In Retrospect, I love Taylor Swift’s Reputation
You never know what you have until it’s gone. That could easily be a Taylor Swift lyric, but more accurately, it’s how I feel about every Taylor Swift album when a new era starts. Swift is notorious for releasing one of the worst songs on her records as the leading single, making me always look back fondly to the previous record and all of its deep cuts and intricacies. Swift has recently released “ME!” the ridiculously upbeat lead single off her upcoming seventh record Lover and followed it up with “You Need To Calm Down.” Kudos to Swift for finally going political in a song (“You Need To Calm Down” has specific lyrical references to gay rights) but it’s not a well written song. The lyrics are badly constructed, and the production is bland at best. I listened to the song this morning, and immediately afterward put on Reputation so I could reminisce on the great records of Taylor Swift’s past.
Don’t Judge An Album By Its Cover
I don’t think anyone was expecting Reputation to be the textured, layered album it is. The album cover and the lead single “Look What You Made Me Do” led the general public to believe that this would be a self-pitying, ‘why does the world hate me’ type of album. Not the kind of album that anyone really wanted to hear from one of the richest white women on earth. But Reputation ended up being Swift’s most self-aware record yet. It’s a dark, interesting pop record that navigates the issues of fame, of love, and of honestly being a pretty shitty person to people and having to grapple with that. “Getaway Car” is Swift’s confession that she very much used one of her ex-boyfriends as a rebound (it’s highly theorized that this track is about Tom Hiddleston). The incredible key change in the bridge is accompanied with the line: “It’s no surprise I turned you in / cause us traitors never win.” Looking back at the blaming songs that Swift used to write about people, where she did indeed portray herself as the victim makes this song so much more refreshing. Swift is actually human, not some remote-controlled Barbie doll, and this is her acknowledgement of her mistakes.
A New Kind of Love Song
Some people swear by the idea that you can only make great music if you’re angry at the world. Alanis Morrisette is the key example of this, and maybe it’s true with Taylor Swift too. Her two best albums – this one and 2012’s Red – both came at points in Swift’s life when she seemed to be experiencing an intense amount of emotional turmoil, both publicly and privately. Swift does address her very-public clash with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian on this album in the songs “Look What You Made Me Do” and “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things,” but those are two of the least interesting tracks on the album. The most interesting songs are the ones where Swift delicately approaches the idea of happiness. The love songs of the record, “Delicate,” “Dress,” “King of My Heart” and “Call It What You Want” are all very different kind of love songs than anything Swift has done before. “Delicate” seems slightly juvenile, but I think that’s on purpose. Swift is showing that no matter how old a person gets, those voices in our head that ask, “does he like me?” and “am I good enough?” never actually go away. “Dress” feels delightfully Carly Rae Jepsen, with an incredible bridge that shows off Swift’s rhythmic ability (who knew she had rhythmic ability? I didn’t – at least not until this song.) “King Of My Heart” is a dubstep-pop take on a classic love songs, with another incredible bridge that includes a line that defines this record: “is this the end of all the endings?” “Call It What You Want” was the second song releases from the record and the first one that really showed what this record is all about. Swift’s lyrical genius comes through on this song, with the descriptions in the verses describing how she recovered after her career seemingly fell apart.
The Benefits of Experimentation
A Taylor Swift record is never without fluff, which comes in the form of “…Ready For It?,” “Endgame” and “Gorgeous.” But even these songs are not typical pop fluff – they really experiment production wise, and Swift experiments with very different ways of singing. They don’t always succeed (we probably could have survived without Taylor Swift rapping), but they’re bold artistic statements that show Swift really stepping outside off her musical comfort zone. “So It Goes…” is another moment in which Swift barely sounds like herself. Like in “Dress”, Swift explores her sexual side, finally acknowledging that she is, in fact, a twenty-something woman and not a teenage girl anymore. “Don’t Blame Me” may be one of the most out-of-the-box statements on this record, but it’s definitely come with significant reward. Since “All Too Well,” Swift hasn’t put out a song as intricate and impressive as this one. She mixes dark pop with some gospel elements to create a euphoric ode to overwhelming, high-inducing love. Swift has never been one to have a particularly strong voice, but she explores her lower register in this song, to shiver-inducing results. The metaphor that “love is a drug” is grossly overdone, but it’s easily forgiven when you listen to the last chorus of this song, when Swift really let’s go vocally. She can sing, and experimental songs like this one are great reminders of why Swift is as successful as she is.
Not The Best, But The Most Complex
This album didn’t get nominated for Album of the Year, a surprise to many as Swift’s last two albums have been nominated for the prestigious award. But this makes sense – the outward projection of this album was that it was a self-pitying, angry record. But maybe Swift did this on purpose. Maybe she wanted this album to be a fan secret, something that only some people truly understood. The general public would think that she’s petty and plays the victim – exactly what the media has depicted her as – but the meat of the album tells a different story. In the context of Swift’s career, this may not be the best album she’s ever released, but it’s definitely the most complicated and interesting.