Love is not burning red: How Taylor Swift’s new album captures the reality of love

Love is not burning red: How Taylor Swift’s new album captures the reality of love

In ‘Lover’, the singer-songwriter shows that she has no more time for fairy tales.

I remember asking for change for my P5 in P1 increments. I was an 11-year old who badly wanted to play the music video for Taylor Swift’s Picture to Burn on a slot machine videoke. I remember the music video set: black studio with fake pyro-effect, a pickup truck, and Taylor Swift wearing a white dress and cowboy boots, in her quintessential telephone-wire blond curls. I remembered every lyric, every pause, every growl in her voice, when it’s time to slow down for the bridge’s angry yet contained falsetto. I still do now.

Several years later, when I turned 13, I wrote the number on the back of my hands — like how she does at her concerts — with glitter and blue-green pen.

I was a Swiftie and there was no mistaking it.

On weekends, when I was scheduled to be the tindera at our little sari-sari store, I would blast Love Story so loud on speakers and act it out in broad daylight, with tricycles and random people passing by outside. So far removed from my physical and geographical reality, I would imagine myself as a princess doomed to be unhappy inside their castle forever. Cut to my prince charming saving me, we run away, plan and start a new life. At the time, too, I was certain of a good, true, pure love story for me: the kind that withstands conflict, miscommunication, and even familial feuds like Romeo and Juliet’s.

I found my fantasies in every line of every song.

Since then I followed every album release. In “Fearless,” I imagined finding a love that would refine me from a girl who only wore medium t-shirts, jeans, and sneakers to a girl who wore dresses and combed her hair everyday — a feminine girl who fit the paradigm, someone worth sweeping off her feet. But the dresses and skirts I wore for boys who I thought contained the love I was expecting to find fit me poorly, so I had to give them out eventually. Even when at the moment the dress seemed like the best dress I’d go dancing out in the rain for. My hair, I soon realized, was never meant to be combed everyday; otherwise it would get frizzy and balloon up.

“Red” was monumental for me and for my friends. It was the first and only Taylor Swift album I bought with my own money. I’d sleep late trying to decipher the seemingly “random” capitalization on the album’s liner notes. I knew every word. I gave out the small monthly calendar cards to my friends, treated it as a sort of yellow-ribbon to our friendship.

Sonically, I bristled when she teased us in 2012 with We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, a song that veered more into pop and dubstep more than the country-pop I got used to. The uncomfortable feeling familiar to every fangirl: she’s stepping into dangerous, deeper waters.

 

I thought the album cover looked something out of Friendster. The unicorn cotton-candy imagery was galling. It was peak pop; I wasn’t in the mood.

 

 

This seventh album, “Lover,” however, came differently to me. When the singles ME! and Lover came out, I felt indifferent. I was going through a breakup from my first official relationship and it all seemed too much. “Why is Taylor so happy now?” I asked. I thought the album cover looked something out of Friendster. The unicorn cotton-candy imagery was galling. It was peak pop; I wasn’t in the mood.

But on the evening of the album release, I streamed it for the first time because I knew I had to write this piece. I thought it would feel laborious, but as the album progressed, reminiscences and quirks of the Taylor I’ve always loved bloomed. She’s still the same girl, but with an arsenal of experience under her belt giving her the perspective she needs to wield them into impressive one-liners. In The Man, she exhorts “They’d paint me out to be bad / so it’s okay that I’m mad.” Her flair for the dramatic shines on the bridges of almost every song in the album. The sound production complements this, too. In Cruel Summer she quips, “I’m drunk in the back of the car / and I cried like a baby coming home from the bar / said I’m fine but it wasn’t true.”

In the song Lover, we hear Fearless-era Taylor coming to terms with romance experienced in real time. “And you’ll save all your dirtiest jokes for me / and at every table I’ll save you a seat, lover.” It’s cloying, the sweetest perfume scent in a song, but it’s admittedly pronounced than the fantasy of a prince charming coming to save you.

In her Rolling Stone review of the album, writer Brittany Spanos tells of how this is finally the album that Taylor wants to write — the sound of a woman writing what she wants to write. In The Archer she chants, I see right through me / I see right through me. 

 

Like Taylor, I’m learning that love is more than just sparks and meet-cutes at cafes. It requires maintenance — when things get boring or frustrating, what sustains the feeling, what keeps you staying?

 

 

It’s funny how we outgrow things. The songs I used to love from the old Taylor, like Teardrops on my Guitar or Fearless, don’t have the same effect on me anymore.. The love story narrative I once took as gospel matters less now. Like Taylor, I’m learning that love is more than just sparks and meet-cutes at cafes. It requires maintenance — when things get boring or frustrating, what sustains the feeling, what keeps you staying? A line from the last track Daylight goes: “I once believed love would be burning red / but it’s golden / like daylight.” I like the entirety of “Lover” because it’s more grounded in reality now. She closes the album with a recorded monologue: 

I wanna be defined by the things that I love
Not the things I hate
Not the things I’m afraid of
Or the things that haunt me in the middle of the night

In the aftermath of a house party, when the acquaintances have gone home and all you’re left with is the company of your closest friends, a Taylor Swift song would come on shuffle — or play deliberately — and no matter where you are in life, in your heart of hearts something will click. You’re seeing daylight and singing along to a Taylor Swift song.

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