TS7 is finally here!
If you’re like me or any of the millions of Swifties out there, the arrival of this next era is just as exciting as a brand-new bookshelf full of reads you get to experience for the first time.
After listening to the album on repeat all weekend, I decided to celebrate Lover with a book roundup inspired by each of the songs (since it’s the only thing I’ll be listening to for the foreseeable future, don’t @ me.).
1. “I Forgot That You Existed” (Best Friends Forever, by Jennifer Weiner)
You heard it from Taylor first: indifference is the new vengeance. This solid album-opener is upbeat and poppy, a nice contrast with the lyrics about the (final?) end of a broken relationship, friendship (or feud), when you actually forget that the person you once had so much ire for still lives. She transitions from “Your name on my lips, tongue-tied/Free rent, living in my mind” to “forgot that you existed/and I thought that it would kill me, but it didn’t” with ease. But of course, insisting that you forget someone existed while singing about them would introduce interesting tension into any relationship. It reminded me of Jennifer Weiner’s Best Friends Forever, about what happens when a former friend shows up on your doorstep in a crisis, insisting you’re the only one who can help them out of a tight spot (when you’d rather do anything but).
2. “Cruel Summer” (Do You Want to Start a Scandal, by Tessa Dare)
Lyrically and sonically, this is one of my favorites on the entire album (it’s so good it should have been a single!) It’s got an Out of the Woods meets Getaway Car vibe in terms of the melody. Wistful, a bit haunting, but also a total bop. “So cut the headlights, summer’s a knife/I’m always waiting for you just to cut to the bone” describes a low point in Swift’s life (Summer 2016, ugh), juxtaposed with the high of discovering new love. There are so many books I could have picked for this, but “I don’t want to keep secrets just to keep you” reminded me of the Regency romance trope where the heroine has a secret, or finds herself in a situation where her reputation is at stake, but is still tempted by a handsome rogue who might lead her into temptation and true love. (Sound a bit familiar?) Do You Want to Start a Scandal by Tessa Dare feels like the perfect accompaniment to this song about a woman who must prove her innocence in the face of a sullied reputation or be forced to marry a man she doesn’t think she could ever love.
3. “Lover” (Roomies, by Christina Lauren)
The title track (and the one I’ve been singing in the shower for days) is a swoony daydream of a couple in complete harmony, as Swift spins wedding vow-like lyrics such as “With every guitar string scar on my hand/I take this magnetic force of a man to be my…lover/My heart’s been borrowed and yours has been blue/all’s well that end’s well to end up with you/swear to be overdramatic and true/to my…lover.” But Swift is all about balance in her songs, so imagery of keeping up the Christmas lights in “our place” is juxtaposed with suspicion that “everyone who sees you wants you.” This track reminded me of Roomies by Christina Lauren, with its musician main character and the trope of having to share a space while inevitably falling in love.
4. “The Man” (The Whisper Network, by Chandler Baker)
The double-standards between men and women have been explored in songs and novels since both art forms existed. Swift has already confronted the media’s perception of her as a victim, as a girl who goes on too many dates but can’t make them stay, etc. But in “The Man”, she more directly confronts how different she’d be treated if she were the opposite gender. How could I not think of the new thriller The Whisper Network, about a group of women who come forward about their male boss’ behavior of harassment in the workplace. Instead of continuing to suffer in silence, they tell the truth, resulting in an explosive conflict. I sort of saw the ending coming, but was very glad I was right.
5. “The Archer” (Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen)
Another slower, lyric-driven track on the album with gut-punching truths about love, friendship, and holding on to the one who has your heart. “The Archer” is associated with being a Sagittarius (which Swift is), but also her dynamic with the world. “Who could ever leave me, darling?/But who could stay?” is self-aware in a new way for Swift, as is “I never grew up, it’s getting so old” or “I see right through me.” This is one of my favorite tracks on the album, as Swift confronts her cultivated image as both archer and prey of fame and of love. Listening to the rising energy of the track as it builds to a anti-fairy-tale crescendo plus Swift’s lyrics made me think of Pride and Prejudice: Elizabeth Bennet is forced to acknowledge how her own prejudices have made it difficult for others to love her, but that she is deserving of an imperfect love. (And how could “All of my enemies started out friends” not remind you of awful Mr. Wickham?)
6. “I Think He Knows” (The Duke and I, by Julia Quinn)
After a slower song, this heats things up a bit, describing the early sizzle of a relationship before it even starts. For an entire album that sings the praises of a man, I liked the moment in the pre-chorus where she says “He’s so obsessed with me, and boy, I understand.” Own your worth, girl! The bridge was my favorite part of this song (as it often is with Swift; girl knows how to bridge) as it played with tempo and rhyme. “Lyrical smile, indigo eyes, hand on my thigh/We can follow the sparks, I’ll drive.” Swift explores the tension of the moment between seeing someone and initiating contact—songs like these always sting with a bit of danger, too, because the man knows she wants him but neither of them say anything in public about it. She’s whispering in the dark, which gives me serious secret romance vibes. The Duke and I by Julia Quinn is about Simon, who is planning to propose to his BFF’s sister even though he doesn’t actually love her. It’s an arrangement that suits them both, but before they both know it, Daphne is giving Simon serious “I Think he Knows” vibes.
7. “Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince” (The Cheerleaders, by Kara Thomas)
If you don’t get the oft-spoken adage that “politics is like high-school,” this song takes the metaphor to the next level. Subtly political but 100% heartbreaking, Swift reimagines the political sphere (and her role in it) as a high school romance, moving from “American glory, faded before me,” painting the democratic 2016 election loss as a ripped-up prom dress (from Miss Americana, who assumed she would win.) Oozing drama and storytelling the way only Swift can, I love the moody elements of the brokenhearted girl contrasted with the new riff on a cheerleading chant (Go Fight Win!). This song is about mourning loss and then finding the strength to say “I know we’re going to win,” but it’s haunting melody and lyrics led me to pick a Cheerleader-inspired thriller. The Cheerleaders is about a string of cheerleaders murdered in a small town five years ago… and just when everyone thinks it’s time to move on, one girl becomes the center of a mystery that never truly died.
8. “Paper Rings” (The Royal We, by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan)
I’m on my fourth listen of the album and this might be my favorite track on it (though that changes minute by minute, with an album as dynamic as this—just to further accentuate the point, by the time of posting this piece, my new favorite might be I Think He Knows?). It’s a totally retro, ’60s style song—a totally fresh sound for Swift, and one that fits perfectly with her new aesthetic. (Makes me wonder why this wasn’t one of the singles released before the record.) It is a gold-mine for Swiftian lyricism, with so many gems I can’t possibly call them all out, and it moves so fast (like a good read) that you both want to cascade over them and pause to hear each line at least 5x before it passes you by. It’s an unabashed love song, relishing in the joy of knowing you’re with the one you love so much that “I like shiny things, but I’d marry you with paper rings”. The line that stuck out the most was “I hate accidents except when we went from friends to this,” which made me think of when Bex Porter goes to Oxford in The Royal We and, completely by accident, falls in love with the heir to the throne.
Paperback $14.40 | $16.00
9. “Cornelia Street” (Passion on Park Avenue, by Lauren Layne)
“Cornelia Street” is sort of the antithesis to I Think He knows. It’s about remembering the early days of a new relationship (“We were a fresh page on the desk/filling in the blanks as we go”) and being more than willing to give up all the good that comes with fresh starts in order to settle into something real. It aches with melancholy, because any time we give something up should be a little sad—but it brims with hope and Swift’s trademarked optimism about love. “I hope I never lose you, hope it never ends/I’d never walk Cornelia Street again/ That’s the kinda heartbreak time could never mend.” I had to pick an NYC-set story for this, like Lauren Layne’s Passion on Park Avenue. The city is another character in the romance between a successful jewelry-business owner and the son of the woman her mother used to work for.
10. “Death By a Thousand Cuts” (Please Don’t Go Before I Get Better, by Madisen Kuhn)
Inspired by the Netflix movie Something Great, this is one of the few sad songs on the record, about a girl going through a breakup who can’t help but linger in happier memories. (For the record: “I dress to kill my time” is genius, as are so many of these lyrics.) Only Swift is so good at pairing such devastating messaging with a pop beat you can’t help but want to sing. This song was the hardest one to pick a book for (especially because it’s already inspired by a movie) so I decided to go with a poetry collection! Please Don’t Go Before I Get Better is all about the aches and sun rays of growing up, told in a staggeringly relatable voice that will make you want to curl up on the couch and cry your eyes out.
11. “London Boy” (Red, White and Royal Blue, by Casey McQuiston)
This is 100% about Joe Alwyn, but also… Taylor dated at least two Brits that we know of before him, so this song is also about what we already knew (“the rumors are true”): she has a penchant for London Boys. Essentially a road map of her favorite places in the city, this indulgent ditty trades “Tennessee Whiskey” for “A gray sky, a rainy cab ride” and of course, her man by her side. Red, White, and Royal Blue is the perfect pick for this song, about two boys who fall in love (after a rough start where they were almost enemies) amidst those gray, rainy skies… but one of them happens to be the son of an American President, and the other, the current Prince of England.
12. “Soon You’ll Get Better (feat. Dixie Chicks)” (Swamplandia! by Karen Russell)
Of all the songs on the album, this one gave me the most vintage Swift vibes. There’s no denying that she is an astonishingly talented songwriter, especially when you listen to what is essentially her greatest fear laid bare on this track with just a bit of guitar and the Dixie Chicks harmonizing in the background. Here, the story shines: Swift’s mother has been sick for a number of years, and while they’ve mostly kept the details of that battle private, this is the most vulnerable moment of love for her mother on an album mostly about finding true love. “Holy orange bottles, each night I pray to you/Desperate people find faith, so now I pray to Jesus, too.” A friend of mine recently lost their mother just after getting married, and it made me marvel at how life often delivers us highs and lows to grapple with simultaneously. While all of this was going on—Kanye and Kim, Joe and London, another world tour, another album—in the background, Swift has been terrified of losing her mother. This song made me think of Swamplandia!, a novel about a young girl living in a gator-wrestling theme park where her mother used to be the main event, until she passed away. Now, in the wake of her death, the girl and her siblings must grapple with their mother’s legacy as a competing business rises up to swallow the success she built on the swamp.
13. “False God” (City of Girls, by Elizabeth Gilbert)
Is that a saxophone in the background of a Taylor Swift song? This slow, jazzy number is all about love and desire—and how we come back to it even when the world around us (and sometimes we, ourselves) put it in jeopardy. “And I can’t talk to you when you’re like this/Staring out the window like I’m not your favorite town/I’m New York City” and other lyrics referencing New York seem to be the grounding force in an otherwise tumultuous relationship. Multiple times on this record Swift has alluded to rough patches in her current happiness, but connection is always the solution to fixing it. She seems to say that if you treat your relationship like it’s your religion, you can get through anything. This is one of the sexier songs on the album, but it’s also got serious NYC vibes, so I’m picking City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert: a novel all about relishing romance in the glitzy 1940’s New York Theater scene, but also how desire can either set us on the road to ruin, or redemption.
14. “You Need to Calm Down” (The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, by Taylor Jenkins Reid)
This song has done what Swift does best: inspire conversation and a bit of controversy. Acknowledging that it was past time for her to be an outspoken ally for the LGBTQIAP+ community, YNTCD tackles the various ways communities are pitted against one another (especially on the internet.) The first verse examines her personal haters (“Say it in the street, that’s a knock-out/But you say it in a Tweet, that’s a cop-out), the second calls out homophobes (“Shade never made anybody less gay”), and the third examines how her relationships with her female contemporaries have often been antagonistic, something she herself has been responsible perpetuating in the past with songs like “Bad Blood” and “Better Than Revenge” (“We all know now, we all got crowns/you need to calm down.”) The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is about a famous actress who hid the great female love of her life behind multiple male partners and uses her platform to tell the truth (all while hiding one last devastating secret). While Taylor herself has not come out as part of the LGBTQ community, she has come out as an ally, and this book made me think about the issues of privacy, platform, allyship, and identity that the song also confronts. If there’s more to the story of Swift’s relationship to the LGBTQIAP+ community, she’s going to share it on her own terms.
15.“Afterglow” (Queenie, by Candice Carty-Williams)
This song ranks high on my favorites from the album, and it’s a rare genre from Swift: the apology song. (The other famous one is Speak Now’s “Back to December.”) In this mid-tempo song with slamming drums and a breathy falsetto, Swift yearns for the partner she pushed away to meet her in the moments after the fight ends. “It’s all me, in my head/I’m the one who burned us down/ but it’s not what I meant,” she insists. There’s still hope here though, as opposed to earlier songs on the record that signal the doom of a friendship or a breakup after-the-fact. Queenie, by Candice Carty-Williams, is a novel about a girl coming to terms with her role in a failed relationship, a career she can’t seem to succeed in, and friends she unknowingly betrays. “Why’d I have to break what I love so much?” is a question asked in this song’s chorus, and one Queenie must answer in order to find real, lasting happiness.
16. “ME! (feat. Brendon Urie)” (Crazy Rich Asians, by Kevin Kwan)
This self-love anthem is bubblegum sweet and full of earworms: the “Shake it Off“ of the TS7 Era. It makes me think of lightning-fast beach reads that you can’t put down and that feel so good to read but also have a deeper meaning to them. Just because it’s not the most lyrically advanced of her songs doesn’t mean this bop doesn’t deserve to be celebrated— it reminded me of how romances constantly get a bad rep (lol, see what I did there?) as somehow lesser than other genres. I love that Taylor doesn’t care about what other people think and is 100% focused on being her authentic self— just like the heroine of Crazy Rich Asians, Rachel Chu. When confronted with the wealth and expectations of her boyfriend Nick’s family (who don’t think she’s good enough for him), she insists it’s her individuality that makes her the perfect partner for him.
17. “It’s Nice to Have a Friend” (This Love Story Will Self-Destruct, by Leslie Cohen)
This track might be my second favorite? It’s so different (Ukulele? Trombone? Is that what I’m hearing?) and such a contrast to the beginning of the album, the opener closes the door on a once meaningful friendship. It’s also a deceiving song, in that I’m still not 100% sure what it’s about. I think Swift is exploring the importance of friendship in all its forms: in childhood (“School bell rings, walk me home”) to adolescence “Something gave you the nerve/to touch my hand”) to romantic love (“Church bells ring, carry me home/rice on the ground looks like snow”). Ultimately, she may be saying that the most important thing about a romantic partner is that they make you feel like you have a friend—when you’re young, the thing that matters most is feeling seen by other people. If your lover is also your best friend, then you know they always have your back. A love story that takes place over two characters’ twenties, This Love Story Will Self-Destruct is about the missteps, betrayals, beautiful moments and connection that forms between two people over a decade.
18. “Daylight” (Evvie Drake Starts Over, by Linda Holmes)
“My love was as cruel as the cities I lived in.” What a way to begin this album closer. Swift’s last tracks have a tradition of being the ones that are most emblematic of her current state of mind, but they also have developed certain themes over time. Renewal, starting over, self-reflection, and hope are all subjects “Daylight” sheds a little light on. She acknowledges past failings (“I wounded the good and trusted the wicked”) and what she wants for the future (“I once believed love would be [burning red]/but it’s golden”). A book that feels like daylight on your skin is what’s needed for this song, and I think Evvie Drake Starts Over is the perfect pick: a story about a woman still grieving the loss of her husband but who finds herself moving on with a former major league baseball player. Both of them have pasts they are healing from, but together, they find hope for the future. “I’ve been sleeping so long in a twenty-year dark night/and now I see daylight.” And, unlike (I think?) any other song in her catalogue, she speaks in the end, not sings, in a direct appeal to her audience. Her very last words are “You are what you love.” Well, I love Taylor Swift. I love a good song lyric to sink my teeth into, or to sing. I love love. And I love a good story, whether it comes from a song or a book, and when you’re done with the album, I hope you find some here.
Leave a comment below with which books you’d pick for your fave Taylor songs!