“Swear I don’t love the drama. It loves me,” the singer declares in her new album, aptly titled “Reputation,” referring to what was a three-year tabloid ride filled with gruesome celebrity feuds, all apparently aiming at one thing only: to defame the brand that is Taylor Swift. The crowd was quick to pile on after that infamous Snapchat video of her telephone conversation with Kanye West was purposely leaked, with both snake and heart emojis ensuing in comments sections everywhere. “Reputation” allows Swift to emerge from the other side of her pigeonholed public persona with a slick, defined and clean-cut pop album that showcases her ability to take small personal moments as well as big dramas and turn them into radio-friendly stadium bangers – Swift has fully adopted modern pop as her primary medium and has sadly found comfort in conventionality.
What strikes the casual listener the first time “Reputation” is given a spin is its lack of ballads, which are what Swift has built a career – and a character – on. It hits the listener with one electronic- and R&B-influenced pop song after another, and this fact alone is quite surprising – given the album’s motivation and Swift’s portrayal in the media, one would expect a more contemplative album, fully reckoning with the “character assassination” she has experienced. On the contrary, “Reputation” is strong in revenge, dwelling in uncharted territory for Swift, from lascivious aggressiveness to mood-shifting obsession. The album’s strength comes from its moral dubiousness, where every song seems to be dealing with one version or another of being a good or a bad girl – playing with coyness and conversational affectability. Where she leaned more heavily on the good girl persona in her last album, “1989,” she has now fully embraced being an imperfect murderess of some sort – the polaroid-loving, journal-keeping good girl is nowhere to be found in 2017. Taylor Swift looks at you with firm eyes and demands to be looked back at – this time, not on anyone’s terms but her own. The old Taylor is dead – as is declared at a definitive moment in “Look What You Made Me Do” – and what’s left is the strong yet detached 27-year-old.
“Reputation” is a solid pop album, albeit not a great one. It arguably takes no risks and leans too much on Swift’s already-won glories – her chart-topping name and dedicated fandom. Where “1989” was sure with its 80s-influenced, synth-driven sonic vision, “Reputation” is confused through being an album defined by a titular feeling – it tries too hard to capture every fraction of Swift’s life, as well as the kaleidoscope of millennial experience. In this sense, “Reputation” would have infinitely benefited from a more experimental sound, one that could accompany Swift’s lyrical ingenuity. There is no denying that Swift is a craftsman – she has a unique ability to capture and freeze individual moments like an analog camera, only to develop the film in front of thousands and completely transform each and every listener’s experience. However, this talent is seldom showcased in “Reputation,” where sentimentality is traded off for antagonism. In future projects, Swift would benefit from rejecting collaboration with high-profile producers such as Max Martin and returning to pop’s basics instead – giving the sense that one is expressing everything without saying anything at all. The type of production employed on this album makes it feel like the songs are being mass-produced by a manufacturer – not pushing the artistic envelope, but rather pushing sale figures.
It’s true that some of the songs are clearly distinguished from others, and destined to become future favorites in Swift’s oeuvre. Others, however, will be left as forgotten, having failed to capture the heights of actual human experience. “Reputation” is a good album, but it does not capture the full extent of Swift’s reach. Insofar as she is caught up in the whirlpool of celebrity drama, there are only isolated moments where she can raise her head from the water and breathe.
Notable Songs: “Don’t Blame Me,” “Delicate,” “So It Goes,” “Dancing With Our Hands Tied,” “Call It What You Want”