Taylor Swift’s “Reputation” Reviewed
If 1989 was Taylor Swift’s New York City album, Reputation is her Los Angeles, it all seems to happening at 345am on the corner of Hollywood and Vine and the difference is the neon light glow joy of NYC in Time’s Square versus the darkest before the dawn time when anybody not up to no good is home asleep.. Or look at it this way, in Red Taylor discovered life was innocent, on 1989 she proved it, and on Reputation she denies it. Whatever hearts she made and broke, even the emotionally delirious “State Of Grace,” even the way over the top “Blank Space,” she was an innocent abroad: she instinctively understood love exists in a vacuum, in Reputation she is trapped by knowledge.
The knowledge that’s driving Taylor crazy is Kanye West and Kim Kardashian taping a private conversation and proving her a liar when she claimed she hadn’t given West permission to use her name in any way he saw fit on a song. So West said he could fuck her if he wanted to and made a video featuring him in bed with her. Taylor isn’t guilty here, cmon it’s Kan and Kim and what’s the bet if he’d rapped “I’m A Swiftie” she’d have tweeted it, -how guilty can you be? But she knows that she lied, and that loss of innocence, and not a romantic relationship, is the subtext of the album. It also bothers her, not just that she was outplayed, though she probably believes that’s why, but because it put a spotlight on who she was: it dissected her public persona. Not that we didn’t realize that. As John Lennon noted a long time ago: “Things are left out, about what bastards we were. You have to be a bastard to make it. That’s a fact. And the Beatles were the biggest bastards on Earth.” So, yeah, we know.
Well, alright, another drama drama. How does this affect Reputation? It places the album in a line of growth in the TS story that she has been telling. Reputation is a great album and a modern album, and her latest album, it does everything it is meant: it is the most useful of products: it’s like a computer that works every single time you boot up. Half produced by Max Martin and minions, half by Jack Antonoff and Taylor herself, it moves from dance modeled hip hop influenced pop to half singer songwriter confessionals by other means, and on the innovative first single “Look What You Made Me Do,” both. But “Look What You Made Me Do” was too difficult, it added salt to the wound with hard beats, and the hook, that awesome “drama/karma” gets lost. For sure it wasn’t “Shake It Off,” a huge first single that united and expanded the base, and followed by “Blank Space” which made her the biggest star in the world. Reputation took four shots at the charts and didn’t crack it big time: oh yeah, the fans, me, we loved all four, but the world kinda shrugged. As Taylor notes elsewhere, the world moved on. This was a disaster of sorts, if “Gorgeous,” a gorgeous new love song, doesn’t chip away at Ed Sheeran’s hold on the charts what will? Maybe the second song on the album, “End Game” -featuring the aforementioned Edward and Future who does a vastly better job than Kendrick did on the “Bad Blood” remix, should have been the second single…
So it doesn’t peak high enough and damn it Taylor, no more extra songs on a ‘luxe, instead we got poems and pictures and lyrics in two magazines. Nice, glad to have bought them, but I’ve already given one away to my boss’s Granddaughter. Those are the problems and here is another, a coupla songs, “I Did Something Bad” is a little generic though the “they burn all the witches” bridge is a goodie, “King Of My Heart” is a reminder of why we can’t go back in time, if “Bad” is generic dance, “King” is generic Tay Tay. And that’s it for any problems I have with Reputation. It is so strong she leaves three of the best song till the end. It is so great that “New Year’s Day” figures out what she’d realized on the acoustic version of “State Of Grace,” she could work quiet. On Saturday Night Live, she performed an acoustic “Call It What You Want” better than the recorded version. The story of Reputation, The Hollywood and Vine Great Gatsby in a state of mutation, as though she got too close to the fame flame, but was happy to take us with her till she found the guy of her dreams and moved on. The album is apolitical true, but what’s with “We Can’t Have Nice Things” -her vivisection of Kanye West. How can that name be an accident?. Put it this way, if she had called a song “Make America Great Again” it would have been seen, rightly, as a nod of the head to Trump, “this is why we can’t have nice things” is the absolute epitaph of Hillary Clinton’s Presidential aspirations, and to name her song that certainly appears to be a nod to HC.
Swift is something of an easy target, the White Aryan movement can call her their poster girl (and she has done zero interviews so who knows is the mindthink) but TS has done nothing to provoke it. What? Because she’s white? She’s already sung with T-Pain, Kendrick, and Future: what do we want? A written declaration? To my mind she has done exactly one thing I consider bad, when hundreds of pieces of fan mail was thrown away in Nashville. That was bad. Everything else is bullshit. If you want to condemn Taylor, what do you want to do with Jimmy Page?
Reputation begins with the self-evident “…Ready For It,” follows it with a piece of romantic come on, but then settles into some great, but a touch unspecified tracks, begins accelerating around the midway point, and is triumphant through to the end. The best songs very strong, from the eighth track to the end, the pace is relentless, her singing, all caveats notwithstanding, is lovely, the arrangements steel trapped modern pop moves though you can strip them down to their parts and they would still work. Melodically, it isn’t as strong as someof her other outings, but as far as a pure pop experience there is no real competition. It isn’t New York, it is LA, it’s all getaway cars, it isn’t an innocent leaves home, it is a woman on her own. It won’t add to the huge cult of Taylor, with whom I’ve been a paid up member for nearly a decade, but for those who know, it will stand as we just chill till the next episode.