Just a few days after its release, Lover is already the best-selling album of 2019—so is Taylor Swift good again? Ringer staffers chime in on their favorite songs, the insipidity of “ME!,” ordinary Joe, and feminism that you can dance to.
1. What is your tweet-length review of Lover?
Alyssa Bereznak: A refreshingly mature album with occasional dashes of Swift’s characteristic bitterness (good) and pandering bubblegum pop (bad).
Kate Knibbs: Lover is lovable.
Andrew Gruttadaro: I still maintain that Reputation was a long con by Taylor Swift to lower absurdly high expectations—and look! It worked!
Kate Halliwell: Thank God Taylor Swift is so bad at picking lead singles, so that our low expectations could be blown out of the water!
2. What is your favorite song on the album?
Knibbs: Right now it’s a toss-up between “Cruel Summer” and “The Man,” but it changes hourly.
Bereznak: “The Archer.” I love a song that builds, and Swift always shines when she strips away the fancy production and lets her emotions get raw.
Gruttadaro: “False God” may be a blatant rip-off of Carly Rae Jepsen’s work with Blood Orange, but man, that vibe is surprisingly right in Taylor’s Q-zone.
Halliwell: “Cornelia Street” has been stuck in my head for 72 hours straight and I have no regrets.
3. What is your least favorite song?
Knibbs: “ME!,” which should truly not be on this album, or even released into the world to befoul the airwaves with its insipid melody.
Bereznak: “ME!” For the past two albums, Swift has been bad at predicting the hits on her albums. “Look What You Made Me Do” and “...Ready for It?” signaled that Reputation would be a disaster. In retrospect, and after processing my feelings about her silence during the election, I will now defend a whole seven tracks from that release. (“Delicate” fans, hello.) She repeated the exercise with Lover when she released that cloying Brendon Urie collab and the misguided “You Need To Calm Down.” But I get it, she wants to make money.
Halliwell: “ME!” Somehow the lead single is the worst song on the album, and it’s not even close.
Gruttadaro: “London Boy” gives me secondhand embarrassment.
4. What are your thoughts on Joe Alwyn, the apparent inspiration for a majority of this album?
Gruttadaro: Ever since The Favourite I’ve been unable to picture Joe Alwyn as anyone but the guy who gets emotionally dominated by Emma Stone and, y’know, Lover hasn’t really changed that.
Knibbs: Great gowns, beautiful gowns.
Bereznak: Look, it’s a testament to Taylor Swift’s artistry that she could write such a solid album about a celebrity as underwhelming as Joe Alwyn. He may very well be a supportive, kind partner who will loyally board a private jet whenever she beckons. But unlike her past flames, he has very few compelling, well-known characteristics to reference in lyrics. He’s not listening to indie records much cooler than Taylor’s (Jake Gyllenhaal). He doesn’t have a “James Dean daydream look” in his eye (Harry Styles). And, as far as we know, he is not “an expert at sorry and keeping lines blurry” (John Mayer). Without those kind of recognizable, vivid details, the songs sometimes feel generic. “London Boy” is a bop, sure, but it also seems like she’s using the one thing we know about Joe Alwyn—that he is from a cool European metropolitan city—as a stand-in for a personality. Similarly, “Paper Rings” might seem like a love song, but in the context of their lopsided success, the subtext is that maybe she fell for someone who is only a moderately successful actor. (“I like shiny things, but I’d marry you with paper rings.”)
Taylor Swift to Joe Alwyn every time they fight pic.twitter.com/eZfC1tnbtm— Kate Halliwell (@katehalliwell) August 25, 2019
5. Pick your favorite analogy on the album.
Bereznak: I almost spat out my morning smoothie when I heard the lyric “And they would toast to me, oh, let the players play / I’d be just like Leo in Saint-Tropez.” Every pop song needs more Leo imagery, and I’d like to personally thank Swift for reminding me this photo existed.
Gruttadaro: “You’re the West Village / You still do it for me, babe.” As an NYU graduate I find this offensive and also offensively on-point.
Halliwell: “In my feelings more than Drake, so yeah.” I’m just happy those Drake hints didn’t lead to a collab.
6. Finish the sentence: “Taylor Swift’s collaboration with the Dixie Chicks is …”
Knibbs: … something that should have happened sooner.
Bereznak: … a tender song about her mom’s struggle with cancer, and a nice, brief return to Old Taylor.
Halliwell: … devastating! Call your mothers!
Gruttadaro: … simultaneously great and not prominent enough. Natalie Maines couldn’t get a verse?!
7. Let’s talk about “The Man.”
Knibbs: I thought a Taylor Swift feminism song might be cloying, but in fact it rules.
Gruttadaro: Damn, even Taylor’s first-grade-level assessment of misogyny is a jam.
Halliwell: I already know how sexism works and didn’t really need this reminder, but also ... it’s a bop!
Bereznak: Legendary Leo lyric aside, my feelings about the song are complicated. Its sentiment—that women are often shamed for their sexual exploits, and held down while their male counterparts thrive—is absolutely valid. But Swift’s history with this “narrative” is fraught. During the 2016 election, she sometimes conflated valid media critique with sexism. Yet, despite her apparent feminism, she never publicly endorsed a presidential candidate. Her decision to stay out of politics altogether highlighted the utter privilege she has as a rich, white pop star. (Many women do not have the option to stay silent about, say, their increasingly limited access to health care.) My point is, she has used the sexism card when it’s convenient to her, so I’m hesitant to deem this some kind of feminist ballad. Nonetheless, it is very catchy.
8. What’s your favorite shady reference or Swiftian Easter egg on Lover?
Bereznak: “I Forgot That You Existed,” which is presumably about her ex-boyfriend Calvin Harris, appears to reference a tweetstorm he wrote after her camp revealed she had a hand in his hit song “This Is What You Came For”: “I figure if you’re happy in your new relationship you should focus on that instead of trying to tear your ex bf down for something to do,” he wrote in a now-deleted tweet. In the song she writes, “Sent me a clear message / Taught me some hard lessons.” The irony of the song is that its very existence disproves its thesis. You don’t write songs about people you’re indifferent about.
Halliwell: It’s the Carol reference. Obviously.
9. Is Taylor Swift good again?
Halliwell: So good!!
Knibbs: She was never bad—but this new album is a showcase for her staying power.
Bereznak: Ugh, you’re really going to make me say it? Yes, she’s good! Are you happy now?
Gruttadaro: I think we still need to be conscientious about separating Taylor Swift the Celebrity from Taylor Swift the Musician. She’s still the narrative-shaping megastar she was five days ago, even as she requests to be removed from narratives and claims that she’s forgotten certain people existed. Taylor Swift the Celebrity is still not in a great place. But Taylor Swift the Musician is definitely back, and that’s actually the first step of rehabilitation for Taylor Swift the Celebrity.