The canon of “good girl gone bad” albums is a very selective one, capturing a female pop star at her most rebellious, rejecting the expectations of the music-consuming public. The pinnacle of this art form came in 2007 with the release of Britney Spears’ “Blackout,” a dark, hedonistic album coming at the rock-bottom of Spears’ tumultuous personal life. Following its release, Spears’ public image began to clash with her career, not unlike the moment Taylor Swift has found herself in.
For Swift, 2016 was a markedly rough year for her image, with reports of a bad breakup with Calvin Harris, a whirlwind affair with actor Tom Hiddleston following said breakup, a never-ending feud with Katy Perry, a very public fallout with Kanye West over a controversial line from his song “Famous” (2016) and subsequent public rebuttal from his wife Kim Kardashian after she posted a recording of Swift supposedly agreeing to the use of the lyric. Amidst all this, Swift noticeably took an extended break from public appearances, declining to do any major interviews and performing at very few concerts.
This sabbatical continued into 2017 until Swift posted a cryptic video to her social media handles solely depicting a snake. To many, this appeared to be a deliberate reference to Kardashian’s infamous callout of Swift and a tweet of hers stating, “Wait it’s legit National Snake Day?!?!? They have holidays for everybody, I mean everything these days!” With that, the “Reputation” era was born, and the old Swift was dead.
Swift’s sixth studio album, “Reputation” (2017), released on Nov. 10, largely picks up where “1989” (2014) left off, further delving into the EDM- and R&B-influenced pop currently dominating radio. Swift calls upon frequent collaborators Jack Antonoff and Max Martin to market herself as an edgy pop siren, creating a record that contains Swift swearing for the first time and unabashedly discussing partying and her sexuality.
As a result, “Reputation” is both a jarring listen and an often very catchy album, a contradiction embodied by lead single “Look What You Made Me Do.” The abrasive electropop song tackles Swift’s decline in public standing, bitterly declaring “I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me / I’ll be the actress starring in your bad dreams.” Ultimately, it fails because it lacks Swift’s trademark ear for melody and relies too heavily on a flaccid attempt at rapping.
This edgier Swift continually shows up on the rest of the album, with increasing returns. “…Ready for It” relies too heavily on Swift’s rapping to be a true triumph, but the song’s chorus, built around the lines “In the middle of the night, in my dreams / You should see the things we do, baby,” reminds the listener that Swift is still quite capable of writing a lovely melody. “I Did Something Bad” comes wailing through the speakers, and the trap-heavy uptempo track rebukes the hatred that has come her way as she snarls, “They’re burning all the witches, even if you aren’t one.” Another success is “Don’t Blame Me,” seeing Swift play up her new seductive character on the dubstep-inspired track.
“Reputation” truly shines with its more sultry, subtle tracks, pairing Swift’s masterful storytelling with her newfound exploration of her sexuality. “Delicate,” which borrows from dancehall to create a cautious ode to romance, sees Swift whisper “My reputation’s never been worse, so / You must like me for me…” The best encapsulation of the new Swift comes with the simple synthpop track “Dress” as Swift uses her falsetto to great effect, cooing, “Only bought this dress so you could take it off / Take it off, o-o-off.”
Other highlights include “Getaway Car,” a nice throwback to ’80s sounds of her previous album, and “Dancing With Our Hands Tied,” a proper dance track on an album that needs a little euphoria. “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things,” though a bit jarring, entertains as she directly references her own feud with West, jeering, “Friends don’t try to trick you / Get you on the phone and mind-twist you.”
Swift’s sixth LP is not without filler. The album is littered with half-baked tracks. “End Game” is a massive misfire, seeing Swift collaborate with Future and Ed Sheeran to create an unredeemable rap track. “Gorgeous” feels like a bad Carly Rae Jepsen song. “King of My Heart” takes Swift’s exploration of the vocoder a little too seriously, nearly turning her into a robot.
Yet it is Swift’s closing of “Reputation” that cements the record as one of her better releases. “Call It What You Want” acknowledges Swift’s departure from public life and, in a reference to her own “Love Story” (2008), sees her seeking solace in her lover, asking him, “You don’t need to save me / But would you run away with me?” Closing track “New Year’s Day” surmises the singer-songwriter’s journey, holding onto people who brought her both pain and joy. Despite it all, Swift leaves the listener with the image of her seeking comfort, somewhat fittingly on the first day of the year, singing, “You squeeze my hand three times in the back of the taxi / I can tell that it’s gonna be a long road.”