At this point, we can fairly say that the critical reception to the first two singles off Taylor Swift's forthcoming album Lover was... lackluster. Both "ME!" and "You Need to Calm Down" feel like sonic seizures, not the kind you get after five hours in the club where your whole body rings for days after and you're overwhelmingly aware of your feet, but the kind where your ears are the things ringing, your eyes feel bleary, and your head feels sad.
That doesn't mean, however, that they've been actual chart disasters: "ME!" peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard charts, whatever that means these days, as did "You Need to Calm Down." Things improved, musically, with "The Archer," though that was released by Swift as more of a bonus track, and hit only No. 69 (nice). So it feels like a blessed relief that Swift's third single, "Lover," which was released early this morning, is relative return to her actual songwriting abilities and away from political posturing, getting back to her classic takes on moody love songs.
There is, as you might have anticipated, a big BUT coming here: this song, and perhaps this album, can never be good, because both have been branded, forever, with one of the worst words in the English language: Lover.
It's impossible to hear the word lover without hearing it the way Carrie Bradshaw says it in Sex and the City, whether she's talking about shoes or men. Lov-aaaaaaa. Is there a more saccharine word out there? "This album, in tone, it’s very romantic," Swift has said. "Not just simply thematically, like it’s all love songs or something. The idea of something being romantic…it doesn't have to be a happy song. You can find romance in loneliness or sadness or going through things in your life… it just looks at those things through a romantic gaze." It's easy to imagine then, that lovaaa conjures up extreme romance for Swift; per this song's lyrics, living in a home together, feeling everyone must love the person you're with, saying things like "I take this magnetic force of a man to be my lover." Add in the rainbow colors that have accompanied this album's rollout, and softness is the name of its game, with lovaaaaa being the literal name used to classify it.
But there is nothing romantic about the word lover, only caricatures of people and stereotypes of romance. Lover is what you think to yourself when your brain is bursting with feeling and it's almost going to explode but you manage to hold it in. Lover is what you say to your partner when no one is around. Lover is spray can cheese, good only in small and rare doses.
Imagine, if you will, this album, in all its floral, floaty, rainbow-colored-glory. Now imagine a can of Easy Cheese slowly spraying across it.
You can never unsee it. Or unhear it. Lovaaaaa. Yuck.