Admittedly, Taylor Swift’s latest album campaign got off to a rocky start. “ME!” was a clunky single that proved to be an easy target for vitriolic critics and disappointed many fans.
In an effort to turn things around, during an Instagram livestream yesterday (June 13), Taylor announced the release of her newest single, “You Need To Calm Down,” and the title and release date of her seventh album. Lover is due August 23.
On first listen, “Calm Down” is a stronger single that “ME!” Again, Taylor takes on the theme of empowerment, albeit in a way that is more relatable to our contested digital age. This time she calls for the haters to relax and stop their constant tirades against people/things. In fact, the song quickly begins to feel like a rebuke of dedicated online fans (also known as “stans”), especially the bridge. The prechorus is the strongest lyrical moment of the song. Taylor sing-raps, “and I ain’t tryna mess with your self-expression/But I’ve learned the lesson/That stressin’ and obsessing/’Bout somebody else is no fun.” The prechorus has in-like rhymes and end rhymes, and it’s the perfect encapsulation of the song’s theme in just a few seconds. However, Taylor ends the line with a tired cliché, like she is prone to do, “snakes and stones never broke my bones.” Taylor has an unfortunate habit of using boring clichés to finish lines, and it’s sad that she hasn’t grown out of that yet.
Production-wise, Joel Little’s pulsating synths anchor the track as much more interesting vocal production (check out the “uh-ohs” on the chorus) take center stage. “Calm Down” is accented with snaps and a sublime and menacing bass line. Taylor also plays with her lower register at the end of some lines which is a welcome experimentation. “Calm Down” is better-written and has stronger production than “ME!” Sadly, it feels as if we’ve heard this song from Taylor before; the subject matter isn’t that far removed from “Mean” or “Shake It Off.” As Taylor prepares for album seven, people are obviously going to start craving more mature music. It seems as if she has gone in the opposite direction with Lover so far. Many, including myself, wanted to write off “ME” as a fluke, but “Calm Down” isn’t that much of a step up.