Reputation: The Verdict

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about Taylor Swift after the release of “Look What You Made Me Do,” the first single off of her new album, Reputation. Since the entire album dropped on the tenth of November, I’ve had time to listen to it in depth and try to get a sense of my thoughts about the album as a whole. Swift’s latest work marks a significant shift in her career, as she abandons the teenage, hopeless romantic persona for a much more mature and emboldened style. When she said the old Taylor was dead, she wasn’t lying. Compared to her last album 1989, released in 2014, Reputation departs from the cheerful, vibrant songs about new relationships and a girl’s first big move to New York City. “Bad Blood,” the eighth track on 1989, now can be seen as a precursor to Swift’s move into a moodier, darker type of voice. Now, I’m not saying she’s all of the sudden turned into Kurt Cobain, but Swift definitely has transitioned to a more cynical, defensive kind of songwriting.

Reputation addresses Swift’s very public private life and demonstrates Swift’s ability to both defend and critique herself through her lyrics. The video for “Look What You Made Me Do” alone indicates that Swift can parody her dramatic life in the spotlight while also refusing to subject herself to all of the shade that she’s received (whether warranted or not). Songs like “End Game” and “Delicate” also reflect Swift’s acknowledgement of her place in the public eye, as she states, “my reputation’s never been worse” on the fifth track. I think Swift’s recognition of her haters in the media and celebrity world is exactly why many were quick to dismiss the album completely after the release of the first single. It’s like people weren’t expecting her to say anything back to their criticism and mocking of her. By responding to her public perception, Swift disrupted the dynamic between artist and audience, breaking the metaphorical fourth wall.

“This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” also calls out an unnamed person (lyrics indicate that it’s most likely Kanye West and Kim Kardashian) in Swift’s life for contributing to the unnecessary drama surrounding her. In this way, Reputation is also unique for its focus on Swift herself, rather than Swift + boy she used to date. Her previous albums have been centered around love stories and breakup stories and nostalgic old boyfriend stories. While Reputation does include a number of songs about relationships, such as “Dress,” “Getaway Car,” and “King of My Heart,” Swift takes a more active role in the songs’ plotlines. Whereas songs like “Style” and “All You Had To Do Was Stay” from 1989 focus on Swift as someone’s girlfriend, Reputation’s relationship songs indicate Swift’s authority and autonomy as having greater value than the mystery man described in the song. Swift is the main character of the album, as opposed to her list of exes.

Finally, Reputation boasts fifteen uniquely different pop songs that all have a distinct sound and rhythm. Pop music can often sound repetitive, making a lot of songs sound the same or seem like bubblegum fluff. With the exception of “Gorgeous,” which makes me want to hit skip almost immediately upon hearing the first two seconds, Swift manages to pair her clever lyrics with really intense beats and catchy, yet unique pop melodies. While I think 1989 already accomplished this feat, Reputation further demonstrates Swift and her production team’s ability to engineer a quality pop album. “So It Goes,” “Call It What You Want,” and “Don’t Blame Me” are some of my personal favorites, as they’re all great songs to listen to and still reflect Swift’s smart lyrics that play with her public persona/private life dynamic. I have to admit that I was skeptical about Reputation upon the release of the first few singles, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised overall that Swift could pull off this album, embracing her transition completely into pop music.