“They’re burning all the witches, even if you aren’t one” isn’t a typical lyric you would expect to find on a Taylor Swift album. Then again, neither is “But I stay when you’re lost and I’m scared and you’re turning away”. However, both feature on the resident queen of breakup anthem’s latest full length effort reputation, where she leaves the relationship post-mortems behind in favour of a mix of angry clap backs and lovesick lullabies. Somehow kept almost entirely a mystery until its release, reputation is Swift’s first record since 2014’s 1989, and god, has a lot happened since then. To her credit, Swift never blinked, she never deviated from her plan. When she said “There will be no further explanation. There will just be reputation”, she meant it.
Swift truly allows the music to speak for itself on reputation, and she doesn’t shy away from letting it tell all. ‘This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things’ is a trap-pop masterpiece, dripping in sarcasm, all but explicitly saying Kanye West’s name. Swift sounds defiant and unbothered, as she fabulously declares “Friends don’t try to trick you/ Get you on the phone and mind-twist you”. This track perfectly encapsulates the record as a whole – it is Swift not caring what happens. She isn’t censored, or worried about saying what she thinks. This attitude continues on album highlight ‘I Did Something Bad’, easily one of the best songs of Swift’s career, where she sneers at the men she’s left behind and it is this confidence that pulls the album tightly together as a cohesive unit.
reputation experiments with the synth-pop of 1989, with cuts like ‘Getaway Car’ and ‘Gorgeous’ retaining that fizzy 80’s influence that was so affluent on 1989. The former track is a marvellous sequel to 1989’s ‘Style’, with low, brooding verses that build with Swift’s passion filled vocal performance to a heavenly chorus. Speaking of heavenly, Swift incorporates the slightest of gospel tinges on the dark and beat heavy ‘Don’t Blame Me’, and less so on the ever so fragile ‘Delicate’, where layering her own vocals over and over again results in a hauntingly beautiful opening that releases into a tropical beat. That tropical influence also appears on ‘…Ready For It?’, the album’s second official single. The track is a pounding assault of bass and brilliance filled with Swift’s breathy vocals and incredible production that transcends the track to new heights, while simultaneously producing one of the best lyrics of her career, referencing the overexposed but defiant love of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.
In fact, the lyricism of reputation is where, unsurprisingly, Swift truly shines. Swift’s writing has grown with her and her maturity is evident on tracks like ‘So It Goes…’, where she recalls “scratches down your back”, and ‘Dress’, which she only bought “so you to take it off”. Notably, the album’s closing track ‘New Year’s Day’ sees Swift return to the realm of balladry. Here, Swift quietens to a mere piano and her voice. Yet, somehow, the ballad is just as loud as any other track. Swift’s skill as a writer is on full display here, as she returns to her country roots to tell a story before crooning “Hold on to the memories, they will hold on to you”. Ultimately, that line summarises the album. It is about not forgetting, whether it be the good or the bad, you should hold onto things. You should hold onto the moments you feel angry, when you feel sad, when you feel defiant and especially when you feel loved. Swift doesn’t deny or confirm her reputation on this LP. She instead owns it and every single emotion that comes with it. And it is truly something to behold.