Taylor Swift has come back for her throne, and she did not come to play. Released on Nov. 11, Taylor Swift’s sixth album doubles down on the pop power of “1989.” But “Reputation” is nowhere near a continuation of the iconic 2016 Album of the Year Grammy-winning LP.
In the past, Swift has been forthright with the inspirations behind her music leading up to an album release. Leading up to “Reputation,” she stayed noticeably mute — turning down interview requests, not making live appearances and staying relatively quiet about what fans could expect to hear. This time, she is letting the art speak for itself and these songs have a lot to say.
Taylor Swift takes her pop music deeper and darker. At the core of almost every song is the question: How much you can trust someone’s reputation? To switch up her sound, she culled the large list of producers from “1989” to two camps: Max Martin and Shellback, and Jack Antonoff. This creates a more cohesive work than “1989.” Swift herself is credited as the album’s executive producer, and a co-producer on every track.
She also amps up her vocal power on this album, going for the final chorus belt in a couple tracks. These moments are a stunning surprise given we’ve rarely heard this side of Taylor’s voice before. She also plays around with vocal effects throughout.
To create the lyrical content, Swift blends her real life with stories spun by social media and the press. She warns in her album booklet that the blogs will try to identify which man can be tied to each song, but this time it will not be “as simple as a paternity test.”
The album begins with the bombastic “…Ready For It?.” Swift brings the heat on the verses talking about a mysterious younger man. The tone switches for the chorus where she glides through a classic Swift melody, singing about what she imagines the pair doing in her dreams. The track is a strong album opener, with the bridge calling out to “Let the games begin.”
“End Game” is the only track with features, but Swift brought in the power players. Not only does it feature one of her best friends, Ed Sheeran, but also Atlanta rapper Future. The three artists all deliver strong rap verses while in the hook Taylor Swift pleas to be a man’s one and only.
“I Did Something Bad” is one of the strongest songs on the album. It also features the first instance of Swift swearing in her music (“If a man talks s—, then I owe him nothing”). Taylor ditches her usual victim narrative to ask unapologetically revel. She snarls in the bridge: “They’re burning all the witches even if you aren’t one / So light me up.” It is a strong feminist track with massive production.
Among dedicated fans, track 5 on a Taylor Swift album is always highly anticipated. Referred to affectionately as “Track 5 Syndrome” you can usually guarantee that it will be the most emotionally vulnerable and relatable track. For example, track 5 on “Red” is “All Too Well,” a heart wrenching lament on a past break up that is widely regarded as one of Swift’s best songs.
This time around Swift offers “Delicate.” After some rebellious tracks brushing off her bad reputation, she has to confront how that reputation might affect a new relationship. Swift plays with a vocoder on this track which makes her sound even more vulnerable.
“Getaway Car” takes the media’s claim that she can’t maintain a long term relationship, and sets it in a high stakes crime metaphor. Her storytelling skills are showcased on this song, and it is one of the most reminiscent of “1989.”
“King of My Heart” is a chaotic production. It travels through the transitional periods in a love story, the moments where a couple’s dynamic pushes forward. The melody is ridiculously catchy, but the varying instrumental textures are rough on the first couple listens.
“Dress” is being touted as the sexy song on the album. I would beg to differ. The lyrics are there, but its breathy falsetto chorus feels like she’s steering, if not flat out running, away from the sexuality. As a 27-year-old you would think she could begin to embrace it, but she prefers to just hint at it still.
The last three tracks on the album are all winners. “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” packs even more shade than “Look What You Made Me Do.” She doesn’t paint herself as a victim here, more like a dutiful parent taking away children’s playthings. The simple chorus melody feels fresh out of a Broadway show, and begs for a sing along.
“Call It What You Want” is the most honest track on the album. She discusses her fall from the top, and how her new found love made it all okay. Jack Antonoff’s influence is heavy on this one. The lyrical work on this track is probably the strongest on the album.
“New Year’s Day” closes the album with a raw touching ballad. It is the only song on the album that doesn’t feature synths, instead opting for a piano-led instrumental. As a culture, we make a big deal out of who you kiss at midnight Jan. 1. Here, Swift wants her partner to know that she will stay after that kiss to help clean up the party’s mess on New Year’s Day. This clever twist makes for a beautiful song about long-term commitment and staying through hardship. The standout line breaks your heart and mends it at the same time: “Please don’t ever become a stranger / whose laugh I could recognize anywhere.”
Taylor Swift had some rough years, but she has learned and grown from the experience. She isn’t here to be the perfect, nice girl anymore. But she will still deliver masterful pop hits. She is already on track to have the biggest selling album this year, moving 700,000 units the first day of sale. This is thanks in part to her decision to withhold the album from streaming sites for at least a week. But given her reputation, that decision isn’t likely to make that big of an impact on the album’s success.