Taylor Swift’s personas— we’ve seen them all. There was natural, country Taylor; giggling, girly Taylor; sophisticated Taylor; sleek Taylor; dramatic Taylor; victim taylor; and now we have a Taylor branded as edgy and revenge-driven. With the release of her new album Reputation, Swift intimately explores the multiple identities she’s worn, often mocking herself in the process (see “Look What You Made Me Do” video), while at the same time taking on a new self and making a statement to the world: finally, she doesn’t care what other people think.
Before listening to Reputation, I was prepared to slay her in this review. I’ve never really kept up on the whole swifty business, but it was always a buzz in the background that grew increasingly annoying after a while. However, after some thought, I realized I’m not here to judge Swift as a person. I’m here simply to ask: is this person making good music? And after giving Reputation a good soak, I believe I can say yes.
Here’s why: Reputation wasn’t made for the music industry, those who dislike her, or even her fans. Reputation was solely made for herself. And it is up to us whether or not we connect with the music that comes from it.
This being said, to me, the identity that Swift explores within the album can be extremely relatable. From “I Did Something Bad” where a relatively twisted mind is obvious in the lyrics “They say I did something bad/then why’s it feel so good?” to “Gorgeous,” where the inability to speak in the presence of an attractive person is expressed from the direct stream of consciousness of Swift’s mind. And this is what we’ve gotten from Swift all along, hasn’t it? The ability to tell relatable stories through lyrics and catchy melodies? But the difference between her previous work and now is the self-revolution found in Reputation.
Swift gets in touch with herself in the album through intimate vocal techniques. The soft voice she uses in “Delicate” is almost a whisper, with the lyrics “My reputation’s never been worse, so he must like me for me” sounding almost comforting. I find this self comfort even in some of her harder, synth-heavy songs like “Look What You Made Me Do” when she sings “I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me.” Her vulnerability shines through in songs like “New Year’s Day,” where a solemn distorted guitar is the foundation throughout the song, and it is often accompanied solely by layers of Swift’s vocal harmony. Relaxed rapping or talk-singing is also much more prevalent in this album than her previous ones, making appearances in nearly all of the songs. This could get a little boring for me at times, such as in “Dress” where Swift talks for a solid thirty seconds straight. But I also found it successful in the chorus of “Look What You Made Me Do” because it embraces a more casual attitude on subjects such as reputation.
Because the vocals are more relaxed, Swift pays much more attention to rhythm. In many of her songs, such as “...Ready For It”, “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”, and “End Game”, rolling beats typical of R&B are carried throughout the songs. She also adds touches of 80s revamp, especially in “Getaway Car” where light synth mixes with a classic 80s romantic rhythm. Short, singular drum taps show up in “Gorgeous” and “Look What You Made Me Do”, a sharp change from her past albums. The electronics used in Reputation support most of the beats, background melodies, and central melodies, making the album heavily technology-dependent.
The harsh synth rhythms combined with blunt lyrics and 80s influence are what make this album “edgy.” It is one where her persona of innocence is crushed by the force of the songs. She playfully refers to forgiveness as “... a nice thing to do” followed by a wide laugh and “I can’t even say it with a straight face” in “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”. All of these diversions from the standard or nice way of doing things, combined with the excessive mention of drinking, are how Swift rebels with this album. Some of the songs are a tad annoying for me due to the amount of electronic techniques in places in where I feel they are unneeded, such as the too-fast tempo of “King of My Heart.” And then we have the regular love letter songs, which sort of tire me by the end. But nonetheless, I consider Reputation successful in its art form because it is revolutionary for not only Swift herself, but for the current era of music.
Who knows if this is the persona that Swift will choose to hold forever. But who cares? Swift certainly doesn’t. Instead, she sets new musical standards for herself.