Haven’t you heard? Taylor Swift! She’s back! And what a comeback after that total and complete fall from grace that left her an outcast. What, you don’t remember? Neither do I.
Evidently, Taylor Swift’s reputation has suffered such a blow in the past couple of years that she needed an entire album to propel herself back up to the top.
“Reputation” is this album, Swift’s first since 2014’s “1989,” and it’s quite the rebranding for the 27-year-old pop star. Gone are the teardrops on her guitar, the t-shirts and sneakers, the pebbles thrown at windows. The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now because she’s dead. But who killed her?
Taylor would like us to believe that it was Kanye and Kim, or maybe Katy Perry. Her feuds with these celebrities pop up throughout the album in thinly veiled jabs about their “tilted stages” and their shade-throwing.
These squabbles did make headlines and cast Taylor in a rather negative light, but they happened years ago and did no real damage to her reputation in the eyes of anyone who liked her in the first place.
Her preoccupation with them to this day paints an image of Swift restlessly pacing her opulent Beverly Hills home, driven mad by the idea that anyone could ever dislike her, and sitting down at her piano to plonk out this series of subtweets in the form of songs.
This departure from songs about love lost or found has the potential to be appealing, and at points on the album it is.
It’s about damn time Taylor admitted that she’s an alcohol-consuming, lusty 20-something like the rest of us. She’s always written honest songs, but censored and guarded ones. The shift away from this is welcome, but her execution leaves much to be desired.
In many songs, the story being told is of another of Taylor’s romances or desires. This is to be expected for Swift, but unlike her countless other sensuous misadventures from albums gone by, the stories here lack any focus or clarity. They instead focus on conveying this new, edgier persona of 2017 Taylor.
There’s plenty in the lyrics about how her decimated reputation has reduced her circle to just her and one boy or another, but should this really be the point of an album that’s been marketed as a self-reflection? If her bad press really did the number on her that she keeps insisting it has, then let’s hear why, not just how, she coped with it in the arms of some musky lover.
The saddest part of these lyrical failings is revealed in Taylor’s “The Making of a Song” series, which chronicles her songwriting process.
The video for “Gorgeous” shows Swift sitting at her piano, quaintly creating the song line by line. There’s a part where she sings, “I got a boyfriend, he’s older than us / I haven’t seen him in a couple of months / I go through phases when it comes to love / I’m nothing that you want.”
Within minutes, she changes this sensical, meaningful line into the vapid, “I got a boyfriend, he’s older than us / He’s in the club doing I don’t know what / You’re so cool, it makes me hate you so much.”
It’s unbelievably frustrating to watch old Taylor write a good song that tells an actual story and then see new Taylor carve it into a shapeless mass of bad girl aesthetic.
“Reputation” could’ve been Taylor Swift’s best album. The dynamic, intricate production and addictive hooks and melodies put forth some of the best sounding Taylor Swift songs ever, but the thing that made Swift so appealing in the first place — her honest, direct, and relatable lyrics — are so amorphous and marred by an obsession with aesthetic that the album feels like it’s about nothing.
But it’s not even that Taylor has lost her edge. The album’s closer “New Year’s Day” uses the metaphor of a New Year’s party to discuss the need to hold on to painful memories so they can be learned from moving forward.
The song almost feels like the end of an album that could have been but never was, one where Taylor looks in the mirror for a reason deeper than the calculated tousling of her hair.
Old Taylor isn’t dead, she’s just being silenced by the delicate, image-obsessed husk that Swift, for some reason, wishes she was.