Likes: I Did Something Bad, Don't Blame Me, Dancing with Our Hands Tied, New Years Day
Dislikes: King of My Heart
Overall: A major stylistic departure, but still unequivocally Taylor.
When Taylor Swift declared that the "Old Taylor" was dead on the recent single "Look What You Made Me Do"), some feared an unwelcome change in sound was near. Swift's plain vocals and lovesick, acoustic-guitar laden country and pop made her a poster child for delightfully white-bread music. That noted, the darker, harder and dare I say it, R&B and hip-hop-influenced rhythms on the new Reputation are indeed a deviation. However, the project's careful conceptualization offsets the awkwardness that normally comes with jolting conversions.
Somewhere in the last 11 years, Swift went from being portrayed in the media as "America's Sweetheart" to "Regina George:" an untrustworthy, serial-dating Mean Girl. She tried to "Shake it Off" and scoff at this on her previous record, 1989, but her irritation has boiled to anger. She's officially had enough and is ready to war with it. She attacks her stigmas with a cocky, "bring it on" ferocity and mocks them by casually wearing her alleged persona. Take "I Did Something Bad:" after depicting herself as a cavalier player and romantic vengeance angel, she sings "They're burning all the witches, even if you aren't one. They got their pitchforks and proof, their receipts and reasons...Go ahead and light me up." Songs like "Delicate" and "Call it What You Want" show she isn't completely impervious, as she discloses her insecurities and fears regarding her public image and its ability to affect potential relationships. Moreover, she expresses her displeasure in becoming colder and more distant as a defense mechanism, following betrayals and fallouts (ex. "This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things"). Still, there's a tenor of defiance in the lyrics that's upheld by the forwardness in Swift's voice and the production's gristle. Deep thumps, throbs and rattles are a constant, even when besotted love (Swift's specialty) is the subject (ex. "King of My Heart," "Dress"). They're put up against synth warps, gunshot-like blasts, vocal echoes and whimsy to create a sinister feel. "Look's" light introduction is akin to a music-box before it twists into a predatory hunt soundtrack. Spontaneous switches in melody and beat from mashing to feathery are where "Old Taylor" rears her head (ex. "...Ready for It," "Dancing with Our Hands Tied"). Closing track "New Years Day" is the only time she's allowed to do more than just swoop in briefly. 1989 producers and songwriters Max Martin, Jack Antonoff and Shellback all returned to co-collaborate with Swift. At moments, the writing is a pinch "garden-variety" and some metaphors are repeated without apparent cause, but the dedication to the album's theme mostly sweeps this under the rug.
Listeners who were hankering for Swift to wholly depart from country, folk, and the like will adore Reputation. Pop fans who appreciated the tenderness brought in by country and folk's touch will perhaps prefer 1989. Regardless, there shouldn't be many complaints or claims that Taylor is unrecognizable on this record. The creative choices she made served to bring her point-of-view and emotions center-stage, and that's her M.O.