To hear Taylor Swift tell it, the reason her new album is the longest she’s ever made is because she set out to capture the fullness of love — “all the captivating, spellbinding, maddening, devastating, red, blue, gray, golden aspects of it,” as she writes in the liner notes to “Lover,” which came out Friday and immediately sold nearly half a million copies in the United States, according to Billboard.
But if Swift equally values each of the 18 songs on her seventh studio album, that doesn’t mean the rest of us have to. Behold, then, this critical rundown of every tune on “Lover,” ranked from worst to best, with a point of comparison for each to an earlier selection from Swift’s catalog. You can decide for yourself which song is supposed to represent gray.
Devoted Swift fans know that her albums’ lead singles are often red herrings, and thankfully that turned out to be the case again with the wise and tender “Lover,” which nonetheless announced itself back in April with this excruciatingly childish marching-band jam. Nix it from your customized “Lover” playlist and forget that one of pop’s smartest lyricists ever rhymed “I’m the only one of me” with “Baby, that’s the fun of me.”
See also: “Shake It Off”
17. “London Boy”
Much of “Lover” is thought to concern Swift’s very private relationship with the British actor Joe Alwyn. Here, though — following a cute spoken intro by Idris Elba, who really deserves better — she seems to be deflecting curiosity about their romance by hauling out every jolly old cliché she can think of.
See also: “Welcome to New York”
16. “I Forgot That You Existed”
Like an unwelcome leftover from 2017’s revenge-minded “Reputation,” “Lover’s” opener goes back to the poisoned well that was (is?) Swift’s feud with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian. “How many days did I spend thinking ’bout how you did me wrong, wrong, wrong?” she sings, and you can be sure she’ll count them up when she’s finally done.
See also: “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”
15. “You Need to Calm Down”
Swift’s overweening attempt to present herself as an ally of LGBTQ folks — whose targeting by bigots this song likens to a superstar’s bad reviews — makes it easy to miss how skillfully she’s almost-rapping over producer Joel Little’s crisp electro-trap beat.
See also: “Blank Space”
In keeping with tradition, Swift closes “Lover” with a slow, slightly bleary number about cleaning up the rubble behind her (if only to make room for more to come). This one’s plenty pretty, though the melody never quite lifts off in the way it seems to want to.
See also: “New Year’s Day”
“I’m the one who burned us down,” Swift sings in this metaphor-laden apology to an ex whose devotion she just couldn’t match. Elsewhere she compares her behavior to that of a crooked jailer, a reckless chemist and a boxer fighting with no gloves.
See also: “Back to December”
12. “I Think He Knows”
The chorus has Swift, freshly enamored of a dude “with that boyish look that I like in a man,” “skipping down 16th Avenue” — almost certainly a reference to Nashville’s Music Row, where she started her career. Yet the funky, finger-snappy groove has nothing to do with country music; it feels like Swift’s response to Billie Eilish’s close-miked ASMR-core.
See also: “Delicate”
11. “Death By a Thousand Cuts”
Swift says this anatomy of a breakup was inspired by the Netflix romantic comedy “Someone Great,” and indeed her writing is especially visual here. “I look through the windows of this love, even though we boarded them up,” she sings, which — [weeps].
See also: “White Horse”
10. “It’s Nice to Have a Friend”
Co-produced by Swift with Frank Dukes and Louis Bell (the new-to-her studio team behind hits by Post Malone and Camila Cabello), here’s an ethereal steel-drum-and-choir experiment that ranks among the strangest things the singer has ever released. Bonus points for the spooky “Big Little Lies” vibes.
See also: “Clean”
9. “Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince”
Speaking of rich white women! What begins as a standard-issue Lana Del Rey rip — woozy beat, dreamy synths, lots of ironic American imagery — somehow turns into one of 2019’s unlikeliest protest songs: a bitter indictment, at least if you want to read the high-school allegory that way, of the systematized privilege that enabled Swift’s ascent. “You play stupid games,” she sings, “you win stupid prizes.”
See also: “Wildest Dreams”
8. “The Man”
More pointed commentary, in this case regarding gender inequity, from a once-apolitical pop idol whose reluctance to speak out in the past didn’t mean she wasn’t taking notes.
See also: “Dear John”
7. “False God”
Swift is nobody’s idea of a great R&B singer, but “False God” blends sex and religion with a breathy assurance she’s never mustered before.
See also: “Dress”
6. “The Archer”
Producer Jack Antonoff, Swift’s primary creative partner on “Lover,” said on Twitter that he and the singer made this gorgeous and jittery head-rush in “about 2 hours,” which sounds right: It tunnels deep into a single emotional state — the fear that you’ve become the villain in the movie of your life — then crashes unforgivingly to a stop.
See also: “Out of the Woods”
5. “Paper Rings”
As peppy as “Me!” but incalculably smarter, “Paper Rings” retrofits the fairy-tale whimsy of Swift’s early work to account for the lived experience of a woman who will turn 30 in December. Grown-ups deserve happy endings too.
See also: “Love Story”
For a songwriter universally regarded as being preoccupied with falling in (and out of) love, Swift has some beautiful things to say on this album about what it’s like to stay in love. “You’ll save all your dirtiest jokes for me,” she dreams of telling her partner in “Lover’s” warm and waltzy title track, “And at every table, I’ll save you a seat.”
See also: “Enchanted”
3. “Cornelia Street”
Of course, commitment can breed complacency. So here she worries from her place of stability what it would feel like if it all fell apart — and does so in language as vivid and specific as any in her songbook. (Let’s just say there’s a scene that appears to be set at the entrance to the Holland Tunnel.)
See also: “The Story of Us”
2. “Soon You’ll Get Better”
Returning to her old country sound was probably inevitable. And doing it with her fellow Nashville apostates in the Dixie Chicks? Makes all kinds of sense. But music-business strategy has little to do with the power of this hymn-like ballad, which unsparingly addresses Swift’s mother’s extended battle with cancer. “Holy orange bottles,” she calls the containers that hold her mom’s pills, just before she admits to praying to a god she’s not sure is real.
See also: “All Too Well”
1. “Cruel Summer”
Agony and ecstasy as only Swift at her best can render them: “It’s new, the shape of your body / It’s blue, the feeling I’ve got,” she sings in a razor-sharp, industrial-pop banger about finding love in a hopeless place. To make too big a deal of the fact that she co-wrote it with Annie Clark (a.k.a. St. Vincent) is to indulge the shallow notion that centrists have no edge. Still, the part of the bridge where Swift shrieks about the devil might be the punkest thing you’ll hear all year.
See also: “Style”