One of the most powerful names in pop music is back, and she’s out to clear her “reputation.” Unfortunately, Taylor Swift’s newest comes up short, settling for a perfectly listenable style that may be new to her, but is broadly imitative of what other pop stars did first.
After a few troubling singles, Reputation arrived last Friday to the iTunes libraries of millions of nerve-wracked Swifties. While it’s full of flaws, the album contains some great songs and marks a bold new step for the singer.
The problems start with the much-feared collaboration with Ed Sheeran and Future (yes, that Future), “End Game,” which fulfills the worst possible threat of a Taylor Swift/Ed Sheeran/Future song. While Future’s feature is passable, the rest of it is Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran doing their best impressions of Rihanna and *insert rapper here*. It gives off the impression of a couple of suburban white children who’ve never listened to hip-hop and decide to make a rap song in GarageBand. The song is painful to hear and is easily the worst song yet on any Taylor Swift album.
Similarly, a few other songs, such as “Don’t Blame Me” and “King of My Heart,” use hip-hop style beats to give the music a different edge. Aside from sounding out of place in these otherwise typical Swift songs, they’re uncomfortable choices for the artist on a larger scale. She does a cheap imitation of the sound that artists of color have owned for years and uses that to signify that she’s gone “bad.”
The album’s lead single, “Look What You Made Me Do,” does give “End Game” a run for its money in the battle for worst track on Reputation. The song, which samples Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy,” embodies the album’s largest problems — it’s unoriginal, unpleasant to listen to and the lyrics are frequently just dumb. Swift’s move away from her “good” persona becomes complete here, but she just comes off as spiteful rather than empowered.
While rebranding one’s image is not inherently a bad thing, it’s a shame that Taylor Swift is rebranding to whatever this is. A song late on the album, “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things,” is undeniably a bop, but it’s a vengeful song that’s clearly about her feud with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian. “Friends don’t try to trick you, get on the phone and mind-twist you,” she sings. The old Taylor may be dead, but the new one just needs to learn to shake it off sometimes.
When Swift abandons trap beats and focuses on a more pop-centric sound in the second half of Reputation, she finally hits her stride. Full of catchy choruses and the rare vulnerable glimpse of who the singer actually is, these seven songs are reminiscent of the best of Swift’s past few albums. While they never reach the highs of the year’s best pop anthem, Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Cut to the Feeling,” there are five or six bangers on the album, such as “Gorgeous” and “Getaway Car,” that will make for excellent listens while driving with the windows rolled down on a cool, 80-degree Texas winter day.
Taken on its own, Reputation is a slightly above average pop album with a few standout tracks. As a Taylor Swift album, it’s a risky step into murky territory that doesn’t totally pay off. It certainly has some songs worth listening to, but in the end, Swift, like so many white pop stars before her, is content with riding on the coattails of women of color who simply do it better.