Review: Taylor Swift “Reputation”

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You love her, you hate her. She loves you, she hates you. But one thing you can’t deny is that she is a powerhouse of songwriting and personality. She’s the music industry’s golden girl with a savagely dark attitude. After attempting to disappear from the spotlight, Taylor Swift is back nastier than ever with her sixth studio album, “Reputation”, which is an edgy and aggressive display of craftsmanship that contains some of her best work to date, and makes her last album, “1989”, sound like a timid first attempt at her full embrace of modern pop (a departure that really began as soon as she released her 2012 song, ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’.)

But for all her awards and accolades, “Reputation” album sees Swift in a bit of a defensive mode. Fresh off of publicity fall outs, like her never-ending feud with rapper Kanye West, she sings from a position of a cat in a corner—claws out ready to defend herself at all costs. Tired of constantly being attacked and berated by the media and the public, she’s out for blood with this latest effort.

The fifteen song album that started with the snarl of ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ is chock full of witty takedowns and dark ballads that melodically echo genres like 80’s pop and a dash of new-age synthwave. Her vocals work more in the rhythmic sense than the melodic, adding extra grit and nuance to the percussive side of things. Although ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ seemed to neglect all of Swifts natural talents for the sake of a darker anticipation, the majority of her album is still quite reminiscent of her last, but with a more unhinged face to it. The 27 year old has evolved from Starbucks lattes to “whiskey on ice”, and from teen cries to “wine spilling in the bathtub”.

Needless to say, Swift’s take on pop, developed with the help of Max Martin and Jack Antonoff is everywhere: brooding synths, shock inducing bass drops, stutters of trap percussion, and robotic choirs. From the drum & bass inspired percussion on “Dancing With Our Hands Tied” to the murky synths on ‘Getaway Car’ (which is definitely this album’s ‘Out of The Woods’), there’s no shortage of influences.

The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now, cause she’s thrown the phone away—along with any trace of records like “Speak Now” and “Fearless”. But she isn’t completely gone, as this album is all about the dramatic performances from her many psyches. The ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ video gave away one vital piece of information. This album shows the many sides of Taylor: the brat, the hopeless romantic, the determined underdog, and now the seductive adult.

As with any standard Swift album, there are the tracks built around public spats. ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ is the album’s acceptance of falling from social grace, while ‘I Did Something Bad’ has traces of Katy Perry all over it. On the campy tune ‘This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things’ (arguably the most real Taylor gets on the album) things get a little less subtle: “Here’s a toast to my ‘real’ friends,” she says in a savagely playful manner, just before faking an apology and laughing in its face.

Ultimately, Swift chooses to go out with a surprising change in song and dance. ‘New Year’s Day’ is her at the end of the night, when the makeup is off and theatrics are all said and done. In the acoustic epilogue, she paints somber scenes of the end of a party with only a handful of lines: aftermath in a hotel lobby, the quiet cab ride home with a lover. At her most exhausted, she manages to lay on a knockout like “Please don’t ever become a stranger whose laugh I could recognize anywhere.” Taylor Swift could have chosen to play it safe with yet another synth-laden, bass-ridden song about a love lost or a spotlight struggle, but opted to write something worthy of a better reputation.

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Joe Vidalez

Founder of Emergency Frequencies 2015 - 2017. Classically trained musician. Sometimes he writes things. Loves his cat, Fluff.

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