Taylor Swift Holds Nothing Back on ‘Reputation’

Taylor Swift Holds Nothing Back on ‘Reputation’

On the highly anticipated new album, Taylor gets more intimate and unhinged than ever.

On the highly anticipated new album, Taylor gets more intimate and unhinged than ever.

Text: Jake Viswanath

“Reputation precedes me, they told you I'm crazy” is one of the first lines that Taylor Swift spews on her new record reputation, during the Ed Sheeran and Future collaboration “End Game.” And it’s perhaps the lyric on the album that most rings true.

In many ways, reputation is the perfect title for a Taylor Swift album in 2017. The artist has amassed many of them since her earnest beginnings—the maneater, the rat, and most recently, the manipulative side-swiper exposed at the hands of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian (in the eyes of Twitter at least). Her extravagant video for “Look What You Made Me Do” and the tabloid-mocking album cover all but signaled her aim to respond to this narrative—and that she does—but at its heart, reputation serves as a reminder of what makes Taylor who she is, living up to another reputation within itself.

If 2012’s Red was a passionate and visceral exploration of how to deal with a break-up, then reputation is its equally feverish opposite—Miss Swift is in love and won’t rest until everyone knows it. She’s dramatic, ridiculous, amusingly awestruck, and endlessly imaginative, writing about the push-and-pull of romance with the subtlety of a teenager’s diary during her goth phase. She progresses to more armor-clad sonic territory, with sledgehammering synths and luscious R&B-pop bass lines to contrast and compliment her lovesick mood, a push that Taylor actually adopts more organically than expected. She adopts a meaty Hozier-goes-Rihanna stomp to justify her crazed hunger on “Don’t Blame Me,” while “Dancing With Our Hands Tied” puts a pulsing trance spin on the classic Bonnie and Clyde-esque "us against the world" story. She may have just earned that "crazy" moniker after all. And if the message isn’t clear enough, just the title of the whimsical “King of My Heart" says it all.

Similarly, on the few instances where Taylor actually does attack her critics, she fights with just as much sheer drama and loud aplomb. Lead single “Look” remains a camp and sonically sharp slice of pop theater, while “I Did Something Bad” verges on humorous with its M.I.A.-lite gunshots yet still hypnotizes with its electro-trap fuzz. But it’s the bratty juvenile chant “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” that sees Taylor at her most unhinged, failing miserably at creating a truly savage comeback but nonetheless reveling in having the last word. The two narratives collide on the warm and melodic penultimate track, "Call It What You Want," which sees Taylor blind herself from naysayers with her new lover but also reach her highest level of self-reflection: "And I know I make the same mistakes every time / Bridges burn, I never learn / At least I did one thing right."

As has become custom for Taylor, she shines most when she slows things down a bit and indulges in her more soft and fantastical fare. “Delicate” plays as if 1989 deep cut “This Love” went out to the club, while “Dress” translates her most lusty and needy moments into a sweeping 80s ballad (with help courtesy of Jack Antonoff, no less). But “Getaway Car,” the album's lone break-up song, ironically emerges as the album’s standout, its glorious key change and building hooks colliding for one of her most blissful and urgent offerings, of which there are many throughout her career.

The irony of "the Old Taylor" being dead as declared on "Look" becomes apparent when listening to the album, since truly, the old Taylor isn’t that far off. Her storytelling ability, although still smoothed out to fit the pop world like on 1989, is as vivid, intense, and fantastical as ever, no emotion unbarred even when it may have benefitted her to hold back. And that's exactly how we want our Taylor Swift. reputation concludes with a classic Taylor couplet on the poignant piano stunner "New Year's Day": "Please don't ever become a stranger whose laugh I could recognize anywhere." Thankfully, that's exactly what she refrains from doing.

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