Leading up to the release of Taylor Swift’s new album, reputation., much of the talk surrounding this project revolved around how Taylor would reconcile the competing images at the core of her stardom: that of the girl next door, and of the cutthroat music mogul.With the promotion of this album came an expectation among fans and critics that Taylor would put her “reputation” on the line, shed whichever layers of hers were made up for personal gain, and let the real Taylor off the leash. What form that would take was anyone’s guess. As this blog has noted, the to reputation. did nothing to clarify this message, and only muddied our expectations for what exactly the real Taylor was. All that being said, the album is out now. We finally have the full artistic statement from one of the biggest musicians on the planet. After over a year of negative headlines and gossip-plagued scandals, we finally get to hear what Taylor has to say. After peeling away those layers, what do we get from the real Taylor?
Truthfully, not much.
Like her “reputation” itself, reputation. spends much of it’s time operating in one of two distinct boxes. The first box,, is a set of pop anthems as loud as they are vapid. Much of reputation. features bombastic choruses like in ‘…Ready For It’, with loud drum kits. As sonic ideas go, this is not the brightest. ‘King of My Heart’, in particular, is inexcusable. At about the 21-second mark, a cacophony of hi hats, snares, and kick drums blow the doors off the entire track. It is an explosion of bad sounds, This song is so, so absurdly grating that it truly boggles the mind how this song made it onto an album that will eventually sell millions of copies. Other moments on this album, like ‘This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things’ and ‘Getaway Car’ feature similarly corny instrumentals. You can’t just throw a smattering of hi hats onto an already subpar song and expect magic to happen. Moments like this on reputation. are meant to bring a sense of grit to the album, but instead they exist only to test the listener’s patience.
The other box, as we saw in most of the promo singles from this album (such as ‘Call It What You Want’ and ‘Gorgeous’) operates within the spacey, moody vein of synthpop that is common in 2017. What Taylor adds to this sound is questionable at best. Songs like ‘I Did Something Bad’, ’Don’t Blame Me’, and ‘Dress’ are so painfully generic that they border on plagiarizing Demi Lovato’s last project. ‘Delicate’, the obligatory skeletal dancehall track that is required reading for any pop album since Drake released ‘One Dance’, is the most obvious example of this. This cut is so quiet that it becomes a genuine struggle to find something in the song to attach to for the duration of the track. When the album isn’t blowing your ears off with stock 808 drum kits (like on the confounding ‘End Game’), it’s providing so little for the listener to hang onto that any attention given at the beginning of the track is lost by the end of the first chorus.
All of this would be passable, maybe, if Taylor Swift had managed to provide anything lyrically in reputation.’s 56 minutes of run time for the listener to actually care about. For an album marketed as a bone-crushing statement of self, the lyrics here move in the exact opposite direction. Take this example from ‘End Game’:
“Your hand prints on my soul / It’s like your eyes are liquor, it’s like your body is gold”.
Or this couplet from ‘Dress’:
““Carve your name into my bedpost
’Cause I don’t want you like a best friend
Only bought this dress so you could take it off
Take it off, o-o-off”
How about the chorus of ‘I Did Something Bad’?
“They say I did something bad
Then why’s it feel so good?
They say I did something bad
But why’s it feel so good?
Most fun I ever had
And I’d do it over and over and over again if I could
It just felt so good, good”
The lyrics to reputation. are bland even by pop standards. They read like what a freshman in high school who’s yet to have their first kiss would imagine making out feels like. There are no references to any of her public feuds. Instead we get cliche after cliche, rattled off ad nauseum for longer then anyone wants or deserves. Taylor does not reconcile with her competing personas here; it is as if the drama surrounding the album’s release doesn’t exist.
Are there moments on this album that are listenable? Sure. ‘Dancing With Our Hands Tied’, for example, is a nice pick-me-up in the latter half of the album. For as inorganic as it is, you can do worse on this album then the solo ballad that ends the album, ‘New Years Day’. But these handful of moments are not enough to change what reputation. is. This album is a bait-and-switch to any Taylor Swift fan. Swift promised her fans a guns-ablazing airing of grievances, and a chance to really connect with her as a person. Instead, what Swift gave her fans was a collection of glossy, boring, uninspired, and borderline intolerable tracks. This is an album lacking in any substance or emotion for fans to relate to. It’s too soon to say, but with as lifeless as this album is, Taylor may be that snake after all.
Words by Sebastian Campbell