My reputation has never been worse for being a Taylor Swift fan than in the last few months. I have been repeatedly interrogated about the media feuds involving Swift, and over her ‘audacity’ to release an album critiquing of her ‘haters’. I think this hounding by my own peers says a lot about an increasing obsession to interrogate the backstory of an album and to push outside knowledge onto it’s release, disregarding its sonic abilities in favour of the ‘drama drama’ that goes alongside it. In such, a reputation is created of the album, and it is this construction that Swift’s sharp lyrics attack, offering her last words on the media debate. reputation is an inevitable progression from 1989’s synthpop sonic cohesiveness, the album evolving into new explosive dimensions, both sonically and in harmony with Swift’s undeniable cutting, intelligent and brutally honest lyrics.
The album feels divided into two halves: the first half, continuing until track six (‘Look What you Made Me Do’), responds directly to the media’s construction of her identity, reminiscent of the ironic ‘Blank Space’, and the second half becomes a more personal account of her romance and her own personal flaws. The first half of the album blurs the new urban pop sound and with more sedate synth pop, on the track fittingly titled ‘Delicate’. The second track, ‘End Game’, cuts her last ties with country roots, opting for a more R&B set that carries through the first half of the album. Taylor collaborates with Future and Ed Sheeran (a far cry from her previous RED collaboration with Sheeran) whereby the haunting lyric of “my reputation precedes me” sets up the album that both reproduces this reputation and dismantles it. ‘I Did Something Bad’ is a personal favourite, and highly single-worthy, a counterpart to ‘Blank Space’. Swift is in continual dialogue with her own repertoire; lyrics like “I can feel the flames on my skin” swimming with irony. Working with Max Martin and Jack Antonoff, the track has melodic potency, a lilting bridge and a most importance chorus drop. The third track, ‘Don’t Blame Me’, shows off Taylor’s wide vocal powers, taking on a soul-esque tone, becoming another stand out melodic track, filled with her iconic chiasmic lyrics, that fuelled her country originality: “I once was poison ivy, now I’m your daisy”.
The cacophony of sounds on the album is highly evocative
The cacophony of sounds on the album is highly evocative, thrown from ‘LWYMDD’ to ‘Gorgeous’, an 80s-inspired bubbly track of pure infatuation. We depart from the intense dialogue with the media to more familiar ‘Swift’ ground, with some more personal favourites of ‘Getaway Car’, ‘Dancing with Our Hands Tied’ and ‘New Years Day’. It is within the later part of the album that Swift creates a unique and sharp space to explore the anxieties of love, where she must “love in secret” when the “world was trying to divide us”. Here her craftsmanship as a lyricist, to create both poetic ‘shade’, to encapsulate young tentative romance and to rebuilt an assertiveness, must be noted.
The album ends of a note of catharsis with ‘Call It What You Want’, the most beautifully soft way to call out any disputes, encouraging us to build our own narratives of our lives. “Doing better than I ever was”, Swift defines her reputation on her terms, no longer “dead” but vividly glistening. 4/5
Molly Gilroy, Online Screen Editor
You can tell when Future’s embarrassed to be on a song – it’s when he turns up his usual autotune to near incomprehensible levels. He appears on ‘End Game’, along with a rapping Ed Sheeran, and in the midst of his generic, phoned-in verse he drops the line “I got a bad boy persona, that’s what they like”. I reckon that’s pretty true – persona seems to matter so much to this record. Definitely more so than music.
Someone needs to let her know it’s okay to just make good pop music
So much of this album seems to be concerned with reigniting old drama to create new headlines. Where Kanye West – sorry to bring him up, but it’s difficult to talk about reputation without mentioning him at some point – used his references to Taylor Swift for a broader artistic point, albeit a misguided one, Taylor Swift doesn’t artistically engage with the headlines about her in any meaningful way. Instead, she tries to use it to construct a new, ‘savage’ persona which absolutely doesn’t mesh with her public image, her previous music, or her talent. Someone needs to let her know it’s okay to just make good pop music – you don’t have to branch out into half-rapping over lazy, badly mixed trap instrumentals to be taken seriously as a musician.
This album is an embarrassment to Taylor Swift’s otherwise strong career. Moreover, it’s a ludicrous appropriation of a sound and an aesthetic that she has no place working with. It’s okay to feature rappers, but smearing hip hop sounds and production styles all over the album just because it’s popular at the moment rather than to actually do something artistically fulfilling smacks of falsehood. reputation might be an attempt on Swift’s part to reclaim control over her persona, but you have to wonder if flipping a brief controversy about being a ‘snake’ or whatever from several months ago into a career change this drastic and this ridiculous is worthwhile. ‘Gorgeous’ is good, though. 1.5/5
Alex Brammer, Music Editor
Recognisable by her poetic lyrics and signature voice, reputation sits nicely within Taylor’s self-defined musical journey. Outlined by an evaluation of her presence in mainstream media, reputation claims the last word in an ongoing critical debate. And that’s the thing about Taylor Swift – whether you love her or hate her, you have to confess that this engagement with her critics leads to an album which is clever, witty, and downright honest.
reputation claims the last word in an ongoing critical debate
Turning further towards the pop-like nature of 1989, reputation is a library of sounds. Ranging from the soft, electronic sound of ‘Delicate’ to the harsh drops of ‘I Did Something Bad’, Taylor experiments in an album which simultaneously reinvents and consolidates her musical ‘reputation’. As someone who has followed Taylor Swift for a number of years throughout her country to pop transition, I have often felt distanced from her during her extended absence. In fact, I’d hardly listened to Taylor for a year when I first heard reputation, and was slightly worried about the limited lyrical variety of ‘Gorgeous’.
But there is something comforting about Taylor Swift which brings me back again and again. I love reputation not because it’s anything new or experimental, but because it sounds so familiar and Taylor. My particular favourites, ‘Getaway Car’ and ‘New Year’s Day’, are defined by her combination of catchy beats and expressive lyrics, ensuring that her songs honour the narrative tradition of the country genre she emerged from.
reputation isn’t an album of anger or heartbreak, but one in which Taylor acknowledges and disregards the public persona which has been created for her. With a sprinkle of shade in songs like ‘This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things’, reputation gives Taylor the final word in the battle to define her character. It is the message of ‘Call It What You Want’ which expresses the outgoing message of the album, the definitive statement “he really knows me, which is more than they can say” reflecting the over-arching feeling. If 1989 was an album of reinvention, reputation is an album of acceptance. As a successful young woman with millions of fans, Taylor doesn’t need to listen to the hounding criticism of the media; she claims the right to define her own reputation. 4/5
Lauren Geall, Lifestyle Editor
Taylor Swift’s sixth studio album, reputation, is a captivating record which, in comparison to her other albums, has a far more straightforward tone and theme. I have been a fan of Taylor’s since her sophomore album Fearless, so with every album that proceeds I have high hopes for excellency. Once again, I am not disappointed. This is by far Taylor’s best album – lyrically, production, and sales wise.
Since its release date of November 10th 2017, the album sold over 1.2 million copies in its first week, marking it as the biggest-selling album of 2017. As other critics have noted, this is by far her most focused, cohesive album – much of this album is situated around her portrayal in the media, and how her reputation had been damaged after a public feud with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian West. The fall of Old Taylor in 2016 enabled New Taylor to arise from the ashes – with this album, tracks like ‘I Did Something Bad’, ‘Don’t Blame Me’, ‘Look What You Made Me Do’, ‘End Game’, and ‘This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things’ encompass themes of revenge, loss of friendship, and lust.
In 2014 Taylor first made her transition from country-pop to solely pop. With a more electronic, EDM-like style, references of drugs (“I get so high … trip of my life”), sex (“only bought this dress so you can take it off”), alcohol (“I’m spilling wine in the bathtub, you kiss my face and we’re both drunk”), and use of profanities (“If a man talks shit then I owe him nothing”), Taylor sheds her old squeaky-clean skin. However, not all of old Taylor has disappeared: though much of her album has an upbeat, heavy base, trap-style tempo to it, tracks like ‘Delicate’, ‘Call It What You Want’ and ‘New Year’s Day’ show a more vulnerable, soft-spoken Taylor. These three songs, though they are Taylor’s quietest moments on the album, are the most powerful ones.
not all of old Taylor has disappeared
With this album, Taylor has shown that through her tarnished reputation she has grown as an individual and artist. Reputation will not only continue to sell thousands of copies and break even more records (‘Look What You Made Me Do’ broke the record for most views in 24 Hours on YouTube), it will most definitely snag several nominations at the Grammys, as well as receive a nomination for Album of the Year. A nomination, and possible award, well deserved. 5/5
Margo Shipley, Exeposé Contributor