Album Review: Reputation by Taylor Swift

Sarah Groustra , News Writing Managing Editor

This summer, I heard the early Taylor Swift song “Speak Now” for the first time. It’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that it changed my life. Having missed out on a Taylor Swift phase in middle school, I reveled in the strong narrative arc and heartfelt belts of the song. So naturally, I was disappointed to find that the pastel girlhood of Swift’s earlier work was aggressively beaten down by a rebirthed iteration of the star in her new album, “Reputation.”

Swift’s advertising campaign has been notoriously wide in its reach, going so far as to be posted on United Postal Service trucks in the style of a newspaper or tabloid.

Ever since Swift switched genres from country to pop and began experimenting with her identity, she evolved into a problematic favorite for many. The media coverage leading up to the release in early November was huge with tracks such as “Look What You Made Me Do” hitting radio stations earlier in the year. Reactions to the album have been mixed.  Regardless, there is no question that Reputation ushers in a new era for Swift with its biting lyrics and electronic beats.

The album kicks off intensely with “…Ready For It,” which starts with blasting sounds unattributable to any instrument. The song sets the tone for Swift’s new style that defines this album—slow, spoken lines; traditional verse-chorus-bridge structure and vague sexual euphemisms, all tied to Swift’s romantic endeavors.

“End Game” features rapper Future and singer Ed Sheeran. Lyrics from all three artists directly explore how infamous reputations affect their love lives: “Reputation precedes me, they told you I’m crazy/I swear I don’t love the drama, it loves me.” The song’s title is reinforced by various sports-related phrases peppering the chorus.

“I never trust a narcissist/but they love me” is the opening line of Swift’s third song, “I Did Something Bad.” The irony is fascinating. Once again, the subject of the song circles back to Swift extracting revenge on unassuming ex-boyfriends, which she claims is the “most fun I ever had.”

“Don’t Blame Me” serves as an appropriate postlude to the previous track. Swift begins to display the use of vocal melody as she croons the song’s chorus, including a really lovely refrain with a layered harmony. It’s catchy.

Although Swift builds an impassive fortress around herself in the album’s early arc, the walls have crumbled by the time the listener gets to “Delicate,” the fifth track of Reputation. Swift admits to softer feelings in a relationship, to some fears about her public image with the repeating line, “my reputation’s never been worse so/You must like me for me.”

Track six of Reputation is the previously released, infamous song “Look What You Made Me Do. Swift’s emotional walls rise as she stakes her ground against other celebrities. The song and the music video are famously full of Easter eggs throwing shade at exes and naysayers. Many of the feuds she dramatizes seem like exhausting exaggeration and self-martyrdom.

“So It Goes…” marks the halfway point of Reputation, and we have returned once again to the synth-heavy echoing voice vibe. “So It Goes…” exemplifies one of my most prevalent problems with love-themed pop songs—the lack of emotion in the lyrics. Rather, the intended feeling is halfheartedly conveyed through distilled, quotable phrases, such as “You did a number on me/But honestly baby, who’s counting?”

Reputation uses a handful of similar backbeats and melodies that result in the songs blending into monotony. “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” provides a brief reprise from that monotony. Swift is back on the breakup track, but this time juxtaposed with a jaunty beat. The middle of the song features Swift interrupting her own apology lyric with her own cackle; she then says “I can’t even say it with a straight face!” Swift’s mockery of the apology is consistent with her new, unapologetic persona.

After a song or two more, we have finally reached track 15 of Reputation, aptly titled “New Year’s Day.” I do feel like I have been sitting here listening to this very long album for one calendar year. I was shocked by the stark, beautiful contrast of “New Year’s Day” to every song preceding it. There’s a piano, a guitar, and a violin for the bridge. It’s an understated but powerful ballad, to the fleeting nature of affection. I was left wondering why songs one through 14 didn’t leave me so emotionally invested.

Taylor Swift is music’s enigma. Writing about Swift and her art proves to be a difficult task, especially when it comes to evaluating her work. Yes, women (including Swift) should be allowed to make art for public consumption that deals with relationships, romance and exes without being shamed or sexualized. But Swift’s ego morphs her into a character who only endeavors to further the two-dimensionalized image of herself. Reputation appears to serve more as a public statement of revenge rather than a musical endeavor. Because of this, songs like “Look What You Made Me Do” read as petty rather than empowering. Besides Reputation and some of Swift’s earlier work not being my taste, this conflicting public image is what has been keeping me away from her music–“Speak Now” forever excluded.