Taylor Swift's 'Reputation': A fully-formed look at a singer in love, and in control

Maeve McDermott
Taylor Swift, one of the top-selling pop stars of recent years, on August 23, 2017 announced a new album, "Reputation," to be released on November 10. The 27-year-old singer, who this week has been sharing cryptic videos of a snake showing its fangs, revealed little else about her sixth studio album but said a first single would come out Thursday. (Photo: Robyn Beck, AFP/Getty Images)

Don’t let the album title fool you — Taylor Swift doesn’t give a damn about her bad reputation.

Swift’s long-anticipated sixth album, Reputation (*** out of four stars), chronicles the most turbulent year and a half of the singer’s life, consisting of squads, suitors and one Earth-shattering personal drama — her public spat with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian — that resulted in Swift all-but-disappearing from public life.

But, as she finally inches her way back into the spotlight with Reputation, her 15-song chronicle of her year of reckoning doesn’t proceed anything like fans were led to believe from the album’s lead single, Look What You Made Me Do.

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Instead, Reputation is largely a look at an artist in love, and not the kind of flash-in-the-pan romance or tragic heartbreak that populated her previous releases. For the first time in her career, Swift has written an album about a successful relationship, while she’s still in it, finally sharing the story of the new relationship that she’s so fiercely kept away from the cameras.

The man in question almost certainly is British actor Joe Alwyn, whose blue eyes are a recurring motif throughout Reputation. The album follows a somewhat-linear narrative, starting with ...Ready ForIt’s taunting seduction and End Game’s starry-eyed daydreaming about romantic getaways, with the latter showing Swift trading chant-singing verses with Future and Ed Sheeran.

She falls deeper in love, coming clean with her feelings on the standout track Delicate, then struggles through a rough patch, flirting with her fears of abandonment on Dancing With Our Hands Tied and her uncontrollable feeling of lust on Dress, confessing that she only bought the aforementioned garment “so you could take it off.” Swift turns 28 next month, and Reputation sees her fully embracing a more adult-sounding sexuality.  The album contains more songs intended for the bedroom than the rest of her releases combined.

And at the end of the album, she’s fine again, with Call  It What You Want glimpsing at her well-adjusted new reality and newly valued privacy. The final track, New Year’s Day, provides a tearjerker of an epilogue and the album’s most Swiftian refrain: “Hold on to the memories / They will hold onto you / And I will hold onto you.”

Aside from the simple piano on New Year’s Day, the album is all skittering beats and booming bass choruses and vocoder-style harmonies, a sonically unified sheen of icy pop crafted with the help of mega-producers including Max Martin and Jack Antonoff. Yet, while Reputation tightens up 1989’s wide-ranging pop experiments  into a more defined sound, the album’s slower stretches — where she’s stuck in the throes of love for songs on end — may leave some fans nostalgic for her previous album’s more playful pop stylings or the twangy guitars of her earlier releases.

But while Swift’s country instrumentals may be a thing of the past, her flair for storytelling shines through on the album’s most engaging songs, like the delightfully dishy Getaway Car, which tells the story of her tabloid drama with Tom Hiddleston by portraying him as her hapless driver, whom she abandons after their heist. Equally thrilling is This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things — and yes, the title is a knowing joke — which winkingly memorializes the days she spent partying with her squad and, even more pointedly, her former friendship with West. “And here’s to you, 'cause forgiveness is a nice thing to do,” she sings to him, before breaking out in laughter, exclaiming, “I can’t even say it with a straight face!"

Yet, there’s a key difference between Swift clowning West on Nice Things and her messaging on Look What You Made Me Do, which saw the singer regressing to the “playing the victim” role she’s been criticized for throughout her career. Over the course of Reputation, Swift takes ownership of her narrative in a way listeners haven’t heard before. She’s the predator, the person holding all the control, the gatekeeper to her own heart, flipping the script of one of her famous songs from her long-ago Red era, I Knew You Were Trouble.

This time, Swift is the troublemaker, and over the course of the album she finds someone who can handle her newfound power. And that private reputation, she proves, is more important to her than all the headlines in the world. 

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