Review: Taylor Swift’s ‘Reputation’

by Madeline Killen | 11/14/17 12:00am

I know that Taylor Swift is a bad person. She lied about Kanye West, she tried to fight Nicki Minaj via Twitter and she probably voted for Donald Trump. Furthermore, I know that her music is bad. You don’t have to tell me that “I can’t say anything to your face / Because look at your face” is not a good lyric. I am an English major. I have picked up on this already.

But I cannot stop listening to “Reputation.”

This is neither a shameful confession nor a cry for help. This is an honest acknowledgement of the fact that sometimes — frequently — I really enjoy Halo Top ice cream, “The Bachelor” and synthesized pop music with lyrics that I’ve heard in every other Top 40 song this year. Like “Reputation,” all of these things are kind of bad. Like “Reputation,” all of these things are kind of the best.

Compared to the circa-2007 Ashley Tisdale vibe of the truly awful “Look What You Made Me Do,” our first hint of the album to come, “Reputation” feels much more like a natural evolution of “1989” than I would have expected. We have synthy pop, Swift talk-singing more than she ever has and sexual innuendos that are barely more explicit than in “Wildest Dreams” or “Style.” Actually, after Swift released “Look What You Made Me Do” in late August, I complained to a friend that I was disappointed to see her abandoning her ability to tell a story in a song that feels at once too personal and painfully universal. “Look What You Made Me Do,” with lines like “Don’t like your tilted stage,” is so Swift-centric that it is impossible for listeners to relate — a key expectation fans have about her music.

However, the rest of “Reputation” has the opposite problem. Swift overcorrected, swinging into the territory of generic. Even in the sexually-charged and confessional “Dress,” repeated choral phrase “I only bought this dress so you could take it off” reminds me of Selena Gomez’s “Good for You.” The idea of getting all dressed up for a guy was borderline problematic to begin with, but at least Gomez was being original. Speaking of problematic, “I’m yours to keep / and I’m yours to lose” from “So It Goes…” and “I want to wear his initial on a chain ’round my neck” from “Call It What You Want” make my skin crawl.

The overall feel of the album is that Swift is neglecting her sweet spot and attempting to prove to us that she can do the electro-pop thing that everyone else is doing right now. She can, for sure — there isn’t a single song on the album excluding the horrid “Look What You Made Me Do” that isn’t a passable Top 40 pop song. And apparently, “Look What You Made Me Do” somehow has done well. There are even some true standouts — the soft, synthesized “Delicate” makes me feel like I’m looking at one of those Buzzfeed articles with pictures of perfectly smooth pancakes and color-coordinated bookshelves. The song sounds exactly the way a new romance feels, both in its lyrics — “Is it cool that I said all that? / Is it chill that you’re in my head?” — and in Swift’s whispered voice and the airy synth. “Getaway Car,” which can only be about Swift leaving Calvin Harris for Tom Hiddleston, is a nice reprise of the confessional Swift from years past.

Other songs, like “King of My Heart,” feel like Frankenstein mash-ups of new and dead Swift. The song’s verses and bridge are underscored with a growling bass that I think would blow out my car speakers were I to ever walk to A-Lot and use them. The super-synthesized, airy chorus has acoustic guitar playing quietly under the dominating electronic sound. I am embarrassingly enamored with the final verse of the song, though, which begins questionably with Swift almost rapping but finishes with the sung-talked lines “Up on the roof with a school girl crush / Drinking beer out of plastic cups / Say you fancy me, not fancy stuff / Baby, all at once, this is enough.” The album’s second track, “End Game,” would fit right in on a frat basement playlist, and I’m kind of into it. The chorus is “1989”-esque, poppy and falsetto-heavy, and it’s been stuck in my head for 48 hours. The song is ambitious, beginning with Swift sounding almost like she’s trash-talking — “You heard about me / Ooh, I got some big enemies / Big reputation” — before switching into Future’s rapped verse. Then Ed Sheeran pops in and tries to rap, killing the song, which was already hanging on by a thread. It would also be easier to ignore Sheeran’s cringe-inducing verse if not for Swift’s repetition of “I wanna be your A-Team” in the chorus. Speaking of which, wasn’t that song about a drug-addicted sex worker? The reference seems misplaced, to say the least.

The album ends with “New Year’s Day.” It’s the only acoustic song on the album, and Swift’s lyrics are finally on full display and fully thought-out. If there’s one thing I’m a sucker for, it’s a metaphysical conceit like “I want your midnights.” If there’s another thing, it’s comparing life to a book: “Don’t read the last page / But I stay when it’s hard, or it’s wrong.” If there’s a third, it’s couplets that perfectly sum up an entire, complicated universal experience: “Please don’t ever become a stranger / Whose laugh I could recognize anywhere.”

I really love this song.

I really love Taylor Swift’s music.

Whatever.