The seventh Taylor Swift studio album, Lover, ends with an expressive synth-pop ballad called “Daylight.” Like a lot of Swift’s songs of late, it’s about yearning for love in a world that can be cruel and unforgiving, especially if you’re Taylor Swift. She sings about being “the butt of the joke” and how she mistakenly “trusted the wicked,” but now she insists she’s finally found solace.
For the millions who relish over-analyzing everything that Swift writes, sings, and does, “Daylight” practically begs to be interpreted as an autobiographical statement of purpose. Only you don’t have to actually interpret “Daylight,” because Swift eventually steps out of the song and addresses the audience directly, via a closing-song spoken interlude. “I wanna be defined by the things I love, not the things I hate,” she says. “I just think that you are what you love.”
The early take on “Daylight,” and Lover generally, is that it represents a more “positive” Taylor Swift after the fraught (and often fascinating) Reputation, her album inspired by the series of personal and professional catastrophes that piled on after the massive success of 2014’s 1989. In interviews promoting Lover, Swift has deftly instructed journalists and critics to perceive the album this way, talking candidly (though not all that candid) about the fragility of her mental health in 2016, when she was under siege in the media for everything from her reignited feud with Kanye West to her supposed culpability in the election of Donald Trump.
Intentional or not, this reads as a kind of apology for Reputation, which received mixed reviews and (more importantly) sold less than half what 1989 did. Many attributed the album’s relatively lackluster performance — heavy emphasis on relatively here, as Reputation was still a blockbuster by any other standard — to the barely contained hostility toward her own persona and celebrity that Swift expressed throughout. She was widely mocked for claiming, in the bonkers lead single “Look What You Made Me Do,” that “the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now,” because “she’s dead.”
Lover, meanwhile, has been presented as the proverbial return to form, in which the most dominant one-woman pop corporation of the early 21st century gets back to making instantly relatable and world-conquering bops. The album certainly looks brighter — the Hot Topic goth aesthetic of Reputation‘s album cover has been replaced by the pink and blue cotton-candy imagery of Lover. It’s suitable iconography for a record that has already been integrated into recent campaigns by some of Swift’s fellow multi-national business behemoths, including Capital One, Target, and Amazon.
Musically, Lover harkens to the scope of 2012’s Red, her greatest album and the unofficial start of her “pop” era, though it was ultimately diverse enough to encompass both the Max Martin-assisted smashes and the more countryish, singer-songwriter moves of songs like “All Too Well.” On Lover, Swift similarly oscillates from the pared-back Americana of “Soon You’ll Get Better,” a gently heartbreaking ballad about her mother’s cancer battle that includes a winning cameo by the Dixie Chicks, and the sort of infectious ’80s pop throwbacks (“Cruel Summer,” “Paper Rings”) that she can knock out in her sleep at this point.
Months ahead of its release, Lover was preceded by the singles “Me!” and “You Need To Calm Down,” which attempted to perform two radically different tasks: 1) Re-establish Swift’s bonafides as a maker of pan-generational pop hits, the sort of broad appeal, big-tent music that appeals to toddlers and senior citizens and everyone in between; 2) Placate critics who feel that Swift “isn’t political enough.” But as with Reputation, public response was mixed. The LGBT activism of “You Need To Calm Down” struck some as shoehorned in, though the song has since been streamed nearly 172 million times. Though, like “Me!,” it was ultimately kept out of the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 by Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road.”