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Monday, February 6, 2023

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Taylor Swift shows political side on new album 'Lover'

Taylor Swift shows political side on new album ‘Lover’

Her seventh release reflects a confidence with speaking out and expanding her sound, while amping up the musical hooks.

Taylor Swift has done it again, unleashing a headline-grabbing album that also delivers musically—and, intriguingly, weaves in her new-found political voice. Seventh studio album Lover has gotten Swifties (and even some non-Swifties) riled up with excitement, with fans camping out overnight in Central Park to get a spot at her GMA performance, or rushing to Target as soon as it opened to grab numerous copies of the deluxe version of the CD.

Swift has been hinting at this album since February 2018, when her dark-colored Instagram feed became littered with bright, colorful posts. Her easter eggs—the term Swift uses for the hints she hides for fans to find—have been scattered across social media, interviews, her clothing, and her first singles and music videos. Many fans speculate she’s been dropping hints throughout the era of her last album, Reputation. The first single, “Me!” (featuring Brendon Urie of Panic! At the Disco) came out at the end of April, with a music video full of bright colors, ambiguous images and the reveal of a new cat.

In June—Pride month throughout most of the world—Swift released the song and music video for “You Need to Calm Down,” an unambiguously LGBTQ+ positive anthem filled with rainbows, queer icons and gay pride. And within the past month, Swift turned the sound around and released two emotional ballads, “The Archer” and “Lover,” that set the stage for a dynamic, mixed-emotions album.

Lover marks a significant turning point in Swift’s career, as it explores not just the emotions of love, happiness, and fear, but political topics such as Pride and feminism. It is also the first album she has made that she has owned, in terms of rights. Please refer to Swift’s recent skirmish with her previous record company, Big Machine Records, and manager Scooter Braun, which left her without any rights to the masters of her first six albums.

But despite any challenges Swift has faced in the music industry recently, she still managed to come through with a once-in-a-lifetime album. And coming from a T-Swift super fan, I think I can say it might be my favorite album (I’m sorry Speak Now and 1989). The album takes every good thing from her previous albums and enhances it: Reputation’s pop embrace, 1989‘s promotional acumen, Red‘s passion, Speak Now‘s lyrics, the energy of Fearless and the nostalgia of debut Taylor Swift. Swift explores new sounds and instrumentation—snappy percussion on “I Forgot You Existed,” the soft piano and drums in “Lover,” flute-like sounds in “Cornelia Street,” jazzy accents in False God, , but in a way that feels reminiscent of her previous albums.

Beyond just the instrumentation and vocals, it’s the deep-cutting and diary-style lyrics that really elevate this album. Swift released photocopies of her personal diary entries, as well as never-before-seen photos in her deluxe editions of the album. I couldn’t pick a favorite lyric, but I am currently obsessed with the bridge in Lover (“My hearts been borrowed and yours had been blue / All’s well that ends well to end up with you”) and the bridge in Daylight (“I once believed love would be (Burning Red) / But it’s Golden / Like daylight), which references Swift’s fourth studio album, Red.

And of course it wouldn’t be a Swift album without laughs and spoken lyrics embedded throughout. In her concluding statement in the last song, “Daylight,” she says, “I want to be defined by the things that I love, not the things I hate, not the things I’m afraid of, I’m afraid of, or the things that haunt me in the middle of the night. I, I just think that you are what you love.”

I think it’s also important to note the political undertones worked into the album. With Lover, Swift also shows she’s becoming a fighter.

Swift made her public political debut during the 2018 midterm elections with a searingly forthright Instagram post endorsing two Democratic candidates in Tennessee during a hotly contested election season. (The candidate she endorsed for governor lost.) She has since remained outspoken, encouraging her fans to educate themselves on issues and vote, creating a petition for the US Senate to support the Equality Act, advocating for LGBTQ rights. Previously, her apolitical stance with regards to liberal issues—tricky in her original genre, country—garnered criticism as she moved more into the general pop world. She has since said that she previously stayed quiet to protect her mental health, and would have endorsed Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election. Maybe now she realizes that she would have critics no matter what she did or said, so it was time to speak her conscience.

The release of “You Need to Calm Down” generated a lot of conversations. Some critics argued that Swift was pandering to the queer community, while others defended her for using her platform to speak about such an important topic. Her friend and choreographer Todrick Hall, who starred in the music video, thanked Swift for using her platform to “change people’s hearts and minds with her music.” Many fans felt more noticed and loved by Swift because her public expression of being an ally also translated into action. Swift donated $113,000 to the LGBTQ advocacy group Tennessee Equality Project. “I believe in the fight for LGBTQ rights, and that any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation is WRONG,” Swift wrote in an Instagram post in October 2018.

Swift also has been a vocal advocate of feminism and removing double-standards with regard to pay and promotion, especially in the music industry. In “The Man,” Swift ponders whether she’d be more successful if she was male. “I’m so sick of running as fast as I can, wondering if I’d get there quicker if I was a man / And I’m so sick of them coming at me again, ‘cause if I was a man, then I’d be the man,” Swift sings.

The depth of the album, and the metaphors that I continue to find make each listen a new experience. Some of Swift’s songs supposedly allude to Trump’s America, such as “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince” and “Death by a Thousand Cuts.” In a recent interview with the Guardian, Swift even took explicit aim at the U.S. President, saying, “We’re a democracy—at least we’re supposed to be—where you’re allowed to disagree, dissent, debate. I really think he thinks this is an autocracy.” She even brings presidential criticism full circle on the new album by featuring the Dixie Chicks, the country trio that was publicly lambasted for criticizing George W. Bush onto even of the Iraq Invasion.

For all these reasons and more, I can’t stop listening to Lover on repeat. I can feel the genuine passion radiating through each song, mixed with sass, vulnerability, and raw feeling. It’s an emotional rollercoaster that swept me up dancing and then dropped me down crying. Each time I listen to the songs again, I fall more in love. I’m looking forward to keeping tabs on Swift as she continues to find her voice in politics and does all she can in the 2020 election, as she has promised. But for now, I’ll be bopping around my room to “Paper Rings,” my current favorite song on the album.

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