Taylor Swift is not growing up anymore, and she hasn’t been for a while.
I remember seeing Taylor Swift’s self-titled album in a print edition of Teen Vogue when I was in middle school. Just two teen girls, Taylor and I were, grappling with the most important thing in our lives: boys. I listened to her track “Cold As You” and cried in my childhood bedroom through the rainy endings to what I had hoped would be perfect days. She brought us more of that on Fearless and Speak Now—gazing back at her idyllic high school experience and reflecting upon the time in our lives that felt perhaps the most significant and grand.
Like most of the pop-culture aware world, I’ve followed Taylor Swift’s journey for over ten years. Taylor and I grew up together, and it has always felt like each era of her life she shared with us reflected something I was seeing every day in my own mirror. We fought with our friends, basked in the glow of growing up, and sulked when things got to be a little too much, but it always felt like Taylor and I did those things together.
Taylor released Red and shared some of her most intimate moments with us, inviting us into her refrigerator-lit kitchen on a long-forgotten night. We saw an exploration of young adulthood throughout the electric 1989. And Reputation brought us a Taylor with the courage to retaliate against those who’d angered her. An anger that had been brewing but had not yet been revealed. But Lover is something entirely different altogether.
Lover feels like a love letter to Taylor’s highest self. It is entirely self-aware, entirely transparent, and most importantly, it believes in itself. While Reputation put on a spectacle, one couldn’t help but feel that the teen who wrote Shakespearean love ballads and sugar-sweet party anthems was being suppressed and hidden. Don’t get me wrong, I will yell the lyrics to those diss tracks any time, but I missed the specificity of her writing. The lyrics that told me not just that she hated someone, but what they did and why it was so impossible to forget.
Taylor has been in a stable relationship for a couple of years. She’s experienced both personal and professional heartbreak. She has seen herself go from the most sought-after star to the most despised. Lover is not just a love letter to her current beau; it is a love letter to her highest self. Taylor is an adult. She has allowed herself to, for the first time, become multidimensional. She can be the badass girl in leather and snake print bashing the media for hating her. She can also be the young girl who just wants someone with whom to read at night.
The lyrically lovely titular track, “Lover,” showcases the full woman behind the guitar. She has realized that she will be “overdramatic AND true” to her lover. She still wants to “leave the Christmas lights up ‘til January,” a note that echoes back to Reputation’s “New Year’s Day.” She is choosing to not let negative people take up her energy. She envisions the horror of a world without her mother. She has chosen to forgive a woman she fought with over a man. She reflects on whether her image would be the same if she were a man altogether.
But at the end of the day, she’s still Taylor. She is both. She has allowed herself to become more than one thing or another. She is “memorizing the creaks in the floor” but she is also realizing that she doesn’t need to live her life “ready for combat.”
Those of us who have been listening to her music for a while, whether intentionally or as a result of sheer media exposure, I hope, can notice this evolution. Taylor is here. She is herself. She is allowing herself to be multidimensional, and she is seeing the value in giving herself the freedom to be all of the crazy, wonderful, annoying, sad, poetic, angry things she is. And she is reminding me to do the same.