No album has been more anticipated and dreaded by the public this year than Taylor Swift’s big comeback. After a turbulent media year, feelings on Ms. Swift have never been more divided. I’ll admit I myself spent the last year and a half on the anti side of things. So, when Taylor announced her first album in three years, I felt more morbid curiosity than excitement. How was she going to handle all the Kanye shit this time? Was she going to take responsibility for her part in her seemingly increasing amount of feuds? And, perhaps somehow more terrifying: where was she taking this album musically?
“Look What You Made Me Do,” though a guilty pleasure, was not a promising start. “…Ready for It?” seemed to threaten Taylor’s first era of poor songwriting. And then the album dropped. While I still maintain this is far from Taylor’s best work, I was pleasantly surprised. This album is filled with some great lyrics and absolute bops. Though it is oversaturated with dubstep, it really shows a new side to Taylor: her sexy side. It’s still a little surreal seeing this side, but it’s brimming with previously untapped honesty for Taylor (which is to say, this is a topic she’s never addressed before). Although I don’t feel like this album lives up to its fully-pop predecessor 1989, Reputation (stylized “reputation”) is a popping experiment in conflating identity and perception with a thumping dubstep beat. And now, here’s a track-by-track review of Reputation:
- …Ready for It?: A thundering dubstep song, this song is about Taylor meeting who she believes to be her perfect guy. She sing-talks the verses, but sounds more traditionally Taylor on the chorus. It’s a great song to get you pumped up and the perfect album opener.
- Endgame (feat. Ed Shereen & Future): This song, the sole collaboration on the album, deals most directly with the thesis of the album. Taylor, Future, and Ed are all aware that their reputations precede them, but they don’t want that to get in the way of a new budding relationship. Taylor stadium-chants and Ed sing-talks, while Future does whatever it is he does. And yet, all three seem a little checked-out on this song, as if none want to put much effort into what they know will be an album track. Despite being the thesis song, it’s the weakest on the record.
- I Did Something Bad: This song is one of the darkest on the album, and also one of the most self-aware. The best way to describe this song is “Blank Space” on crack. In the verses, she explains how she plays the players and uses the narcissists. The chorus, however, seems to deal more with her public image and how she’s embraced it. It’s the kind of song that makes you feel like a bad bitch, and it’s one of my favorites on the album.
- Don’t Blame Me: This song cleverly combines church gospel with dubstep electronica. It’s about being so in love, you go a little insane. It’s dark synthpop, and Taylor sounds almost seductive on the track. Despite using the old cliché of comparing love to drugs, this song is another favorite.
- Delicate: This track is the first ballad on the album, and the first moment of vulnerability. Taylor acknowledges how a reputation can make or break you, something that can be devastating when starting a new relationship. It also deals with that feeling when you fall hard, but worry the other person may not feel that way just yet. The use of a vocoder adds to this vulnerable feeling, making her voice seem as delicate as the relationship. It’s another favorite.
- Look What You Made Me Do: The first single off the album, this song is Taylor’s rebirth after a year of media abuse and possible character assassination. It’s dark pop and samples, of all things, “I’m Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred. However, Taylor re-characterizing herself as a villain seems like a forced move when she really needs transparency. So, as much as this song is a guilty pleasure, it’s a miss for Taylor (no matter how well it’s done).
- So It Goes…: This song, despite seeming bright, is very dark in its use of minor keys. It’s about a sexy, dangerous relationship. And yes, it’s also about sex. However, rather than explicitly explaining it, Taylor leads us that way with the suggestive line, “so it goes.” It also has some of my favorite lines on the album, “I did a number on you/ But honestly, baby, who’s counting?/ You did a number one me/ But honestly, baby, who’s counting?.” It’s dramatic, drawing to great crescendos. It’s tragically underrated and another favorite.
- Gorgeous: This bubbly pop song finds Taylor with a crush-at-first-sight. She finds the object of her affection so attractive, she doesn’t know how to act. She weirdly wanted everyone to know that this song in particular is about her current boyfriend Joe Alwyn, but I respectfully reject that forceful interpretation. This song is gay. I have claimed it for the gays and it is ours now.
- Getaway Car: This song, a mid-tempo synth track, uses the Bonnie and Clyde motif to explore a rebound relationship. Lyrically, it’s one of the best on the album. You can feel the doomed nature of the relationship in her voice. This song needs to be a single because it was made for a music video. It’s easily another favorite.
- King of My Heart: This mid-tempo track finds Taylor giving up on love. She’s decided the public just may be right, and she should stay single. And then she meets a man who likes her for her and not because she’s famous, and all that changes. Now she’s found someone she believes truly gets her. It’s a cute song, if a little cheesy.
- Dancing With Our Hands Tied: This song is the opposite side of the “King of My Heart Coin.” Taylor starts the song in much the same position she does in the aforementioned track, but instead she winds up in a doomed relationship. Lyrically, it’s another one of the best on the album, and grossly underrated. Despite the modern synth of this power ballad, it almost feels like a disco track. It’s easily my most favorite on the album.
- Dress: This steamy track is a whisper of a song. It’s Taylor’s first song that is explicitly only about sex. Also, it’s gay. Sorry, I don’t make the rules. I can’t decide if it’s a favorite or not, but I do like listening to it.
- This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: This track is a fun pop song reminiscent of a song from a children’s program. And this was exactly the effect Taylor was going for. Based on my interpretation, Taylor is calling out two people on this track: the media and Kanye West. I interpret the first verse as being directed towards the media and the second directed towards Kanye. She bemoans ruined friendships, ruined fun, and mountains of drama. Though not a favorite, it’s fun to listen to.
- Call It What You Want: This song, a mid-tempo track, is one of Taylor’s most mature. She acknowledges that people are going to talk shit and think bad of her, but she’s found love and is happy so it doesn’t matter. It’s a story of perspective, almost the flip side of “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.” Even though it’s not a favorite, it’s a song I’m attached to.
- New Year’s Day: This ballad is the only song on the album to really utilize real instruments. Accompanied only by piano, Taylor talks about new beginnings and paints a vivid picture. It’s about wanting to be with someone for the fun times (a la New Year’s Eve), but also wanting to stay together afterwards (a la New Year’s Day). It’s a sweet, genuine song, and a great way to close out the album. I only wish there were more songs like this on the record.
With this album, Taylor not only solidified her place as a princess of pop, but also some great collaborative relationships. Taylor has long worked well with Max Martin and Shellback, and this album further proves why. They’re a match made in music heaven. But the collaborator who really helped push this album over the edge was Jack Antonoff of the Bleachers. Together, the two are lyrical dynamos and really proved that Taylor Swift is here to stay. Even though I haven’t come back into the fold as a Taylor Swift fan, I am very interested to see where she goes with this brand new outlook and brand new era.