T-Swift attempts rebellion with ‘Reputation’

Jacob Pitts
Staff Writer

COUTESY OF BILLBOARD.COM

Swift’s latest release strays from her “good girl” image and true out a more edgy and rebellious aesthetic this time around.

A legal battle with the American Civil Liberties Union is never a good look during album launch week, but on “Reputation,” Taylor Swift compensates for bad publicity with quality tunes.

Three years after Swift’s massive 1989 era success, the singer has become highly polarizing, releasing her lead single “Look What You Made Me Do” last August, which is featured on this album.

“The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Because she’s dead!” is a line spoken during the bridge of the song that’s particularly cringe-worthy because you can feel how hard she’s trying to make it sound effortless and natural. Swift clearly wanted to make an edgy, rebellious comeback, but it just fell flat.

The petty, vindictive lyrics in “Look What You Made Me Do” are something to be appreciated, however. Taylor has notoriously caused a stir over the last few years for playing the victim both in her music and at the center of various celebrity feuds (Katy, Calvin, Kanye and Kim, to name just a few.) It hit me on this track that she has transformed from victim to villain.

The song samples “Operate” by Peaches, recognizably a song featured in the movie “Mean Girls.” This could be a subtle wink to Taylor’s critics, who have branded her the “Regina George” of pop music.

She finally owns up to being a drama queen and milks it for all it’s worth, something nobody saw coming from her, and it works surprisingly well.

This newfound self-awareness is definitely one of the highlights of “Reputation.” One of Taylor’s past flaws was often taking herself too seriously, but the album is sprinkled with self-referential Easter eggs in which she has no reservations about poking fun at herself here. This is especially evident on the catchy earworm, “Gorgeous,” where she quips about being a lonely cat lady.

Sound-wise, the album continues what “1989” started. It delves deeper into electronic pop, with pulsing bass-lines dominating “I Did Something Bad,” “King Of My Heart” and the adrenaline rush of “…Ready For It?” which wouldn’t sound out of place in a James Bond car chase scene.

The only acoustic song on the entire record is the closing track, “New Year’s Day,” which is the first Swift song being played on country radio since the “Red” album dropped in 2012.

One of the weaknesses of “Reputation” is definitely Taylor’s talk-singing. Most distracting on the second single and album opener “…Ready For It?” and the Ed Sheeran/Future collaboration “End Game,” I felt myself wincing at a flaw that felt similar to the “Look What You Made Me Do” bridge.

It’s also not clear if Swift is really as enlightened and self-aware as she suggests. I can’t help but wonder if this is just what she thinks her critics want to hear from her. Either way, it’s clear she still doesn’t think she did anything wrong to warrant all of the media backlash she’s been getting.

On “I Did Something Bad,” she sings, “They’re burning all the witches even if you aren’t one, so go ahead and light me up.”

The present-day Taylor Swift, who brags about having a hit list, being trusted by nobody and starring in the nightmares of her enemies, is such a far cry from the Taylor we used to know. I find this character development to be nothing short of fascinating.

Overall, “Reputation” has plenty of fun moments, and it’s refreshing to see Swift embrace the media’s perception of her as a cold, calculating mastermind. It’s questionable whether Swift herself even believes this persona she’s selling, but it’s worth a listen regardless.

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