bright pop aesthetics of ‘1989’, while still finding new ways to push her musical career forward. 

Hindered by what is often seen as the most puzzling lead single choice of her career, ‘Lover’ contains much more sonic ambition than it is credited for. ‘It’s Nice To Have A Friend’, a sparse, short track tucked away near the end of the album, lets her songwriting shine. Here she plays with structure on a track that feels like a note written to a middle school crush set to children’s instruments, yet instead of sounding childlike, she delivers it with an age-won wisdom that makes it one of the album’s standout tracks.  The smooth R&B influenced ‘False God’ marks an ambitious choice, both in content and sound. ‘False God’ is an exploration of her sexuality and her dedication to maintain a long term relationship delivered through religious imagery. Its impact is heightened by its placement immediately following a gentle song expressing her newfound faith, the tear jerking country ballad ‘Soon You’ll Get Better’. 

That’s not to say there’s no great pure pop songs to be found. On ‘Cornelia Street’ she mines the all too familiar feeling of imagining how her life will have to change if her relationship ends, as if she knows there’s no way it will last. It’s one of her best pop tracks, another of her synth driven tracks in the lineage of ‘Style’ and ‘Delicate’. There’s the title track, a cozy, lived-in exploration of the magical and mundane of long term commitment that will live on as a wedding classic with its sweeping waltz tempo over an acoustic guitar. But the true standout is ‘Cruel Summer’, a banger that may well be the peak of her pop power. Her vivid writing, combined with one of her strongest vocal performances to date and a classic Taylor bridge prove why she has had such incredible staying power in her 17 year career. 

The album also marks a significant added perspective that had been missing from Swift’s music while she was signed to Big Machine Records. She makes her most overt political and socially conscious statements to date on tracks like ‘You Need To Calm Down’ and ‘The Man’. Both are big pop records that feel almost like too much, not inauthentic, but inorganic. This is likely just a side effect of having spent the first ten years of her professional music career being told not to write about anything that could cause her to alienate any potential customers of the Enterprise of Taylor Swift. On later tracks like 2020's ‘mad woman’ and 2022’s ‘Lavender Haze’ she stitches her personal statements into the fabric of the songs, presenting a more nuanced touch that comes across as much more genuine.

The album has recently found a new life on streaming and is, years after it’s release, being appreciated as one of her best. Her pop culture dominating Eras Tour, which opens with the album, certainly can take most of the credit for that. Clips of the marathon performance have dominated the social media landscape of 2023, pushing “Cruel Summer’ and Swift’s pop stardom to new, unprecedented heights.

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