“Lover,” Taylor Swift’s latest release, sees the megastar return to the never-ending love present in her early albums, veering away from the icy and tough persona curated on her previous release “reputation.” However, this renewed embrace of her famously bright persona doesn’t necessarily translate into a coherent artistic development.
My column will take an artist like Swift and attempt to examine an album through the context of the artist’s discography and artistic identity. I believe music is a chain of interrelated releases, and no album exists in a vacuum.
Swift’s discography largely maintained a coherent narrative arc, but things began to change after “Red:” a chic urban girl walks out of “1989,” which is replete with songs that illustrate dreamy romance in the metropolis of New York City. This emphasis on where the love stories happen has drastically changed how Swift defines herself musically: She is now a big-city girl singing pop songs, not singing country songs about small-town romance like on “Love Story.”
Three years later, in 2017, “reputation” added a new complexity to her image: Swift declares her rebirth and transforms into a fearless woman ready to confront all her detractors. With the ferocious thumping beat of “Look What You Made Me Do” and the bold demands of “End Game,” Swift further embraced the industrial sounds and unforgiving lifestyle of the modern city.
Inconsistencies begin to seep out of the world of “Lover,” however, with the jarring transition from “reputation” and contradictions present on the album itself.
To be fair, Swift does assert the same independence found in her recent releases, albeit through a completely changed sonic and visual identity. Declarative lyrics like “I promise you’ll never find another like me” and “I’m ready for combat” carry on the torch of self-love and confidence from her last album through the three lead singles. Likewise, album opener “I Forgot That You Existed” touches on the joys of being liberated from an unsatisfactory relationship that denied her self-worth.
While the promotional singles continue to highlight her confidence, “Cruel Summer” and “Lover” then hone in on her desires for reciprocated love. Throughout the album, happiness follows disappointment, followed once again by happiness. Here, Swift no longer claims the ceaseless confidence and ends up somewhere between her earlier pining for love and her later gradual refutation of it, leading to a slightly muddled persona when taken as a whole.
By including all emotions she experiences from love in one album, Swift deprives “Lover” of a coherent message and paints a picture of an artist at a crossroads. Given the emotional rollercoaster throughout the album, Swift also hesitates to declare whether her happiness comes from herself or a relationship.
The irony of such uncertainty is most evident in the music video of “ME!” While the song celebrates the individual with lines like “I’m the only one of me,” the music video features a narrative of two lovers’ quarrel, one that ends up pacified when Swift’s lover offers her a bouquet. Instead of a recognition that being alone could be sufficient, the narrative arc still ends up centering the relationship.
Still, Swift’s newest iteration of her identity isn’t without precedent. If anything, Swift has left behind her bold statements made in “reputation” and returned to some of the themes that defined her early albums. Because “Lover” focuses so deeply on her conflicted internal feelings and longing for romance, it could even fit between “Speak Now” and “Red.” By returning to her older styles rather than completely forging another new one, “Lover” uses this precedent to make more sense in context of her whole repertoire.
Similarly, the new album cover and music videos extensively feature a bright color scheme that directly clashes with the edgy and rebellious attitude on the cover of “reputation.” Despite the dissonance from her recent releases, this aesthetic change harkens back to her earliest albums.
These questions about Swift’s identity, though serious, do not diminish how much I enjoy some songs from “Lover.” Out of the album’s varied and realistic portrayals of the many facets of love, you just might find one that will help better your understanding of the fraught emotion. In that sense, “Lover” may fail to provide any cohesive message, but that exact failure lets the album appeal to fans of any one of Swift’s eras.
Ellie Yang is a junior in the College. Record Rewind appears in print and online every other Friday.