Taylor Swift’s songwriting talent is undeniable. Although I’ve never been a fan of hers, I respect her influence on pop culture. Taylor’s die-hard fans (affectionately named “Swifties”) are pretty obnoxious. What global pop icon’s fans aren’t? Over time, though, I have grown tired of people claiming her as the best artist out. I love pop music as much as the next guy. Yet, even in a commercially driven genre, sales mean very little to me. In just three days, reputation sold nearly a million copies collectively. As I was driving home last night, I saw this album cover on the side of a UPS delivery van. Taylor wants the world to know she’s back. Coming off of her Grammy-winning magnum opus, 1989, Swift has seen a shift in her overall likability. Listening through this album, it is clear that she has been a sweetheart her entire life, which is annoying.
I don’t want to get too personal here. Nevertheless, this album’s subject matter forces its hand. When Kanye’s The Life of Pablo album released, he put Taylor on blast like he often does with, well, everybody. Both in his “Famous” lyrics and in real life, ‘Ye held no punches. His wife, the infamously famous Kim Kardashian, posted a controversial SnapChat video, pinning Taylor Swift as a fraud. Before finalizing his tongue-in-cheek lyric “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex,” the rapper asked for her permission. She claimed that she was offended and shocked by West’s behavior. Kim’s evidence said otherwise. In a phone conversation, Swift not only approved of Kanye’s lyrics, she appreciated the gesture. It seems like Kanye had the right intentions, though I’m sure being called a ‘bitch’ in a popular song doesn’t feel good. She gave her blessing nonetheless. That’s my issue with her.
Taylor Swift is America’s pop princess. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, when the majority of the country adores you, it goes to your head. The effects of this controversy were too much for Taylor to bear apparently. She took a leave of absence from social media and began writing this new album. Sure, she lied. But Swift is blowing a small blemish way out of proportion on reputation. Her defensive Instagram caption appeared all the way back in July of 2016. Who on Earth is still concerned with this? Unfortunately, Taylor is, and her fans are eating it up. I will say, though, this mostly shallow narrative of ‘poor me’ does breed some artistic ambition. The album’s second track “End Game” pairs Swift with Ed Sheeran and Future. This might be the oddest collaboration in recent history. Surprisingly, it works well. Future’s contribution was typical, in my opinion.
Conversely (I can’t believe I’m saying this), Ed Sheeran went off! This man actually snapped on the beat. His flow gave the track a burst of life. Taylor did her thing too. Another standout track is “Delicate”. One of few here with genuine personality, “Delicate” balances Swift’s vulnerability with the courage to speak her heart. In addition, its production isn’t trying too hard to be something it’s not. Pop producer-songwriters Max Martin and Jack Antonoff show up often on reputation. Legends in their own right, these pop heavyweights ended up disappointing me for the most part. Antonoff, as he showed earlier this year, is much more effective alongside Lorde. Some of his beats here sound like Melodrama knockoffs. The repeated fluttering percussion loops throughout the album dilute its overall aesthetic. Many of these tracks sound like mere wallpaper, especially when compared to Swift’s previous discography.
Taylor Swift is an artist who has built an empire off of hit singles. The promotional tracks leading up to reputation are easily some of her most forgettable. Lead single “Look What You Made Me Do” is a bratty pile of rubbish. Sampling the infamous “I’m Too Sexy,” its hook has absolutely zero thought put into it. Tracks such as “Look What You Made Me Do,” “Don’t Blame Me,” and “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” feed into this album’s hollow theme. Taylor attempts to convey that her reputation has somehow been tarnished. I don’t know how that’s possible considering her record-breaking album sales. To me, all she accomplishes here is playing the victim. I might be able to excuse some of her pettiness if these songs had true lasting power. They do not, however. If you’re a hardcore Swiftie, then sure, you’ll defend this album.
But that behavior is predictable — much like most of the material heard on reputation. This album would have greatly benefited from a shorter tracklist. 11 tracks would suffice; nine is preferable (my personalized track listing can be found below in the Comments). Despite a meaningful moment or two like “Dress” and “Call It What You Want,” this album repeats the same bland storylines. Without punchy singles to write home about, Swift’s childish lyricism stumbles. This left a bad taste in my mouth for the majority of this project. After all that time away from the limelight, this is the result? reputation proves that Taylor Swift has no pressure to be great. Fans will keep buying and she will keep supplying overhyped pop music. Honestly, I enjoyed most of 1989, though I’ve never remotely been a fan. Yet this comeback album places Swift back at the helm of commercial mediocrity.