Sometimes when an artist puts out an album of 18 or 19 songs, it signifies confidence, a point in an artist’s career where they’ve found a can’t-fail groove in their creative process. Even the filler sounds like magic. So is Lover Taylor’s Sign o’ The Times?
I mean, you already know the answer. Lover, though not among her very worst, is probably on the lower end of Taylor’s discography. Still, there’s a lot of promise, right? That front half is really nice.
So I asked Twitter earlier this year to rank all 18 tracks on Lover with the hope of being able to authoritatively pare it down without anyone accusing me of playing favorites. Depending on how the tiers shake out, I planned on keeping 10-14 tracks. In parentheses are the mean rankings of each song.
1. “Cruel Summer” (3.15)
“Cruel Summer” is a very odd Taylor Swift song. It’s such a unique bit of pop alchemy, which is maybe why she neglected to release it as a single (instead opting for “ME!,” “You Need To Calm Down,” “Lover,” and “The Man”). She managed to release six (!) singles for Reputation, so it’s a little odd she couldn’t do the same for the better, deeper album. But yeah, not a shock to see “Cruel Summer” up top. It’s probably her most beloved post-1989 song. Its median ranking was a flat 2.0. 30% of voters rated it #1. 55% rated it top two. 75% rated it top three. “Cruel Summer” is real good, y’all.
2. “Cornelia Street” (3.45)
For listeners eager for a new masterpiece to go with “All Too Well” or “Enchanted,” “Cornelia Street” was pretty quickly identified. I think it feels probably a little less special than those do, but that’s a tall comparison and this is still top tier Taylor.
The Choice Cuts
3. “Lover” (5.85)
People love “Lover.” I think its music is a little too gentle and compared to her best love songs doesn’t give me a ton to latch onto. I’d go as far as saying it’s a little plain. But it’s a strong third, per The People, and it’s not particularly controversial.
4. “Death By A Thousand Cuts” (6.25)
Kind of a cool kid pick for best song here, yeah? It’s one of those songs that reminds you that she could just kind of do this forever. Listening to it makes me dearly miss when her music had a bit more zip. Hope we can get back to that.
5. “Paper Rings” (6.35)
A lot of cringe Taylor moments come from when she tries to have it both ways. You can’t be both cool and uncool, and here she goes full uncool and it’s always magic when she does that.
6. “The Archer” (8.35)
A favorite of fans who don’t really like Taylor Swift very much and regard 1989 as far greater than anything else she’s done. A very good dream pop song, but not the kind of thing I subscribe for.
7. “Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince” (8.55)
Hard to imagine, but here she writes a song even more Lana Del Rey than “Wildest Dreams,” complete with chirpy little “okay!” bits that would slot right at home on Born To Die. It’s good.
8. “Daylight” (8.70)
Massively popular with fans who think “Clean” is top ten Taylor. It has the highest standard deviation of any song here (5.45!), possibly revealing that some people have just not made it to track 18 of Lover very often.
9. “The Man” (8.95)
Obviously this it Taylor at her most indulgently girlboss outside of the “Bad Blood” music video, but she definitely pulls it off. Come on! This shit’s a blast. Cringe, but the kind I’ve signed up for.
10. “I Think He Knows” (9.40)
I’m a little baffled here. Most people that voted preferred “I Forgot That You Existed” to “I Think He Knows,” which I think is a perfect little pop song that’s emblematic of the strengths of her approach in her pop era.
11. “I Forgot That You Existed” (10.30)
“I Forgot That You Existed” puts Taylor’s most annoying foot forward, doing the weird rap thing where she goes “in my feelings more than Drake” and the like. Its median ranking was 9, even beating “I Think He Knows” and obliterating “False God” and “Soon You’ll Get Better.” But it’s controversial. Its standard deviation of 5.36 is only lower than that of “Daylight.” Two people had this at #2, which is just entirely inexcusable, but unlike other songs in the front half of the album, some folks dared to put this one low.
12. “False God” (11.05)
Very interested to hear “False God” supporters explain themselves because this one is so fucking weird to me. I suppose it’s good that irreverence is clearly the point because the sexual imagery just comes out wrong. Sonically fits the album pretty darn well but ends up feeling tedious anyway.
13. “Soon You’ll Get Better” (11.35)
Very sweet. It’s great that she wanted to do another “The Best Day,” because that’s just one of her best songs. But it feels a little stiff, so it’s a little less successful at jerking any tears out.
14. “Afterglow” (12.70)
Kind of occupying the role of “The Lucky One,” where it’s the thing that most people will forget was even here. “The Lucky One” deserves better. I don’t really think this does. Solid, serviceable, not more. Should probably be above “False God,” though.
15. “London Boy” (12.85)
Look, maybe I’m a dick about this cringe-ass song. The Clash got to make “Ivan Meets GI Joe” on their longest album and everyone’s fine with that. Some sick fucks like “Piggies” or “Wild Honey Pie.” I actually think the verses on this sound fine, but my goodness the chorus and bridge are decidedly Not It.
16. “It’s Nice To Have A Friend” (13.85)
A strong candidate for Taylor’s most boring song, pre-2020 division. So-named because it doesn’t have any itself.
17. “You Need To Calm Down” (14.30)
The music video for “Mean,” a great song about how critics (perhaps correctly…) criticized Taylor’s Grammy performance with Stevie Nicks, opens with a gay-coded young man being bullied by football players. Certainly a worthy cause for 2011, but an odd conflation of conflicts, no? Whatever, not a big deal. Fast forward to 2019, and the first verse of “You Need To Calm Down” is about haters in Taylor Swift’s mentions and the second is about homophobia. I don’t want to make too big a deal out of this, two nickels isn’t very many, but it’s weird that it happened twice, right? I think Taylor has trouble compellingly framing the songs about her haters. I think “Mean” worked because it’s detached enough to achieve a sort of universality. I mean, also because it sounds good and doesn’t feature Taylor rapping. I’m not sure how she figured people had the stomach for two straight indulgently irritating lead singles. Speaking of…
18. “ME!” (16.20)
It is absolutely heartbreaking that Taylor believed in this Playhouse Disney self-belief anthem so much that she made it this album’s lead single and enlisted Brendon “High Hopes” Urie to turn in what might just be the most annoying vocal performance of all time. This kind of thing might be more appreciated if she debuted it on Yo Gabba Gabba! (and again, leave Brendon at home).
The New Album
The top ten are obviously in. The question is whether to leave it at that, add just “I Forgot That You Existed,” or add that plus “False God” and “Soon You’ll Get Better.” I’m pretty torn!
Over half of people think “I Forgot That You Existed” should be in a nine-songs-long version, so I suppose I’ll keep that – though I’ll note the 25th and 75th percentile ranks for “I Think He Knows” are 4.75 and 12.25 vs “I Forgot That You Existed”‘s 6.00 and 15.00 (!). I kind of think both “False God” and “Soon You’ll Get Better” are very clearly below the clearly-in songs. And they’re both so awkwardly slow and weighty that they muck up sequencing. You can crucify me for this, but I really did try to include them. Nothing worked!
So…it’s the first ten songs of the album plus “Daylight.” Maybe we didn’t need a poll to figure it out. But at least we’ve verified this truth with science.
Here is Lover in brief…Lvr.
1. “I Think He Knows”
2. “Cruel Summer”
3. “Paper Rings”
5. “The Man”
6. “Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince”
7. “Cornelia Street”
8. “The Archer”
9. “I Forgot That You Existed”
10. “Death By A Thousand Cuts”