Review: Taylor Swift doesn’t give a damn about her ‘reputation’
By Sav Gibbs
I was tricked.
I was fooled into thinking Taylor Swift was hurt so badly by Kanye West that she shut herself off from vulnerability.
After hearing “Look What You Made Me Do” in late August, I put three years of analysis into a single that set up a tricky branding scheme by Swift and her team. A narrative that was designed for her new album “Reputation,” which was released Friday.
“Reputation” changes as the tracks progress; the heaviness of “…Ready For It?” and “Look What You Made Me Do” sheds away to reveal a brighter pop beat in “Getaway Car” and eventually into the most beautiful slow song she’s ever written: “New Year’s Day.”
Her branding scheme over the last three months follows the structure of the album. After wiping her social media accounts of any trace of “the old Taylor,” she built walls up to reveal a cold exterior.
Slowly the vulnerable side of Swift resurfaced to her fans on Tumblr and Instagram. She treated them to surprise comments on their selfies and live streams. On the day her album dropped she posted a selfie on Instagram with her cat Olivia.
That is a complete 180 from the first videos she posted as part of her social media re-branding.
She’s trying to portray her transformation from the end of “1989,” her fifth album, to her new era through a slow evolution. The album follows along with her journey through the electronic beats that help strip down some of the most intimate lyrics we’ve ever seen from Swift.
For the past five years, hip-hop influenced music has been topping the pop charts. With “1989,” Swift stayed away from this sound influence probably in fear of being culturally appropriative. She has shown through her previous albums that she likes to be an outsider of the genre she’s in.
Swift’s second and third records broke the rules of country music left and right. And then she completely shattered the world’s expectations of her music with her fourth record, “Red.” It didn’t quite fit anywhere between country or pop, and while I slept on it for too long, I admit that lyrically it was her best album prior to “Reputation.”
“1989” showed us her avoidance of hip-hop influences by sticking to 80s influences– but she couldn’t avoid them forever. “Reputation” tiptoes into hip-hop influences with “End Game” and “Don’t Blame Me.” However, she mostly sticks to electronic influences in the later songs.
She went from living life on a high note with her best selling record and coming out of her “1989” tour to being knocked down quickly by Kanye. We get a little of this narrative with “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things,” one of the bangers on this album. A song full of decadence and sass, I will be very surprised if this isn’t one of the next singles.
We hear a genuine laugh from Swift, which makes me feel alive after a year of no paparazzi pictures, no selfies and nothing from my genuine Mother Taylor Swift.
The singles we got before the album dropped, in order, were: “Look What You Made Me Do” (a song I arguably didn’t like until I heard it on the album), “…Ready For It?”, “Gorgeous,” and “Call It What You Want.” I think the singles slowly revealed that this album was more than what meets the eye.
The album isn’t about her feuds with Hollywood; it’s about happiness being the best revenge. It tells us a vulnerable personal story of her past year or two. After Swift’s very public relationship with Tom Hiddleston, she went into hiding after she broke up with him for her current boyfriend of over a year, Joe Alwyn.
The central focus of “Reputation” is Swift’s own personal struggle of letting her lover, Alwyn, fall for her. She really captured the struggle of accepting love you feel you don’t deserve.
“End Game,” the stand-alone collaboration featuring Future and Ed Sheeran, blew my mind.
Together they tell the story of Swift’s desire for her reputation to not get in the way of her new love. I think Sheeran and Swift must have collaborated on his lyrics because he doesn’t really have a bad reputation but the lyrics “Reputation precedes me, and rumors are knee-deep” say more about Swift than Sheeran.
What makes this album really special are the small moments with sounds you can only hear by listening on headphones and paying close attention. From the little tap dancing sound in the third chorus of “Dancing with Our Hands Tied” or the electronic laser gun sound in the intro to “Getaway Car,” there’s little Easter eggs hidden all over these songs.
Swift and her producers want those little moments to pop out after a few listens so “Reputation” continues to surprise you.
The narrative detailed in “Getaway Car ” describes when Swift escaped her relationship with Calvin Harris and was (kind of) rescued by Hiddleston. Swift uses her new man as the “getaway car” to get away from a relationship which she had grown out of and desperately needed to escape from. Although it was thrilling, she was aware that it was going to be fleeting.
The line “don’t pretend it’s such a mystery, think about the place where you first met me” reveals the heartbreaking and honest truth – Hiddleston met Swift when she was leaving her relationship with Harris, and she was bound to leave him the same way.
In this interesting and telling song from Swift, we get a glimpse into her character where she takes on the role of both the heartbreaker and the heartbroken.
Out of this story, we understand how Alwyn and Swift came together and offers an explanation for the anxiety we hear described in songs like “Dress” and “Delicate.” “Reputation” brings us closer to Swift’s emotional narrative rather than just her face value romantic one.
I think this album not only allows listeners into a deeper side of Swift but opens up emotional doors inside of her audience to help us work on dealing with our own truths.
Pictured Above: Taylor Swift’s 6th album, Reputation came out for purchase on Nov. 10 and is predicted to be available for streaming by Nov. 17. Courtesy of Big Machine Records