Release Date: Nov 10, 2017
Record label: Big Machine Records
Genre(s): Pop, Adult Contemporary, Pop/Rock, Dance-Pop, Teen Pop
So, how to follow up an album like 1989? Taylor Swift‘s fourth album was a true modern pop classic, a record that seemed to define the zeitgeist and was full of instantly catchy, addictive songs. It was the record that completed Swift’s transformation from fledgling young country music performer to full-on pop star, and even inspired Ryan Adams to do a track-by-track cover album. That autumn, and for the next 12 months, it was impossible to avoid Swift as she cemented her position as the biggest pop star in the world.
B y now, any self-styled grownup who still believes pop music is "just" pop music will be thoroughly disabused of the notion. Taylor Swift's sixth studio album, Reputation, is a riveting record, whose release is hard to extricate from the context into which it drops. Fifteen tracks long, and with songs that range from forgettable to exquisite, it is concerned with lust, loss and revenge.
Taylor Swift once explained that, if you're not careful, the perils of mega-fame can "make you bitter and make you not trust people, and become really secluded or rebellious against the whole system." That was back in 2014, when she'd recently released her world-devouring album '1989', which included the empowerment anthem 'Shake It Off', and everyone felt like Tay was their best mate. 'Reputation' is a very different album to '1989'. In the video for lead single 'Look What You Made Me Do', the musician took a bath filled with diamonds and settled countless scores against the media and celebs who've crossed her ("I've got a list of names and yours is in red underlined") since she became one of the most powerful people in entertainment.
S ome versions of the sixth Taylor Swift album come complete with a sleeve note, penned by the 27-year-old singer-songwriter. It opens with some general thoughts on social media: the rumours that abound on it are not always true, the images people present of themselves there not always reflective of reality. Then it moves on to the pressures of life in the glare of the media's spotlight - "My heartbreaks have been used as entertainment" - and offers a swift rebuke to those who might attempt to interpret Swift's songs as being about her personal life.
"I swear I don't love the drama – it loves me!" Now there's a credo that sums up the Taylor Swift of Reputation. So rest in peace, Old Taylor, and for that matter New Taylor, because Reputation is New New Taylor. Swift spent most of the past year off the radar, dropping out of the media hustle – a major challenge for a star this relentless about sharing her feelings, not to mention her cats' feelings.
In the run-up to the release of Taylor Swift's sixth album, Reputation, the singer-songwriter-cum-lighting-rod has been excoriated by fans and foes alike for too often playing the victim. The album's lyrics will only serve to bolster that perception, as she refuses to take responsibility both for her public relations woes (“I swear I don't love the drama, it loves me,” she quips on “End Game”) and her personal life (“Don't blame me, your love made me crazy,” she declares on “Don't Blame Me”). But it's Swift's willingness to portray herself not as a victim, but the villain of her own story that makes Reputation such a fascinatingly thorny glimpse inside the mind of pop's reigning princess.
It's hard to know exactly when Taylor Swift's dramatic heel turn began - and, more importantly, whether it was by mistake or design. Anybody who'd been paying attention over the course of the last couple of Swift album cycles, for Red and 1989, would have picked up on a couple of things; one, that she was gradually shifting towards a full-throated embrace of the pop mainstream and two, that she's an extraordinarily canny businesswoman and a terrific self-publicist. The problem was that as seamlessly as she seemed to musically be making the transition to out-and-out pop star - 1989, especially, was a tour-de-force - the cracks were beginning to show as the strain of balancing her all-American, girl-next-door persona with the cold calculation of her careerism took its toll.
"Baby, let the games begin," chants Taylor Swift on "...Ready For It?" a track of pummelling synths and undoubted ferocity. It's an unsurprising start for a musician who has revelled in playful trickery in the lead-up to her sixth album's release. Jabs at the media, her ex-boyfriends, and allusions to long-standing feuds with Katy Perry, Kanye West, and Kim Kardashian have fuelled the scandalous gossip which follows Swift.
For a decade, almost everyone agreed on Taylor Swift. She wrote exquisite love songs and scorching, funny takedowns at an age when most people struggle to put together a cogent email. She scattered breadcrumbs and winking clues through her lyrics and liner notes, inviting diehard fans and pop rubberneckers alike to agonize over what was fact and what was fiction.
Taylor Swift never hesitated to place a veiled version of herself at the center of her songs, but Reputation is her first record specifically about "Taylor Swift Superstar," not the singer/songwriter who grew up in public. Reputation dispenses with the notion that Swift is a babe in the woods, swapping naivete for calculation, leaning hard into the idea that she plots her every move. In that light, it's difficult not to read Reputation as Swift's first self-consciously "adult" record, one preoccupied with sex, betrayal, and the scars they leave behind.
On Look What You Made Me Do, the first single from her new album, Taylor Swift declares the "old Taylor" dead. So who is Taylor Swift now? Based on Reputation, she's mean, entitled, obsessive and certainly jaded. If the old Taylor was the cute nerdy girl with blonde ringlets and oversized plastic glasses in You Belong With Me, the new Taylor is the popular girl she used to sing about: "She wears high heels / I wear sneakers / She's cheer captain and I'm on the bleachers." On her sixth album, the country-turned-pop-star dives deeper into the synthesized, industrial pop sounds she established on her last album, 1989.
Taylor Swift's career as a Cultural Question begins with her video for "You Belong with Me". In the video, Swift plays the role of the popular-but-undeserving cheerleader and the role of the nerdy indoor-kid, who takes off her glasses at the end to kiss her love interest. It was a bizarre moment of self-consciousness — Swift playing both "the cheer captain" and the girl "on the bleachers." Taylor Swift the Cultural Question was once the sympathetic, jilted lover and the blonde, loathsome, normative overdog.
The opening page of Taylor Swift's Reputation magazine--the print companion to her new album Reputation , available for purchase exclusively at Target--is about gossip, both as an industry and as a concept. "We may hear rumors about a person and believe those things to be true," Swift writes in an essay. "We may one day meet that person and feel foolish for believing baseless gossip.
There is no middle ground with Taylor Swift. On one side, you have the diehard fans for whom Swift is something between a wise older sister and a benevolent god, along with the smitten music writers who praise her for taking singer/songwriter auteurism to the top of the charts. On the other side stand her critics, whose recent points of contention (cultural appropriation, silence on political issues) can't be dismissed as easily as the patronizing too-many-boyfriends gripes of old.
Even some Taylor Swift diehards had to be cringing after the singer ushered in the publicity push for her latest album with "Look What You Made Me Do," a single in which one of the most famous people in the world complained about all her famous rivals -- which could be everyone from her ex Calvin Harris to frequent antagonist Kanye West. The song also proclaimed the demise of the "old Taylor," which really is old news. "Old Taylor" keeps getting dumped with each new Taylor release, and her sixth studio album, "Reputation" (Big Machine), is no exception.
Long before Taylor Swift embraced pop, she seemed destined to strike the mainstream charts with a meteoric bang. As she began inching away from the bedroom country ditties of her first two albums, Swift transformed into a more sophisticated, canny, and universal songwriter. Pop domination became the prophecy that, in retrospect, played out as an irrevocable fact.