Despite only being released for just over a week, ‘Reputation’ has already sold over 1 million copies worldwide in pure sales in the US alone and has become the fastest selling album by a female artist in the UK this year.
On ‘Reputation,’ Swift has combined her traditional country songwriting style with modern electro-pop production to create an album that is sophisticated, solid and serious. Reputation’s production is heavily rooted in trap and tropical house beats paired with synthetic hooks. Apart from the change in sound, Swift also matures vocally, exploring her lower register (“Don’t Blame Me”) as well as delivering vocals, venturing more into her upper register (“Dancing With Our Hands Tied”). The record was primarily produced by Jack Antonoff, Max Martin, Shellback and Swift herself, who is credited as an executive producer.
Following ‘1989,’ an album which was primarily written around various relationships Swift had with male celebrities, she quickly gained a reputation for herself in the media as a player and even someone who used others for songwriting content. On Reputation, Swift takes on the role of playing up to who the media portrayed her as to create lyrics that make fun of not just the media but herself too. The concept of having a track-list where half consists of talking about her constructed reputation by the media and another half telling her side of the story is a unique idea which shows that not everything portrayed by the media is always correct and that there is a misconception of a true artist that lies beneath these headlines. Her songwriting ability on this album never faded. It’s raw, witty, cohesive and straight from the heart. She takes control of her own narrative in the best way possible. It’s brash, bright and puts her songwriting centre stage. Hence why this has the potential to be her best album yet.
There is also clear overproduction going on here, making most of the songs chaotic, in the sense that there are a lot of elements going on at once. There are many production choices that add a lot to the choruses, which sometimes aren’t strong enough melodically to sustain themselves alone, which makes this album secure from start to end with no fillers.
The album opens up with “…Ready For It?” — initially a promotional single, the song lyrically revolves around Swift’s fantasies about an individual who she describes as a “killer” who has had multiple relationships and is “younger than her exes” but “acts like such a man”. It followed the underwhelming and weak lead single “Look What You Made Me Do” which unsurprisingly debuted anyway at #1 in multiple countries including the UK and US.
On “End Game” Taylor hires old friend Ed Sheeran and American-rapper Future to accompany her on a chart-friendly hip-hop/pop track in which she addresses how the general public views her and how her boyfriend Joe Alwyn should look past her reputation as a ‘boy crazy’ female who conducts her relationships in public.
But it’s on “I Did Something Bad” where Swift really steps up to the mark. The hard-hitting and incredibly catchy banger is easily one of her best songs yet. Produced by pop mastermind Max Martin, she sings “They say I did something bad, but why does it feel so good?”/ “Most fun I ever had, and I’d do it over and over and over again if I could” over an array of synths and kick drums. The bridge, melody and chorus scream single material and together are the definition of perfectly produced and executed pop music. At this point in this track-list, you start to wonder if she trolled us with the 4 previously released singles. Swift, at the end of the day, is a songwriter first, yet the lyrics up until the full release were nowhere near on par with her past work. But it seems as if she wanted to trick us or even the media, to make us think she had lost this fundamental part of her music then to surprise us and prove she can still construct material that gained her such vast attention in the first place.
Another standout includes “Getaway Car” written and produced with Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff so it’s not surprising the track sounds like a ‘Strange Desire’ side-B, so influenced at times that you can even hear Antonoff’s voice shine through lyrically and melodically. Off-putting, however, is the frequent use of autotune on this album. On “King Of My Heart,” Taylor adopts a more trap-influenced style where during the bridge and chorus decides to use robotic-like effects over her vocals which distract from the lyrical content and becomes unpleasing to the ear at times.
This becomes easily forgotten though once “Dancing With Our Hands Tied” begins to play. Similar to “I Did Something Bad,” the track is uncompromising, blunt and forthright. It shows a different side of Taylor’s sound not present in much of her previous music. On the lighthearted, anthemic, and almost comical track “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things,” Swift addresses everyone that has spoken negatively of her. During the Secret Sessions held before the release of the album, she told fans that this song drew on her experiences with fame and the media. She stated that she would throw parties and invite her friends on stage with her on tour as a nice gesture to share her success with those around her but this was eventually twisted and used against her by the media, questioning and criticising her need for a “squad” which led her to essentially move out of the public eye completely.
Swift doesn’t switch into ballad mode much on Reputation, which may be a real shame for some fans. But keeping with the tradition of ending each album with an acoustic melodrama, she saves the ballad for the album’s finale. The disorderly and intricate production comes to a halt on Reputation’s closing track “New Year’s Day,” with just Swift, a guitar and a piano, it is the quietest moment on Reputation, yet the most powerful.
This record further solidifies and exemplifies her abilities as a writer. By refusing to accept the scrutiny the media gave her, Swift shows her strength and how to turn a narrative successfully. She channels her pain, love disappointment, anger and daydreams into one and makes the perfect pop album. This is definitely her most mature and greatest album to date yet.
You can buy “Reputation” here.
By Nick Lowe