We rarely dedicate First Impressions to an entire album but we did it for Taylor Swift's last album Reputation so naturally we have to for Lover. Swifites, critics and doubters unite in our roundtable review of Swift's sixth album.
I Forgot That You Existed
Sam: The weakest opener of a Swift album ever. I get that this is meant to a moving-on statement but I just don’t think it was necessary to bring this up again. Production-wise it just feels thin and childish. 0.5
Sonia: It seems as though we’re transitioning out of the Rep era with this gentle introduction. Production & lyric-wise, it’s a much tidier and elaborate version of ‘This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things’ (my least fave song from the Rep album): a messy venting experience. Here on IFTYE she appears to be reflecting and closing this Kanye story in a cool, calm and collected state. Also stoked to see producers see Frank Duke & Louis Bell on this one. 3
Jackson: “In my feelings more than Drake, so yeah.” Absolutely not. This is borderline offensive. Taylor Swift is one of our era’s strongest pop songwriters, and it’s hard to find something enjoyable about this. It feels inauthentic, lazy and almost like it is referencing Kanye again. This song doesn’t do her skills any justice, and it does her fans a huge disservice. I’m so mad. It gets a point because it sounds like she’s finally done talking about her god damned, motherfucking reputation. 1
Gabby: After opening Reputation with ‘…Ready For It,’ 1989 with ‘Welcome To New York’ etc this song just doesn’t pack the punch I was expecting Swift to kick things off with. It’s one of those tracks that comes on shuffle and you have to stop to see what it is because you… forgot that it existed. “It isn’t love, it isn’t hate, it’s just indifference,’ sums up my thoughts tbh. 2.5
Sam: If we had started on this I would’ve been eating out of the palm of her hands from the beginning. I love Swift, Antonoff and St. Vincent together. There’s a grit and strength to Cruel Summer that I imagine St. Vincent had something to do with. It’s the Out Of The Woods of the album and, honestly, after that opener it feels like we’re out of the bloody woods. 5
Jackson: A thought - scrap ‘I Forgot That You Existed’ from the album and make this booming, soaring, stadium-ready banger the opener. This is Taylor Swift at her pop-writing finest. It’s that irrepressible feeling of euphoria that made 1989 such a classic, and it is only enhanced by St. Vincent. It is explosive and colourful and a little corny, all of which make Taylor the superstar and the future legend she is. 5
Sonia: Alright, here we go!! I love Taylor for her brilliant lyrics and infectious melodies - which are strong on this one. As for production, I’m still getting a whiff of Antonoff’s 1989/Rep approach and I’m still waiting on something fresh to come. 3.5
Gabby: I say this a lot but everything that Jack Antonoff touches turns to gold, that man is an absolute genius. I truly believe that some of Swift’s best work happens when she’s working with Antonoff and this track is just one of the many examples. The addition of Annie Clark (St. Vincent) on this ties everything together perfectly, why was this not the OPENING TRACK?! The melody in the chorus is stunning. 5
Sam: This song is definitely growing on me. I’m a big fan of the warm intimacy of it and I also like when Swift’s songwriting is forced to exist without much fanfare. My problem is Swift has this fairytale vision of love that at times feels a little juvenile. 3.5
Jackson: We’re two for two, baby. Swift isn’t exactly a master at duality, as she tends to drive a song’s message home with both melody and lyrics as opposed to subverting anything, but she remains a multi-faceted songwriter whose skills - most of the time - go unparalleled. If ‘Cruel Summer’ is the dancefloor, than ‘Lover’ is last drinks at the bar. It’s a song that really takes you somewhere. It’s dingy neon, it’s 3am fog, it’s the warmth in their arms. It’s near perfection. 5
Sonia: The soundscape is raw, honest and refreshing. I wonder how many swifties are gonna use this one for the first dance at their weddings, lol. (me, maybe?). 5
Gabby: ‘Lover’ is the butterflies in your stomach, the sweaty palms, the heartbeat skips of a relationship all swirled up into a warm, cheesy track that just oozes authenticity and adoration. This track is Swift at her absolute best. I know we’re rating out of 5 but this is a 10
Sam: It sounds like a cheap dance remix of If I Were A Boy. I like the punchy production though and obviously the message is great. At risk of being the man criticising The Man I’m going to pop a 4 right here.
Jackson: Honestly, she kinda went off here. Good for her.
This reminds of like a Taylor Swift version of an off-cut of Lady Gaga’s The Fame Monster which is the highest of compliments. 4
Gabby: GO OFF TAYLOR!!!! “I’m so sick of running as fast as I can. Wondering if I'd get there quicker if I was a man,” If I had a dollar for every time I’ve thought about whether being a man would make things easier I could buy Swift back her music from Big Machine Records. 4
Sonia: I am so ecstatic that this song is the open arms I get to run into after one of *those* frustrating work days. Oh man, I hope we’re getting a fun music video of her as ‘The Man’. That would make my year. 5
Sam: I’ve loved this song since the first time I heard and it’s lasted for me. Some of Antonoff and Swift’s finest work. 5
Jackson: On Lover, it’s appearing that Swift shines brights when she’s drenching herself in synths and an 80’s style haze. It’s these building ballads where she seems the most at home and the most real. ‘The Archer’ is no different - in fact, it’s a total bullseye. 5
Gabby: The way this track continuously builds up tension but never quite releases is extremely clever. It’s that build up of wanting to just let go and give all of yourself to someone, but those self doubting thoughts creeping in and leaving you to wonder if you’re ready to completely jump; “who could ever leave me darling, but who could stay?” 5
Sonia: Those haunting, repeated vocal lines remind me of wind chimes - those layered phrases have swayed and lingered in my head for weeks. Giving ‘the emotionally vulnerable track 5’ an early release was a real treat for us Swifties. 5
I Think He Knows
Sam: Always a fan of a fast-firing Swift bridge and this one doesn’t disappoint. I’m not sure I’m completely sold on the Prince-leaning chorus but this is actually the point where I’m starting to think this album could be quite good. 3.5
Jackson: This is very fun but also very fucking irritating. 2.5
Gabby: The best thing about Lover thus far is the genuine feeling that this album is for Swift, whilst on Reputation it felt like she had something to prove to the world, Lover is a jump into Swift’s journal. She’s in love, she’s happy and HE knows it!!!!! 3
Sonia: Cute. I love the use of vocoder in the chorus. This one’s going in the Girl’s Night playlist. 5
Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince
Sam: Bloop. Back to square one. I get that people like Swift’s visions of fairytales. It’s been her thing since Love Story but it feels so contrived to me. All of her work with Joel Little so far has been pretty disappointing. 2
Jackson: Just another example that when Swift admits that she’s vulnerable and doesn’t hide the cracks in her veneer, she is just so much more endearing. The thing about ‘Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince’, besides sounding like a pre-Pure Heroine Lorde song, is that it melts Taylor’s love of fantasy with meticulous and detailed storytelling that we don’t see in pop often enough. 4
Gabby: Reflecting on a time in her life when she was at a peak and everything seemed to just fall apart; “American glory faded before me,” this is where Swift picks up the pieces hoping that the one she loves sticks by her through it; and she’s confident that he will. She is no longer envious of the cheer captain but instead comfortable with herself. I at first thought I hated the title but as she sings it in the punchy chorus it doesn’t seem so bad?? 4
Sonia: I love how evident the influence of Lana Del Rey has been on Taylor in the past couple of albums. Prom Queen theme is excellent. Production reminds me of Swift’s ‘Wildest Dreams’ or LDR’s ‘National Anthem’ and I’m very O-KAY! with it. 5
Sam: This feels like it’s pulled straight from RED and I’m in love. The lyrics are a bit on the nose but it works over the rockabilly, country stomper. It’s just a lot of fun and that’s exactly what I expected from Lover. 4.5
Jackson: This is fucking awesome. We’re at Taylor’s seventh album and she has never given us a song like this. The fuzzy, 90s-inspired vocals and the sexy guitar strutting along give her an edge that I think she’s been trying to nab for a while. And then she cuts through the edge with that fresh acoustic-led chorus. This is the songwriting Taylor needs to give us more of - uninhibited, unapologetic and unlike anything we’ve heard from her before. 4.5
Gabby: Oh yes this is the fun upbeat Swift that I LOVE! One! Two! One two three four!! 4.5
Sonia: I love that fuzz vocal. Hearing her this happy with her man warms my heart. Also I’m a sucker for a KEY CHANGE!! 5
Sam: This is proof that she’s able to write genuine, affecting love songs without relying on the fairytale imagery. “I hope I never lose you,” is just a straight-up, sincere lyric and it gives this so much emotional depth. 4
Jackson: I would probably like this song more if it didn’t remind me so much of the weakest tracks on 1989. With that being said, weak on 1989 is still pretty good by most album’s standards so I’ll let it pass. It’s delicate and it’s intimate, it’s perfectly fine. 3.5
Gabby: Jack Antonoff ✔️ Vulnerability ✔️ Honesty ✔️ Authenticity ✔️ Intimacy ✔️ It’s another 5!
Sonia: This entire album has been so strong lyrically, but I think this one’s the winner. 5
Death By A Thousand Cuts
Sam: When I saw this on the tracklist I thought we were in for some Reputation shit but it couldn’t be further away. Despite the dramatic lyrics, Death By A Thousand Cuts feels effortless and light. It does start to feel like it’s not really going anywhere but it doesn’t derail the album. It just sits there minding its own business. 3
Jackson: At first I thought the song was called “Death By A Thousand Cats” and I was about to give it a 0, cancel my Apple Music subscription and cut off my own ears without even hearing it.
Thankfully, this song is one of Swift’s most interesting - musically - to date, and proves that Antonoff has really brought the best out of her. 4
Gabby: The production on this really throws you around, hey? That jarring piano? Is that an egg shaker or a maraca? Then suddenly everything pulls back in the second verse. I don’t know what Antonoff is doing here but I’m not mad, it’s exhilarating. 3.5
Sonia: Thank god for this unique and uplifiting productive otherwise I’d be an emotional wreck over these lyrics. (Like I still am on track 5 of album 4). 5
Sam: I’ve only just recovered from Galway Girl and now I’ve got to start the healing process all over again. This is literally me on the hop-on-hop-off bus when I was 12. Just awful. 1
Jackson: There’s no way this is real. I am in a fever dream, and I have simply conjured this track out of my imagination. I can’t wait to never hear this track again, as it does not exist. Thank you. 0
Before I heard this, I saw someone compare it to Estelle’s ‘American Boy’ and I just want to say: Estelle, sweetie, I’m so sorry.
PPS. Show me one photo of Taylor Swift setting foot into any pub, ever, and I’ll retract all of this.
PPPS. Could this song make Brexit actually happen? This writer thinks so!
Gabby: This song is just such cheesy fun! Swift is head over heels in love with a London Boy and she wants the entire world to know. I love when Swift really embraces her tongue in cheek lyricism, don’t we all love London boys!
Sonia: If I had a London Boy in my life I’d be crazy about him like this too. This song will be on repeat for sure. 5
Soon You’ll Get Better
Sam: I actually can’t listen to this the full way through. Exquisite, vivid songwriting that so eloquently depicts a situation that few have been able to capture like this. 5
Jackson: Hits way too close to home for me to listen to this again. That being said, it’s perfection. 5
Gabby: Just as the album hits one of it’s boppiest, happy moments we are suddenly thrust into Swift’s rawest moment on the album. With support from The Dixie Chicks Swift takes us on a journey of despair and grief as she navigates her mother's cancer battle. Her vocals are gentle as the banjo takes us right back to early Swift, it’s as beautiful as it is heartbreaking. 5
Sonia: I had tissues ready because I knew what I was in for. A stunning and nostalgic nod to O.G. Tay: sad guitars, banjo, violin and her soft, aching voice accompanied by one of the biggest influences on her early artistry: The Dixie Chicks. This is Taylor in her truest form, the one I know and adore. While this is the throwback sound I’ve been longing for, it’s hard to smile about this gorgeous handcrafted lullaby because a piece of my heart dies each time I hear her sing “Cause you have to”. 13/5
Sam: Come through with the horns. False God will get a little lost in the grand scheme of this beefed-up album but I think it’s one of coolest moments on the album. Like Dress and Call It What You Want, occasionally Swift exercises subtlety as a songwriter and it’s always effective. 4
Jackson: This song is like the sonic equivalent to all the girls on The Bachelor that editors zoom past in the first episode because they’re uninteresting and aren’t going to be around long. It’s aight. 2.5
Sonia: Bringing the mood back with a saxophone. Sensual, sophisticated and mature. 5
Gabby: We stan a song that kicks off with a horn! This track feels a lot more mature in comparison to a few of the previous tracks. I love how Swift can transition from cheesy high school pop to sexy, sensual pop so effortlessly. 4
You Need To Calm Down
Sam: I don’t know if I can really rate this anymore. Sometimes I find it funny, sometimes it really annoys me. There are so many other songs she could’ve released before this. 3
Jackson: The song’s message just, unfortunately, gets drowned out in really weird lyrics. There’ll be university courses in the future dedicated to trying to decipher what “shade never made anybody less gay” means. It just feel disjointed and like the lyrics came from three different songs before being mashed into this one. Sonically, it’s pretty good and the “oh oh!” in the chorus is divine, but...A for effort?
She managed to forget Rihanna in her lineup of queens in the video and must be punished accordingly. 3
Gabby: As someone who still works in retail fulltime I have heard this ALOT over the last few weeks and am not sure I have the energy to dive back into it. It’s fine, I don’t hate it, I don’t love it, it's just there. 3
Sonia: What a fun time. I’m excited for all the petition signatures and the impact this song will make on the international Swifties, especially those in countries with scary and outdated laws. 4
Sam: It’s no easy job being sandwiched between the two big singles but Afterglow holds its own. It plods along at a glacial pace but she actually manages to hold my attention with those icy vocals. If she took it off the album quietly I wouldn’t notice but for the moment, I like it. 3.5
Jackson: There’s one of these songs on every Taylor Swift album. Slow-burning, melodically bare and a bit of a snooze. The only thing keeping me awake is fear of the nightmare that’s coming next. 2.5
Sonia: Accountability is equally as important as standing up for yourself.I think songs like these are important and she is setting a good example here. 4
Gabby: Swift is taking full responsibility on this track and I think that’s important. In an album full of love and cheese this sits in the perfect place reminding us that not everything is a fairytale. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy when it comes to love, “Hey, it's all me, in my head. I’m the one who burned us down.” Her vocals are near perfect on this. 4.5
Sam: My least favourite song of the year. I’d rather listen to Kidz Bop. 0
Jackson: No, the removal of “Hey kids! Spelling is fun!” didn’t save it. 1
Gabby: Kids around the world no longer know just how fun spelling is! Grades are going to drop! Does Swift know what she has done here?!?!!
Honestly though I don’t hate this as much as everyone else seems too?? It’s Swift being cheesy, fun and not taking herself too seriously, I love that for her. 2
Sonia: Couldn’t get on board for a while. It came off like an inside joke between Taylor and Brendan that isn’t funny unless you were there in the studio. Learning the lyrics ironically slowly became unironically singing it word for word in public. Now I finally get it: this song celebrates the inner child which is why it feels so primary school. It’s much more rewarding to be silly and let go of the pressure on Taylor to meet certified bop expectations. Perhaps that’s what was intended. 2
It’s Nice To Have A Friend
Sam: For some reason this gives me the absolute creeps. The choir and the steel drums are a really unexpected touch that induce this feeling I can’t quite explain. My issue with it is the lyrics make it seems as if it should be soundtracking an anti-bullying video for 12 year-olds. 3
Jackson: I! Just! Love! Brave! And! Unorthodox! Pop! Writing! So! Much! 4.5
Sonia: If I’m not mistaken, this would be the first time Taylor has gone against the rules of standard pop structure. The work of Frank & Louis really shines here and I love that Taylor is still so open to growth and exploration. The layers of steel pan with (what I think might be) kalimba sits so pretty underneath her rhythmic phrasing à la Post Malone against the reggae feel. The folky ‘oohs’ are the sprinkles and cherry on top of this sweet tropical banana Sundae. 5
Gabby: This doesn’t really sound like anything we’ve ever heard from swift before and I love it! Frank & Louis have complimented this side of Swift so well. It’s fun! 4
Sam: Much like Clean and New Year’s Day, Daylight is rejuvenating. It’s beautiful, simple songwriting and production-wise Swift and Antonoff do just enough. I’ve just realised what would make this album excellent. It would be an 11-track effort with almost no misses (London Boy being the exception). Anyway, everything considered, Lover is pretty good. 4
Jackson: While on Lover Taylor clearly forgot how to open an album, she has made damn sure she remembered how to close one. After an album that flowed through break-ups, fresh love, and watching rugby (?), ‘Daylight’ is exactly that. It’s a new sunrise following the neon-lit night full of drunk kisses, drunk tears and painfully real self-reflection. Lover is still wildly inconsistent, but ‘Daylight’ does its best to tie it all together. It’s all encompassing euphoria, romance splashed in bright pastel colours and, ultimately, serves as the perfect TL;DR of Lover’s essence.
Sonia: A happy ending for a happy album. The spoken word at the end is simply beautiful “I just think you are… what you love”. 5
Gabby: Daylight is a refreshing glass of cold water on a summer day. After the whirlwind that is Lover, from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, Swift is finishing the album off with so much confidence and genuine happiness.
After Reputation and the onslaught of think pieces and analysis of her life that followed it’s nice to see that Swift can come to the phone, she’s not dead. Lover is Swift wearing her heart on her sleeve, going back to her roots and really embracing everything that got her to this point, it’s the Daylight after a pretty nasty storm and this album is some of her best work to date. “You are what you love” is perhaps one of the best things she’s ever said. 5