"They're burning all the witches". Except Taylor. She's taken the matches.
For the last ten years, Taylor Swift has treated her albums as collections of confessional, expositional, genre-crossing songs in a way which bought her the allegiance of millions of fans and alternating critical and media acclaim. She was the young, talented woman following her dreams, and succeeding. She had cats. She wrote open letters to Apple and fans alike. She made it into blockbuster franchise movie soundtracks, collected a roomful of trophies and became the epitome of the now infamous #squadgoals. And then it all went wrong. For better or worse, victim or villain, Reputation is her response. More accurately, the response to end all responses.
From the first ‘mmhm’ as she clears her throat on opener ‘…Ready for It?’, Swift is commanding, unapologetic and assertive, introducing us to an album which offers a rejection; of lovers, of old habits, of naivety, and, crucially, the toxicity that comes with defining yourself through other people’s eyes. Reputation is not Swift’s attempt to appear perfect, from the confrontational ‘I Did Something Bad’ (“if a man talks shit then I owe him nothing/I don’t regret it one bit cause’ he had it coming”) and stand-out ‘Don’t Blame Me’, to the regretful explanation of ‘Getaway Car’ (“but I didn’t mean it/and you didn’t see it”). She is utterly unconcerned with writing a collection of slow ballads designed to evoke what critics have labelled her ‘victim playing card’, but instead focusses on depicting a complex, defiantly self aware narrative underpinned by a Max Martin/Shellback/Jack Antonoff production of synths, bass drops, staccato strings and overlapping vocals which all work to serve some of her best lyrics to date.
She’s hyper aware of the media, the “conversation” in ‘End Game’ (ft. Ed Sheeran and Future), anxiety-ridden about the impact of her reputation in ‘Delicate’, which marks the introduction of vulnerability midway through an album first concerned with coming out fighting. It is this vulnerability, and the question of what to do with it, which registers as the undercurrent of Reputation and propels Swift through the remainder of the album, past the introduction of new love (‘Gorgeous’, ‘King of My Heart’) and to the brilliant, answering last jab of ‘This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things’, which acts as an anthem to her “real friends” who don’t care about the “he said/she said”. The title of penultimate track, ‘Call It What You Want’ speaks for itself. By the time we reach the piano-led, softer closing track ‘New Year’s Day’, whether we believe her portrayal or not is no longer the issue; Swift opts to destroy the vulnerabilities associated with her reputation by the assertion that she has found not only herself, but the people to whom it doesn’t matter.
Reputation, then, is an album which is daring, mature, confrontational, and ultimately empowering, not because Swift declares she must be right, but because she found a way to move forward. It’s a sentiment, and strength, actually, which is very much the ‘old’ Taylor.
Reputation is out now via Big Machine Records