If you’ve known me for any length of time whatsoever, you’ll know that I live for Taylor Swift. I have followed her from country to country-pop to straight up pop, and have loved her every millisecond of the 10 years that she has been in my life. That’s not to say that my love is blind; to love someone as such is naive at best and dangerous at worst. At the end of the day though, I’ve always believed in her inherently good heart, and all that Reputation has done is cement this belief in my mind. After listening to her latest release, I have never felt more proud to have supported her and to have grown with her (and boy has she grown). Say what you want about her, but Taylor has addressed every rumour the media has spread – every twisted truth – and reclaimed her narrative. She is nothing if not that strong, powerful woman we all strive to be.
Reputation is Taylor at her peak. She only ever gets better.
From the cough that breaks the 3 year silence in opening track …Ready For It?, to the final melody presented on the piano in closing track New Year’s Day, you can’t help but be entranced. Taylor Swift has always been the queen of songwriting, and her decision to frequently stick to one-note choruses ensures that it is the lyrics – the story she is telling – that predominantly holds your attention. Reputation is no different in terms of being home to some of the best lyrics of the year (or the decade), but she has amped it up 10 fold with her fearless and confident leap further away from her country roots, finding influence in a number of decades past (I actually felt as though I’d been catapulted straight back into the 80s in the Jack Antonoff produced Getaway Car), and pulling from other genres, clearly showing that she is not bound by the confines of any label that might be put on her.
This concept of breaking the confines doesn’t just stand sonically, but also lyrically, as track after track she refuses to allow the media to define her as anything other than who she truly is. Not that she claims to be perfect. Quite the opposite. Taylor admits to lying, to dating someone as a rebound, and to only really getting one thing right, and somehow by addressing her faults, she removes herself from this perception that she is an unattainable, otherworldly being she was perceived to be for so long. In reality, she is so far from that. Even if we ignore the fact that Taylor continues to treat her fans like her best friends despite being an international superstar (Reputation sold over 700,000 copies in less than 24 in the US alone), the contents of this album alone have still somehow managed to paint her as more of a human than any of her previous work. Whether she is singing about getting drunk and stumbling home to her cats in the refreshingly childish Gorgeous, worrying about whether she is being too forward in the tentative and cautious Delicate, or buying a dress for the exact reason that it’ll end up on her bedroom floor in the über sexy Dress, Taylor appears more human then ever before.
That doesn’t mean, though, that she is under any illusion whatsoever that these normal 20-something moments aren’t always somewhat tainted by her fame, and indeed, her reputation. While the album boasts moments of normality; of true love and of pets, the overall narrative focuses mainly on how this ties in to her life in the public eye. As she sings sweetly about her low-key beau, she uses Delicate to address her fear that someone she loves might not be able to look past her reputation and love her for who exactly who she is. It’s kinda heartbreaking to think that there was a time that she believed the rumours could control her personal life to the point where she might not find someone to love her for who she really is.
However thick your skin, when your character is analysed with such unforgiving scrutiny, it would be impossible not to want to defend yourself, or to explain exactly how it is hurting you, and Taylor has done this in the only way she knows how: through songwriting. The recent implementation of synths and heavy bass lines into Taylor’s music is accompanied by lyrics that convey a take-no-shit attitude, wherein she highlights that while, yes, she was depicted as this ruthless, heartless and dishonest person, she had to learn to ~shake it off~ and realise that the only people that matter are the ones that have taken the time to get to know her beyond what they have read online and in gossip magazines. While the album is a defence of sorts, it is also an entire collection of songs that poke fun at the outrageous claims that have been made about her over the past few years. While many may think first single Look What You Made Me Do might be the pinnacle of this narrative, it is actually This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, where she addresses “The Kanye Thing” directly and unashamedly. Sonically, I can’t help but be reminded of A Hard Knock Life, from the musical Annie, and while it’s touching on what were probably some of the hardest times of Taylor’s life, she still manages to find the humour in it. Because no one knows Taylor like Taylor, or her friends (including her fans), or her mum, or her boyfriend. And to them, this idea of Taylor being a snake, really is laughable.
Taylor has grown up and it shows in every aspect of her music. She shows maturing in a way that only Taylor can as she sings of sex and alcohol (there are 8 unique mentions of alcohol laced throughout the album), and even finally manages to throw an unexpected “shit” into track 3, I Did Something Bad – her very first public use of a curse word that wasn’t deciphered from a GIF taken from an award show. Yet none of it feels disingenuous – rather, a natural progression of a young woman and where you would expect her life to go if she weren’t like, the most famous woman in the world under 30.
When the track list was posted, just days before the album’s release, I was stoked to see that Taylor has brought back collaborations, and End Game is the perfect track to feature Tay’s best pal Ed Sheeran, and rapper friend Future, and this review really wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t discuss this masterpiece. A far cry from her previous collab with Ed, End Game is something you would never have expected to find on a Taylor Swift album, and yet after a couple of listens, it really feels like Reputation wouldn’t have been complete without it.
There are so many stand out tracks on this album – ones that make you want to dance, ones that make you feel like you can take on the world (I’m talking I Did Something Bad), ones that you relate to so strongly to that you feel as though you wrote them yourself (read: Dancing With Our Hands Tied) ones that make you feel hella sexy, and of course, ones that fill you with so much love that you can do nothing but let the salty tears roll down your cheeks and over your lips.
Through it all, through all the media battles and endless comments about her so-called man eating habits, Taylor has only ever wanted real love, and so it is only too appropriate that the record finishes with a song that highlights how she has found just that. Knowing that the woman who wrote the universal Swiftie favourite All Too Well has now written Reputation’s closing track New Year’s Day in which you are filled with the heart warming realisation that she has finally risen above the bullshit and found happiness in spite of it all, is really all that matters. Because while 11 years have passed since her self-titled debut release, and 11 years worth of ups and downs have happened during that time, underneath the new found resilience she was forced to build, she’s still just that hopeless romantic that we all fell in love with in the first place
There is nothing stronger than a woman who refuses to be torn down by her reputation. And oh my, is Taylor Swift one of the strongest of them all.
Long story short: with a little help from her dream team of producers, Taylor Swift has created her best record to date, and I have never loved her more.