Albums to Listen To Instead of Taylor Swift’s “Lover”

It’s that time again. That’s right, a new Taylor Swift album!

I have a complicated relationship with Taylor and her work. Pretty much every album she’s ever made consists of the following:

– Several songs that I truly despise, either because I find their production obnoxious, their lyrics problematic, or some combination of both.
– Several okay songs that I didn’t truly despise initially, but are overplayed to the point that I do.
– Some okay-but-nothing-special tracks that no one will remember a few months after the release.
– Some hidden gems that are truly remarkable which never get the attention they deserve.

And that’s just a discussion of Taylor the Musician. Taylor the Celebrity is a whole other can of worms that I don’t feel like opening right now (though I do touch on a bit of that in my actual Lover review). I’ll just say that sometimes, Taylor’s music is harder for me to rally behind because her public persona is such a mixed bag.

When Swift dropped her last album, reputation, I wrote up a post about albums with a similar sound that don’t come with all the same celebrity gossip baggage and inconsistent quality of a Taylor Swift album. I thought it would be fun to do the same thing this time around for Lover. I also thought it would be a bit of a cop out to simply talk about other albums by those same artists featured in the reputation edition of this post. So, all those artists were disqualified from being mentioned here. I also tried to stay away from overly mainstream pop acts such as Lorde, Shawn Mendes, and Ed Sheeran. While it’s true Swifties WOULD probably like them, I assumed most are already aware of their work.

1. About U by MUNA

Taylor-iest Song: It’s a toss-up between: “Winterbreak” and “Crying On The Bathroom Floor”

My favorite songs:
– “I Know a Place”
– “Crying On The Bathroom Floor”

Other thoughts: This was one of the first albums that I knew had to be on this post and perhaps the hardest album to pick a “Taylor-iest” song. It’s most definitely a breakup album, and much like Taylor’s work it explores the full spectrum of emotion that can come along with the end of a relationship. It definitely took a couple listens for me to fully appreciate, but then so did 1989, and both albums do a great job of maintaining their emotional depth in spite of their heavy synthpop production. Now, it’s one of my favorite new finds of my ongoing Album-a-Day project. I’ve already did a full writeup, so I won’t go into too much detail, but here’s that review in case you’re interested.

2. Unapologetically by Kelsea Ballerini

Taylor-iest Song: “Roses.” No shit, I actually expected to see a Taylor Swift co-write credit on this song, it’s that Taylor-y.

My favorite songs:
– “Miss Me More”
– “I Hate Love Songs”

Other thoughts: Unapologetically is perhaps the album you would get if the “Old Taylor” and “New Taylor” could have a baby. There’s definitely more acoustic instruments in the mix compared to Lover, but there’s also enough synth drums that I would still call this a pop album rather than a country album (What can I say? Sometimes Apple Music and Billboard lie to you.) What Kelsea definitely DOES have in common with Taylor is her knack for lyricism. Much like Lover, Unapologetically weaves together songs about break ups with songs about the excitement of finally getting into a healthy relationship, as well as some songs that focus on introspection moreso than romantic partners. If your affinity for Taylor comes less from production choices, and more her ability to tell a good story and paint a vivid picture with her words, Kelsea Ballerini is right up your alley. (Here’s my full review in case you’re curious.)

3. Beautiful Lies by Birdy

Taylor-iest Song: “Hear You Calling”

My favorite songs: 
– “Growing Pains”
– “Keeping Your Head Up”
– “Wild Horses”

Other thoughts: Imagine a Lana Del Rey album, but also with the acoustic piano and impeccable vocals of an Adele album. That’s essentially Beautiful Lies in a nutshell. Now, one could certainly argue that neither of those artists is all that Taylor-y, and it’s true that this is perhaps the least poppy of all the albums on the list, oftentimes opting for soaring vocals and emotional ballads over catchy melodies that anyone can sing along with. However, Birdy’s stuff just punches you in the gut and makes you feel something, relying on relatable themes of love and heartbreak much like Swift. She also still uses her fair share of synthpop production elements and layered vocal harmonies, even if the end result typically has a more melancholy, soulful vibe than a typical pop song.

4. MINT by Alice Merton

Taylor-iest Song: “Speak Your Mind”

My favorite songs:
– “No Roots”
– “Homesick”
– “Why So Serious?”

Other thoughts: When Alice Merton first burst on the scene with “No Roots” my only complaint was that she didn’t have more music out yet. With MINT, she’s put together a debut album that both captures the same sound and energy as her breakthrough single while still having a fair amount of variety. There’s a little bit more of an edgy rock flavor here compared to a Taylor album, (“Lash Out” is probably the best example of this) but it’s nothing so extreme that it would be off-putting to the typical pop fan. I love Merton’s ability to somehow be crowd-pleasing pop that’s just alternative enough to feel fresh.

5. Every Open Eye by CHVRCHES


Taylor-iest song: 
“Down Side to Me”

My favorite song:
– “Empty Threat”

Other thoughts: Honestly, pretty much any CHVRCHES album could’ve taken this slot, but I went for Every Open Eye because it contains one the most recent songs to steal my heart, “Empty Threat.” CHVRCHES has a slick sound that’s perhaps a little bit more electronic and keyboard-heavy than Taylor’s stuff, but like Taylor, there’s a lot of vulnerability and emotion compared to run-of-the-mill nightclub EDM. The album addresses the struggles of relationships, but also tends to keep lyrics vague enough that it’s easy to interpret them as being about whatever you need them to be at that time. If Lover could have a baby with the Stranger Things theme song, I feel like it would sound something like Every Open Eye. 

6. Expectations by Hayley Kiyoko

Taylor-iest song: “Feelings”

My favorite song:
– “Feelings”
– “Wanna Be Missed”

Other thoughts: Kiyoko was one of the numerous celebrities who made an appearance in Taylor’s “You Need to Calm Down” video and also made a guest appearance on the reputation tour, so most Swifties have heard of her. However, I can’t help but think that most straight people haven’t really gone out of their way to listen to this whole album. Once you do, it’ll be obvious why Taylor is a fan: the music is quite similar to hers. While I’m not sure Hayley’s lyricism is quite on Taylor’s level, her narratives still revolve around loving people who don’t love you back and all the emotions that go along with that, buried in generic but well-executed pop production. The upbeat songs are bops, but Kiyoko knows her way around a reflective ballad as well. Definitely worth a try if you liked Lover. 

7. Always In Between by Jess Glynne

Taylor-iest song: “Never Let Me Go” or “Million Reasons” if you go with the deluxe version.

My favorite songs*:
– “Thursday”
– “Rollin”
– “Insecurities” if you go with the deluxe version.

*This might change depending on when you ask though, the whole album is pretty killer and I haven’t listened to it as many times as some of the others on this list.

Other thoughts: Jess Glynne is the master of pop ANTHEMS. In the U.S., she is perhaps best known for providing vocals on Clean Bandit’s track, “Rather Be” and I think it’s a bit of a shame that her music hasn’t taken off to quite that same extent. “Never Let Me Go” is a great example of what Taylor might sound like with a touch of ’90s R&B flavor. Overall Glynne does a great job of balancing vulnerability with empowerment in a way that sounds raw and real. She also knows how to show off her AMAZING vocal capabilities while still letting that emotion shine through.

8. LÉON by LÉON

Taylor-iest song: “Lost Time”

My favorite songs:
– “Baby Don’t Talk”
– “Cruel to Care”
– “You and I”

Other thoughts: This one just edged its way into this list as LÉON stole my heart. She’s got it all: amazing vocals, moving lyrics, and enough variety to prove her versatility while still conveying a clear vision of the artist she wants to be. Like Taylor, she can thrive in synthpop but is also unafraid of taking a more stripped down approach on songs like “Come Home to Me” and “Cruel to Care.” She knows how to do the catharsis of falling in love (“Lost Time”) as well as the emotional turmoil of not knowing where you stand with someone (“Hope Is a Heartache” or “You and I”). Every time I’ve listened to this, I’ve had a different track that sticks out as something special, a new reason to be excited about this artist (and also a new one that makes me say “oh, I could see Taylor doing a song like this.”)

9. Master of My Make-Believe by Santigold

Taylor-iest song: “The Riot’s Gone”

My Favorite Songs:
– “The Keepers”
– “This Isn’t Our Parade”

Other thoughts:
 If Taylor’s appeal lies more in her production than her lyricism, Master of My Make-Believe is for you. Lyrically, Santigold tends to stray from love and heartbreak opting instead for more abstract lyrics. Musically, she draws from a lot of the same synthpop influences as Taylor. There’s also a slightly more percussive nature to this album compared to Lover, with strong, interesting rhythms running throughout. If you’re looking for a similar sound with a touch more experimentation and innovation than what Taylor typically brings, give this one a try.

10. Love You to Death by Tegan and Sara

Taylor-iest song: “Dying to Know”

My favorite songs: 
– “Dying to Know”
– “Stop Desire”
– “100x”
– “U-Turn”

Other thoughts: In my review of LoverI complained that the album wasn’t tight and focused enough to be the best version of itself. So, it’s only fair that this post end on a 10-song album revolving around heartbreak and love to demonstrate what Lover might have been able to achieve. The synths are strong, the hooks are catchy, the lyrics are heartfelt and relatable. Earlier songs tend to focus more on the sadness and anger of watching a relationship fall apart, but on “Stop Desire” that mood fades into a more exciting energy that captures the earliest stages of crushing on someone. Then we get a couple tracks where Tegan/Sara make peace with the relationship ending, culminating in the album’s final breakup song “100x.” Then we get a couple beautiful love songs that leave us on a positive note, “U-Turn” serving as the “Paper Rings” of this album. Every track is great. Every track serves a purpose in the overall album theme.

 

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