Upon its release in 2019, critics regarded Taylor Swift’s Lover album as top-tier, saying things like “Lover is pure Taylor Swift, at her most content and confident”(Jones), “Lover is Swift’s most mature album”(Willman), and, boldly, “Lover is a career-topping masterpiece”(Sheffield). Basically, if her career were a ladder, Swift may have climbed to the top. Not only had Swift’s sound and talent reached a sort of climax; so too had her story. What I mean to say is, if Swift’s discography tells the story of a damsel on a quest for love, Lover is the happy ending. Lover’s final track, “Daylight”, contains some of her most romantic lyrics: “I don’t wanna look at anything else now that I saw you, I don’t wanna think of anything else now that I thought of you”. These lyrics were written to conclude the fairytale – she had finally found all that she had ever wanted, she had completed her quest. Within the context of the Taylorverse fairytale, Swift’s song “Daylight” should have been the Happily Ever After; then came Midnights.
Swift is a worldbuilder, meaning each of her albums occur in a world of her making, affectionately called Taylorverse. The story that takes place within the Taylorverse can be classified as a bildungsroman – or, a piece of literature that tells a coming-of-age story. Swift’s discography tells a reportedly autobiographical story of a girl growing up, and often references classic literature and folklore. Swift’s first three albums, Taylor Swift, Fearless, and Speak Now lean into a fairytale theme, both with her album aesthetic and in her song writing on tracks like “Love Story”, “White Horse”, “The Story of Us”, and “Enchanted”. In fact, Swift had intended to name her third studio album “Enchanted”, but her label wouldn’t allow it; in 2010, the CEO of Swift’s record label, Scott Borchetta, said in an interview that he believed Swift had outgrown the fairytale world she had been living in. So, Swift named her album Speak Now, and offered a goodbye to her fairytale world in the last track on the album, “Long Live”, telling her fans, “The kingdom lights shined just for me and you, long live all the magic we made... I had the time of my life fighting dragons with you”. And though she ditches the fairytale aesthetics in her next three albums, her music never abandons the story. She continues to release tracks titled “Starlight”, “Wonderland”, and “King of My Heart”, consistent with her fairytale theme. With Lover, Swift returns to the whimsical aesthetic of her early career – the album cover is adorned with pink and purple clouds, and the music video for the lead single “ME!” even takes place in a magic castle. All in all, Swift’s first seven studio albums tell a story about a girl falling in and out of love, making mistakes, healing from heartbreak, and searching for “the 1”.
As Swift grew up, so too did the girl in her story; the girl’s maturation is evident in Swift’s lyrics, and most strikingly, as critics pointed out, in her Lover album – specifically the last track, “Daylight”. The narrator says, “I once believed love would be black and white, but it’s golden”. These lyrics harken back to Swift’s 2008 Fearless era. The narrator’s “little black dress” she wore on dates, for example, or her imaginary knight’s “White horse”. “Black and white” is also a metaphor for high contrast, which may refer to the narrator’s former belief during the Fearless Era that love consisted of high highs and low lows, as illustrated in her song “The Way I Loved You,” when she sings, “Screaming and fighting and kissing in the rain… I was so in love that I acted insane”. The narrator begins to exhibit some character development on this front in her song “Out of the Woods” on her 2014 1989 album, with the lyrics “The rest of the world was black and white but we were in screaming color,” but “Daylight” develops this idea even further.
The next line, “I once believed love would be burning red but it’s golden like daylight”, refers to Swift’s 2012 album Red (which is ironically Swift’s most iconic breakup album), and specifically the album’s namesake lyric, “Loving him was red… burning red”. Again, “Daylight” exhibits character development, as the narrator transcends “black and white” and even “screaming color”; ultimately, love is golden – conjuring ideas of something strong and valuable – like gold – but also something priceless and intangible – sunlight. No wonder critics referred to this album as Swift’s most mature, “career-topping” masterpiece; it seems she has reached the end of the story, her protagonist has found true love, she’s reached her zenith. In a fairytale-esque story where the main conflict is the woes of love, what would further character development look like? Is it possible for love to transcend even daylight? The fairytales all end here.
For a moment, Lover did appear to be her Happily Ever After. Though Swift continued to release music, she briefly abandoned this storyline and stepped into a “fictional” realm, rather than continuing on with the “autobiographical” story she had been telling in her first seven albums. The content and lyrical themes on sister albums Folklore and Evermore are not disconnected from the Taylorverse, but the songs make up a collection of short stories rather than fitting into Swift’s larger bildungsroman. To explain, “Dorthea” and “‘Tis the Damn Season” can be interpreted as two former high school sweethearts singing to each other, while “Cardigan”, “August”, and “Betty” tell three different sides of the same story. Some songs stand independently: “The Last Great American Dynasty”, for example, tells the story of the late Rebekah Harness (Walsh), while “Epiphany” was written in honor of first responders during the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak of 2020. Some songs on these two albums may still be autobiographical, such as “My Tears Ricochet” and “It’s time to go”, which Swift probably wrote for her former record label, or “Willow” and “Peace”, which she most likely wrote for her lover at the time. But ultimately, these songs do not clearly fit into the fairytale that makes up her first seven albums.
In the last track on Folklore Deluxe, “The Lakes”, it seems that Swift, for a moment, exits her Taylorverse to relay a serious message to her audience: that her bildungsroman has come to an end. To explain, though Swift openly admits most of her work is autobiographical, “The Lakes” is a unique song because it is meta. This means that, even if Swift writes songs about her own life, her songs are still told through the vehicle of a narrative voice, but in “The Lakes”, Swift breaks the fourth wall, opening with the question, “Is it romantic how all my elegies eulogize me?” which sets Swift apart from her narrator, and allows her to speak to us directly. She goes on to say, “Take me to the lakes where all the poets went to die… I’m setting off, but not without my muse”, which once again acknowledges that the narrator is fictitious and Swift is the poet animating the narrator. It also suggests that Swift is done writing poetry, as this line references mainly the romantic poet William Wordsworth, who upon retirement from writing, settled down with his family in The Lakes district of England. Swift even makes a punny reference to Wordsworth in her song, saying, “I’ve come too far to let some name-dropping sleaze tell me what are my words worth”, which indicates a desire to remove herself from the public eye. She also says, “I want to watch wisteria grow right over my bare feet,” as in, she wants to stay in this remote place for a long time, presumably for the rest of her life. “The Lakes” is a song about retiring from writing and settling down somewhere away from the public eye with her lover. As we now know, this did not happen.
Interestingly, before the Deluxe edition was released, the last tracks on Folklore were “Peace”, and “Hoax”, both of which indicate that there is more to her bildungsroman – that Lover was not the end. In these songs, the narrator addresses her lover, saying, “Would it be enough if I could never bring you peace?”, and “Your faithless love is the only hoax I believe in,” respectively. Both of these songs challenge “Daylight” and “The Lakes.” The former suggests that she will never be done writing her story, because she will never be able to settle down. Though “Daylight” seems to illustrate contentedness, here she says she will never be at peace. The latter suggests she hasn’t found true love at all – rather her love is faithless, it is fake.
This makes sense, in retrospect. As we now know, Lover was not the end of the story, and “Daylight” foreshadowed what was to come. In the outro of “Daylight”, the narrator said, “I wanna be defined by the things that I love… not the things that haunt me in the middle of the night”. Swift’s 2022 “autobiographical” album Midnights was an album about just that: things that haunt her in the middle of the night. In the prologue of the Midnights album, Swift wrote, “This is a collection of music written in the middle of the night, a journey through terrors and sweet dreams” (Swift). Under the guise of a love song, the first track on the album refers back to the Lover album, and the whimsical purple-pink cloud aesthetic. The narrator sings, “I just wanna stay in that lavender haze”, or, I just want to stay in love. The Lavender Haze, nonetheless, is a bit darker than the Lover clouds, as we come to realize as the album progresses.
Many of the lyrics in this album further develop sentiments in “Daylight”; in “Maroon”, for example, the narrator seems to want to amend what she said in “Daylight”. The song contains a series of anacoluthon: “I looked up at the sky and it was– the burgundy on my t-shirt when you splashed your wine into me and how the blood rushed into my cheeks so scarlet it was– the mark they saw on my collarbone the rust that grew between telephones the lips I used to call home so scarlet– it was maroon”. The narrator constantly interrupts herself in this song, and we never get to hear what she “was going” to say. She seems to say, it was not golden, it was in fact red. In Lover, she only sees daylight, daylight, daylight. In Midnights, when she looks up at the sky, she does not see daylight. Their love was not golden or even burning red, it was even darker than that. It was maroon.
“Midnight Rain” references “Daylight” more explicitly. The narrator says, “He was sunshine, I was midnight rain… he stayed the same, all of me changed like midnight rain”. As in, “Daylight” could not be the end of her story, because she had to change. Again, in the vault track “You’re Losing Me”, the narrator says, “Remember looking at this room? We loved it because of the light, now I just sit in the dark”. Here is further development: she no longer sees daylight. But in the song “Bejeweled”, she makes the point that she does not need daylight – when she walks into the [dark] room, she “can still make the whole place shimmer”. So, even if he was sunshine, she’s bejeweled.
Come Midnights, the story seems to have pivoted from a search for love to something more self-centered. To explain, in the song “Vigilante Shit”, the narrator says, “I don’t dress for women, I don’t dress for men, lately I’ve been dressing for revenge”, and later, “Ladies always rise above, ladies know what people want, someone sweet and kind and fun, the lady’s simply had enough”. As in, the narrator is fed up with trying to please people, and is setting out to right the wrongs that have been done by her. It’s safe to assume this next era will be all about Swift re-recording her first six albums so she can own her own music; to drive this home, in “Bejeweled”, she says, “I can reclaim the land”. The narrator’s pivot from a quest to love to a quest for revenge is marked by a fire theme on the Midnights album, as if Swift intends to burn down her first story and start anew.
But though Midnights feels more sinister than previous albums, there are hints of Swift’s fairytale sprinkled throughout. The song “Sweet Nothing,” for example, begins with a nursery rhyme, “I spy with my little tired eye…”, and the last song on the 3A.M. edition, “Dear Reader” – like “Long Live” and “The Lakes” – once again addresses the fans, saying “you should find another guiding light, but I shine so bright” – directly challenging the optimistic take on her light she expressed in “Bejeweled”, interestingly enough, but also creating imagery that her story is being read, like a fairytale, and referencing the lullaby “This Little Light of Mine”.
Furthermore, in her lead single, “Anti-Hero”, the protagonist grapples with her anxiety that maybe all along she was not a “good” character in her fairytale. But on other tracks, like “You’re On Your Own, Kid”, our narrator reflects on her story up to this point, and decides that she is her own hero, and she never needed love. “From sprinkler splashes, to fireplace ashes, I gave my blood, sweat and tears for this. I hosted parties, and starved my body, like I’d be saved by a perfect kiss. The jokes weren’t funny, I took the money my friends from home don’t know what to say. I looked around in a blood soaked gown and I saw something they can’t take away… you’re on your own, kid, you always have been”. In these lines, the narrator describes growing up, from playing as a child to the hardships she faced as a young woman, and admits that she always believed love would save her, but it did not. The thing no one can take away is herself.
So, was not the end of the bildungsroman. There is further character development to come, and our narrator has more adventuring to do before she settles down. One thing there is to say about Lover, however, was that though it was not a Happy Ending, or even a real ending, it did seem to be the end of the narrator’s original quest for love. So, though “Daylight” was not the Happily Ever After it was made out to be, it did mark the end of a chapter in our protagonist’s life. And now she will embark on a new quest – to reclaim the land.
Jones, Marcus. “A Track-by-Track Breakdown of Taylor Swift’s New Album ‘Lover.’” Entertainment Weekly, 23 Aug. 2019.
Sheffield, Rob. “Why ‘lover’ Is the Ultimate Taylor Swift Album.” Rolling Stone, 23 Aug. 2019.
Swift, Taylor, @taylorswift. “Midnights, the stories of 13 sleepless nights scattered throughout my life, will be out October 21. Meet me at midnight.” Instagram, Instagram, 28 Aug. 2022. Accessed 28 June 2023.
“Taylor Swift Fans Point out the Significance of ‘enchanted’ Being the Only ‘Speak Now’ Song on the Eras Tour.” Just Jared, 28 Mar. 2023.
Walsh, Savannah. “The True Story behind Taylor Swift’s ‘The Last Great American Dynasty.’” ELLE, 29 Nov. 2021.