As mentioned in my review of 1989, Taylor Swift has a new album coming out this week. Back in 2017 I eagerly anticipated the release of reputation, pre-ordering multiple copies, and getting all excited for the news of her tour. This time around I find myself more disinterested in all the hubbub of the album’s release. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still listen to it, and I may even buy it. I’m just not excited by the thought of it. To try and get myself pumped for new Taylor music, I decided super last minute to review her last two albums. I already have a review of Red (and sort of her earlier albums), and now that the 1989 review is up, it’s time to take a look at reputation.
“…Ready for It?”
Taylor Swift definitely knows how to pick an opening track that boldly sets the tone for the rest of the album. This is a darker, heavier start than any of her previous albums. With this she is loudly declaring the introduction of “New Taylor.” It’s in your face but then the bridge hits and there is an echo of “Old Taylor,” soft and hopeful. I would like this song if only for the brilliance of such a line as “And he can be my jailer, Burton to this Taylor” but I actually think it is a good, solid start for the album. It can be a bit heavy on the electronic new wave sound but it has a pounding beat that works.
Ugh, such a strong start to the album and then it’s followed by this. When I mentioned in my 1989 review that “This Love” is my least favorite of her songs, that was because I had forgotten about this one. It has all the issues of the problematic 1989 tracks (lack of personality, uninteresting music, and generic lyrics), plus Ed Sheeran rapping. Every time I listen to the album I skip this one.
“I Did Something Bad”
The first song in which Swift curses is a fun, self-indulgent romp. Swift excuses her “bad” behavior due to the “bad” behavior of her exes, claiming if she did something worth criticizing it’s only because the guys she was with did something wrong as well. If “…Ready for It?” was the intro to Swift’s new sound, this is an introduction to her new attitude of not giving a fuck. She’s going to do what she wants because it feels good, and in the process she might just create an unrestrained pulsing song about her exploits.
“Don’t Blame Me”
There is a a gospel quality to this, as though Swift is both praying for and confessing her sin of loving someone too strongly. Mixing in the love as a drug metaphor brings a heady, lazy feel to it that makes you want to lean back and let the music wash over you. The break from this haze comes when Swift sings, “If you walk away/I’d beg you on my knees to stay,” underlining the desperation of an addict about to lose their vice. The music and lyrics are paired perfectly, making this a solid addition the album.
All the bluster of the previous songs is stripped away here, and a softer, more timid version of Swift is revealed. She’s unsure of herself in this new relationship, and is constantly seeking reassurance and second guessing herself. It’s a quieter song after a series of loud, confident ones. The line “Echoes of your footsteps on the stairs” demonstrates this beautifully, as though she’s whispering for him to come back but she’s afraid of seeming too attached too soon, so she lets him walk away. This is a light, sweet song that feels like Swift pushing aside the curtain of her new persona to reveal to the listener that there’s still some semblance of her old self tucked away, just waiting for the right person to come along and breathe life back into her.
“Look What You Made Me Do”
Of course Swift can’t let us get too comfortable with the remnants of her past self. That’s not what this album is about, so she immediately follows the softer song with this, her first single off the album. A lot of people don’t like this song. I am not one of those people. I loved this from the first time I heard it. I thought it was sarcastic, over-the-top, and a full on spectacle. It’s not as catchy as some of her other singles but it has a persistent beat that works its way into your brain, and some of the lyrics are actually pretty clever.
“So It Goes…”
The first fairly forgettable track on an otherwise, so far, solid album (minus “End Game”). There’s a sense of nonchalance to this song that unfortunately doesn’t achieve what it intends. Rather than feel like a carefree expression of longing and desire, the song itself feels like an aloof and indifferent cast off, forgotten seconds after it’s finished.
This song walks a fine line between being cutesy, and annoying. Sometimes I find the drawn out singing of the title word in the chorus catchy and fun. Other times it feels too tongue-in-cheek. I’m also not quite sure how to feel about Swift’s not so subtle admission to being open to the idea of cheating (“And I got a boyfriend, he’s older than us/He’s in the club doing, I don’t know what”). Technically she hasn’t acted on that desire but she’s definitely flirting with it. On the one hand, at least she’s openly embracing that “bad girl” persona she has been pushing so hard. On the other, I’m not a fan of cheating in any sense, and don’t really like it in the media I consume. It seems odd too that she would have had a song explicitly admonishing someone doing the exact same thing (“Girl at Home”) just a few years ago, and now that she’s the one flirting it’s not such a bad thing. Oh, and the toddler recording of the title word at the beginning? That’s always annoying.
The best part of “Gorgeous” is that it ends and then we get “Getaway Car,” which is one of the strongest tracks on the album. Swift gets back to her storytelling roots here, only this time it isn’t a romantic tale of star-crossed love made right, it’s a cautionary tale of rebound love deception with vivid imagery. Throw in some bank heist metaphors and you’ve got a pulsating whirlwind of a song.
“King of My Heart”
Sadly after the surging energy of the previous track, we hit a downhill trend on the next few, both in terms of vitality and artistry. There is nothing inherently wrong with the song, it just isn’t very interesting or innovative. The sentiment is rather sweet but it’s lost in the lackluster melody of the music. Much like track seven, “King of My Heart” is an unimpressive addition to the reputation lineup.
“Dancing with Our Hands Tied”
Continuing along the lines of the previous track, this one feels bland. I actually like the lyrics quite a bit. The comparison of the relationship to a couple dancing while restrained, as the world breaks into chaos around them is quite poetic. The music on the other hand feels uninspired and trite.
With this song, of course, a lot of focus has been on the fact that Taylor Swift is openly singing about sex, tossing aside her good girl, aw-shucks image in favor of a more mature one. However, I think it’s worth noting that Swift hides some incredibly romantic moments in what is her most sexual song to date. “Even in my worst times, you could see the best of me … Even in my worst light, you saw the truth of me.” Yes, this relationship is an “adult” one but it also is one that involves a lot of trust and openness. The song manages to be sensual and sincere at the same time.
“This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”
In true Swift fashion, she can’t let things sit in a particular moment too long. She follows up “Dress” with what is my favorite song off the album, and a complete sass fest. Turning an internet meme into an upbeat catchy tune is almost as brilliant as using a piece of “I’m Too Sexy” in the first single. This song is completely full of itself in the best way. It’s this album’s “Blank Space,” a parody takedown of something, or someone Swift has a beef with, and I love it.
“Call It What You Want”
If the previous song echoed one of her hits from 1989, this one echoes the closer from Red, “Begin Again.” The music is light, and the lyrics sweet without being saccharine as she describes the fresh start of a new relationship and the subject who doesn’t want to “save” her but will “run away” with her as she licks her wounds. It’s a nice way to segue into the slower finisher.
“New Year’s Day”
As with the previous two tracks, the album’s closer is very much in the vein of one of her older songs, in this case the fan favorite “All Too Well” from Red. She uses the New Year’s holiday to paint a picture of the mundane tasks of the day after, and uses that to profess her devotion. Yes she wants to share the glamour and glitz of the party with her partner but more than that she wants to share in everyday routines with him. It’s a beautiful confession of love, and the song is a great tribute to that idea.
As much as Swift has changed as an artist over the years, her core strength lies in being able to turn her personal experiences into shared ones for her fans. Reputation doesn’t always succeed in achieving this but it is an interesting experiment that stretched her musical muscles. Overall I enjoyed it. There are a handful of songs I’m not fond of but there are more that I consistently replay, placing it slightly above 1989 in my book.