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Let’s Discuss the Lyrics to Every Song on Taylor Swift’s Lover

12 minute read

Lover, Taylor Swift’s seventh album, has arrived — as of midnight Aug. 23.

Featuring 18 tracks — Swift’s longest album to date — with singles “Me!”, “You Need to Calm Down” and “Lover,” it’s a pop tour de force that, as she has shared in promotional interviews, is her most romantic work yet — and potentially her personal favorite. “There are so many ways in which this album feels like a new beginning,” she told Vogue in a September cover profile. “This album is really a love letter to love, in all of its maddening, passionate, exciting, enchanting, horrific, tragic, wonderful glory.” Working with a heavy-hitter lineup of songwriters and producers, including Jack Antonoff and Joel Little, with assists from the likes of Annie Clark (better known as St. Vincent), Cautious Clay and Frank Dukes, Swift even features the Dixie Chicks.

Swift has long had a playful relationship with fan theories about her work and the messages she hides; she openly admits to lurking on Tumblr and has been known to engage with fans and their ideas online. For that reason, Swift scholars analyze every song and every lyric in an effort to open the window into Swift’s world just a little wider for the rest of us. As an artist, she’s sure to take liberties as she crafts her narratives and tells the stories she sees fit to share; fans and critics should be wary about drawing conclusions about her personal intentions. But the universe she has built over a decade-plus career is rich with its own legends. That’s why she’s consistently one of our most potent pop stars, after all.

With that in mind, here’s our breakdown of every Lover song, from the early singles “Me!,” “You Need to Calm Down” and “Lover” to the rest of the highly-anticipated project.

1. “I Forgot You Existed”

Bright, light and bubbly, “I Forgot You Existed” sounds like Swift’s final rejoinder to the darkness of the Reputation era. “I Forgot That You Existed” is an album opener with a purpose: to show she’s moved on, which she says in no uncertain terms. “I forgot that you existed and I thought that it would kill me, but it didn’t / And it was so nice, so peaceful and quiet… It isn’t love, it isn’t hate, it’s just indifference,” she shrugs, sing-talking her way through the tune, even throwing in a laugh.

2. “Cruel Summer”

Driving and synth-forward with co-production from Jack Antonoff and St. Vincent’s Annie Clark, “Cruel Summer” paints the picture of an emotional rollercoaster of a summer — new love and its uncertainties mashed up against the challenges facing pop stars in the public spotlight. “And I cried like a baby coming home from the bar, said, ‘I’m fine,’ but it wasn’t true / I don’t wanna keep secrets just to keep you,” she recalls, showing some of the rawness of her feelings in a way that calls to mind the vulnerability of Reputation‘s “Delicate.”

3. “Lover”

As the album’s title track, “Lover” shows off Swift at the intersection of sing-song acoustic pop and folksy storytelling. In turns intimate and chipper — and topped off with a faux wedding vow as the bridge — Swift harkens back to the sweetness of “New Year’s Day,” amped up with newfound bliss and confidence. “Swear to be overdramatic and true to my lover” is as good a moment of self-aware joy as anything a pop artist in the public eye could say. Still, she revels in the security of her relationship with a “magnetic force of a man.” (Swift fans have suggested that it’s an ode to Joe Alwyn, her boyfriend.)

4. “The Man”

Here’s an anthem for anyone who’s felt blocked by sexist double standards. Swift knows a thing or two about being treated differently in the music industry. As a woman in the public eye, she’s repeatedly stood up for herself against mistreatment by men, whether in the courtroom or through her music. In “The Man,” written with her frequent collaborator Joel Little, Swift reimagines that history in the form of a bombastic, empowering bop. “I’m so sick of running as fast as I can, wondering if I’d get there quicker if I was a man,” she complains. “Cause if I was a man, then I’d be the man.”

5. “The Archer”

Released as a promotional single, “The Archer” shows a more introspective side of Swift over a skittering synth line. Coproduced with Jack Antonoff, it has some of the more 80s sensibility that their previous work together (like “Getaway Car” and “Dress”) has also showed off. “I cut off my nose just to spite my face,” she sighs intimately. “I hate my reflection for years and years.” And while her lyrics are all fairly oblique, fans of Swift will surmise that when she says “I’ve been the archer, I’ve been the prey” she’s talking about how she has been cast in different lights at various times over her years in the pop culture discourse.

6. “I Think He Knows”

Over a snapping rhythm, Swift gets playful on “I Think He Knows.” “He got that boyish look that I like in a man,” she talk-sings with rapid precision: “He’s so obsessed with me, and boy, I understand.” There’s a refreshing self-awareness and sense of humor to this first-crush love song, which is laced with references to Nashville and descriptions of infatuation. But more than anything, Swift gets to play with her attitude, dropping in signature vocal quirks over the toe-tapping beat, backgrounded by a chorus of dramatic sighs.

7. “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince”

Since breaking out in her teens as a rising country star, Swift has been consistently associated with the hallmarks of the American high school experience: homecomings and football teams, proms and cliques. But in “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince,” she seems very ready to graduate from that scene. It’s one of her most layered songs on the album, and recalls the echoing, unhurried melodies of Halsey and Lana Del Rey as she mixes a love song with a subtle social critique: “American stories burning before me, I’m feeling helpless, the damsels are depressed, boys will be boys then, where are the wise men? / Darling, I’m scared.” It sounds like teen angst, sure, but maybe also something bigger.

8. “Paper Rings”

Then she kicks things up on “Paper Rings,” which is a toe-tapper from the get-go, filled with tambourine jingles and old-school background shouts. With the “uh-huhs” and the “that’s right’s” and the turned-up finishes to her line delivery, this is Swift’s let-down-your-hair song on Lover — a happy-go-lucky bit of rollicking fun. “Darling, you’re the one that I want,” she insists (which feels of a part with Grease and that famous Sandy-Danny duet), “and I hate accidents except when we went from friends to this.” “This,” of course, is happily paired up — a state she seems to relish.

9. “Cornelia Street”

Swift cut her teeth on storytelling, and that background shines on “Cornelia Street,” which alludes to a Manhattan neighborhood and the beginning of a love story. Her refrain — “I hope I never lose you, hope it never ends / I’d never walk Cornelia Street again” — packs a punch of relatability; some places just become too drenched in difficult memories to handle our traffic after heartbreak. “Cornelia Street” isn’t a ballad, but it is filled with bittersweetness over a lush synth base.

10. “Death by a Thousand Cuts”

“Death By a Thousand Cuts” is ostensibly a sad song, but it’s one of her prettier and more fast-paced Lover songs anyway, a sweet melody interspersed with a tinkling piano section that adds gravity to her melancholy lyrics. “You said it was a great love, one for the ages / But if the story’s over, why am I still writing pages?” she wonders at one point — and then documents the ways she tries to get over heartbreak (“I get drunk, but it’s not enough,” “Tryna find a part of me that you didn’t touch”) with resigned resilience.

11. “London Boy”

By the time “London Boy” rolls around, though, Swift is back to having fun. “They say home is where the heart is, but God, I love the English,” she insists as she name-checks spots around London and British traditions that she’s discovered for herself. It’s a happy-go-lucky bop with a minimal, looping melody that puts the focus on her lyrics as she calls out her “American smile” and the way she “fancies” someone new. It also features writing credits from Cautious Clay and Sounwave, collaborators that don’t pop up elsewhere on Lover — which might explain its distinctive flavor.

11. “Soon You’ll Get Better” feat. Dixie Chicks

A sweet country lullaby, “Soon You’ll Get Better” sees Swift teaming up with her longtime idols the Dixie Chicks for an acoustic ballad about illness and hoping for health. “In doctor’s office lighting, I didn’t tell you I was scared,” she recalls. “You like the nicer nurses, you make the best of a bad deal.” But ultimately the song is a kind of prayer: “Soon you’ll get better,” the phrase she keeps repeating, functions more as a plea than a proclamation, an uncertainty that the song’s delicacy echoes.

13. “False God”

“False God” sees Swift dabbling in more sultry territory, opening up with a subtle saxophone riff and then moving into a slow-burning R&B jam. “We’d still worship this love,” she repeats, getting breathier on every take even as she bemoans relationship challenges (“Hell is when I fight with you”). No need to worry, though: “You still do it for me, babe,” she says. This is Swift the true romantic, claiming that “heaven’s a thing” because “I go there when you touch me, honey.” It’s a shift from the tone — and sound — of much of Lover, but sees her slinking into what is perhaps her most sensual take yet.

14. “You Need to Calm Down”

Bright, bubbly and unabashedly vying for earworm status, “You Need to Calm Down” comes out swinging. It’s a colorful clapback (“Don’t step on our gowns!”) that works as a warning to homophobes, trolls and bullies, according to Swift. (“But snakes and stones never broke my bones” is as close a callback to Reputation‘s darkest moments as we get in this album.) With a juicy, unhurried synth beat, it sees Swift sing-talking her way through a series of quotable lyrics. (“You need to take several seats” / “Shade never made anybody less gay”… and the list goes on.) With its cascading chorus echoes and simple construction, it’s Swift at her most pop-forward on Lover.

15. “Afterglow”

Swift returns to her songwriting team from “I Forgot You Existed” (Louis Bell and Frank Dukes) for “Afterglow,” which is a pretty straightforward apology power anthem, grounded by a slow bass and propelled by Swift’s unabashed contrition. “Hey, it’s all me, in my head, I’m the one who burned us down,” she explains, “but it’s not what I meant.” Luckily, she has a solution: “Meet me in the afterglow.”

16. “ME!” featuring Brendon Urie

“ME!” leans into a marching band drumline as its backbone, but the star is Swift’s celebratory confidence. Sugar-sweet and destined for school sing-a-longs (“Hey kids, spelling is fun!” must be a hit with the teachers), Swift veers away from her normally specific songwriting to instead offer up an anthem of self-love. “I’m the only one of me, baby that’s the fun of me” is about as universal as it gets. While it doesn’t hit the emotional notes of her most memorable work, it makes a strong statement.

17. “It’s Nice to Have a Friend”

With a children’s choir and a plinking piano to begin with, “It’s Nice to Have a Friend” feels like an about-face for Swift. It’s a story — of a childhood pair who end up as bride and groom — and there’s an unadorned innocence both to the ballad structure (with trumpets in the bridge, no less — a Beatles-y moment that perhaps takes a cue from her idol Paul McCartney) and the content. “School bell rings, walk me home” turns into “church bells ring, carry me home” by the end of the song, condensing the arc of a relationship into just a few minutes of careful songcraft.

18. “Daylight”

With a slow build to a smooth, rich pop melody, “Daylight” echoes the dawn of a new consciousness for Swift. “I don’t want to look at anything else now that I saw you,” she sings, content: “I’ve been sleeping so long in a 20-year dark night, and now I see daylight.” Throughout Lover — and her other albums — color plays an important role in Swift’s lyrics; there are mentions of blue eyes, pink skies, neon walls, and here, golden daylight. She ends with a spoken outro: “I just think that… you are what you love.” It comes across as a benediction.

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Write to Raisa Bruner at raisa.bruner@time.com