Alec Reviews Music: Taylor Swift attempts to redefine her image with ‘Reputation’

Alec Erickson

The old Taylor isn’t dead, despite what we heard on “Look What You Made Me Do.”

Album cover for Taylor Swift's Reputation
Photo Courtesy: iTunes

The fact of the matter is that she is changing, like she always is. Infusing new styles and influences into her music has always been what she has done for the last few releases, and she does the same on her sixth-studio album “Reputation.” In fact, this is a record that is better served as a whole rather than in pieces and parts, as Swift attempts to tell everyone just how much she has changed throughout the years. 

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Despite only being 27-years-old, it feels like a lifetime ago when Swift got her start in country music. In 2006, she released her self-titled debut album, and it did well both commercially and critically. Following her first studio album, each subsequent release saw a massive reception. In time, she would earn 10 Grammys, numerous Country Music Awards and much more. She eventually started to shift away from country and more into pop on her fourth studio album “Red” in 2012. From there, we started to see a change in both her songwriting, styles and production styles which ultimately led to the release of “1989” in 2014, where it would end up as the bestselling record of that year. Now just three years later, Swift has built up a reputation as always writing breakup records, and her sixth-studio album “Reputation” aims to address that.

“Reputation” is a 15-track record that clocks in at around 56 minutes in length. Right out the gates, we hear more elements taken from other artist and blended together. This is a process that has always worked well for Swift, and on this record, it makes some solid contemporary pop tracks. This is a record that is still about boys when it comes down to it, and there are moments when we hear Swift proclaim how strong and independent. And almost immediately afterwards, we hear how much she depends on some guys, whether based on looks alone or their personality. “Reputation” at times has some confused and cliché songwriting, and when Swift values that over her singing on this record, that is a massive drawback.

Musically, “Reputation” is a masterfully produced record. Tracks like “Endgame,” “Don’t Blame Me” and “Gorgeous” all have these massive basslines that draw in a listener to a percussion rhythm that over encompasses the entire track. There is much more of a focus on these electro-driven synth elements like on tracks “I Did Something Bad” and “Getaway Car.”

Overall, there is a lot to make this record feel fresh and new, even though a lot of times they don’t necessarily have a lot of depth to them. The catchiest chords and hooks come in the form of these simple and easy to follow sing-a-long styled choruses. You’ll often hear Swift get drowned out in the production style in some the tracks like “Dancing With Our Hands Tied.” Swift has managed to create a record that is structured well, and every track flows into the next with relative ease. Before you know it, you just spent an hour listening to the whole thing.

Lyrically, this is the one area you think that an award-winning songwriter would excel at. “Reputation” is a built from clichés, and it works better the simpler the lyrics are. Granted, when you listen to something like “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” and hear a Great Gatsby reference, keen-eared listeners kind of can’t help but enjoy it a little bit. On the other end of the spectrum, Swift takes a stand in tracks like “I Did Something Bad” where she proclaims how over guys she is. Not even two tracks later, we have “Delicate,” which as the title suggests is a song about how delicate she is around another guy.

There is this weird juxtaposition throughout the record where Swift tries to be a new strong woman and not rely on heartbreak and even says that in tracks like “Look At What You Made Me Do,” but then on the other end tracks like “Gorgeous” are completely dependent on a guy. We can hear the old Swift in some songs, especially on the stripped-down track “New Year’s Eve,” where we can hear her convey emotion and power in a way that we haven’t heard in a while. But on most this record, she gets buried underneath all the production.

Should you listen to it? Maybe.

The thing about “Reputation” is that it is an ok Taylor Swift record. This is an extremely well-produced record musically, and it is a shame to hear her hold back as a singer on this one. “Reputation” as much as Swift wishes it was a new her and a new style is very much still held back by her old songwriting style, and it is enjoyable to listen to for sure. And a few tracks will be found in clubs for a few months, but the thing is, this record is as contemporary as possible. “Reputation” will not nearly have much of a lasting impact as any of its predecessors have had.

More about ‘Reputation’:

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  • Swift worked with producers Shellback, Max Martin and Jack Antonof to make “Reputation.”
  • “Reputation” is expected to outsell “1989” based off the number of pre-orders.
  • Madonna has been cited as an influence for Swift and played inspired a lot of tracks in both “1989” and “Reputation”

Collegian Reporter Alec Erickson can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on twitter @CTV_Ace.