(Photo Credit: Big Machine)
“My reputation’s never been worse, so you must like me for me.”
Did we all collectively roll our eyes when Taylor Swift wiped her social media accounts in August, mystically symbolizing the arrival of new music and a new era, or did I imagine that? I’m pretty sure that happened. And for awhile there, you couldn’t really blame us for being apprehensive when it came to the prospect of Ms. Swift’s new music.
Unless you live under a rock, you know that Taylor Swift has had more than her fair share of controversies. Long gone are the days where we listened blissfully to her country music albums, loving her young and innocent voice and ability to make simple yet catchy lyrics about boy problems. Her alleged feuds with other celebrities are almost a story for another day, with too much to explain in full (the most significant are with fellow pop singer Katy Perry as well as with Kanye West and wife Kim Kardashian). Not to mention her tendency to consistently plead the innocent victimized party in interviews. And it got old. Fast. She never seemed to take responsibility for anything alleged against her, and the public caught on. Perhaps she was forced by her management to put on that facade, if I may call it that. Because as one of the Taylor Swift personalities at the end of one of her new music videos states, she would like to be excluded from this narrative. Will the real Taylor Swift please stand up?
As it goes with most singer/songwriters, especially pop singers, it is difficult for us, the public, to ever really know the real them. Pop singers, especially female pop singers, are constantly manipulated by their management and labels to fit a certain image they know will sell. Kesha, the young singer who made it big with huge electropop hits circa 2010, has now stated how the electropop sound never really represented who she was as a person and artist. Demi Lovato has stated how she was pushed in the pop rock direction when she first started out, because that was what was selling for young pop singers. And let’s not even get into Britney Spears. Only when they have officially “made it” and are old enough can these singers start to call the shots and we can get glimpses into who these artists are as people.
With Taylor Swift, it was a bit different. She broke onto the scene in the mid to late 2000s with big country music hits like “Teardrops on My Guitar”, “Love Story” and “You Belong With Me.” She began to venture in a more distinct pop direction with her fourth studio album Red (2012), which included the hit pop singles “I Knew You Were Trouble” and “We Are Never Getting Back Together.” By 2014, Swift released her fifth studio album, 1989, which was completely pop focused, shedding any country elements she once had. As much as 1989 is an impressive pop record showing that Swift can manage a transition away from country and into pop, it’s difficult for us (well, at least me) to get a sense of identity through a series of unique albeit all commonplace pop songs. Admittedly, I only came around on 1989 recently—it took me three years to listen to the album in its entirety. The singles are definitely impressive and are instances where Swift clearly demonstrates she knows how to put together catchy pop songs that are all earworms even if you don’t want them to be. But even in retrospect, that’s all they are—catchy pop songs. Sure, there are definitely meanings behind all the songs and bring together a collection of who Swift is (or was during that era), but in comparison to her new album from this year, I don’t get as much of a sense of identity, at least beyond the surface level.
Several critics believe 1989 to be Taylor Swift’s most cohesive studio effort, but I disagree. I think her new sixth studio album that dropped on November 10th, Reputation, to be her most outstanding studio effort to date.
As we’ve established, Taylor Swift has a reputation, which she is subtly referring to in the album’s title. But as much as we’ve only met the Taylor Swift who tends to only ever plead the innocent victim when other celebrities allege claims against her, we get to meet a different Swift on Reputation, one I don’t think we’ve ever met before. She is making both a mockery of what the media says about her while also flipping the bird to the world and saying, “Yep, this is me. Whaddaya gonna do about it?”
For starters, take a look at the track listing for the new album:
…Ready For It?
End Game (featuring Ed Sheeran and Future)
I Did Something Bad
Don’t Blame Me
Look What You Made Me Do
So It Goes…
King of My Heart
Dancing With Our Hands Tied
This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
Call It What You Want
New Year’s Day
With some obvious exceptions, a lot of the song titles seem to be interpretations of headlines regarding allegations against Swift: “I Did Something Bad” (perhaps her own interpretation of headlines she reads about herself), “Don’t Blame Me” (a clear yet subtle nod at her tendency to plead the innocent victim, which she acknowledges for one of the first times), “So It Goes…” (perhaps a dig at headlines that always seem to have the same Swift slander), and the list goes on. The newspaper aesthetic of the album cover is clearly represented through the song titles, whether you choose to pick up on it or not. For possibly the first time ever, Taylor Swift is acknowledging, in her own pop music way, what people think of her—while also leaving the subject ambiguous by mentioning within lyrics that no one knows the real her. And I think that’s a topic that hits home for a lot of pop singers, especially ones who have had their fair share of media windstorms, an area in which Swift most certainly takes the cake.
I predicted early on that Swift’s new album was essentially pulling a Blackout, which is Britney Spears’ 2007 album that addressed several of her publicized personal struggles through pop music. Reputation is most definitely Taylor Swift’s Blackout, in almost every sense. Swift hasn’t gone through nearly as many publicized personal struggles as Spears did that year, but we can’t deny that she’s had more than her fair share of sticky media situations to deal with. Up until this point, we only got to experience the seemingly immature Swift who said she was the innocent victim, always, but with Reputation, she’s setting the record straight through her music, and loving every minute of it. They say she did something bad, then why does it feel so good? Her reputation’s never been worse, so you’ve got to like her for her. Don’t blame her, love made her crazy and she’ll be using for the rest of her life (which is both a mockery of her typical lyrics about boy problems while also saying I guess she is the serial dater the media makes her out to be—or is she?) And finally, call it what you want to, because her baby’s fit like a daydream, walking with his head down, and she’s the one he’s walking to.
With almost every song lyric, Swift is retaining her own unique style of pop music while also addressing a lot of what people say about her, which has given her this “reputation.” This is a Taylor Swift we have never met before—as much as she allegedly addressed her feud with Katy Perry on the 2015 hit “Bad Blood”, it seems she used to just stick to what she knew: making songs about boys. And she’s still doing that on Reputation, because that’s who she is and always will be, but while also throwing in these subtle and genius lyrics that address a lot of the stuff that goes around about her—you just have to read between the lines.
As the lyrics of “Delicate” go, “My reputation’s never been worse, so you must like me for me.” She is essentially stripping herself down and saying, “You say I have a reputation, so you know what, this is all I have to offer you. Hope you like it.” And we do, because she’s still Taylor Swift, and she knows how to make a good goddamn pop song that won’t leave your head. “…Ready for It?”, the first track, was in my head for days after Reputation came out in completion. “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” is a Swift bop that brings to mind her other hit “We Are Never Getting Back Together.” And the final track, “New Year’s Day”, brings us back to the old, old Taylor Swift we fell in love with in 2006. By doing this and more on Reputation, she sheds anyway some of her protective layers and introduces us to a more nuanced and honest Taylor Swift that, in turn, gives us more of a glimpse into her identity as an artist, and as a person.
Jeffrey’s favorite tracks from Reputation: “…Ready for It?”, “I Did Something Bad”, “Don’t Blame Me”, “Delicate”, “Getaway Car”, “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”, “Call It What You Want”, and “New Year’s Day”