Brow Beat

In Her New Song, Taylor Swift Interrogates the Fragility of Identity

Taylor Swift singing and playing piano onstage at the TIME 100 Gala at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City on April 23.
Taylor Swift gives fans a taste of her introspective side with “The Archer.” Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Time

Taylor Swift took to Instagram Live on Tuesday to surprise fans by releasing “The Archer,” the fifth track off of her upcoming album, Lover. The song’s producer, Jack Antonoff, seems to be channeling his work with Lana Del Rey: The dark synth-pop ballad features a much more vulnerable and confessional side of Swift than we’ve seen in the catchier (though more grating) Lover singles “ME!” and “You Need to Calm Down.” Swift elaborated in her livestream that “The Archer,” which fits into Swift’s habit of placing her more “emotional” song as Track 5 on the album, “is not the next single, it’s just a song that I love.” Swift admitted to leaving “Easter eggs” about the song in her previous music videos and on social media but said that she has no plans to release a video for the song itself, explaining she released it just to give fans “a glimpse into another side of the album.” Y’know, in case fans were afraid Lover was going to be too upbeat.

“The Archer” is unquestionably darker and more introspective than Swift’s previous two singles. Rather than the self-assured and defiant character she portrayed in “ME!” and “You Need to Calm Down,” this song sees her as both hunter and hunted, “archer” and “prey,” well-trodden but effective platitudes for a pop ballad. But as the song proceeds, there are some lines that demand further analysis. For instance, later in the song Swift compares herself to a broken Humpty Dumpty, that famously fragile anthropomorphic egg popular among children. Echoing the fable, Swift coos, “All the king’s horses, all the king’s men/ Couldn’t put me together again/ ’Cause all of my enemies started out friends/ Help me hold on to you.” Swift seems to be acknowledging the fragile artifice of identity and celebrity, warning her listeners not to depend on cultural and institutional authorities—“the king’s men” of the world—for validation. At least that’s my theory, Swifties.

The substance behind Celebrity Personality Taylor Swift was also a focus of the singer’s second big announcement. Swift also took the opportunity to show off the packaging for the four deluxe editions of Lover, revealing that each version comes complete with a notebook containing a unique set of 30 scanned pages selected from real-life diaries of Taylor Swift. According to Swift, the selected entries cover at least a 16-year span of the singer’s life, “everything from being thirteen and coming home from a bad day of school to, you know, Grammy night, to processing my life changing as a teenager—all that good stuff.” There will be 120 unique pages from Swift’s diaries across all four deluxe editions of Lover, with each booklet also including a forward penned by Swift herself, photos, and an epilogue of blank pages (blank spaces?) for fans to fill in for themselves. You can’t expect her to do everything for you, after all. Swift was keen to mention that preorders for the deluxe editions are already available. By now the real Swift scholars will have ponied up for all four.