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Your Guide to the Many, Many References Taylor Swift Drops in the Lover Album

16 minute read

At long last, Lover is here. Taylor Swift’s seventh studio album — clocking in at a meaty 18 tracks, her longest album yet — arrived Aug. 23 to satisfy her legion of fans and give listeners plenty to stew over as they parse through the insider references, Easter Eggs and lyrical twists that make the Swiftian universe a richly textured world of its own.

Here’s our rundown of the many, many references Swift drops, from mentioning her history as a tabloid target to aligning herself as an LGBTQ+ ally to calling out bullies and trolls. But above everything, as Swift has continually mentioned, the album “is very much a celebration of love, in all its complexity, coziness, and chaos.” Let’s dig into the Lover references.

1. “I Forgot That You Existed”

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Drake and Taylor Swift attend the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards at the Barclays Center on August 25, 2013 in New York City.Andrew H. Walker—WireImage

Swift kicks things off with a light mission statement of sorts: insisting that she’s moved on — whether it’s from an ex or a feud remains a mystery. She does, however, borrow a turn of phrase from rapper Drake when she sings that she was “In my feelings more than Drake, so yeah,” calling back to his hit song “In My Feelings.” “Got out some popcorn as soon as my rep started going down,” she also accuses an unnamed foe — a possible clapback at her critics. (She also wore a Drake pin on her jacket in her Entertainment Weekly cover profile — a move that’s now clear.)

2. “Cruel Summer”

Swift’s summers used to be all about her annual celebrity-studded Fourth of July party at her estate in Rhode Island. But in “Cruel Summer” she suggests the season has taken a turn for her as she tries to conceal a new love interest: “I don’t wanna keep secrets just to keep you.” Some speculate that’s a line that could be drawn from experiences with her current boyfriend, actor Joe Alwyn. One chorus lyric — “Devils roll the dice, angels roll their eyes” — will be familiar to fans who kept a sharp eye in her music video for “Lover,” where it appeared as the name of a board game, too. And she’s been wearing small dice insignia during her promotional tour on her clothes. Plus, in the “You Need to Calm Down” video, Ellen DeGeneres got a “cruel summer” tattoo — foreshadowing the title.

3. “Lover”


Put out just a week before the album release as her third single, the title track “Lover” is an acoustic, folksy tune that is, yes, a love song. It also hides some important references to her body of work and current self: on Reputation‘s “New Year’s Day,” she waxed poetic about an after-party scene. In “Lover,” she’s back to the house party, but this time it’s cozier. “We can leave the Christmas lights up til January,” she suggests, like she’s already preparing for the big soiree to come. “This is our place, we make the rules.” In her bridge, which takes the tone of a singsong wedding vow, Swift hides even more hints: “Swear to be overdramatic and true to my lover,” she says, a possible wink at the tabloid fodder of her past that have become part of her public profile. Then there’s the music video, which not only takes place in a snow globe (a reference to a lyric from 1989) but also includes a board game called “King of Hearts” (there’s a “King of My Heart” song on Reputation), features a painting of her new kitten and even has a New Year’s party scene.

4. “The Man”

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Gareth Cattermole—Getty Images

In “The Man,” Swift makes a statement about sexist double standards around her choices. “They’d say I played the field before I found someone to commit to, and that would be okay for me to do,” she sings — referring to the ongoing coverage of her public life around the people she’s chosen to date. (Thanks to her popularity, her supposed romantic interests have made headlines.) She also mentions people questioning “how much of this I deserve, what I was wearing, if I was rude” — all criticisms that have been leveled at her, but which don’t find targets in male stars of similar status in the public eye as often. “I’d be just like Leo in Saint Tropez,” she goes on in the lyrics. It’s hard to imagine that’s not an overt nod to Leonardo DiCaprio, who’s well-known for his luxe yacht parties in Mediterranean locales. These different standards are a subject she addressed directly in an interview with radio host Elvis Duran. “A man does something strategic. A woman does the same thing? Calculated. A man stands up for himself. A woman throws a tantrum,” she explained. “You can go on and on. A man is confident, a woman is smug… where we need to continue talking about gender equality as a whole subject is, it starts at perception.” This song seems like an open continuation of that conversation.

5. “The Archer”

“Track five is sort of a tradition,” Swift shared in an Instagram live stream before releasing “The Archer.” “Instinctively I was kind of putting a very vulnerable, personal, honest emotional song as track five.” She also admitted to dropping hints along the way: “There were cupids playing in the band in the ‘Me!’ video, there have been arrows pretty much everywhere… and the most obvious Easter egg, my friend Hayley was kind enough to unveil that,” she said, describing the moment in the “You Need to Calm Down” video where fellow pop artist Hayley Kiyoko shoots an arrow into a bull’s eye emblazoned with the number five.

Then there’s the lyrics: followers of the many perspectives on Swift’s public persona will know that when she sings “I’ve been the archer, and I’ve been the prey,” she’s most likely referencing the headlines in which she’s been a central figure in public feuds or associations with other celebrities, as well as the ways that she’s been able to own her narrative and maintain her dominance in the pop landscape.


6. “I Think He Knows”

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Country Music bars on Broadway in Nashville.John Greim—LightRocket via Getty Images

“I Think He Knows” is the love song you write in the first flush of a big crush, that much is clear. Hidden in plain sight are a few important references: one to a mysterious 16th Avenue, which is actually a street in Nashville’s Music Row. (Swift keeps a home in Nashville.) And then there are the “indigo eyes” of her love interest. (Some wasted no time before speculating there’s an Alwyn connection who, for the record, has blue eyes.)

7. “Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince”

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Taylor Swift performs onstage during the 2019 Billboard Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 1, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada.John Shearer—Getty Images for dcp

Throughout her musical career, Swift has played on classic American high school tropes — marching bands, football teams and cheerleaders, prom queens. In “Miss Americana,” Swift seems to be done with the so-called cool kids and ready to move on to other pastures, calling herself the superlative “most likely to run away with you.” But first she’ll play some Easter egg games with her past work. “You know I adore you, I’m crazier for you than I was at 16, lost in a film scene,” the song begins. That’s a reference to the song “Crazier” she performed in 2009’s Hannah Montana: The Movie. Then there are the “homecoming queens, marching band playing” that evoke high school (the marching band, in particular, has been a running theme for Swift, who often dresses up as a bandleader and included a marching band in the “Me!” music video). “Now I’m feeling hopeless, ripped up my prom dress, running through the rose thorns” keeps up her play on words; Swift held a prom-themed party back in 2008 at which she was queen after her hit “Our Song” reached the top chart spot. (Swift missed her own high school prom during high school.) And on “Blank Space” she sings about “Rose gardens filled with thorns.” There’s also another mention of dice — this time, “the whole school is rolling fake dice.”

8. “Paper Rings”

So apparently Swift really, really likes someone — enough to forego the “shiny things” she likes for more mundane “paper rings.” The song is a breathless, rock-tinged ride, but it sneaks in some callbacks to specific Swift moments: “I want to drive away with you,” she sings, recalling her songs like “Getaway Car.” “I want your dreary Mondays,” she adds, which sounds like a follow-up to the “I want your midnights” of Reputation‘s “New Year’s Day.”

9. “Cornelia Street”

“Cornelia Street” sounds sweet and whimsical as a song title, but it’s actually also a real place: an iconic street in New York’s West Village where she has a history. (There’s also a Cornelia Street in North London, although Swift hasn’t been spotted there.) This isn’t Swift’s first New York-centric song (“Welcome to New York,” anybody?) but it adds a new element to her connection to the city. “We were a fresh page… filling on the blanks as we go” seems like an update on the lyrics of “Blank Space” (“I’ve got a blank space baby — I’ll write your name”), this time with an earnest romance in the tone. She’s also vocal about being an avid journal writer, documenting her emotions in her diaries. And she’s mentioned drinking with her lover before; on 2017’s “Delicate” she asked them to make her a drink. Now they’re “drunk on something stronger than the drinks in the bar.” And then there are the Cornelia flowers she’s been using to decorate promotional performances lately, which now are clear references to this song.

10. “Death by a Thousand Cuts”

One of the album’s sad songs, “Death by a Thousand Cuts” sees Swift in pain. “You said it was a great love, one for the ages / But if the story’s over, why am I still writing pages?” she sings. Pages and journals are a recurring motif across the album and lately for Swift, who has been handing out blank journals to fans at listening sessions. “Paper cut stains from my paper-thin plans” could be taken many ways — in one interpretation, maybe those paper rings from a few songs ago aren’t holding up so well. And a number of her other lines in “Death by a Thousand Cuts” call back to other songs and imagery from her oeuvre, from “Gave up on me like I was a bad drug” (see: “Don’t Blame Me”‘s “Lord save me, my drug is my baby”) to the boarded-up windows of “Call It What You Want” that are reiterated here.

11. “London Boy”

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Presenters Taylor Swift and Idris Elba speak onstage during the 76th Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 06, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California.Handout/NBCUniversal—Getty Images

If you’re confused by this song opening up with the distinctive voice of Idris Elba, who’s talking about driving someone around on his scooter, it helps to know that Elba is a costar of Swift on the upcoming film adaptation of the musical Cats. And the voice clip is from an appearance Elba made on James Corden’s show (Corden is another Cats actor). Beyond that, people online were quick to note that Alwyn happens to be British. As for the song’s content: “London Boy” is basically a litany of British references — from “uni” (the U.K.’s term for college) to “best mates” (best friends) to places like Camden Market, Highgate, the West End, Bond Street, Brixton, Hackney, the Heath and Soho (there’s one in London, too). Then there’s her shout-out to Stella McCartney, the British designer with whom she became friends while in London and collaborated with on a new fashion collection.

12. “Soon You’ll Get Better,” feat. the Dixie Chicks

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Honoree Taylor Swift accepts the Milestone Award from Andrea Swift onstage during the 50th Academy Of Country Music Awards at AT&T Stadium on April 19, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.Cooper Neill—Getty Images

For her only song featuring other artists on Lover, Swift tapped country royalty the Dixie Chicks for a tender lullaby of a tune. Their appearance was hinted at in the music video for “Me!” — that showed a framed photo of the Dixie Chicks on the wall while she sang “There’s a lot of cool chicks out there.” But “Soon You’ll Get Better” is perhaps the album’s most tender track, in which Swift sounds close to tears. Fans theorize the subject is her mom, Andrea, who has battled cancer. In an essay for Elle published in the spring, Swift opened up about her family’s struggles with the disease: “Both of my parents have had cancer, and my mom is now fighting her battle with it again. It’s taught me that there are real problems and then there’s everything else. My mom’s cancer is a real problem,” she wrote then. In the song, she echoes that sentiment: “This won’t go back to normal, if it ever was / It’s been years of hoping… soon you’ll get better,” she sings. Swift is known to be close to her mom, making the song especially poignant.

13. “False God”

“False God” sees Swift at her most downtempo as she compares her relationship with a religion of its own, raining metaphors down on her listeners. (“I know heaven’s a thing / I go there when you touch me, honey / Hell is when I fight with you / But we can patch it up good / Make confessions and we’re begging for forgiveness / Got the wine for you.”) She also flicks at a transatlantic relationship (“We were stupid to jump in the ocean separating us / Remember how I’d fly to you?”) and New York again (“You’re the West Village/ You still do it for me, babe”). And there’s the line “I can’t talk to you when you’re like this,” which Swift said in French in the opening for the “Me!” music video.

14. “You Need to Calm Down”


In “You Need to Calm Down,” Swift doubles down on her lyrical and visual references. The music video features everything from a cat face on a watch (she loves cats) to a phone case that spells out “Lover” to a back tattoo that shows off a snake metamorphosing into a cloud of butterflies (a nod to her evolution out of the Reputation era and into the Lover one). There are star cameos from the likes of Laverne Cox, the men of Queer Eye, Hayley Kiyoko (who appears as an archer and shoots a target with the number five — which, as it would turn out, is a nod to the fifth place track position of “The Archer”), Ciara, Adam Rippon, Billy Porter and many more. There’s a protest march that Swift later explained is a reference to protesters who regularly bother her fans during shows. There’s a drag queen pageant in which the ladies are dressed up as the many faces of pop today (Lady Gaga, Cardi B, Beyoncé among them), alluding to the way the media often pits female stars against each other. There’s Katy Perry herself as a hamburger (like she dressed as for this spring’s Met Gala after party) giving a hug to Swift, in a French fries costume — officially quashing their perceived feud. And there’s the lyrics themselves, which are rife with references to LGBTQ+ rights (“Why get made when you could get GLAAD?”) and brush off haters and trolls (“Don’t step on our gowns.”)

15. “Afterglow”

“Afterglow” is an apology song — “I don’t wanna do this to you… it’s all me, just don’t go, meet me in the afterglow.” It’s also filled with Swift’s favorite metaphors, particular the color blue — which pops up regularly throughout the album — as well as the lyric “Fighting with a true love is boxing with no gloves,” which conjures up memories of her battle-ready “Bad Blood” phase.

16. “ME!” featuring Brendon Urie

As her re-introduction following the Reputation era, “ME!” came across as a pointedly bright, positive next step for Swift. She kicked things off in the music video with a snake transforming into a cloud of butterflies as an allusion to her own evolution from one album (and persona) to the next. And then came the subtle hints: more cats (which she loves — enough that she’ll even be appearing in the upcoming film adaptation of the musical Cats), a wall of paintings featuring literal chicks and the country icons the Dixie Chicks (which foreshadowed their feature on the album), lots of rainbows (nodding to her more public status as an ally), cinematic flicks at works like the Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Mary Poppins, Singin’ in the Rain and Moulin Rouge!, her new kitten and a heart-shaped kaleidoscope (a reference to lyrics from her older song “Welcome to New York”). Lyrically, the song is a little more oblique. But fans will know that her singing “I know that I went psycho on the phone” is a wink to a line from Reputation‘s “Look What You Made Me Do” (“The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Because she’s dead!”), while the rest of “ME!” is primarily an affirmation of self and a show of newfound confidence.

17. “It’s Nice to Have a Friend”

Light and plinking, “It’s Nice to Have a Friend” echoes one of Swift’s early songs — “Mary’s Song (Oh My My)” from her 2006 debut album, about childhood friends who grow up to get married. That’s also the fate of the protagonists in “It’s Nice to Have a Friend,” who go from “School bell rings, walk me home / Sidewalk chalk covered in snow” to “Church bells ring, carry me home / Rice on the ground looks like snow” in the space of a few verses. There’s also a mention of the “pink sky, up on the roof” — pink being another of the colors that Swift has tied this album to visually, and the roof being another place she mentions across different songs.

18. “Daylight”

Swift finishes things off on a bright note. “I once believed love would be burning red,” she sings, “but it’s golden, like daylight.” That’s a direct throwback to her album Red. Other lyrics on “Daylight” were hinted at in her promotional materials, like the “love letters” she shared on Spotify that included the lines “Luck of the draw only draws the unlucky… I wounded the good and I trusted the wicked / Clearing the air, I breathed in the smoke.” In a live stream ahead of the album release, Swift said that the project as a whole “felt aesthetically to me very daytime, very sunlit fields,” which becomes abundantly clear on “Daylight.”

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