Taylor Swift: Reputation – clever songwriting, beauty in tiny details
With references to past spats and lovers, Reputation could well be the singer’s coming-of-age album
Taylor Swift’s Reputation, her new album that will sell by the truck load, is a new dawn in the singer’s career and she’s cleaning up all of the extracurricular and very public drama she took part in (or orchestrated) for the last few years. When you listen to Swift’s music, you generally need a fine comb to work your way through all of the references but when she went into overload with album precursor Look What You Made Me Do in August, it felt like a bad omen in a year where almost everything is a bad omen.
For the last 18 months or so, Taylor went into hiding. She retreated to recover from the media backlash she suffered and on Reputation, she’s showing us the scars.
She’s lost friends and she’s not afraid to tell you that some of them are now enemies but when she boasts about that on This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things and End Game, it feels unintentionally sad.
End Game, Don’t Blame Me, Gorgeous, Dancing with our Hands Tied and Dress are all a bit so-so – but once you get to Delicate, Getaway Car and New Year’s Day, she returns to clever and insightful songwriting, finding tenderness and beauty in tiny details.
Taylor’s career is built on heartbreak and while her older songs held a starry-eyed optimism that love will save day, she’s knows a little bit better now but instead of examining the wounds, she holds a grudge and doubles up on her ammunition.
New Year’s Day, the final song on the album, is the finest. It’s simple in its delivery and after 14 songs of sex, petty revenge and toying with an R&B sound, it feels like she’s got something out of her system.
Thankfully, her sixth album isn’t a total pity party. She plays up to the image of her in the media, as a vindictive and ruthless lone-ranger, taking shots at anyone who has ever looked at her sideways. The friends that she once sang about on songs such as 22 from her 2012 album Red have thinned out and in their place, it’s a me-against-the-world attitude, until she lets down her guard and finds someone to share her kingdom with. “I’m perfectly fine, I live on my own/ I made up my mind, I’m better off being alone,” she sings on the awfully titled King of my Heart. “And all at once, you are the one I have been waiting for/ King of my heart, body and soul”.
Maybe Reputation is Taylor’s coming-of-age album, something that most of her peers did five years ago, and while it’s messy in parts, if it’s what she needs to do to get her on to the next phase, well, I guess we’ll just have to go along with it.
Reputation: track by track
1.Ready For It?
Released as the album’s second promo single, …Ready For It? lets us know that it’s no more Mrs Nice Swift with ominous synths. As the opening song on the album, it’s a declaration that the will be no banjos on this album. Country Taylor, much like the old Taylor, is dead. It’s all soaring pop and borrowed R&B hooks from here on out.
Key line: “And he can be my jailer/ Burton to this Taylor/ Every love I’ve known in comparison is a failure.”
2. End Game (featuring Ed Sheeran and Future)
“Big reputation, ooh, you and me, we got big reputations and you heard about me, ooh, I got some big enemies,” she gnarls over a booming drumbeat. She tells us that drama just loves her, like it’s news. As the second song on a highly-anticipated album, it’s a lifeless dud. It’s a filler bonus track placed too high on the tracklist, with added autotune and Ed Sheeran rapping.
Key line: “And I bury hatchets, but I keep maps of where I put ‘em.”
3. I Did Something Bad
We learn that Taylor does not trust narcissists or playboys but I believe she’s trying to tell us that she may have had sex with one and the other. We officially have a sex song but she doesn’t hang around; neither is she looking back, which you would believe if the rest of the album wasn’t about seeking revenge. With faux gun-shots lining the chorus, she’s on a killing spree and, yeah, she’s loving it.
Key line: “They’re burning all the witches, even if you aren’t one/ So light me up.”
4. Don’t Blame Me
Love is a drug, baby, one she’ll be using for the rest of her life. Lyrically, though, Taylor is ticking off cliché after cliché. Singing in a lower, gospel tone, the chorus sounds an awful lot like Hozier’s Take Me to Church but it falls flat, even with all of that expensive Max Martin production.
Key line: “My name is whatever you decide/ And I’m just gonna call you mine/ I’m insane, but I’m your baby.”
“My reputation’s never been worse, so you must like me for me,” she sings softly. There’s a theme here but, finally, the album gets into the swing of things with Delicate. She’s done proving that she’s a bad gal, revealing a softer side under swirling synths and by using her staggered phrasing, she succeeds in telling an entire story in just a few lines.
Key line: “Third floor on the west side, me and you/ Handsome, your mansion with a view/ Do the girls back home touch you like I do?”
6. Look What You Made Me Do
Sampling Right Said Fred’s I’m Too Sexy, Look What You Made Me Do was the first single of Taylor’s “take no prisoners” phase and taking aim at Kanye West, who she has a mild rivalry with, it’s a manic trip into the dark and insecure part of Taylor’s psyche. “I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me,” says the woman who’s suing a blogger for claiming that there’s an association between her and white supremacists.
Key line: “”I’m sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now”/ “Why?”/ ”Oh, ‘cause she’s dead!”
7. So It Goes…
Another sex song. And another song that needs an ellipsis to make a point. So It Goes… picks up where I Don’t Wanna Live Forever, Taylor’s contribution to the 50 Shades of Grey movie franchise, leaves off. She’s gonna wear this man like a necklace, which sounds deeply unpleasant.
Key line: “You did a number on me but, honestly, baby, who’s counting? 1… 2… 3.”
This is the weakest song of the lot. Maybe it’s intended as a joke, hopefully, because she rhymes face with face.
Key line: “There’s nothing I hate more than what I can’t have/Guess I’ll just stumble on home to my cats/ Alone/ Unless you wanna come along.”
9. Getaway Car
Here we go! She’s back on form! Taylor works best when she’s not trying to seduce or blatantly call out one of her celebrity rivals. This is like a 1989 deep cut – both the album and the year – and it’s one of the best songs on the album. Again, showing her storyteller prowess, this song could be about anyone’s love life, and not just her specific billionaire boyfriends. You see, relatability is important sometimes.
Key line: “X marks the spot, where we fell apart/ He poisoned the well, every man for himself/ I knew it from the first old fashion, we were cursed/ It hit you like a shotgun shot in the heart.”
10. King of my Heart
When you live a fast-paced life like Taylor, the money and the cars can get tired. On King of my Heart, she finds a man that can take her places that all the boys with “their Range Rovers and their Jaguar” never could. On 2014’s Shake It Off, Taylor had to shake off the haters but on Reputation, she’s shaking off her former life and this guy, who’s fitter than all of her ex-boyfriends, she’ll have you know, seems to be a big part of her reinvention.
Key line: “Up on the roof with a school girl crush/ Drinking beer out of plastic cups/ Say you fancy me, not fancy stuff.”
11. Dancing with our Hands Tied
Ever the romantic, Taylor looks back, all the way to when she was 25, and remembers the great love that got away. And if my maths are correct, and they rarely are, she was 25 when she was with Scottish DJ Calvin Harris, who she dumped to get with Tom Hiddleston, who has now been replaced with the British actor Joe Alwyn. Using words like “fit”’ and “fancy’ in her lyrics, and with a history of dating men from the UK, she’s quite the Anglophile on this record.
Key line: “I’d hold you as the water rushes in/ If I could dance with you again/ I’d kiss you as the lights went out/ Swaying as the room burned down.”
A bit of a non-event, relying too much on the line below to deliver a punch.
Key line: “Carve your name into my bedpost/ Cause I don’t want you like a best friend/ Only bought this dress on you could take it off, take it off”
13. This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
Bad Blood II. Referring to the big 4th of July parties Taylor was famous for throwing, it was all fun and games until someone stabbed her in the back. “Here’s a toast to my real friend,” indicates that this might be another Kanye dig, referencing his 2011 song Runaway, but it could also be about Katy Perry, Kim Kardashian and all the models and actors she used to invite around to her massive, beach-side mansion. It’s cartoonish, pointed and over-the-top and while it sounds like a My Chemical Romance cast-off, it’s ridiculously fun.
Key line: “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”
14. Call It What You Want
Reputation now feels like quite a sad album because, basically, she’s lost all of her mates but at least she’s having loads of sex.
Key line: “I recall late November, holding my breath/ Slowly I said, ‘You don’t need to save me/ But would you run away with me?’”
15. New Year’s Day
She’s finally put the synths away for the final track, a very simple piano-led song – and quite a sad one. Even though she came in hard with …Ready For It?, the album closes on a softer note. Cleaning up after a New Year’s party with her new beau, it’s a metaphor because Taylor loves a good metaphor. It’s clean slates, fresh starts and promises of forever. It’s as if all the begrudgery of the last few years is done and dusted, much like the floor after her New Year’s party. Metaphors… they work.
Key line: “Please don’t ever become a stranger whose laugh I could recognise anywhere.”