Bad Reputation | Taylor Swift’s Swing & Miss at a Darker, Edgier Persona on Her 2017 Album
Taylor Swift transitioned from country to pop music effortless on her 2014 LP 1989. It’s indie pop sound and tongue-and-cheek lyrics around Swift’s persona and personal life were a hit with her audience. Coming off of this album and some rocky publicity revolving around Kim Kardashian and Kayne West, Taylor began to experiment with an edgier/darker tone to her pop music. Working with pop music mastermind Max Martin, the culmination of this would be 2017’s reputation. Compared to the brighter 1989, reputation is moodier (a-la The Weeknd’s Beauty Behind the Madness) and slightly edgier. The problem with the project is it feels disingenuous, like a Betty Paige outfit for a photoshoot you do for effect only. Some of the notions of this LP feel like they aren’t taken far enough where others just don’t feel like they fit her personality at all. The other big detractor off this record is its overly produced and glossy sound. At times, the songs feel like silver tinsel in a stylized pop stuffed animal. It’s far too one note, a bit clinical in delivery, and easy to grow bored of.
The first sneak peak we would get out her new sound is the odd “Look What You Made Me Do”. Swift (or her label) seems to constantly pick some of the weakest debut singles off her projects. The central theme of the track being she’s gonna snap back at the “haters”. There’s the notable, “I’m sorry/ But the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now/ Why? Oh, ’cause she’s dead (oh)”, line highlighting her new edgier side (along with the video knocking back all her prior personas. The chorus, “Ooh, look what you made me do…”, is rather stale and, aside from being repetitive, rather forgettable.
Her second single, “…Ready for It?”, is much more representative of the project as a whole. Its vocal effects are mirrored in numerous tracks on the album. You could put it and “So it Goes…” side by side and her little difference sonically.
The album’s centroid track, “End Game” featuring Ed Sheeran and Future, does deliver better in its clever hook of, “Big reputation, big reputation…”.
One of the more memorable songs off the record is the album’s 5th single, “Deliciate”. Swift sings about a sudden love interest that she’s aware that she’s going too fast with in her current state, “This ain’t for the best/ My reputation’s never been worse, so/ You must like me for me… Is it cool that I said all that?/ Is it chill that you’re in my head?/ ’Cause I know that it’s delicate (Delicate)”. Although the reputation line can be a bit eye rolling, the song feels the most genuine in its lyrical intergrity. It is one of the few tracks I continue to revisit from this project. “Gorgeous” is another highlight lyrically. Taylor wants to let the man of her desires know her avoidance and coldness should be a compliment as he’s far too attractive for her to handle unless she pushes him away. There are moments on the track that come off a bit immature, “You make me so happy, it turns back to sad, yeah/ There’s nothing I hate more than what I can’t have/ You are so gorgeous it makes me so mad”, but I find it’s playful nature rather enjoyable.
“Dress” has a slinky sexual nature that really doesn’t quite fit Swift’s personality or delivery. It’s high breathy delivery of, “Say my name and everything just stops/ I don’t want you like a best friend/ Only bought this dress so you could take it off/ Take it off (ha, ha, ha)”, feels like it would be better suited for Ariana Grande than Taylor. I also really wish the “want you like a best friend” line was something different. The cellophane veiled “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” is clearly about her then on-going feud with Kim and Kayne. The lines, “And therein lies the issue, friends don’t try to trick you/ Get you on the phone and mind-twist you/ And so I took an axe to a mended fence”, is a shot directly at Kim’s recorded conversation of Taylor and Kayne on his controversial track “Famous”. The bridge burning track really didn’t need to exist and feels a bit juvenile. “Call It What You Want” continues the narrative of Swift’s “fall from grace”. Here, her boyfriend provides a safe haven of her. By this point in the album, and knowing the “drama” and “haters” she’s alluding to, the bad reputation angle has really worn extremely thin. “I Did Something Bad” offers the albums first, and only swear. The bad thing Taylor did is apparently dropping someone who has been shit talking and clout chasing (sure Taylor). I really wish she would have leaned hard into the bad girl image here. Also, the continued poking at Kayne (“I never trust a narcissist/ But they love me/ So I play ’em like a violin”) has crossed into obsession territory.
The album’s closer, “New Year’s Day”, is one of the strongest tracks on the record. The track is a piano driven slow song about a couple at a crossroads in their relationship.
The project overall is a let down. Her follow up, Lover, would also have a bit of a mixed feeling from it (again the debut single is probably the worst off the album). She has since returned to form with her folk inspired Folklore and Evermore records. The highlights off the album include:
- “End Game”
- “New Years Day”
My overall rating: 3 out of 10 bad reputations…