Taylor Swift vs. 2017
Taylor Swift’s new album, Reputation, is likely the most discussed pop album this year, and for good reason. When the album was announced she made waves with promotions making use of snakes, dropping a Kanye West diss track, and revealing Reputation’s release date as Nov. 10, which is also known as the anniversary of West’s mother’s death.
Days before the release of the album, Swift’s management team threatened to sue a Popfacts blogger that wrote about Swift’s sizable white supremacist fan base. This move was criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union as an attempt to suppress free speech, and begged the question as to why Swift did not just denounce her alt-right fans. All of this public scrutiny undoubtedly created a reputation for Swift, and she delves into that character on this album.
What Reputation attempts to be is a dubstep pop album, a genre that is not particularly new in the year 2017. Many artists already jumped on this trend a few years ago, including Swift herself with her song “I Knew You Were Trouble.” In this day and age, it sounds dated, and it certainly doesn’t bring to mind a new Swift, a title she attempts to bestow upon herself.
Reputation’s opening track “...R U Ready For It?” begins with a distorted bass track that is eerily similar to Kanye West’s song “I’m In It,” a track from his 2013 album Yeezus. Swift then raps over this production.
Within this track, the themes of the album have already emerged. Throughout Reputation, the songs feature production that feels vastly out of character for Swift, with rich choruses that work better on songs where they actually click with the verses.
A song later, "Look What You Made Me Do" appears, the most discussed song on the album, and possibly the least pleasant. Lyrics aside, the song does not sound much like a cohesive piece, but the music is not intended to be the focal point of this song. It is a Kanye diss track and it is also the centerpiece for Swift’s new persona.
So many of these songs have solid pop structure, which is only further proven by her SNL performance from Nov. 11, in which Swift performed the Reputation track "Call it What You Want" on an acoustic guitar.
The performance brought out her talent of writing exceptional pop music. This talent shines through on several songs on the release, perhaps best in "Getaway Car." It sounds like an old Swift song, just more synth heavy. The song feels like the real version of the new Taylor, a more mature version of the music she is good at making.
The second half of Reputation is more tolerable, likely because it’s where most of the songs that Jack Antonoff produced are found. Antonoff’s production is behind many modern pop powerhouses, including Swift’s friend Lorde, but he also produced a significant amount of Swift’s previous work, like her album 1989.
He makes Swift’s songs shine in a more modern light, likely because he is more aware of the current pop climate than Swift is. The songs he produced and co-wrote differ drastically than the others on this album.
“Dress," another standout has a chorus that sounds remarkably Prince-influenced, but in a mostly effortless way. The song has several moving parts, but it does not sound choppy like a lot of other songs on Reputation.
“Dress” sounds like the pop that’s successful amongst music critics today, like Carly Rae Jepsen, Lorde or Blood Orange. The problem with most of the songs on Reputation is not the songs themselves. The problem is the form that Swift presents them. Her previous albums, especially Red and 1989, were successful because they made use of her talents, most of which reside in typical pop structure.
Reputation succeeds in preserving some of Swift’s talents in songwriting, but it tries too hard to experiment outside of her comfort zone. Her new persona seems disingenuous, as does most of the music on this album.
EDM pop was already a trend years ago, and if this is the new Taylor’s experiment, it is already behind the times.