It’s hard to deny that reputation was a defining moment in Taylor Swift’s career. It may not have been as successful (critically or commercially) as 1989, but it was defining. It was dark and edgy and undeniably ballsy. A cathartic, 180 from the persona that made her famous, reputation was full of ambition. Now, on the dawn of her newest era, Swift returns to the aesthetic that made reputation a possibility, and turns it up to an 11. Unfortunately, in this case, it isn’t a good thing.
I feel the need to preface this review with a message: I’ve been a fan of Swift since Fearless, and have followed her career ever since. I consider her among the great legends of music, and always will. With that, comes the knowledge of Swift’s habits. For example, I am fully aware of her tendency to release catchy, fun and light hearted anthems with less than groundbreaking lyrics as the lead single. I am also fully aware of the fact that music can be all those things and still be brilliant, for example, her last three lead singles. In this case, however, I believe Swift has let the ball drop.
Featuring Brendon Urie (of Panic! At the Disco), the TS7 lead single, ‘ME!’, is the antithesis of everything ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ was, not only in terms of sound and aesthetic, but in quality. The campy brilliance of ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ is missing on ‘ME!’, with a seemingly lack of thought to be the problem. Although catchy, ‘ME!’ seems too generic, too impersonal to be the work of Swift. It’s quite odd given the talent involved. Urie along with Joel Little (frequent collaborator of Lorde) share writing credits along with Swift. Despite her recent essay discussing how personal details make pop music great, ‘ME!’ lacks any of this, instead focusing on being relatable to its own detriment. Even Swift’s staple spoken bridge that features on her lead singles more so than not lacks all the iconic-ness of ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”s “so he calls me up…”, ‘Shake It Off”s “this sick beat” and ‘Look What You Made Me Do”s “cause she’s dead”. Instead the best she could come up with was “Hey Kids! Spelling is Fun!” before launching into a god awful and nonsensical bridge made of tragic plays on spelling words with the song’s title (in Swift’s defence, she credits Urie as the mastermind behind the bridge, so at least the songwriter part of her reputation remains somewhat intact).
In the song’s favour, ‘ME!’ is rather catchy and features quite a good message, and must have been a relief for Swift to leave the persona of her reputation behind. It also features some great vocal work from both Swift and Urie, whose voices actually mesh better than one would expect. Their back and forth on the song’s second half is quite entertaining and appears and genuine collaboration between two artists, for which the pair has to be given credit given generic one verse feature that has become a trend for anyone looking to make a quick buck.
At the end of the day, ‘ME!’ serves a purpose. It’s designed by Swift and her collaborators to be a fun pop song with little depth other than to make you feel good about yourself. However, as well intentioned as it may be, ‘ME!’ is a poor attempt to recapture the brilliance of previous eras, made look only worse when considered against the body of work that is Swift’s discography with which it must compete.