On November 10, Taylor Swift released the feverishly anticipated sixth album in her repertoire: reputation. If you take a look at her Instagram, you can read any of the numerous positive reviews she has received from representatives of outlets ranging from the Associated Press, to Billboard, the New York Times, and more.
Two weeks ago, I wrote an article discussing Taylor Swift’s feminism – or lack thereof. Please feel free to skim over that for some context on my reviews below!
Taylor kicks us off with some complex synthesizers playing some very simple rhythmic and melodic lines, and joins in with what seems to be rapped verses. She feigns an awkward accent on the verses as well that is almost reminiscent of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) (more info on that here). Refer to my previous article for why that’s problematic. The chorus sounds more like 1989, with mild synth sounds and gentle vocals singing about love. “…Ready for It?” performed quite well as a single, and is indeed catchy. If we could only drop the appropriation, it’d be great!
- “End Game (feat. Ed Sheeran & Future)”
Okay, this is a JAM. From the featured artists (I see you with that A team reference, Taylor), to the beat, the mixing – truly wonderful. I’ve always been an Ed Sheeran fan for his innate ability to integrate acoustic singer/songwriter vibes with hip-hop beats so organically. This trio, with Taylor on the pop chorus, Future rapping a verse, and Ed fusing the two is very well crafted.
- “I Did Something Bad”
This is a biting anthem that claps back at hookup culture and those who criticize Taylor for her serial dating habits. Indeed, Taylor has endured a good deal of sexist comments from people who think she’s boy-crazy at best and a slut at worst. Critics will say she’s playing the victim in this song; it seems that she’s asking how she’s the bad guy when it isn’t her fault narcissists and playboys just LOVE her!!!! I see that argument, but Taylor does bring up a good point: in a generational dating landscape where a sexual relationship is referred to as “just talking” for the sake of not wanting to seem too involved or too clingy, don’t we all come off as narcissists and playboys?
- “Don’t Blame Me”
You definitely can’t say Taylor Swift doesn’t have an impressive and on-genre vocal range (check out 0:27 and 3:09, I mean, DANG). I’d be hardpressed to find a cleaner pop belt, with the exception of Ariana Grande. I love the slow, grungy, jazzy vibe of this piece. What I don’t appreciate is the fake accent (which is especially apparent on the second verse). Again, refer to what I said about “…Ready for It?”.
In my opinion, this is one of the most honest tracks on this album. The energetic minimalism that sets this song apart from the rest of the album fits the message quite well. Falling in love during a time when your reputation is wrecked, eyes all over the world are watching to see who you’ll date next, and you’re literally a major household name is stressful, I imagine. The lyrics evoke that time period when you’re pretty sure the person you’re interested in is also interested in you, and you want to tell them but – as per my commentary on our current aversion to vulnerability – you’re not sure if that’s acceptable. It’s an exhilarating and terrifying time, but at least we have this bop to help us through. Thanks, @taylor.
- “Look What You Made Me Do”
I don’t know where to start with this one. Kudos to Taylor for standing up for herself and calling out the ~haters~; I think it’s important that women, and particularly White women, understand that your anger is not “cute” or dismissible. One point that I do want to make, however, is that Taylor’s race likely plays an interesting role in the public’s reception of this piece: because our culture promotes White female protectionism (the idea that White women have to be protected because they are infantilized by society), Taylor’s anger likely won’t be taken be seriously. On the flip side, she won’t be called aggressive or abrasive for being angry, like women of color often are (think Nicki Minaj). And as for this music video, please see my last article. Yikes.
- “So It Goes…”
Honestly, I don’t have a ton to say about this one. Again, there are some awkward moments in which Taylor exploits the AAVE dialect to sound more “on-brand”, I suppose. One touch that I think is artistically intriguing is the bridge: after asking “but honestly, baby, who’s counting?”, Taylor indeed counts the music back in, suggesting that perhaps she’s counting her lover’s offenses. However, this is baffling in the context of the rest of the love songs on this album that indicate she’s over playing games and is truly in love now. Why would she be counting?
This piece could have been on 1989, in my opinion. Sonically, it fits well in reputation; however, the structure of the song and lyrical content are a slightly sassier version of “Style” off of 1989, for example. Much like “Shake It Off,” Taylor also makes fun of herself a little bit, saying that she’ll just “stumble on home to [her] cats…alone” if she can’t have the man she’s singing about. To me, this contradicts the purpose of reputation. Pleasantly acknowledging the “cat lady” trope that is so often attributed to Taylor doesn’t seem to shake off (truly, no pun intended) her old reputation. Nonetheless, it’s certainly a catchy song!
- “Getaway Car”
If “Style” is the 1989 version of “Gorgeous,” “I Knew You Were Trouble” is the 1989 version of “Getaway Car.” Both pieces feature a rocky love story with a shoulda-known attitude, and both differ slightly sonically from the rest of their albums of origin. “Getaway Car” features a 70s-esque synth stab in the chorus, introducing vintage vibes that contrast the new age feel of the whole album. According to our lovely VP of Media, Natalie Sulzinger, the song is likely about Tom Hiddleston and Taylor’s transition from Calvin Harris to Tom Hiddleston.
- “King of My Heart”
(Disclaimer: This is probably my favorite song on the album, so this review is 100% biased.) Taylor starts up the song with a minimalistic, sparse mix, discussing how she is trying to live a simpler life on her own. But, the beat kicks in as she starts talking about the electricity she feels with her new guy. The percussion is intense, as is Taylor’s vocal energy. To relieve the tension, the percussion drops out, leaving just Taylor and some soft synths as she declares she has indeed found the king of her heart. This mimics the excitement and simultaneous euphoria of fresh love. Glorious. <3
- “Dancing With Our Hands Tied”
Just a note: my immediate association was “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” by John Mayer (yep – one of Taylor’s exes). She even sings, “swaying as the room burned down” in the bridge! Whether or not this was an intentional allusion, it struck me as potentially significant. I love this track for its dynamic production, from the double-time drum line leading into the chorus in the back of the mix to the spacious snare hits throughout the chorus. The preverb on the riff at the beginning of the final chorus is EERIE and I LOVE IT.
Thank you, Taylor Swift, for being closer to honest about your sexuality. I’m sorry that you had to wait until you were 27 years old to speak about such a normal, natural human experience. I have a couple theories as to why this is the case, and my guess is that all of these dynamics combined to render Taylor unable to be honest about her sexuality and also continue to gain social acceptance. My first theory is the idea what White women are treated like little, innocent girls who are incapable of managing adult concepts and lives (check “Look What You Made Me Do” for more info on that). The general public would likely not take kindly to a 19 year old Taylor singing about sex. By the same token, her fans are predominantly young women – some of whom are significantly younger than Taylor. Perhaps Taylor was trying to stay appropriate for their sake.
- “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”
Frankly, I got quite a chuckle out of this one. She has done a lot of revolutionary things on this album for herself in terms of instrumentation, vocal technique, and debuting an altered public persona. But, in my opinion, the single most revolutionary thing she does on this album is lose her typical cute giggle for a FULL-ON CACKLE. I can only imagine how much fun she had recording this sassy, bouncy follow-up to “Look What You Made Me Do.” If nothing else, I have a lot of fun listening to it.
- “Call It What You Want”
If you’re feeling happily in love and need to take a nice chill drive to Target (much like me the day this single dropped), this is the song for you. In contrast to much of this album, this song is not in your face with either clap-backs for rebellious love stories. It takes a very simple moment – seeing the person you love – and creates an entire piece of art around just that everyday experience. A true bop for the ages.
After 56 minutes of listening to Taylor’s new self transcribed into music, it really does feel like waking up on New Year’s Day. The party is over, the midnight kiss happened (at least for Taylor), and now here we are with a fresh understanding of where Taylor’s at and no sense of where she may be going. Though this acoustic tune sounds a lot like the old Taylor, the dry vocals and digitally processing piano sounds remind us that this is indeed of new era of Taylor Swift.