Contrary to what she wants you to think, the “old Taylor” definitely isn’t dead. After Swift’s year long media hiatus she dropped a string of disappointing singles. “Look What You Made Me Do”, “…Ready For It?” and “Gorgeous” left a lot to be desired. Despite this, Swift manages to deliver the high-gloss pop we’ve come to expect while being refreshingly introspective and showing growth as an artist. The old Taylor isn’t dead; she just drinks, has sex, takes an arguably more adult view on relationships, and doesn’t care that you think she’s hyper curated or calculating.
Reputation continues the synth-pop we received with 1989, working with hit producers Max Martin and Jack Antonoff. Beginning with the bombastic, speaker shattering “…Ready For It?” to the more quiet but still booming (for Swift) “New Years Day,” Swift has adapted to the sonic trajectory that pop has been on recently.
The absence of her signature love ballads is glaringly apparent and may be a turnoff for some fans, but Swift is all “grown up” and wants you to know it. The relationships and love Swift is now concerned with are noticeably more age appropriate and long term. The adolescent, idealized versions of love have been replaced by a more realistic twenty-seven year old who’s well versed in failed relationships and just how disappointing they can be. Her new remorselessness is admittedly hard not to enjoy, especially on “I Did Something Bad.” This isn’t Swift’s best, but the spite and apathy is new for her and it just feels so, well…good. This is also the first time Swift sings about sex, mentioning it frequently throughout.
Drinking is referenced heavily as well, another first. “Delicate,” which feels oddly comforting in its description of a fragile, budding fling, is one of the album’s strongest songs both lyrically and sonically. It finds Swift meeting her lover at a dive bar in the East Side: “We can’t make any promises can we babe, but you can make me a drink,” probably to cope with the stress of an undefined relationship, and while she knew “from the first old fashioned” that they were cursed, her doomed lover isn’t thinking and Swift is “just drinking” in “Getaway Car.”
Ever the image-conscious capitalist, Swift manages to make references that straddle the different lifestyles of her fan base, subtle cultural cues that attempt to appeal to both Middle America and the wealthy living on the coasts. “…Ready For It?” was teased on a Instagram pre-football game hype montage and booms with aggression. “End Game,” arguably Reputation’s weakest song, features her and Ed Sheeran attempting to rap alongside Future, has a football game warm-up feel, “I wanna be your first string, I wanna be your first string,” and stays clear of any explicit sexual- or alcohol-related lyrics. Meanwhile, “Getaway Car,” “New Year’s Day,” and “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” find Swift reveling in her uber-wealthy bi-coastal lifestyle. While the shameless mentions of wealth aren’t great— “Jump into the pool from the balcony, everyone swimming in a champagne sea…feeling so Gatsby for that whole year” she sings, before lamenting her fight with another celebrity (Kanye?) on “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”— it is the world she knows, and Swift traditionally has written from a very personal place.
If you can stomach the unapologetic privilege and some bad rapping, Reputation is definitely worth a listen. Swift might not be currently popular as a human after her series of self-pitying public relations gaffes this past year, not to mention some of the well-deserved criticism for her lack of political action during the 2016 election, among other problematic aspects of her too extensive to include in this article. However, there’s no denying that Reputation is an incredibly strong piece of work, and most importantly, enjoyable to listen to. Just skip past the self-pity and “End Game”.