Taylor Swift’s album roll-out usually begins in August when she announces the lead single and the title of her latest album, before releasing it in the fall—and a good marketer she is—a few weeks before Black Friday when Americans spend their money the most. But, on Lover, she seems to break her own rule. She released the lackluster lead single, “ME!”, in April before sharing the title of her seventh album almost two months later, making people suspect that “ME!” is just a one-off project, or a soundtrack to an animated film a la Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling”, or for some conspirationalist, learning how mediocre the song was (it only peaked at number two in Billboard Hot 100, blocked off by the monstrous “Old Town Road”), Swift pulling an Ariana Grande’s “Focus” and scrapping it from her next album. All the theories are proven wrong when Taylor Swift unveiled her most pastel album cover which will be released in August, thus breaking her usual cycle, but making it eligible for next year’s Grammy.
After three uninspiring singles, ME!”, “You Need to Calm Down”—which is actually, to quote Twitter stans, a bop—and “The Archer”, it completely makes sense to believe that Swift has run out of steam. “ME!” is a sugary pop song full of saccharine that sounds too childish coming from a 29-year-old woman, “You Need to Calm Down” is just trying too hard, while “The Archer” is just simply there. It’s not until she releases the title track “Lover”, which contains some remnant of her old songs, a proof that that prodigious songwriter is still there, that we gain back our confidence.
The faith, in the end, pays off. It’s not clear what her intention to release the worst songs off Lover is, but Lover is, in fact, good. In summary, it combines what you love from 1989 and Red, her pen is still sharp as ever, and even if this is Swift’s first album without Max Martin since Speak Now, it still has the one of the most catchiest tunes she’s ever recorded. Lover, in a way, is like a blank space (aha!) since it’s her first album after she departed from her former album Big Machine (now owned by Scooter Braun), her first album that she owns. It’s no wonder, after all, unlike reputation where she’s angry and hurt, she returns to the beauty of love and enamoration and finds some new collaborators: Brendon Urie of Panic! At the Disco, Dixie Chicks, and St. Vincent. The last collaborator appears, alongside frequent producer and best friend, Jack Antonoff, on “Cruel Summer”, which is easily the highlight of the album.
Now, St. Vincent and Taylor Swift’s collaboration may not come out of nowhere. Back during 1989 tour, Swift brought Annie Clark and Beck to stage to join her and, while Clark probably didn’t sign any squad pact, some friendship developed. But, imagine what the society will be if “Cruel Summer” is released as the first single. We may live in Mars already!
Right from the first second, you can easily hear the pulsating drum machine and shredding guitar which remind us to MASSEDUCTION, but this killer intro is just an ephemera. “Fever dream high in the quiet of the night. You know that I caught it,” sings Swift, caught in a summer fever. The vocoder-processed “Oh yeah, you’re right, I want it” can be heard in the background showcasing her insatiableness, but at the same time, her submission to the ache of love. “Devils roll the dice, angels roll their eyes,” she says, not caring what the outcome will be. “Cruel Summer”‘s tension is gradually built before it launches to the triumphant chorus where she loses her words, “It’s ooh, whoa oh”, completely in awe of the wonder of summer fling. Summer is sacred time for Swift. It’s not only the time when she announces her new era, but when her love with her current beau blossomed (“I’ve loved you three summers now, honey,” she confesses on “Lover”).
In the second verse, Swift draws parallels between the mystique of refrigerator light, previously heard on her magnum opus “All Too Well” in a “casually cruel” cinematic universe. “Hang your head low in the glow of the vending machine I’m not buying,” Swift teases on “Cruel Summer”. On “All Too Well”, Swift tries to pick up the pieces after a break-up, on “Cruel Summer”, Swift is hopelessly in love. This side of Swift is not something that we’ve never seen before, but on the track, she breathes a new meaning to it.