Has Taylor Swift’s new album damaged her Reputation?
After becoming the undisputed queen of pop music with 1989, not much has gone right for Taylor. The biggest narrative going into her new album is how she damaged her good-girl image in her rivalry with Kanye. Apparently, people don’t like it when you lie about being the victim.
To add insult to injury, Swift has made only bad moves into the leadup of Reputation’s release. First, with a poorly-received first single, “Look What You Made Me Do,” which features a phone call in which she informs us that the “Old Taylor” is now dead… Okay*.
(*I literally laughed out loud when I heard that part for the first time.)
Then came the announcement of a ticket program that is convoluted beyond belief. Making a strange partnership with UPS. To accusations of whitewashing for the “…Ready For It?” video. Suing bloggers, and the final insult of making me buy the album to review it.
The road to the release of Reputations has been an anfractuous one to say the least. Before I get into the review proper, let me get all the bad jokes out first.
“…Ready For It?” This record? Not at all.
“I Did Something Bad” Yeah, this record.
“Don’t Blame Me” I will.
“…Ready For It?,” the first track and second single, is rather indicative of how the experience of listening to Reputation will play out. Out of the gate, get the bass dropping, then to emphasize “this sick beat” MC Swift comes out busting rhymes (boy, does she try to rap A LOT on this record…). Apathy and annoyance have set in by the time the serene chorus hits.
It is this type of unevenness that prevails all through the record. Take a song like “King of My Heart,” in which we “get” to hear the bass drop all throughout at seemingly random times. More of Swift’s rap-singsong cadence (leave that to Chance The Rapper, Taylor). Then another chorus buried under club bass drops and random sound effects.
I think I might actually like the song “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.” It has an awkward but endearing rhythm to the melody. But it’s more of rapping Taylor, and we get another chorus that assaults us with sound. I think there might be a good chorus buried under the mix, but I can’t tell you for sure.
Also, the song has another contrived moment where it stops in the middle for her to laugh during the song. (It feels more like she’s laughing at you for buying this shit.) And if you were wondering if that phone call during “Look What You Made Me Do” is included on the record, it is. It’s there in all of its miscalculated glory for future generations to enjoy.
If you are a Taylor Swift hater, reading this review you must make you think, “Great, she’s done. Fuck that talentless hack!” You’d be wrong. Taylor still has songwriting chops, and a bunch of songs do work. The best example is the third single, “Gorgeous.”
On “Gorgeous” everything comes together. I love how Taylor Swift wrote about how she can’t have someone (Taylor Swift can’t get the guy she wants?!? Really? I guess she is human). The sparse production helps accentuate the feeling of drunken self-loathing for wanting someone you can’t have. It is one the best songs that she and Max Martin have written together*.
(* Even though she rhymes face with face in the goddamn chorus.)
The record is most successful when the stark and thin production is allowed to breathe. It captures what’s great about sad pop songs. Being surrounded by happy drunk people at the club and bar can be the most isolating feeling in the world. The songs in the middle, the Vonnegut nod “So it Goes…,” “Gorgeous,” and “Getaway Car” execute this to a T.
By the end of listening to record it seems that Taylor is at the same point she was with Speak Now. On that record the country sound had become worn and tired out. The same can be said for the pop sound on this record. The best indicator of where she might go from here is “New Year’s Day.”
It’s a simple piano ballad where she describes cleaning up a New Year’s party and is one the best songs on Reputation.
Now that she has done great damage to her reputation with Reputation, we’ll see what she is truly made of going forward. She’s made an effective change once before; can she do it again?
Rating: 3 out of 5 lists you made me check.
Suggested Tracks: “Gorgeous” “Getaway Car” “New Year’s Day”
P.S. As a follow up to my Taylor Swift Album Rankings I put Reputation 5 out of 6. Above Speak Now because being inconsistent is better than being boring but, under Taylor Swift. Sailing the seas of that record are steadier.
If you think Daniel Downing is wrong and completely full of shit, you can air your grievances with him on Twitter @DeathByZamboni and Instagram @DeathByZamboni_us.