By MICAH WALKER, Staff Writer
“Are you ready for it?” This is the question Taylor Swift poses to a new lover in the opening track to her new album, as she imagines committing crimes of passion together, such as a bank robbery and moving to an island to avoid the feds.
Five years ago, I never would’ve thought Swift would write about a life of crime, even though it’s clearly a silly fantasy. But Swift does a lot of things she wouldn’t normally do on her sixth and edgiest album to date, Reputation. With 1989 serving as Swift’s first purely pop album, she and producers Max Martin, Shellback, and Jack Antonoff, take it a step further by exploring electronic beats and even hip-hop and trap music. The subject matter is also slightly different, even though there are still songs about relationships and romance throughout the album. The main theme around Reputation, is well, Swift’s reputation, as it has taken a hit over the past year due to her feud with Kanye West.
When West released “Famous” off of his Life of Pablo album last year, he made a crude reference to Swift in the song. The singer then criticized the line, stating she did not give the rapper consent to use her name. However, West’s wife, Kim Kardashian, would later release a video online of a phone call between the two entertainers, with Swift giving him permission.
Although Swift was the one caught lying, she still plays the victim in two of the three songs that reference the incident, particularly in the first single, “Look What You Made Me Do.” Over a flurry of strings and 90’s inspired electronic music, Swift sings about being tricked by West and Kardashian and how she wants nothing but revenge. The menacing persona the singer is attempting to channel falls flat, as Swift seems as evil as a Disney villain. The lame lyrics don’t help, with lines such as, “I’ve got a list of names, and yours is in red underlined. I check it once, then I check it twice.” Then there is the odd choice of interpolating the Right Said Fred song, “I’m Too Sexy” in the thin chorus which only consist of the words, “Look What You Made Me Do.”
As a 27-year-old woman and in addition to being one of the most successful pop stars in the past decade, you would think Swift would have better things to do than refuel her beef with West. Alas, she continues to do so on “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.” The song is basically “Bad Blood” part two, where Swift talks about giving West a second chance at friendship, only to be betrayed again. “This is why we can’t have nice things, honey” she sings in the playground-style chorus. “Did you think I wouldn’t hear all about the things you said about me?”
When not wrapped up in petty drama, the album is fairly solid. The opener and second single, …Ready for It?” shows Swift’s first attempt at rapping on record. While her barbs aren’t the best, (such as rhyming phantom with ransom), the banging production during the verses makes up for it. This all leads to a light, singing chorus reminiscent of “Wildest Dreams.”
The singer tries her hand at rapping again on the second track, “End Game.” Alongside guests Future and Ed Sheeran, the slinky pop/R&B track has Swift wanting to be someone’s one and only for the rest of their life despite both of them having reputations. It’s an odd collaboration, but it works as each artist shines in their own part.
Other highlights on the uptempo front include “Don’t Blame Me” where Swift is head over heels in her current relationship, comparing it to a drug related euphoria; the hip-hop style song, “King of My Heart,” and Dancing With Our Hands Tied,” a electronic jam that has Swift pursuing a relationship, deciding not to care what the media will say about the budding romance.
Towards the end of the 15-song set, things begin to slow down from the heavy production of the first half. “Call It What You Want” is the one of the more heartfelt songs on Reputation. Over a trap beat, Swift talks about the backlash she has received from the media over the past year, and being able to find love despite of it. The track also features some of Swift’s strongest writing on the album.
However, the closing song, “New Year’s Day” takes the cake for the most personal song on the album. Despite saying “the old Taylor is dead” on “Look What You Made Me Do,” Swift goes back to the eras of “Speak Now” and “Red” for this piano ballad. Her signature use of details is back on the tune, as she describes the morning after a New Year’s Eve party and the comfort of being with someone who will be there for the big moments, and most importantly, for the small.
Despite some missteps, Reputation continues to show Swift’s evolution as an artist and her willingness to experiment with different genres, writing styles and vocal delivery. Although not Swift’s best album, most fans should be satisfied with the new set of songs until she releases her next effort.