Taylor Swift’s sixth full-length album Reputation has finally arrived. After releasing her previous five albums like clockwork every two years, Taylor made fans wait an extra year to get their hands on this one.
Twenty-seven-year-old Taylor’s music has evolved over time, and that is one of the things that I like about her most. As a writer, a filmmaker, and an actor, I love to tell stories in all kinds of genres and within different mediums. So the idea that I would feel compelled or required to write, produce, or perform only one specific thing is actually kind of… horrifying. (Excuse the dramatics).
So I think it’s wonderful and not surprising that Taylor’s musical style has evolved over time. Where she is at right now is very different from where she started. There are elements of her songwriting that have stayed the same: her personal lyrics, her love of visual metaphors, and the fact that most of her songs have a strong hook and an interesting bridge. But genre-wise, in the decade-plus that she’s been on the musical scene, she’s morphed from pure country to EDM-esque pop.
Are there some fans that are disappointed by that evolution? Sure! But does she have new fans because of that? Of course! Is her evolving musical style a business strategy or is it because of her creative passion? Well, of course we can’t know that, but I’d assume it’s a bit of both. Because she’s ever-changing, she stays fresh to audiences. And because she’s ever-changing, she stays fresh and true to herself.
It seems to be human nature for us to expect others to fit into neat and tidy boxes, creatively and otherwise. It simplifies the world around us to be able to cleanly categorize it. However, I always applaud when an artist (or a person) breaks out of their “box.”
Before reviewing Reputation, let’s take a quick look back at Taylor’s previous five albums. I should note that I didn’t become a true “Swiftie” until the release of her fourth album Red, at which point I poured back through her older catalog of music (much to my sister’s delight who had been a die-hard fan since Taylor’s early days). Since I listen primarily to pop, rock, adult alternative, folk-rock, and film scores, I was previously only familiar with Taylor’s songs that had crossed over to pop radio. Now, of course, I know them all…
1. Taylor Swift (2006) – This one is pure country. She was only 16 years old when it was released, and she has writing credits on every single song. “Teardrops on my Guitar” is probably the best known song off this album because it crossed over to pop radio and charted on the Billboard Hot 100. However to me, hands-down the best song on this album is “Our Song,” which was her first Country Billboard #1 song. Taylor originally wrote this song as a freshman in high school about her boyfriend and performed it at the high school talent competition. It perfectly captures the innocent, giddy, emotional feelings of young love.
2. Fearless (2008) – While Taylor’s sophomore album is still rooted in country, this is when she starts to adopt more of a country-pop sound. There are fewer banjos and her voice has less twang. The most popular song off this album is the Romeo and Juliet-themed “Love Story.” It became one of the best-selling singles of all time internationally and at one point in time, it was the best-selling country single ever. As if that weren’t enough success for an 18-year-old, Taylor’s single “You Belong With Me” was also a huge international success and played non-stop on pop radio. Basically, if you didn’t know who Taylor Swift was before, this is the album that made you aware of her. She went from previously opening for Rascal Flatts to selling out arenas in her first headlining tour. Of Taylor’s first three albums which are more in a country vein, this is my favorite of the three.
3. Speak Now (2010) – On this album, all of the songs except for one are written solely by Taylor. Leaning even farther away from country and more towards pop, this is when Taylor’s personal life really, truly takes a front seat. The songs are hungrily dissected by fans and the media (as in, who is this song about?). Taylor certainly didn’t make it difficult to figure that out either with her lyrics or with the clues she hid in the liner notes of her album. “Dear John” was a barb at her short fling with musician John Mayer. “Better Than Revenge” is a swipe at Camilla Belle who dated Joe Jonas after Taylor did. “Back to December” is about her regrets with the way she ended it with Taylor Lautner. “Innocent” is a forgiving response to Kanye West’s rude interruption of her MTV Video Music Awards moment (or perhaps it’s a really a clever, passive-aggressive take-down).
Taylor’s blatant sharing and her wide open, volatile emotions are part of what makes her so appealing. She is raw and emotional and reactive (and remember, she’s only twenty years old at this point). She’s still the darling of country and the new girl on the pop-music block, so she can get away with lashing out at those who have hurt her. At this point, it feels like everyone is Team Taylor. All the gossip aside, to me the song that stands the test of time on this album is one that was never released as a single: “Last Kiss” with its poignant lyrics and sadly moving arrangement.
4. Red (2012) – For me, this is the Taylor album. This is the album that made me pour through her older albums and anticipate all of her new work. And this is the album that does not fit a single genre of music (or even two or three genres), but covers a broad expanse of musical sounds. In an interview with MTV news, Taylor said that the Red album was a “patchwork quilt of different sounds and different emotions.” That is true. The album features everything from alt-rock to dubstep to pop to pure country to adult alternative.
This album broke too many records to name, and I would be hard-pressed to pick favorite tracks off this album because it depends on my mood. However, one definite stand-out is the confessional, break-up ballad “All Too Well.” Taylor adeptly portrays the joy in the small details of falling in love and then how the weight of those details can haunt you after it ends. And if the powerful bridge of this song doesn’t get to you, then maybe you’ve been lucky enough to never have had the rug pulled out from underneath you: “You call me up again just to break me like a promise, so casually cruel in the name of being honest, I’m a crumpled up piece of paper lying here, ’cause I remember it all, all, all too well.”
5. 1989 (2014) – Goodbye, country. Hello, pop. This is the new era of Taylor. Granted, she was moving this way for six years, but this is the point that Taylor fully sheds her country roots and releases a pure pop album that is reminiscent of ’80s and ’90s pop. Named for her birth year, 1989 shattered even more records, including becoming the best-selling album of 2014 in the USA with total sales of 6 million as of 2016, while selling 10.1 million worldwide.
Taylor demonstrates more emotional maturity in this album, even poking fun at herself and the way the media portrays her as boy-crazy in the fun, clever song “Blank Space.” This album also includes the catchy bubble-gum positive-thinking anthem that will be stuck in your head until the day you die: “Shake it Off.” With 1989, Taylor seems to be coming into her own confidence, shrugging off the haters and stopping the romantic blame game. She’s weathered the ups and downs of enough romances now to know that it’s not all black and white and that she’s strong enough to bounce back. However, she does fall back on her old ways with the song “Bad Blood,” reportedly about Katy Perry stealing Taylor’s backup dancers and being mean to Taylor in general. Okay, so yeah… Taylor has some mixed messages in this one, but remember what I said about not needing to fit into a box?
While I already labeled Red as the quintessential Taylor Swift album because it showcases such a range of musical styles, I do love 1989 just as much. Three years later, the tracks that I’m still addicted to are the groovy “Style,” the pulsing, sultry “Wildest Dreams,” the heartrending “This Love,” the insightful “Clean,” and the fun, cool “Blank Space.”
And this brings us up to date. Yes, there have also been a handful of other singles released on soundtracks or in collaboration with other artists plus a Christmas EP, but the five albums detailed above cover the majority of Taylor’s musical history.
So about this new album…. Reputation…
In August, Taylor led off with her first single “Look What You Made Me Do.” It is an EDM-heavy song where she addresses her many beefs of the last few years (such as Kanye West and that whole he said-she said regarding his song “Famous” where he called Taylor a “bitch” and claimed he was the one who made her famous). Taylor has definitely taken a beating in the press and on social media in recent years and it appears that she has decided she is no longer going to shake it off. She’s pissed. Does it seem a bit regressive that she’s going back to songs where the focus is on taking down her “enemies.” Sure, yeah, it kind of does. But at the same time, with the fact that Taylor has barely said a word publicly regarding the Kanye West feud, her battle with Spotify, or the ongoing hostility with Katy Perry (who released her own single in response to “Bad Blood”), it would probably be more surprising if Taylor didn’t address it at all. I think her die-hard fans want her response.
With this song, Taylor is not exactly taking the high road or showing her “haters” that they can’t get under her skin. She’s broadcasting that they got to her and she wants their blood. Does that seem a bit immature? Maybe. However, consider this: Artistic people are often very sensitive people with strong feelings. Lots of highs and lows. And that intense passion and anger and joy and desire is what makes music great. I don’t want to listen to a song about a trip to the grocery store, do you? When I listen to music, I want to feel the highest highs and lowest lows. So sure, you can listen to Taylor’s “Look What You Made Me Do” and think, “Oh, come on. Get over it.” But at the same time, when you’re pissed off, don’t you secretly like songs just like this? I’ll admit that I do. Because the truth is that we can learn to not sweat the small stuff and we can think before we speak and be forgiving of others, but there is always going to be situations that bring out our junior high self that thinks: “I’ve got a list of names, and yours is in red underlined.” And hopefully when you are feeling that way, you don’t go out and do something hasty or stupid about it. Instead, you just crank up a song like this because Taylor put it into words and music for you.
Message aside, I liked the song “Look What You Made Me Do,” but it wasn’t a favorite for me in the canon of Taylor Swift. I found myself working out to it a lot. It’s a fantastic song for jump squats and lunges. And the music video for the song? Fun, fun, fun. Check it out here if you haven’t. She also displays the same type of self-deprecating wit she began to display on 1989 when she uses the last part of the video to poke fun at herself by lining up all the versions of Taylor through the years (infamous outfits and events) and having them take swipes at each other.
Next, the second promotional single released was “…Ready For It?” When I heard this, I again immediately knew it would be a good song for my work-out playlists. In fact, if I were still in high school, I’m positive we would have put it on our playlist for basketball game warm-ups . Taylor asks, “Are you ready for it?” and I see basketballs sailing through the net. Swish. But overall, I wasn’t jumping up and down in excitement over this single, because well, I’m not a high school basketball player anymore.
The third promotional single released was “Gorgeous.” I thought it was a cute pop gem with a good sing-along feel, but I couldn’t help but feel like it was a song that wouldn’t make a blip on anyone’s radar if it weren’t a Taylor Swift song. I was feeling a bit underwhelmed by it. However, historically Taylor’s promo singles are not necessarily my album favorites. For example, one of the promo singles from 1989 was “Welcome to New York,” which happened to be my least favorite track on that album. (When I told my sister that I was thinking I’d probably like Reputation but wasn’t so sure I’d love it, she reminded me of this fact).
And then the fourth promotional single “Call It What You Want” was released and I got more excited. This song falls into a sweet spot for me. I love mid-tempo songs that have a pulsating sound and a cool vibe and this song is in a really good vocal register for Taylor too. It sits in a spot where her voice sounds sexy and soulful. And I feel that the songwriting in the lyrics is strong.
So here we are today, the big release of Taylor’s sixth album!
I’ll provide my initial review of the album below, emphasis on the word “initial” because I’ve found with any artist, but especially with Taylor Swift, it’s hard to assess an album when you’ve only heard it all the way through a few times. Some songs will grow on me over time while others will fade faster.
Fifteen tracks in length, Reputation continues the pop feel of 1989, with an even stronger emphasis on the synthesizer sound of ’80s pop and fist-pumping shout-with-me choruses. It leans further into EDM and dance-pop. Basically, you can put this album on your iPod and kick some ass in your spinning class. I can already feel my glutes getting tighter.
Unlike all of Taylor’s previous albums, this one does not contain the ballads that many fans love her for. I’d say there’s only one song that’s even in the territory of being called a ballad (“New Years Eve”), and that’s more of a slow, talky song than a traditional ballad. That is one thing that I miss with this album.
Lyrics-wise, Taylor ventures into sexier territory. Taylor’s recounting of her romantic experiences makes her sound like a man-eater. She’s a bit jaded, but she’s almost proud of it. But don’t worry, you hopeless romantics and “Love Story” fans. This album covers three years of Taylor’s life, and by all accounts, she’s currently in a very happy and private relationship with British actor Joe Alwyn, so there are also several sweeter, romantic songs as well.
Let’s take a look at the songs. I’m going to break them into three tiers for analysis. Within the tier, they are listed in order of track listing:
Tier One Songs – The Best of the Best
I Did Something Bad
They say I did something bad
But why’s it feel so good?
Most fun I ever had
And I’d do it over and over and over again if I could
It just felt so good, good
It’s celebration of bad things, and oh, this song feels so good. You can’t listen to the chorus of this song and not want to move your body. If you’re in the club when they play this one, strobe lights will be going off all over the floor. And if you’re not in the club, you’ll see strobe lights in your head.
Don’t Blame Me
Lord, save me
My drug is my baby
I’ll be using for the rest of my life
Don’t blame me
Your love made me crazy
This song has a dark, sultry feel to it. I hear it and I think I want a cigarette (and I don’t even smoke). This song has a gospel stomping-clapping feel to it, except Taylor is not singing about Jesus. She’s singing about being addicted to her lover. I love the end of the song where the song strips down to a powerful chorus of voices and Taylor brings it home over the top of the layered voices.
Is it cool that I said all that?
Is it too soon to do this yet?
‘Cause I know that it’s delicate
Isn’t it? Isn’t it? Isn’t it?
In this steamy mid-tempo groove, Taylor expresses her vulnerability in an honest reflection of herself. And she captures the desire and uncertainty in the early, delicate stages of a new relationship. It has an addictive drumbeat as the musical backdrop.
There is an indentation in the shape of you
Made your mark on me, a golden tattoo
All of this silence and patience, pining and anticipation
My hands are shaking from holding back from you
All of this silence and patience, pining and desperately waiting
My hands are shaking from all this
This song is sexy, words and music. In fact, I hear shades of one of my favorite songs: Prince’s “Little Red Corvette.” Similar to Prince’s masterpiece, the chorus pines and wails in a breathy falsetto as Taylor sings, “Only bought this dress so you could take it off.” And those are the best kind of dresses, after all.
Call It What You Want
All my flowers grew back as thorns
Windows boarded up after the storm
He built a fire just to keep me warm
All the drama queens taking swings
All the jokers dressin’ up as kings
They fade to nothing when I look at him
And I know I make the same mistakes every time
Bridges burn, I never learn, at least I did one thing right
I did one thing right
I already professed my love of this pulsating, cool song earlier in the blog where I discussed the release of the Reputation promo singles. This song slinks and it slithers its way into your head, while the sweet message works its way into your heart.
New Year’s Day
Don’t read the last page
But I stay when you’re lost and I’m scared and you’re turning away
I want your midnights
But I’ll be cleaning up bottles with you on New Year’s Day
The slowest song on the entire album, “New Years Day” isn’t a traditional ballad. It’s more of a soft, talky song over a piano melody. It’s a sweet love song about sticking it out in a relationship. It fills your head with visuals of a New Year’s Party and the morning after clean-up, which of course is all a metaphor for relationships. The arrangement of the song’s chorus reminds me a lot of “Never Grow Up” off the Speak Now album. There is a lullaby quality to it. Beautiful song.
Tier Two Songs
… Ready For It?
Me, I was a robber
First time that he saw me
Stealing hearts and running off and never saying sorry
But if I’m a thief then he can join the heist
And we’ll move to an island – and
And he can be my jailer
This song has so many different moving parts: A sweetly sung melody, a talking-rapping section, and the heavy bass line that asks, “Are you ready for it?” Sports teams around the world will be playing this one for years to come.
Look What You Made Me Do
The world moves on, another day, another drama, drama
But not for me, not for me, all I think about is karma
And then the world moves on, but one thing’s for sure
Maybe I got mine, but you’ll all get yours
I discussed this EDM-pop song in depth in the promo singles section. Basically, it’s fantastic for working out and if you’ve followed the drama of Taylor’s feuds in the tabloids, you can finally hear her response to all of that in this song.
So It Goes…
I’m yours to keep
And I’m yours to lose
You know I’m not a bad girl, but I
Do bad things with you
I’m pretty sure there was a fog machine going in the recording studio when Taylor recorded this one. Well, not really, but this song just feels so moody. And when she sings about “the scratches down your back,” I’m hooked.
You should think about the consequence
Of your magnetic field being a little too strong
This is a charming song with a good enough sing-along quality to it that gets stuck in my head and find myself singing and humming it. I was initially underwhelmed by it, but it grew on me.
X marks the spot, where we fell apart
He poisoned the well, I was lying to myself
I knew it from the first old fashion, we were cursed
We never had a shotgun shot in the dark
This one is a fun, catchy pop song that I think might have legs. It reminds me a bit of “Style” off the 1989 album, which I liked initially but three years later is my favorite song off that album. Time will tell, but I think it’s possible this is a song with longevity. And I’m sure Taylor’s most rabid fans are having a heyday dissecting who the two men are that she’s singing about in this one.
Tier Three Songs
I want to like this song, and I do like it… sort of. It has fun shining moments, like when Taylor belts out the lines: ” Big reputation, big reputation! Ooh, you and me, we got big reputations. Aah, and you heard about me. Ooh, I got some big enemies.” Yet it feels to me like this song never fully finds its legs. Plus, I’m not crazy about the guest bits in this song from Future and Ed Sheeran (and I’m an Ed Sheeran fan). Something about this song doesn’t fully work for me… and yet, it’s a catchy enough jam that it’s not a song I’d skip past or change the channel on. And that is one of Taylor’s gifts. She can write a song that you aren’t even sure you like, and you still listen to the damn thing. Over and over. Until possibly a Tier Three song becomes a Tier One song.
King of My Heart
The verses start out as a mid-tempo, finger-snapping diddy and then it morphs into an EDM synthesizer-heavy chorus. This song is a body-and-soul commitment to her love and a celebration of her new beginning: “My broken bones are mending with all these nights we’re spending.”
Dancing With Our Hands Tied
This song is kind of a downer. Parts of it are fast enough to feel like a dance song… almost. It’s a melancholy tune that’s a bit monotonous. Probably my least favorite track on the album.
This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
This song is very obviously directed at Kanye West (and wife Kim Kardashian). If you don’t know what feud I’m referencing (the recent one, not the MTV Awards one), you can Google it and find a ton of articles. Suffice to say, I’m sure many of her fans will love this barbed response. To me, this is just a cutesy party song that reminds me of Avril Lavigne.
Many creative people are chameleons and would prefer to create in that way. Genre-switching is certainly not an idea pioneered by Taylor, but it’s much easier for her to successfully pull it off because she is a global superstar with an incredibly loyal fan base and she writes strong song hooks, in any genre. Other musical artists that attempt genre shifts or full-on switches usually have less favorable results. And if an artist doesn’t want to get dropped by their record label, they need to deliver sales. The reality of a creative life is that economics sometimes play an even stronger role than artistic desire. That often means giving fans what they want and anticipate and expect. Taylor was careful in her genre switch though, slowly evolving her style over years. It’s not like she jumped from boot-stomping “Our Song” straight to hip-hop infused “Bad Blood.” So in many ways, by the time she switched from pure country to full pop, it was anticipated and embraced by her fans and it garnered her new ones.
Reputation is dance-heavy album with strong hooks. Given the title of the album and the content of the lead-off single “Look What You Made Me Do,” I was expecting that this album would have more songs directed at Taylor’s enemies and frenemies. I was happy to discover that was not the case. The content is actually more focused on her own growth, perspectives, and feelings about herself and her romances, completely independent of all that drama. Yes, she dishes a bit of dirt, but mostly this album is full of sexy love songs.
While I wish there were some classic Taylor ballads on this album, I really like Reputation as a whole. It’s a solid album that shows Taylor’s artistry in a slightly different light as she steps into a heavier dance-EDM vibe.
There are some definite stand-out songs for me. I’m already addicted to “I Did Something Bad,” “Don’t Blame Me,” “Dress,” “Delicate,” and “Call It What You Want.” There are many other songs that I like or that I suspect will grow on me. It’s too early for me to classify how much I like this album in comparison to her other albums, but perhaps I’ll check back in a few weeks and add a footnote to let you know.
What do you think of Reputation? What are your favorite songs? Share your thoughts in the comments section.
Hallie Shepherd is a writer, actress, and film producer. Follow her on Instagram where she celebrates the stories we tell.
Wonderful post Hallie! Although not a huge fan, I like many of her songs. I love how you make the observation that artist are usually uncomfortable when put inside the en at boxes society dictates. It’s cruel to our creative flow.
Thank you! Yeah, unfortunately, artists are often thought of as brands. I agree that it’s not good for our creativity. You just have to create what you’re passionate about and hopefully people connect!
Wicked assessment! I love the new album even more than 1989. I’m going crazy over Don’t Blame Me. That song is one of my favorite Taylor songs ever. I also like Ready For It, Getaway Car, and Delicate.
Agreed – Don’t Blame me is highly addictive. One of her best.
Thanks for such a comprehensive portrait and review!????