Speaking as one of Taylor Swift’s disillusioned admirers, her new song “The Archer” marks a welcome departure: it feels like growth, finally a fulfillment of her potential rather than a cheap cop-out styled as pop sophistication. The hook isn’t so bad, either. (This, by the way, is coming from someone who hated with passion her last single.)
“the Archer’s” lyrics are a return to the form that made Swift famous: achingly honest pop poetry. The ever-present synth is haunting, like the white noise of the prying media. Coupled with a softly tangled harmony, vocal echoes, and something that sure sounds a lot like a heartbeat, the mix conjures the sound of Swift’s internal monologue. (It was produced by Jack Antonoff.)
“The Archer” is exactly what those of us who grew up with “Teardrops On My Guitar” want from the 29-year-old version of Swift. It sharply reflects the pain of a person whose every fantasy of fame has been fulfilled, whose life is public, whose success is massive, whose personal struggles play out in the press. It’s the most compelling reflection on her lived experience Swift has ever offered.
“The Archer” is understated, almost certainly intended to contrast with “Lover’s” first single, the purposefully overproduced and underwritten “ME!” With lyrics like, “You can’t spell ‘awesome’ without ‘me,” the song struck me as shamelessly regressive, and consequently tone deaf. I think “The Archer” proves that point. “I never grew up. It’s getting so old,” she sings. (We know.)
Sure, Swift can have fun and dabble in the nonsensical vapidity of something like “Old Town Road” if she wants to. But I never really bought it. She’s earnest to her core. “The Archer” is intimate in a way “You Need To Calm Down” wanted to be—and could have been.
When “ME!” was released in April, Swift reminded me of the girl who insists she doesn’t care what people think of her, but pours hours of time into her image. That’s exactly what she’s honest about in “Archer.” “I see right through me,” Swift repeats. It’s not Dylan, but it’s not bad for Top 40.
“The Archer” won’t atone for the sins of “You Need to Calm Down” and “ME!” But it’s proof that Swift’s better than both of them. That may not bode well for this album, but it bodes well for her future.