Entertain me: Taylor Swift's 'Reputation' is an ode to the past and an anthem for the present

By Molly Lowney | December 12, 2017 12:39pm
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The stadium went dark. I held my breath. Then, I saw lights. Every person in the stadium wore a bracelet that was pulsating with multicolored light as the opening notes to “New Romantics” played, and Taylor Swift walked out onto the stage. In that moment, I knew that I was a Swiftie for life, singing every song at the top of my lungs as my childhood idol danced and sang and spoke to every person in the crowd as if they were her family. Taylor Swift’s “1989” World Tour was the first concert I ever attended, and it was one of the most incredible nights of my life.

I’m a proud Swiftie. Something that I love about Taylor is her ability to adapt, to "shed her skin," so to speak. “1989,” Taylor’s first foray into pop, was a different sound from the romantic country ballads that had launched her career, but with each transition, she retains the honesty and raw talent that has sustained her since 2006. 

So when it looked like Taylor was ready to shed her skin again, I was ecstatic.

On the three-year anniversary of the release of “Shake it Off,” Taylor deleted every single photo, tweet and post across all of her social media platforms, wiping her online slate clean. Swift announced “Reputation” with three cryptic Instagram videos. When viewed together, they formed the very animal that she has been accused of being: a snake. 

Taylor Swift released her newest album, “Reputation,” on Nov. 10, 2017. “Reputation’s” record sales made Swift the first artist to have four albums sell one million copies in the first week of release. Upon its release, “Reputation” was only available for purchase on iTunes, but as of Nov. 30 is finally available across all streaming platforms.

The album has been well received by the public and by critics, garnering rave reviews from magazines like Rolling Stone and Variety. “Reputation” is the highest-selling album of 2017 so far, selling 1.2 million copies in the first week alone. The question is, is “Reputation” a good album, a great album, or a failed attempt to further break into the pop scene? 

Taylor Swift’s albums are iconic, each representing their own era of her songwriting and development as an artist. That evolution is also reflected in her public image with the release of each album. 

“Reputation” not only addresses her “crazy serial dater” image, but also the shedding of her past and the process of her piecing together her life after her reputation was destroyed. Throughout the album, she also narrates the process of finding love with her current boyfriend, Joe Alwyn, a 26-year-old British actor and model, and her relationships with Calvin Harris and Tom Hiddleston that preceded it.

It is important to remember to listen to this album with an open mind — forget the old Taylor’s fairy-tale, romantic ballads. The album begins with “...Ready For It?” “End Game,” “I Did Something Bad,” and “Don’t Blame Me,” songs that have a rebellious vibe and intense bass in the background. 

These songs kick off the album with the bitterness Taylor felt while her image was being destroyed. “...Ready for It?” lacks any flow at all, the verses do not match the chorus and the lyrics have random references that don’t make any sense. The eclectic style pulls from any meaning the song could have. Perhaps this is reminiscent of how she felt after her reputation went down the toilet. But she makes up for it with the next three songs. 

“I Did Something Bad” is Taylor Swift owning her manipulative image. 10/10 would recommend working out to this song; it has a great beat for running. This song is powerful and angry, a track that could be blasting in the background as Taylor walks away from an explosion erupting behind her in slow motion — or maybe just her relationship with Calvin Harris. This album explores the theme of self-discovery after the world has rejected who you were and you’re ready to wipe your slate clean. 

The following track “Delicate” cannot be grouped with other songs because of its incredibly personal representation of Swift’s internal struggle. The first lyrics in “Delicate” just about broke my heart: “This ain't for the best/My reputation's never been worse, so/You must like me for me.” 

This is the most intimate and vulnerable track on the album — it really shows the fearful thoughts that ran through her head as she began her next relationship, with lyrics implying nobody in her past relationships ever truly loved her for who she was. This song is a pivotal moment in the album, with Swift finally coming to terms with her new self.

The following track is “Look What You Made Me Do” (the first single off the album). I was not sure about this when it was first released. “Look What You Made Me Do” is awkward, angry and has no remnant of Taylor’s old sound. The music video gives a greater understanding of what the song means and what the overall theme of the album is. (I would highly recommend watching the video and then reading this in-depth analysis in order to understand all of the tea Taylor spilled in this video). 

In the song, Swift makes a bold proclamation — the “Old Taylor” is dead. Is the “Old Taylor” truly dead? I believe that this album shows a new, bold side of herself, but the album reverberates with echoes of the past woven through every track. 

The “Old Taylor” isn’t dead; she has just evolved. She embraces the snake image she was attacked with, shedding the skin of her past and growing into a new one. The only dead thing is the part of her that wants to please everyone with an image of perfection. 

“So It Goes” follows “Look What You Made Me Do,” and is a forgettable, substanceless track on the album. Even though those two songs were not my favorites, they are followed by “Gorgeous,” “Getaway Car,” “King of My Heart” and “Dancing With Our Hands Tied,” which are absolute jams. Each song has an amazing beat paired with meaningful lyrics about love found and love lost. “Getaway Car” talks about the dangers of being swept up in a shallow, fast-moving relationship. This is a driving-down-a-road-at-night-jamming out-with-a car-full-of-friends kind of song. “Dress” follows the epic dance break of the last four songs with its sultrier melody. 

Then comes “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things,” another diss track aimed at Kanye West. Swift’s reputation was torn apart when Kim Kardashian exposed her through a series of Snapchat videos for lying about not approving a lyric in Kanye West’s song “Famous.”

But after all of the anger and bitterness from the first half of the album, this song interrupts the flow of the album’s narrative, with spiteful Taylor making a reappearance. This last moment of discord in the album could be intentional, the final climax of Taylor’s frustrating battle with her reputation before she finally surrenders into the calm of the final two songs. 

“Call It What You Want” is a song of resignation, and Taylor admits defeat, accepting her new reality and singing softly that even though her “castle crumbled overnight,” it no longer matters to her because she finally has a real relationship.

“New Year’s Day” is the only acoustic song on the album and is the perfect conclusion to the wild ride that is “Reputation.” In this bittersweet song, Taylor talks about how much she loves her boyfriend, singing: “I want your midnights/But I'll be cleaning up bottles with you on New Year's Day.”  Even if she cannot have the glamorous parts of the relationship, “the midnights,” she wants to be with him in the difficult and mundane moments of life because she loves him unconditionally. To her, the fairy-tale relationships she sang of in the past have faded away, and with “New Year’s Day,” she sings about the real relationship she has, and the mature, unwavering love she feels. 

“Reputation” is an ode to the past and an anthem for the present. While I don’t think it’s Taylor’s best album (her 2012 album, “Red,” takes the cake), it truly is a monumental step for her as a person and an artist. The intimacy presented in this album is powerful, and the exploration of Taylor’s identity is engaging. “Reputation” is worth the listen. Give it a chance, and you’ll find a song you will secretly love, even if you’re not a “Swiftie,” because this album marks a new, unapologetic era in Swift’s legacy.