It’s been a long two years for Taylor Swift. In the past 18 months, Swift has seen the collapse of two A-list relationships, accused Kanye West of manipulating the truth about her approval of the line “I made that bitch famous’ and been in a year-long-court battle with an American DJ, who accused her of making up a sexual assault case and having him sacked. While she may have won the court case, and the symbolic $1 in damages that came with it, other aspects of her tumultuous past did not have as happy an ending or as neat a close as that one. With this album, as the name suggests, her reputation is well and truly on the line.
‘reputation’ is a long departure from her country singer-songwriter past, and in fact draws most of its inspiration from hip-hop and EDM, the two genres that still hold control of the charts. The EDM elements are most evident in songs such “Delicate”, “Dress”, “Dancing With Our Hands Tied” and “King of My Heart”, which, while not all perfect songs, are far from a feeble attempt, and “King of My Heart” in particular comes as one of the highlights of the record. With regards to hip-hop, “End Game”, which features the rapper Future and Ed Sheeran, works surprisingly well and is another song of note, but it’s worth noting that had you not known otherwise, you’d be forgiven for assuming Sheeran was the rapper, as his verse is far more significant and lyrically balanced than that of the Atlanta native.
This is by far Taylor’s most sexualised album to date, with lines such as “Say my name and everything just stops/ I don’t want you like a best friend/Only bought this dress so you could take it off/ Take it off, o-o-off” and “’Cause all the boys and their expensive cars/ With their Range Rovers and their Jaguars/ Never took me quite where you do” scattered throughout the album. While this is a bit of a contrast to previous releases, it’s only to be expected that as Taylor Swift, the woman, grows, so will her art. There’s no point during the 56 minutes that this album runs that it becomes too much, and that as much as anything is a testament to Swift’s talents.
However, this album is far from perfect. The lead single, “Look What You Made Me Do” is one of the worst songs Swift has ever written or recorded. It’s all over the place in terms of influence and situated where it is at track 6, it’s a song that this writer finds himself skipping constantly, and one that other fans will invariably do the same. The shots and jabs at Kanye West also seem somewhat unnecessary, with their last altercation taking place more than 16 months ago. While the majority of us had let it go and forgotten about it, it’s unclear why Swift felt the need to bring it back into the limelight and why she felt the need to attack West, who’s stayed silent since the drama occurred and hasn’t been seen or spoken publicly since his breakdown and tour cancellation in February.
Despite the clear links to EDM and Hip-Hop, it’s the quieter moments that strike the best connection with the listener, with the final two songs, “Call It What You Want” and “New Years Day”, offering a glimpse at the Taylor of old. The album’s natural flow is perfectly calculated, beginning with angst, heartbreak, annoyance and harsh, electronic instrumentation and trailing its way through new relationships and love interests to the final two songs, when Taylor’s happiness and clear-headedness is evident. It offers hope for the future – maybe the old Taylor isn’t dead just yet. 4.1/5