As with most Taylor Swift events, the announcement of her seventh studio album on Thursday was preceded by months of feverish divination by her fans, who dissected the calendar for release dates that could comport with her lucky number 13. The previously unnamed album’s lead single “Me!” , released April 26, had suggested a period of pointed elation for Swift’s upcoming music. And now with the release of follow-up single “You Need to Calm Down” at midnight, from the album now called Lover, she’s doubled down on an exuberant pop sound stuffed with soaring hooks.
On Instagram Live on Thursday, Swift explained that the album, out August 23, will focus on romance. A music video for “Calm Down” will premiere on Good Morning America on Monday morning, proving there’s still room for an old-fashioned media blitz in Swift’s playbook. Taken together with “Me!,” the new single suggests a shift away from the barbed, beleaguered spirit of her previous album, 2017’s Reputation. That album found Swift in a defensive crouch, hardened by caustic, endlessly chronicled feuds. She’d been cast as a villain in the public eye, so she embraced the role, lacing her songs with cutting lyrics about her naysayers and turning the snake insult she’d been tagged with into an aesthetic grammar for her album and its accompanying tour, alongside stark black-and-white images.
“Calm Down” takes on internet trolls and homophobia—”control your urges to scream about all the people you hate, ‘cause shade never made anybody less gay”—but the mood board it’s drawing from is technicolored and sugary. At the beginning of the video for “Me!” , a snake bursts into butterflies, and the image is echoed in the art for the new single. (Swift also posed in front of a butterfly mural in Nashville to tease the release of “Me!”) Like “Me!,” “Calm Down” was written with Joel Little. Despite its weightier subject matter, it’s in a buoyant and glossy register similar to the first single’s. “With a pop song we have the ability to get a melody stuck in people’s heads,” Swift told GMA ’s Robin Roberts just before the release of “Me!” “And I just want it to be one that makes them feel better about themselves.”
One line presents on first listen as “why are you mad when you could be glad?”; the lyric video makes explicit that it’s a reference to GLAAD (the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). After a long period of criticism for her silence on political issues, Swift has been more vocal of late, since endorsing two Democratic candidates in the 2018 election. “Can you just not step on my gown?” she sings in the first chorus. By the end of the song, it’s: “can you just not step on his gown?”
Perhaps the most lauded aspect of Swift’s music over the years has been her eye for the small details of storytelling, and her immense gift for turning them into tattooable vignettes. “I think a lot of music lovers want some biographical glimpse into the world of our narrator, a hole in the emotional walls people put up around themselves to survive,” she wrote in an essay for the cover of Elle UK ’s April issue. During Swift’s current run of progressively more adventurous pop albums, critics have often wondered whether she’ll ever return to some earlier, quieter, more naturalistic style.
If Lover is really about romance, it’s hard to see how just yet apart from the title—the two singles to date find her self-affirming, and then exhorting the world around her. But then, when the first two singles for Reputation came out, they gave a similar impression: that the songwriting would be mostly exterior, aimed at sorting the world around Swift rather than rendering the truth of her interior life. When the album actually came out, though, hidden behind its opening salvos were textured meditations on love like “Delicate” and “Getaway Car.” By now, we should be used to Swift’s disruptions of the narrative about her work, and her refusals to be cornered in any one style. Either that, or the internet and politics are just the characters in her life now, the way John used to be .
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