For decades, nearly everyone agreed with Taylor Swift. When most people struggle to put together an email, she wrote love songs and amazing take downs. She is winking clues inviting die-hard fans and pop rubberneckers alike to agonize over what was fact and what was fiction and sprinkled breadcrumbs. She won plenty of awards confront she left every time that her name was called. She had been observant and savvy, and when those qualities were squeezed into a Machiavellian cute by her critics, it looked to get.
Things have changed. The Swift that stands at 2017 is beleaguered and defensive, a figure fighting back issues she could have prevented. She stepped with Nicki Minaj along with her nemesis Kanye West when silence could have appeared best. She induced the Streisand effect by taking legal action on a blog post that attracted connections between her work and neo-Nazism, a decision that hastens a spotlight on her loyal apoliticism in an overheated climate. And to top it all off, she printed “Look What You Made Me Do,” a petty snarl of a lead single that jumped to No. 1 thanks mostly to utter anticipation. Watchers rejoiced if a Cardi B bumped her out of the top slot; Taylor sent blossoms.
It ends up “Look What You Made Me Do” was closer to a red herring than a sign of things to come, relief is granted how it neglected many of Swift’s generational presents. Her record, standing, is not a tuneless vengeance tour–it is an aggressive, lascivious display of craftsmanship, a which makes 1989 look to Swift’s full embrace of pop. (This is a trip that began the second the bass dropped on her 2012 tune “I Knew You Were Trouble.”) She abandoned story-line, effervescence, and wonderment. Say goodbye to walnut lattes and hello to whiskey on ice to Old Fashioned combined with a hand.
Her vision of pop, one she understands with the help of Max Martin and Shellback, along with Jack Antonoff, is incredibly best bass drops synths right out of a Flume single, stuttering trap percussion, cyborg backing choirs. Songs such as opener “…Ready for It?” And “Don’t Blame Me” are glittering animals held together by Swift’s existence at their center. Her curiosity in hip-hop and R&B is the most evident in her voice. Her performances throughout Reputation are distinguished by cadence and rhythm, not melody: she is trendy, conversational, detached.
These special skills might have been hiding in plain sight–listen to the decade-old “Our Song” and center on the manner she puts syllables while rattling off “Our song is a banging door!” –but they’ve not been highlighted the manner that they are here. “Delicate” is built around a muted heartbeat and a murmured query: “Is it cool that I said all that? Can it be chill which you are in my mind? ’Cause I know that it is delicate.” She stretches out that the titular blossom on “Gorgeous,” making it a fluttering prayer and allowing the remainder of the line fall out in its wake. She even manages to hang with Future on the eccentric, persuasive “End Game,” leaving bad Ed Sheeran from the dust: “I do not want to hurt you, I just began be/Drinking on the beach with you around me.” The old Taylor can not come to the phone right now–she’s posted up at a Cozumel cabana with her out-of-office answer: “I bury hatchets, but I keep maps of where I place ’em.”
Her writing has not been more dependent on functionality that’s dramatic or diaristic. For Swift, plunging head-first into pop has meant leaving behind the stories on 2008’s Fearless or 2010’s Speak Now and relying on snippets of imagery and detail. (“Getaway Car,” a sparkling Antonoff production that seems like an “Out of the Woods” retread, is a gorgeous and enjoyable outlier.) She awakens to some new and some characters: the brat, the swooning dreamer, along with the enchanting mature. The “Look What You Made Me Do” video was prescient in at least one respect: Reputation collects a half-dozen different facets of Swift and lines them up in a row. You leave the album with a brand new appreciation for her versatility, for the way the tough-talking schemer of “I Did Something Bad” and the infatuated android of “King of My Heart” may share the identical tracklist.
The girl who built a career on family-friendly romances such as “Love Story” and “Mine” now turns her gaze into the darker side of fire: obsession, jealousy, lust, the lack of control. A buff turns her bed “to a sacred oasis” on the featherlight “Dancing With Our Hands Tied,” and she intimidates her partner to split their name to her bedpost on “Dress,” a panting, shuddering highlight. Swift has not played with the Red, and she produces these lines with confidence and simplicity all. Even lesser substance benefits: “So It Goes…” is replacement-level trap-pop, but it’s difficult to shake the idea of her smeared lipstick, of claws, dug into a person’s back.
Whatever the situation, these songs are somewhat more powerful than the tracks that invite the listener to revisit Swift’s people spats. “Look What You Made Me Do” is the album’s nadir, and “I Did Something Bad” violates what you may predict Katy’s Law: the reference of “receipts” on your quasi-diss track renders it an embarrassment. Things somehow get less subtle: “Here’s a toast for my real friends,” she sneers on “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things,” just before faking a weepy apology and breaking into cackling laughter. Although she is shooting for campy villainy, it sparks as petulance. Every listener is finished this.
Standing is it’s full of turns and hooks of phrase. However, in committing to some superstardom, Swift has deemphasized the skill. The album ends with “New Year’s Day,” a spare, acoustic epilogue to get a record created with a lot of synths and computers. It is equal parts Lisa Loeb and Dashboard Confessional, and she awakens scenes which are rich with only a handful of lines: a resort lobby illuminates the quiet seat of a cab, with party detritus.
She lands the record’s first authentic knockout punch in the bridge: “Please do not ever come for a stranger whose laugh I could recognize everywhere.” It is a tiny universe in a dozen words, an economic marvel straight up there with old classics like “You made a rebel of a careless man’s careful girl,” and, “You call me up again just to offend me as a promise/So casually cruel in the title of being truthful.” This tune is Swift at her finest–composing the kind of although not settling scores.