After a polarizing lead single and three sporadic promotional singles, Taylor Swift has officially released her sixth studio album, reputation. The album functions as Swift’s second pop album and her most risky release yet.
Beginning with “…Ready For It,” the first promotional single, the tone is clearly set for the album: big production and strong basslines. “…Ready For It” functions very well as an introductory track although it is lyrically unimpressive. Luckily, one of the best tracks on the album, “End Game (feat. Ed Sheeran & Future),” immediately succeeds it. “End Game” has a crazily catchy hook and strong feature verses from reigning music giants, Future and Ed Sheeran. As insane as a Future/T. Swift collab may seem in theory, it works surprisingly well and the harsh production is balanced by Future’s codeine crystalized baritone and Ed Sheeran’s staccato delivery. Moving on to the next two tracks, “I Did Something Bad” and “Don’t Blame Me,” the lyrics play into Taylor’s infamous victim complex with rich irony, but are overall solid tracks. The outro of stacked acapella harmonies on the latter track is a highlight of reputation. Four tracks into reputation and the only track that really stands out is “End Game,” and most of its strong qualities have little to nothing do with Taylor.
The fifth track on the album, “Delicate,” is absolute filler; the song is bland and not memorable at all. The only benefit that this track possesses is that it makes “Look What You Made Me Do,” which is the sixth track, sound even better than it would as a standalone single. Next, we have “So It Goes…,” a track with stellar production but a boring melody and awful lyrics. Even the production can’t save this from being one of Taylor’s worst songs ever. Akin to “Delicate,” the only good thing about this song is that it makes the next track, “Gorgeous” sound even better than it normally would.
One of the most talked about album tracks is, “Getaway Car.” Lyrically the song is very strong, it has the storytelling nature of a country song but the digestible melody and sheen of a pop song. The production complements the lyrics well, and for once, doesn’t clash with Taylor’s voice. The following tracks, “King of My Heart” and “Dancing With Our Hands Tied,” are two of the worst songs of Taylor’s career. A feat that can almost solely be blamed on the overpowering production, as well as her subpar vocal abilities. Thankfully, Taylor closes reputation with a quartet of gorgeous songs. “Dress,” a sexy alt-pop ballad is mature and vulnerable while “This Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” is a self-aware, peppy track, in the vein of “Shake It Off.” Both of these tracks are honest and genuine, the best route for Taylor. The second to last track, “Call It What You Want,” is just as magical as when we first reviewed it, and the final track, “New Year’s Day” is a much-needed return to form.
Overall, I commend Taylor for her willingness to experiment with sounds outside of her comfort zone and take substantial risks. That being said, reputation suffers from the overpowering nature of the production. The production is so intricate and bombastic that it carries the album and clashes with Taylor’s delicate vocal. Taylor doesn’t possess the vocal ability to go toe-to-toe with such dark production.
In addition, in our current sociopolitical climate, reputation feels contrived and self-absorbed. No musical artist is obligated to speak about sociopolitical issues in their music, or at all, but Taylor is doing a disservice to her young fanbase by not doing so. She is also doing a disservice to her legacy and discography. Six albums in, and thematically, it all sounds the same.
An hour-long album about reputations, and celebrity feuds, and Taylor’s tumultuous love life feels out of place. Maybe if the material was inarguably strong, it wouldn’t seem so egregious. This is not Taylor’s best album or anywhere near the top ten best albums of this year; reputation just there, and that’s okay, not everything has to be a home run. If closing track, “New Year’s Day,” is any indication of the direction of the next album, Taylor should be able to prove that sometimes you have to fall to be able to fly.
KEY TRACKS: “Dress,” “End Game (feat. Future Ed Sheeran),” “Call It What You Want,”