Taylor Alison Swift was born into a wealthy family. At the age of 14, she decided she wanted to be a superstar, so she moved her family to Nashville and her father bought stock in the record company which would ultimately sign her.
For a few years, she pretended to be America’s sweetheart by releasing country music like “Our Song” and “You Belong With Me.” Then, once she had us ensnared in her trap, she completely sold out, and started making painfully bland pop hits, going on stadium tours and jacking up the price of nosebleeds.
Ever since then, Swift has become obsessed with doing a series of increasingly petty things: including, but not limited to, making herself the victim in any given situation (even those entirely unrelated to her), lying about Kanye reaching out before releasing a controversial lyric, making culturally appropriative music videos, teaming with Ticketmaster to take advantage of her fans, releasing all of her music on Spotify the day Katy Perry’s new album came out and now releasing her new album “reputation” on the 10-year anniversary of Kanye’s mom’s death. The last one may be a coincidence, but as a journalist, I am paid to not believe in coincidences.
So, full disclosure, I came into listening to her new album with some reservations. Also, Taylor is a greedy douche and decided to wait a week to stream her album. After fruitless hours trying to pirate it, I caved and bought it on iTunes. I paid for Taylor Swift music. What have I become? Her little scheme seemed to work, because apparently she sold 700,000 copies on the first day just in the United States, numbers unheard of these days.
Taylor made the bold claim in her initial single “Look What You Made Me Do” that the “old Taylor” was “dead.” The album’s title “reputation” (which is decapitalized for some godforsaken reason [you’re not LCD Soundsystem, Taylor]) implies that she will comment on some of the controversy surrounding her.
For the album, Swift reunited with legendary pop producer Jack Antonoff, who helped write a majority of the songs. Antonoff, known for fun. and Bleachers, has won Grammys for songwriting, working with the likes of Tegan and Sara, Grimes, Sia, St. Vincent and P!nk.
Most of the songs on “reputation” start with 80s synthwave, playing into the fetishized nostalgia of the era. But the music inevitably devolves into contemporary house, borderline dubstep, EDM. Production-wise, the album sounds nice. It’s like a really sleek-looking car that can’t actually go fast and doesn’t handle well.
The first two songs have a hip-hop flavor. Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran collaborate with Future on “End Game.” I’m not sure who disappoints more: Future’s shameless cash grab or Taylor Swift blatantly pandering to black fans in the face of accusations calling her a white supremacist sympathizer. I suppose the Atlanta mumble trapper just wants to get paid and I never respected Taylor in the first place. God bless.
The final lines of the poem “The Hollow Men” by T.S. Eliot read “This is the way the world ends/not with a bang but a whimper.” That’s all good and well, but I believe the world ends with Taylor Swift rapping. Maybe not literally, but culturally. Cue the gifs of Taylor dancing off beat.
Sound engineers clearly manipulate Swift’s voice in several songs. It’s true: she does not have the natural pipes like Adele or Beyoncé to carry a pop ballad. We could forgive this if she had the songwriting ingenuity of Charli XCX or Rae Jepsen, but she doesn’t.
This is obligatory section of the review where I point out that’s it not all bad. “Delicate” and “Gorgeous” are fun, catchy songs. “Getaway Car” and “Call It What You Want” feel like driving with the windows down just before dusk in the reckless, romantic summertime.
The worst part of the album is that it has no voice or point-of-view. It has no direct vision or consistent style. Swift and her team are a nameless, faceless hit generator.
What follows is a collection of what I like to call “OMG so relatable!!” lyrics, indulging her Tumblr millennial listeners. In the song “Gorgeous” she sings, “I guess I’ll stumble on home to my cats…alone.” In the song “Dress” she sings, “I’m spilling wine in the bath tub.”
What follows is a collection of the most passive aggressive lyrics on the album. In her song “So It Goes…” she sings, “You did a number on me/But who’s counting?” In the song “Call It Want You Want” she sings, “They took the crown but it’s alright/All the liars are calling me one/Nobody’s heard from me for months/I’m doing better than I ever was.” She (actually) has a song called “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things,” on which she sings, “This is why we can’t have nice things, darling/Because you break them/I had to take them away.”
In the same song, she addresses the ongoing Kanye West issue, singing, “And therein lies the issue/Friends don’t try to trick you/Get you on the phone and mind-twist you/And so I took an ax to a mended fence/But I’m not the only friend you’ve lost lately/If only you weren’t/So shady.” Perhaps it’s not the best idea to publicly call out someone currently grappling with depression and paranoia, but what do I know? To hell with being the bigger person. (Insert snake emoji)
Through her lyrics, Swift perpetuates the stereotype to her young, impressionable listeners that love should be melodramatic and tragic to achieve a sort of warped glamour. In the song “Gorgeous” she sings, “You make me so happy it turns back to sad/There’s nothing I hate more than what I can’t have.” In the song “Don’t Blame Me” she sings, “Your love made me crazy/If it doesn’t, you ain’t doin’ it right/Lord, save me/My drug is my baby/I’ll be usin’ for the rest of my life.” In the song “I Did Something Bad” she sings, “I never trust a narcissist/but they love me/So I play them like a violin, and make it look oh so easy.”
In the song “End Game” she sings, “You and me would be a big conversation.” Perhaps the demise of so many of her public relationships come from her obsession with her image. On the song “Delicate” she sings, “My reputation’s never been worse, so he must like me for me.” Instead of opening up and discussing why her reputation is so poor, she uses it as a device to make herself the victim yet again. “I don’t love the drama/the drama loves me” she spits on “End Game.” Sure, Taylor. She acts like she wishes to shirk all of the negative press surrounding her, but she can’t let it go. She fuels it. She thrives on it.
She spends the whole album talking about herself, but she never really says anything. Swift is that person at the party who continuously redirects every conversation to make it about them, never really listening but waiting for an opportunity to interject.
All great art is narcissistic. However, few albums have gotten away with being so overtly self-referential. The best include “The Wall” by Pink Floyd and, ironically, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” by Kanye West. Those albums succeed because of Roger Waters’ attention to detail and Kanye’s willingness to bare his soul. Swift refuses to be truly vulnerable, and acts defensive: criticizing the media, other celebrities, even her fans, pretty much everyone but herself.
This is not the worst album you will hear all year, but it’s far from the best. Even the highest highs on Swift’s “reputation” can’t reconcile her real life reputation.