As with all the other music Taylor Swift has ever created, Lover inevitably contains hints about the goings-on of her personal and political life, some of them more cryptic than others.
But rather than get too wrapped up in what is now an age-old exercise of figuring out who Swift is singing about, what code words appear in her lyrics, and which boyfriend inspired which song, I’m proposing something much simpler: a completely biased ranking of the most enjoyable songs on Lover according to your faithful correspondent.
Here are my three favorite tracks on Lover, and why.
1) “Cornelia Street”
The best Taylor Swift songs inspire a sudden, devastating wistfulness for a place or feeling you’ve never known. This happens with 1989’s “Style,” thanks to its images of midnight drives and red lipstick.
The same thing happens with the criminally underrated “Hey Stephen,” from 2008’s Fearless, which posits that the mark of true love and destiny is a willingness to throw rocks at your crush’s (Stephen) window even when it’s cold.
“Cornelia Street” flexes that same Swiftian magic, crafting a fairy tale about a tiny sliver of pavement in the West Village. Swift peppers the song with callbacks to previous tunes like “Welcome to New York” and “New Year’s Day,” obviously hinting that the song is about meeting Joe Alwyn, the current love of her life, in New York City.
But the feeling she’s getting at in “Cornelia Street” is more universal, the idea of being so in love with someone and creating so many memories together — being barefoot in the kitchen when there’s a chill on the floor from the autumn air; what the lights look like in the back seat of a cab — that if you ever break up, you’ll have to exile these places from your life to avoid a breakdown.
“And 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,” she sings on top of a steady beat. It’s an idealized feeling of love laid on top of an idealized vision of New York City.
In the song, Swift slyly admits she’s mythologizing, but also insists that it’s fully human to do so — and to avoid places that might remind you of a failed relationship. It works, even if you’ve never been to Cornelia Street.
2) “Cruel Summer”
Co-written by Swift, St. Vincent, and Jack Antonoff, “Cruel Summer” is an aquatic robot bop that went to Montauk last weekend, missed the train home, called in sick to work, and went back to the beach instead. It crawled back to New York with saltwater in its hair and sand in its shoes, somehow still looking enviable.
You hate it, but you also admire it a little.
“Devils roll the dice, angels roll their eyes, what doesn’t kill me makes me want you more,” Swift croons over wobbly synths. Sure, I guess the song is about a guy who “grins like the devil” and is ostensibly dangerous (in the most facile sense of the word), but the beauty of “Cruel Summer” is in letting the love story blur into the distance and just enjoying the breeziness of the tune (preferably outside).
3) “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince”
The impenetrable, Harry Potter-esque title of this song is doing most of the work, but the song is actually doing a lot, too. It’s about Swift looking back at how her image has changed over time (“They whisper in the hallway, ‘She’s a bad, bad girl’) while also confronting the current state of American politics and policy (“American glory faded before me” and “American stories, burning before me”) and interrogating her involvement or perhaps lack thereof (Swift has recently spoken about why she didn’t endorse Hillary Clinton in the last presidential election).
But the best thing about this song is just a simple, catchy line: “The whole school is rolling fake dice. You play stupid games, you win stupid prizes.” “Play stupid games, win stupid prizes” is a common idiom, but the way it’s delivered in “Miss Americana,” with pure Swiftian vindictiveness, gives it a newfound snap and crackle. I want to keep repeating the phrase in all facets of my life now, thanks to Taylor Swift.