Okay, guys. If I weren’t doing a review of the biggest album of 2017, I think I’d be doing myself an injustice as a music reviewer as well as a pop culture fan. Taylor Swift is back with her first album in about three years, marking her biggest hiatus from music yet. The title seems fitting, as Swift was a hot topic in the media last year for her feuds with Kim Kardashian West, Kanye West and Katy Perry. Swift enlists longtime collaborators, and two of my favorite producers, Max Martin and Shellback, who have given Swift some of her biggest hits to date, such as “Blank Space” and “I Knew You Were Trouble”. Jack Antonoff, frontman for Bleachers, acts as a new addition to Swift’s collaboration team. Antonoff has an impeccable track record, producing the majority of New Zealand singer Lorde’s 2017 effort, Melodrama. These producers, combined with Swift’s near-perfect songwriting, make for a dark electro-pop album that could definitely be a contender for Album of the Year at the Grammys. So, without further ado, let’s get started.
Track 1, …Ready For It?
Swift comes in hot. The track opens with a dynamic, pulsating bass that immediately hooks the listener. The verses are classic Swift, who rap-sings about a love story from the beginning, warning her love interest to be prepared for the new Taylor. In a way, the lyrical style echoes Swift’s 2014 effort, 1989, in that she paints an image for herself we as an audience know is just a façade. The pre-chorus is distinctly different from the rest of the song, as Swift’s falsetto glides over a silky synth melody, but the same opening bassline disrupts it, hooking the listener back in. Overall, there’s no surprise the song is the opening track. It does its job, warning the listener of a new and improved Taylor, one that takes absolutely no prisoners. Impressive, addicting, and a definite vocal standout, “…Ready For It?” is still one of my favorites from the album.
Track 2, End Game (feat. Ed Sheeran & Future)
Wait. Ed Sheeran AND Future? On a Taylor Swift track? Admit it, you were surprised too. The track opens with organ-like synths before one of my favorite hooks on the album. Big reputation, big reputation, you and me we got big reputations, Swift sings before Future begins his verse. Poking fun at the media once more, Taylor acknowledges the portrait the media has painted of her. Of course, in the most Taylor Swift way, she owns it. I admit, Taylor sort of acts as just “the girl who sings the hook”, and on first listen, I was more focused on how Future and Ed Sheeran would mesh than any of what Taylor was saying. However, on a few listens, you realize that the hook will be stuck in your head, definitely making this a contender for being a future single. An awkward combination of features plus a drowned out Taylor equals… an okay song with an excellent hook.
Track 3, I Did Something Bad
Another song about what? You guessed it, her reputation. Bold, brash, with a stutter hook that makes you say “…wait, what?” at first, the song, in my interpretation, is Swift’s response to those who criticized Swift for defending herself when the whole Kim, Kanye, and Katy drama boiled over. At this point in the album, it is evident Swift has completed her departure from 1989, which oozed bubblegum pop. Reputation, so far, is a full 180, showcasing Taylor 2.0, complete with haunting vocals and vindictive lyrics. The track itself is catchy, but after a few listen-throughs, it screams filler track. As a piece in a body of work, though, it seems like a necessary addition to the album, written about a topic definitely necessary to address. They say I did something bad / then why’s it feel so good? Swift sings, alluding to another portrait the media and general public have painted of her.
Track 4, Don’t Blame Me
Opening with a backing vocal that echoes “Waiting Game” by Banks, I was immediately intrigued. A warping synth melody follows, as Swift sings about a lover who has completely spun her out of control. As the chorus comes into full effect, I was sold. Swift does what she does best: impeccable songwriting combined with seamless production from Martin and Shellback. Lyrically, she alludes to the boy-crazy man eater persona described in “Blank Space”, as she begs her audience to not blame her for the crazy actions love can make someone do. I was very surprised as to what occurred in the short bridge: one of my favorite harmonic arrangements I’ve heard this year, followed by ad libs that made me question my thoughts on Swift’s vocal ability. Swift gives her all on the final chorus of the song, showcasing definite vocal growth on her riffs, runs, and falsetto. Y’all, she delivered with these vocals in the last chorus. I had to question who I was listening to. Definitely worth a listen, a replay, and deserves shine as a single choice. One of my favorites for sure.
Track 5, Delicate
Someone found out what a vocoder is! Swift takes advantage of this newfound discovery as she sings the first love song on the album. If you haven’t realized, Taylor Swift is very good at writing love songs. She can write about, what feels like, every emotion that comes out of love, from the butterflies upon meeting someone new, to being obsessed with one another, to that same love crashing and burning. In “Delicate”, Swift does not want to overstep her boundaries with this new love interest. She second guesses herself almost the entire song, with the chorus including question after question everyone asks themselves when they meet someone new. Production wise, so far, it is the lightest and the most minimal track on the album. While listening, I started to feel a new emotion towards Swift not felt when listening to other tracks on the album: pity. My reputation’s never been worse so / you must like me for me, Swift sings. On first listen, I think I remember myself actually saying “aw…” out loud. Did the public do her that bad? Should we actually feel bad for her? Who knows. What she did do, though is make miss the old Taylor we knew and once tolerated. Definite standout.
Track 6, Look What You Made Me Do
Released as the lead single, this marked the beginning of the reputation era. On first listen, I had no clue what to expect. Swift draws direct emphasis to lyrical content, as she sings about the enemies who have previously wronged her. She pulls out all the stops, masters the art of analogies and metaphors, and directly addresses those who have wronged her: you guessed it, Kim, Katy and Kanye. In short, Swift implies she had to figuratively kill the old Taylor, develop a thicker skin, become quick-witted, and say goodbye to the old, naive Taylor. Quality wise, we all know Taylor could have done better with this song, along with choosing a better lead single. In my opinion, the choice of releasing this song as a lead was definitely calculated, but necessary for a complete transition into the reputation era. Not a song I’d particularly ever want to listen to other than when I listen to this album in full.
Track 7, So It Goes…
At the halfway point of the album comes “So It Goes…”. The title has been previously referenced in a couple of Swift’s previous songs (see Style, You Are In Love). Swift showcases her sexuality in this song, with lyrics like scratches down your back now, and I’m not a bad girl but I’ll do bad things with you. This comes as a complete surprise from Swift, who has never directly referenced sex in any of her previous works. When listening to the album thoroughly, the track kind of gets lost, and could be considered a boring filler. However, Swift offers some of her best lyrics on the album yet, cinematically expressing what a sexual experience with her lover would be like. Personally, I don’t think this track was necessary for the album, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s a filler. To me, it would find a better place on 1989. Definitely worth a listen for its lyrical content alone.
Track 8, Gorgeous
After the previous track, I was expecting something big and bold to bring this album back to life. With “Gorgeous”, Swift does the opposite. Another love song, Swift sings about meeting someone for the first time who you can’t help but be attracted to. Lyrically, she talks about the mixed signals she gives her love interest externally, but internally, she’s desperate for him to notice her. Although production by Martin and Shellback is noteworthy, the lyrics lack any type of depth. However, it is insanely catchy in that I find myself singing the hook more often than not… it’s the song’s saving grace. Don’t get me wrong, the song isn’t terrible, but it’s not necessarily good. So far, it’s the weakest song on the album.
Track 9, Getaway Car
You know a Jack Antonoff song when you hear one. Antonoff has a production style unlike many other producers. Hard to describe, but definitely a signature staple. As a person who has previously given Bleachers (Antonoff’s band) a chance, it’s not my favorite production style, as I try and avoid his songs any chance I get. After the first listen, “Getaway Car” was my least favorite track on the album solely for its production. If Antonoff sang the song, I wouldn’t be surprised; it sounds like a perfect fit on Bleachers’ 2014 effort, Strange Desire. However, when focused on the lyrics, it presents Swift’s impeccable songwriting talent. She picturesquely explains the story of her leaving her old lover, who has bored her to the point of wanting someone to save her and escape with in a, wait for it, getaway car. While Taylor is on this great escape, she warns her new lover to not get too comfortable. She will be the first to leave, she will turn against her new lover, and he can’t blame her. Think about the place where you first met me / In a getaway car, she sings. Personally, I’m obsessed with the lyrical content in this song and find something new to love about it on every listen. Taylor can write a damn song, and you can’t ignore that.
Track 10, King of My Heart
In the initial portion of this track, Swift seems to be done with love. She has come to terms with the fact that she is, well, better off by herself. However, when she meets her newest love interest, he proves himself to be, as the title suggests, the king of her heart. Lyrically, Swift’s at her strongest, backed by an explosive beat break that spurts out lyrics from the song’s chorus. In regard to production, Swift’s voice, like “Delicate”, is heavily influenced by a vocoder, which helps keep the track interesting. Without it, I think the track would be uneventful. Swift’s use of the vocoder, along with the very strong lyrical content make this song one of the most noteworthy songs on the album. I’ll be very surprised if it doesn’t end up being a single choice in this album cycle.
Track 11, Dancing With Our Hands Tied
Hands down, my favorite track on the album. The song begins with an infectious and quick percussion pattern and haunting melody, production very similar to Swift’s 2012 single, “I Knew You Were Trouble.” Lyrically, in my opinion, this is the most complicated song to grasp on the album. I often find myself on long tangents with this song, asking myself things such as, “Well, what did she mean by this? Maybe it meant this? …But what about that?” That, to me, is songwriting at its best. Songwriting that keeps you on your toes, makes you second guess every word the artist is singing. It’s Taylor’s biggest strength. To me, this song hints at the relationship Swift had with producer and artist Calvin Harris, a relationship that went very public and very wrong very quickly. From what I understand, the lovers went through the relationship with the underlying but omnipresent feeling that neither of them could handle it, but there was nothing either of them could do about it, hence their hands being tied. The bridge is definitely the most noteworthy portion of the song, and arguably the album, in which Swift sings I’d kiss you as the lights went out / Swaying as the room burned down / I’d hold you as the water rushes in / Just so I could dance with you again. Upon listening, my jaw dropped: there’s something irrevocably haunting about this song that left me pining for more. I wanted more details, a part two or a finale. You’ve got to listen to this track.
Track 12, Dress
Another Antonoff track and love song, Swift shows off her breathy falsetto in the chorus, cheekily singing lines like only bought this dress so you can take it off. But that, readers, is just one of the many lines I could cite from the song. Honestly, you either love this song or hate this song. It’s almost pure pop perfection, but like most of her songs, Swift offers such lyrical depth that it makes you want to listen over and over. Honestly, it isn’t one of my favorites from the album. However, just because I’m not particularly crazy over this song does not mean I’m going to deny how good it is. The charm, though, is its minimalistic approach, with a sparkly background melody that repeats itself throughout the song. Upon first listen, it reminded me of sister band HAIM’s signature sound. Lyrically, Swift sings about the sexual tension between her and a lover, a similar topic to track seven, “So It Goes…”. At this point in the album, Swift has seemed to do away with the topic of her reputation, owing it all to the mystery man she repeatedly sings about, most likely Joe Alwyn, Swift’s current boyfriend. I’ll admit, it’s nice to hear Swift’s sweet side at this point. Tracks like “Dress”, “So It Goes…” and “Delicate” are as good as they are because they show a side of Taylor definitely reminiscent of who she was in the past. Definitely an album highlight and worth a listen.
Track 13, This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
I spoke too soon. Another track about her reputation. Nearing the end of the album, I thought maybe she completely did away with the vindictive attitude she had toward those with whom she had problems with and finally find closure. However, readers, that’s just not the case with this track. Lyrically, Swift sings over her life seemingly going very smoothly, but someone subsequently comes into Swift’s life and complicates it, and it’s up to her to make everything okay again. The second verse is the most noteworthy moment of the song, in which she could’ve just called Kanye West out by name. Swift goes as far as to stating what the dos and dont’s are in being a good friend, with the final, and very specific rule being that friends aren’t supposed to get you on the phone and mind twist you. The track almost completely parallels “Look What You Made Me Do” in lyrical content, the difference in the two being that the melody in “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” is weirdly happy and very bubblegum. The track is very reminiscent of 1989, however the song is includes a low synth that makes the song fitting for a place on reputation. It’s kind of cringy, and I felt a small feeling of secondhand embarrassment for her that she’d make a song this childish. Oh, and the cackle. The cackle has got to go.
Track 14, Call It What You Want
A dreamy nighttime song, “Call It What You Want” is the closure from Swift we were all waiting for. It’s Swift accepting what has happened to her, explaining her reasoning for stepping out of the spotlight for months, and moving past things with the man she loves. Listening to this track, I feel a sense of bitterness for many reasons, one being that Taylor had the ability to make an album that revolved around closure and moving on. The fact that she chose to spend an entire era revolving around the snakelike persona angers me. She chose to write songs like “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”, that tell listeners how bitter and vengeful she can be, when fans could’ve had an entire album full of “Call It What You Want”. Beside that point, “Call It What You Want” is a definite album high. Another Antonoff produced song, it is a mid-tempo love song that features Swift’s silky lower register. This song is a definite yes from me, and a great song to have as a sense of closure.
Track 15, New Year’s Day
Closing reputation comes “New Year’s Day”, a piano ballad that once again exemplifies Swift’s ability to make a song cinematic. Upon listening, I find myself thinking of the descriptive scenes Swift sings about in this song. Lyrically, the song is about making the best of the memories that happen, whether those memories are good or bad. Hold on to the memories / They will hold onto you, Swift sings repeatedly throughout the song. Production wise, the melody Swift and Antonoff chose to use for the verses in this song make it one of the most gripping songs on the album. It is clear, at this point, Taylor has found contentment with her reputation (what a relief). This is Taylor at her strongest. Usually, her strongest songs are her ballads (see All Too Well, Dear John, Last Kiss). Swift chose the perfect song to end the album with because it offers a piece of who the old Taylor was, along with a sense of who the new Taylor is. She’s officially moved on, found her happiness, and even someone to love. I’m happy for her.
Taylor Swift’s reputation is an pop culture event that you’ll find immense difficulty getting away from. A complete departure from 1989, the album is dark, led by beat drops and an emphasis on vocoder and synths not explored by Swift in her previous works. Reputation shows a side to Swift no listener has ever heard before, whether you like it or not. She explores the topic of sexuality, offering a cinematic approach to sexual experiences. Of course, she explores the topic of reputation, and how the way others perceive someone can either make or break them. However, Swift finds that while being one of the most famous people world, your reputation does not define who you are. While this should’ve been obvious from the start, the road Swift took to get to this realization is unlike that of many superstars before. Sonically, the good songs on this album are really good, and the bad songs on this album are really bad. I was informed that the album is chronologically ordered: the first track is where Swift was emotionally at the time of the Kim and Kanye drama, and the last track is where she is now. Taking that thought into consideration, I’m happy that Swift has found satisfaction in who she is and who others think she is. It makes for quality music from an outstanding songwriter. Reputation is definitely worth a listen and very open to interpretation. Her best work? No, Red already has that slot. Where will she go next? Who knows.
Sorry for any typos!