Tom Kinzinger ‘18
First, a word about my credentials as a Swiftie. I’ve been on the Taylor Swift train since Fearless dropped in 2008, before most of you reading this were even born. I have spent literal actual money to buy her albums (unlike everything else I listen to, which I stream or YouTube like a normal person). I have her discography on my phone at all times, the official calendar hanging on my kitchen wall, and many square feet of my living space converted into a shrine at which I perform weekly sacrifices of the merchandise of whoever she’s been most recently feuding with. (Incidentally, burning Katy Perry vinyls can cause releases of toxic chemicals. Remember to make sure your sacrificial altar is located in a well-ventilated antechamber of your sanctum.) With all this in mind, light your incense, don your cat-ears headbands and heart-eyes sunglasses, and let’s take a deep dive into Taylor Swift’s latest studio album, reputation.
Okay, so this album is…fractured. If 1989 represented a dalliance into the pop world, reputation is a full-on drink-the-kool-aid conversion, the Transfiguration of Taylor into Pop Goddess, Destroyer of Katy Perries and Eviscerator of Spotifies. However, the album’s fatal flaw is its attempt to give everybody what they want rather than just choosing a style and sticking with it, and the result is a half-hearted album whose first third sounds like rehashed early-00’s EDM, transitioning into a middle third that’s even more rehashed late-80’s pop, then shifting into—well, we’re getting to that. Moreover, I couldn’t help but think that most of these songs had been or could have been done better by some other artist. Let’s consider each third of the album in turn.
Part the First: I Almost Cut Myself on that Edge
Here we find the album opener “…Ready For It?” with its throbbing bass smacking you right in the face and hammering home the fact that you are entering the dark, gritty reboot of the Taylorverse. America’s Pop Goddess is now a Nolanesque avenger of internet slights. We barely have time to wonder how much better this would sound as a Rihanna or Demi Lovato track before we hit “I Did Something Bad,” in which New Taylor claims to have “done something bad” and enjoyed it, sounding for all the world like a college freshman taking that first shot of tequila, launching into a fifteen-minute coughing fit, and then insisting that the experience was in fact enjoyable. Hmm, maybe this Dark Queen of Dancepop shoe does not quite fit the foot. If you had any doubts that New Taylor is going for edgy, then the following track “Don’t Blame Me” confirms it: for the first time in recorded history, Taylor Swift says the word “shit” on a recorded song.
The front end of this album gives us also “End Game,” with its nice percussive beat and lyrics mostly consisting of languid “ooooooohs” and “aaaaaaahs.” Future phones in 22 seconds of banalities before presumably cashing his check and getting out of there as fast as possible, while Ed Sheeran, notable English crooner, swoops in to…hang on, is he attempting to rap? Oh man, this is the most cringeworthy interlude in a Taylor Swift song since the spoken-word segment of “Shake It Off,” and that one was pretty egregious.
Part the Second: And Now for Something Completely Different
Moving right along, the middle third of the album is reminiscent of 1989 and contains many of the same poppy themes and melodies, here reflected through the three years of sulking, revenge-plotting, and browsing through the dark corners of the internet New Taylor must have been doing since that album dropped. “Look What You Made Me Do” is a banger of the first order in which New Taylor commandeers Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy” beat to remind us that we collectively drove the Old Taylor into madness. The good vibes left after I’m done nodding along to this song are almost immediately soured by the horrendously misconceived “Gorgeous,” which would be an endearing confession of being besotted if the melody over which it was sung was not so—there’s no other word for it—annoying.
“Delicate” is one of the unambiguously good songs on the album, with its mellifluous pop melodies accompanied by New Taylor’s repeated inquiries as to whether something she said was “cool” or “chill” (as if New Taylor needs our approval anyway). If you turn up the volume and play this track backwards, you can actually hear the Old Taylor straining against the walls of the New Taylor persona, struggling to burst out of the mind prison and strum along on a Bedazzled guitar. Ditto for “Getaway Car,” which flirts with being a good song: it’s another wistful recapitulation of a bad relationship gone south, but this trope has been done to death in much better ways by better artists, including Old Taylor herself. See, e.g., “Back to December,” “The Way I Loved You,” etc.
The less said about “King of My Heart,” the better. At eleven tracks in, nothing has really stood out; most of these songs would have been better converted into some other genre or done by someone else. Let’s hop right ahead to “Dancing With Our Hands Tied,” which sounds like it could have been decent EDM-infused dance-pop if it didn’t sound so half-hearted and…and…wait a minute…hang on…no, it can’t be…Goddess forbid…is this album actually…BAD?!?
Part the Third: All Hope Abandon, Ye Who Enter Here
I can’t really categorize the songs on the latter third of the record (namely, “Dress,” “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things,” “Call It What You Want,” and “New Year’s Day”), even though they would all probably fit into the above-two categories, because at some point during “Dancing With Our Hands Tied” I’ve realized that Taylor Swift has made her first bad record and I undergo a complete and total breakdown of faith. When I hear the bass thuds of “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” they sound as rolls of distant thunder on some faraway ocean because at this point I’m lying catatonic on the floor with my hands clamped firmly over my ears as I plead for someone to make it stop. I understand suddenly how the Millerites must have felt at the Great Disappointment of October 22, 1844, a date when William Miller predicted the occurrence of the Second Coming but which in fact turned out to be a run-of-the-mill nineteenth-century Tuesday. Taylor Swift, the One True Pop Goddess, has let us down, Old Taylor is not coming back for us, and lol nothing matters.
In sum, this album is not good. In fact, in certain spots it’s actually pretty bad. I loved 1989 and am probably listening to it whenever you see me in the hallway with earbuds stuffed in my ears so that I can avoid doing the stop-and-chat with you, but reputation took all of 1989’s pop experimentation and learned precisely the wrong lessons from it. Simply giving the people what you think they want cannot be the key to artistic and commercial success. There’s nothing really original in this album and, with the exception of “Look What You Made Me Do,” there’s nothing I would stomp my feet and shout along to at the Virginian the next time I’m drunk enough to voluntarily walk in there. Oh, well, at least we’ll always have the Old Taylor, and I’ve heard rumors an acoustic version of “Delicate” will be included on the reputation deluxe edition coming out early next year. Now excuse me while I go back and listen to “All Too Well” on repeat to make sure I can still feel things.