Wednesday 15 November 2017

Taylor Swift - Reputation

Taylor Swift - Reputation

There's a sense this album has been a long time coming. From celebrity relationships to narrative exclusions, Taylor Swift has been poked and prodded by the media throughout her career. It's this that's shaped (her) 'Reputation': an album of pent up rage, of reclaiming every bad word against her, of setting the record straight. As the fierce opening track questions, "are you ready for it?"

As per usual, the context of the album has been more of a focus than the music. But this time around it's Swift's own doing, on her own terms. Her refusal to engage in media interviews and promotion is both to distance herself from their scrutiny and to ensure that the album alone is her voice unfiltered.

'Reputation', is a pop album about identity, about fame, about relationships suffering under the public eye. It's about Swift looking inwards for inspiration. Yet rather than coming off as stiff and uptight, there's an underlying knowing cheekiness that ensures she retains some self-deprecating humanity.

That's perhaps best summed up in End Game, featuring Future and Ed Sheeran. Her desire for an "end game" in love is threatened by the fact her "reputation precedes [her]", but she dryly notes "I swear I don't love the drama, it loves me". Even the two collaborators seem to reflect her songwriting past and an electronic future tinged with hip-hop - vocoders, trap beats and sombre synths proliferate throughout the album.

Lead single Look What You Made Me Do is certainly a biting declaration of intent. Together with its snarling semi-rapped follow up ...Ready For It? they set up pre-conceived ideas for 'Reputation' that, ironically enough, Swift undermines. Really, the album is as multi-faceted as Swift's own image, both musically and lyrically.

On Something Bad she revels in a darker image over industrial beats as if taunting us, but elsewhere there are moments where the bombast crumbles into vulnerability. "My reputation's never been worse," she laments on Delicate as she tentatively opens up to a prospective lover, while on Dress she admits "I don't want you like a best friend, only bought this dress so you could take if off" with a sense of hushed, sensual intimacy.

Mostly, the album balances hard and soft under the helm of producer Max Martin, with the polished sounds of Carly Rae Jepsen and Tegan & Sara providing plenty of inspiration. The bubbling Gorgeous may be a twee ode to the guy with the "indie record that's much cooler than mine", but it sees Swift in giddy, girlish mode that's a welcome contrast to the remainder of the album. The Style-esque Getaway Car could easily have been a cast-off from '1989', while Dancing With Our Hands Tied moves into euphoric dance-pop, its bittersweet mood and yearning melodies suggesting a touch of Robyn. The most obvious influence, though, is the dry, gritty tone and speech-like melodies of Lorde, here matched with the clever songwriting we've come to expect from Swift.

Initial shock and context aside, 'Reputation' is essentially a slick, modern update of her new pop sound that's crammed with potential singles. Yet context is unavoidable here and by the end, Swift emerges with her reputation intact. More than that, she's reasserted herself as the reigning princess of pop - no matter what you might think of her.


Gizzle's Choice:
* ...Ready For It?
* End Game
* Dancing With Our Hands Tied

Listen: 'Reputation' is out now.