Taylor changes direction too Swiftly in ‘reputation’: The album ranked and dissected song by song

Crystal Sung and Anastasia Reimann

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There’s been so much uproar about “reputation,” be it the scandalous music videos or the unavailability on streaming services — look what you made us do, Taylor. So here’s our take on each of the songs, in the order of the album.

Public domain image.

“…Ready for It?”

Crystal:

As the opening song, it does its job, and more. I’m going to be blunt: it’s not the first time we’ve seen this good-girl-turned-bad transformation, but this song is surprisingly catchy. Or maybe it’s just the fact that I’m a sucker for the drum beats.

Moreover, don’t mistake the rap for a lack of coherent lyrics. Swift’s talent for songwriting shines through with cleverly woven metaphors: “Wonder how many girls he had loved and left haunted / But if he’s a ghost, then I can be a phantom / Holdin’ him for ransom.” Then Swift repeats “some” into the next verse, ““some, some boys are tryin’ too hard / He don’t try at all, though.” As someone who revels in wordplay, I love it.

Swift blends familiar outtros reminiscent of “Wildest Dreams” with rougher choruses and sleeker electro sounds, as well as hip-hop beats that charge the song with tension and aggression. It’s a great dance-along and deserves far more hype than “Shake It Off” did.

It’s just so much fun.

Anastasia:

This is probably the most synth-driven song on the album and one of my the best jams on “reputation,” because it’s just fun to head-bang to. Also, the lyrical structure is clever; I like how the repetition of some line’s ending words also serve as beginnings for the next lines, making this song flow really well, straddling that fine line between being charged with bravado and being full of hot air. (One example: “holding him for ransom-som” becomes “Some boys are trying too hard.”)

This territory is new for Swift, and, with this song, she navigates it with more grace (and swagger) than on other songs in this album, blending a new, more hip-hop-influenced sound with a sound echoing “Wildest Dreams.” Surprisingly, it works. If we’re rating favorites, this is up there on the top three.   

 

“End Game” (ft. Ed Sheeran and Future)

Crystal:

I can’t say much on this one because Swift hasn’t released it on streaming apps yet, but from what I listened to on iTunes preview, the music is nothing out of the ordinary.

On the bright side, the lyrics are very relevant to the theme of “reputation” — I just wish the song had been produced in a more hype manner. It was my first time hearing Ed Sheeran rap though, and he isn’t half bad at it.

Anastasia:

This is my least favorite track; it’s just noise to me. Future’s rap is weird, the chorus is unremarkable and, though there are several intriguing hooks in the post-chorus, the “ah” after the line “Ooh, you and me, we got big reputations” reminds me more of Demi Lovato’s “Sorry Not Sorry” than something new and exciting from Swift. The highlight of the track is Ed Sheeran’s rap. Overall, this track sounds like someone trying too hard to be hip … and making a cringe-worthy attempt at it.      

 

“I Did Something Bad”:

Crystal:

Musically, this song is a success. The chorus is definitely the highlight of the song. I’m digging the beat when she sings “It just feels so good,” and the synth sounds that come after are a creative highlight.

Personally, I don’t like the theme of the song when it comes to how she plays boys. It feels like a trap version of “Blank Space,” especially when she sings about her red lips and how “you gotta leave before you got left.” The lyrics aren’t the strongest because she just repeats the chorus over and over, which, though hype, can get tiresome.

Overall, “it just felt so good,” though for me the content is questionable.

Anastasia:

With an earworm hook inspired by something Swift heard in a “weird dream,” “I Did Something Bad,” has Swift embracing her darker, “witch” side … and a darker production that sounds similar to that of “LWYMMD.” She boasts about “playing” narcissists and playboys with ease, obtaining revenge and having no regrets (and a lot of fun) while doing it.

This is by far the catchiest track on the album, in my opinion, if only due to the synth notes during the chorus, but I love it, because it contains the hook (albeit an instrumental one) I’ve been waiting the entire album for. It also includes the “dirtiest” cuss word (the s-word) Taylor’s ever used on a track.

“Go ahead and light me up,” she dares, but really, she must know she’s doing the lighting, because this song is pride-filled fire.   

 

“Don’t Blame Me”

Crystal:

I love the production of this song. Some parts of the chorus almost sound like the orchestral version of “The Hanging Tree.” There’s so much variety in the highs and lows of the song, almost representing the highs and lows of an addictive relationship.

It feels good to take a break from the EDM beats that characterize most of the songs on this album; “Don’t Blame Me” serves to wind the listener down and up at the same time with its slow beat and bewitching singing.

Most of all, I love how Swift finally slows down considerably to channel the emotion, particularly in the pre-chorus: “for you, I would cross the line / I would waste my time / I would lose my mind.”

The result: a haunting but danceable song.

Anastasia:

This one reminds me a lot of “I Did Something Bad,” production-wise, and it’s another catchy power-dance tune. Swift shows off her range-wise, rocking lower notes in the second pre-chorus and slapping the high note on “daisy” just several lines later.

The lyrics are pretty cliche, but the arrangement almost seems inspired by a gospel choir … if a gospel choir sang more songs in minor keys about how the only “right” love is a crazy love. It’s fun and groovy, but not as appealing to me as “I Did Something Bad” due to its repetitive nature.   

 

“Delicate”

Crystal:   

Come on, Taylor, you can do better.

The music sounds just like a melody-less “Wildest Dreams,” or a rip-off of Halsey’s newest album, except for a bit of acceleration when she sings “My reputation’s never been worse, so / You must like me for me.”

“Is it cool that I said all that?” is all she seems to repeat throughout. “Is it chill that you’re in my head? Is it too soon to do this yet?”

There’s just not much to make an impact in “Delicate,” be it lyrics or music— making for a very lackluster song.

Anastasia:

Gosh, I’m going to agree; there’s just not much to say, because there’s not much Swift says, either. This song is bland and harkens back to “Wildest Dreams” both lyrically and sonically.

However, unlike “Wildest Dreams,” the lyrics for “Delicate” are very simple and often recycled. “Is it cool that I said all that? / Is it chill that you’re in my head? / ‘Cause I know that it’s / delicate / Yeah, I want you / Is it cool that I said all that / Is it too soon to do this yet?” is repeated four times throughout this four-minute song; so is “‘Cause I like you.” And while it might be true, it’s not profound, or creative, making this song rather forgettable except for its warm, atmospheric sound.

 

“Look What You Made Me Do”

Crystal:        

The widely publicized first single from her new album is one that will go down in history solely for the amount of shade Swift manages to pack into one song. Swift trying to be the bad girl who “got smarter, got harder in the nick of time” while simultaneously whining about how she’s suffered at the hands of other singers and the media simply does not cut it for me.

Musically, besides all the ballistic comments about the missing bass line, the rap is mediocre, with little skill, style, or heart. In its essence, “LWYMMD” is just a vastly overproduced, undersung rendition of “Blank Space.”

The similarities don’t stop there. Just like its predecessor, the wickedly graphic music video was great to watch, but only because of her ridiculous outfits and how pathetically funny Swift slamming others is. Who would’ve thought of whipping clones to satirize the media’s representation of her viral squad? And can we talk about the ending of the music video? It was the only good part — watching the old Taylors bicker.

I have to say Swift deserves creativity points here, but not much else.

Anastasia:

OK, so I have mixed feelings about this song. I love its sound; if a classic mystery novel or a TV whodunit episode were a song, I feel like it would be this song. The lyrics are also pretty standard Swift levels of clever, and I like her experimentation with a spoken hook instead of a sung hook.

This is a song I’d listen to when I want to act catty or sassy, but, because of the atmosphere this song provokes, I don’t know when else I’d listen to it. I haven’t heard it on the radio at all, so I’m guessing its sound isn’t radio-friendly enough to be a massive hit, even though it’s a fun and catchy song.

 

“So It Goes…”

Crystal:

I like the simpler, witchy sound Swift is going for in this song, particularly the chorus, but it just seems so bare. The lyrics aren’t the most original, nor is the music innovative. The same melody is played over and over and over again. There’s nothing memorable about this song.

Anastasia:

This reminds me of one of those really bad overproduced rap songs that are very autotuned, very repetitive intervals that show a lack of creativity. I would describe this song as mostly pure fluff. There are some clever lyrics, but, overall, the repetitiveness of these lyrics and the melody make this a boring song that doesn’t add much to the overall ambience of the album.

I like the idea — that there’s one person you will always gravitate toward and come back to no matter whom hurts whom — but, judging by all the repetition, it doesn’t seem like Taylor has much to say about it.   

 

“Gorgeous”

Crystal:   

Third time’s a charm.

In her third single, Swift is simultaneously melodramatic and timid with all the heartfelt innocence of an unrequited crush: “You should think about the consequence/ Of you touching my hand in the darkened room.”

While “Gorgeous” yet again deals with an oft-repeated topic of longing after someone, Swift’s sincerity shines through in her lyrics: “You make me so happy, it turns back to sad, yeah/ There’s nothing I hate more than what I can’t have.”

Unfortunately, the mature content of all the other songs on the album makes this song feel fake and childish. The queer triangular beat and synthesized voice doesn’t fit in with the feel of the song either, making it pale in comparison to ‘1989’ songs. Nevertheless, “Gorgeous” still manages to get stuck in my head.

In conclusion, if it weren’t for the thematic dissonance and strange music, this song would make my playlist.

Anastasia:

I’m going to disagree with Crystal here, actually, and say that I like the production and beat; I feel it’s the one thing that will distinguish this otherwise mostly-superficial song when compared to Swift’s sleek, bubblegum-pop hits from “1989.”

Some of the lyrics are thoughtful (I’m going to highlight some of the same lyrics Crystal did as prime examples: “You should take it as a compliment /That I’m talking to everyone here but you / And you should think about the consequence / Of you touching my hand in the darkened room”); some are self-deprecating critiques (“Guess I’ll just stumble on home to my cats / Alone / Unless you wanna come along”); but most are, again, incredibly superficial —  though physical attractiveness is also a superficial trait, so perhaps I’m expecting too much: “You’re so gorgeous / I can’t say anything to your face / ‘Cause look at your face” as well as “You make me so happy, it turns back to sad / There’s nothing I hate more than what I can’t have / You are so gorgeous, it makes me so mad.”

In other words, though it’s catchy enough to get stuck in your head easily, this song is the musical equivalent of cotton candy; it tastes good, but it does nothing for the album except add a saccharine earworm to the tracklist.

 

“Getaway Car”

Crystal:   

“It was the best of times, the worst of crimes / I struck a match and blew your mind.” I’m impressed by the twist on the Charles Dickens reference, but I have yet to listen to the rest of it.

Anastasia:

The first verse of this made me so excited, because the lyrics are incredibly thoughtful and reminiscent of Swift’s talent for songwriting, from the Dickens reference to her description of where she tells how she first met her beau: “The ties were black, the lies were white / In shades of gray in candlelight / I wanted to leave him / I needed a reason.” I love the idea of using a criminal getaway à la Bonnie and Clyde as an extended metaphor for a failed relationship.

The production itself reminds me of “1989”, “This Love” and “Sad Beautiful Tragic,” if that blend had “Out of the Woods” as its backing track. Due to the creativity of the lyrics and a relatively catchy hook, this song stands out as one of the better songs on the album, even if I have mixed feelings about the key change toward the bridge.

 

“King of My Heart”

Crystal:

Swift’s voice strains to reach higher throughout the song, resulting in a thin warbling production that is undesirable to hear. Just like so many of her other songs on this album, it fails to impress.

Anastasia:

Taylor Swift is an alto, and, when she tries to transcend her range, sometimes she runs into problems (like in “I Know Places”). But here, at least, in the opening lines, she takes advantage of her more natural range, and those lower notes sound beautiful. I like the way she enunciates the words in the pre-chorus; it really gives you a sense of her personality. (And, as a side note, maybe because her reputation is a prevalent a theme on this album, other aspects of her personality besides her cat claws are sorely absent on the rest of album.) I also enjoy the sound of the titular phrase. The use of a vocoder in the chorus after the bridge is fun, too; it reminds me of Mika’s “The Origin of Love.”

But the rest of the chorus is rather monotonous; it’s five notes. However, besides these enjoyable elements, this song is also pretty bland; it’d be a fun song to bop to in the car, but, in terms of the profundity of its content, it’s just more background noise compared to her previous works.


“Dancing with Our Hands Tied”

Crystal:

The lack of any meaningful lyrics is irritating, because, although one would think Swift would have more to say about the topic of doomed love, this song has barely any substance.

In addition, the production gives me 2000s vibes, which I was very ambivalent about at first. It does become more palatable the more you listen to it, but I’m still not into what sounds like tamer brunette Katy Perry.

Anastasia:

The beginning of this reminds me of Halsey’s “Hopeless Fountain Kingdom,” but unlike the songs from that album, the chorus for this song is rather lackluster and repetitive. I do like the production and the verses (“I’m a mess, but I’m the mess that you wanted.”) It’s a perfect night-driving song about a love destined to fail from the beginning.

Though it shows more of Taylor’s lyrical prowess, it’s not a good demonstration of her ability to create a unique, non-overly-formulaic hook. It’s up there with “So It Goes…” in terms of what it adds to the album; the only thing that makes “Dancing with Our Hands Tied” superior, in my opinion, is the sparkle and pulse of its production.

   

“Dress”

Crystal:

When I heard “Dress,” it gave me flashbacks to “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever.” I don’t think anyone expected a slow dance song from Swift, but she definitely proves us wrong here.

The music is the most outstanding similarity, with slow bass beats in the background and little snaps of sound throughout. I like it.

Just as she does in “Gorgeous,” Swift’s lyrics are spot-on: “My hands are shaking from holding back from you … Say my name and everything just stops / I don’t want you like a best friend.” Cleverly, the music stops when she says “everything just stops.” The chorus of “Only bought this dress so you could take it off” is rather repetitive and was extremely uncomfortable for me to listen too, but it detracts little from the dusky desire and atmosphere of the song. Still, I would have liked it better if Swift had been more subtle about the theme of the dress.

The best part is that Swift allows her voice to soar more in the chorus than she does in any other “reputation” songs and the music is just enough to enhance the emotion behind it. At this point it seems like “reputation” is more a scrapbook of all the types of current pop music than anything, but “Dress” is one song that works.

Anastasia:

Though this sound has a more soothing, “humming” production (which I like), but its lyrical content is all about tension. The verses do a decent job depicting Swift’s emotional state: nervousness, anxiety, unsureness, awe (“All of this silence and patience, pining and anticipation”) — all revolving around a boy Swift doesn’t “want … like a best friend.”

I don’t really like this song … for multiple reasons. Yes, this is arguably the most forward Swift has ever been when it comes to discussing sex in any of her songs. But I don’t like it because it doesn’t seem like her at all.

Here’s what I mean: The repetitive nature of the lyrics (especially the chorus) makes this song seem so superficial, which is tragic, because one of her trademarks is her genuine, heartfelt, true-to-life lyrics. While “Dress” is arguably not meant to say anything too profound except “I want you.” But for a song marketed as “a love song about deep and tender feelings,” this song is strangely unemotional, which is the last thing you want to describe so clinically if you’re trying to accurately depict such a highly-emotional act.

I like the lyrics and sound of the bridge, though. It’s one of those few glimpses of the talented songwriter that’s still there … or was that the old Taylor?

 

“This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”

Crystal:

I have yet to listen to it because Swift refuses to release her songs, but Anastasia has more to say. Also Swift needs to get over the drama.

Anastasia:

A seeming nod to Kanye West’s behavior toward Swift, this synth- and scorn-driven song describes a someone’s betrayal as a hindrance to further friendly relations with that person. A patronizing tone is pervasive throughout, down to the enunciation of the chorus (“Because you break them / I had to take them”) and Taylor laughing at the thought of forgiveness (“I can’t even say it with a straight face”). I like all of it except the chorus; it sounds too much like a Katy Perry song (the annoying ones, not the OK ones), and its monotony just annoys me.

It’s a fun rebuttal in Swift’s seemingly ongoing war between certain famous individuals, even if the chorus falls flat and prevents the song from shining like it should.

 

“Call It What You Want”

Swift performs “Call It What You Want” on Saturday Night Live. Public domain image.

Crystal:   

I’m not sure why everyone made a big deal out of this song and got distracted about how it contains the new Taylor’s answer to her first hit “Love Story.” “Call It What You Want” is genuinely just a more musically toned down version of her complaining.

In addition, is it just me, or does the chorus “my baby’s fly like a jet stream” make no sense? Her songwriting abilities seem to have gotten rusty over her hiatus, because this song is the epitome of triteness.

Her crooning (“I brought a knife to a gunfight”) shows the potential of her naturally lovely voice that she barely takes advantage of in any of her new songs. It’s a lost chance, a byproduct of mercenary stardom striving for the mainstream.

Sorry, “Call It What You Want” just doesn’t convince me. The entire song screams cliché.

Anastasia:

This song is very, very reminiscent of “This Love” thematically, if that song actually sounded like “Clean.” It’s one of the mellower tracks that focuses more on what Swift has than what others have taken from her:  “All my flowers grew back as thorns / Windows boarded up after the storm / He built a fire just to keep me warm / All the drama queens taking swings / All the jokers dressing up as kings / They fade to nothing when I look at him.”

There are some profound moments in this song that had me grinning very widely, like “I want to wear his initial on a chain round my neck … Not because he owns me / But ‘cause he really knows me” or ““I brought a knife to a gunfight” that I really, really like. But these lyrics are overshadowed by lamer lines like “My baby’s fit like a daydream,” or “My baby’s fly like a jet stream,” because they don’t make much sense. And, unfortunately, the prevalence of these specific lyrics (they’re in the chorus) prevents me from fully being able to appreciate this song for what it does well.

 

“New Year’s Day”

Crystal:

In striving for the minimalist, this song is simplistic and stripped bare of any real melody. I love the choice of subject: post-New Year’s Eve love, when it’s about the one who helps you clean up the mess and things are not so glamorous. But with only instrumental accompaniments, “New Year’s Day” isn’t as compelling as it could have been. It tries for a beautifully personal touch but fails to deliver the impact because it has no real tune for me to latch on to.

Anastasia:

With a hushed piano, soft guitar and a subdued violin as her only accompaniment, this is the most downbeat track on the entire album, which is fitting, seeing as it’s the closing track. It’s also one of the most personal songs on the album; according to Swift, it’s a song about the special person who will deal with you not just at a romantic New Year’s Eve party, where the year is greeted with a kiss, but the day after, too, when you might be battling sleep deprivation and possible a hangover.

It borrows some ideas from “Enchanted” — the fears of losing something special and of loved ones becoming well-known strangers — but it still stands on it own, and, though it’s not as catchy as her others (which prevents it from being added to my favorites list), it has the personal stroke I wish the rest of the album possessed.

 

Crystal’s Verdict:

This album is just an amalgamation of different popular sounds with superficial lyrics at best, some of which are good and some of which straight-up fall flat. All in all, “reputation” does break new ground, with flashes of intermittent brilliance (for me, “… Ready for It?” and “Don’t Blame Me”), but mostly fails to pack the punch “1989” did.

I guess the old Taylor really is dead. I was definitely not ready for it. And I’m gonna miss her because, call it what you want, I don’t think the new Taylor is delicate or gorgeous.

 

Anastasia’s Verdict:

My initial opinion after hearing iTunes previews was that this entire album is a waste of time; some of the songs are easily singable, but they aren’t worth deeper thought. After listening to the songs in full and more than once, I’m better able to appreciate some of them, like “I Did Something Bad,” “Getaway Car,” “Ready for It…,” “New Year’s Day” and even “King of My Heart.”

As someone who’s been listening live to every Taylor Swift song released since 2010, when I was first introduced to her, I’ve been exposed to the evolution of her style while she’s evolved — as an entertainer, a songwriter and an individual. Once I gave this album a chance, I could appreciate some of the experimentation here; some of it works, and I have to give her kudos for that, because she started off as a wide-eyed teenage country crooner, and now she’s singing trap-influenced music.

Unfortunately, with the exception of pre-released singles, none of my favorite songs are available for individual purchase; if you want them, you must buy the full album. So I guess the question really boils down to this: Is this album good enough to justify purchasing the whole thing?

In my opinion, no. While Swift has some shining moments (and some brief echoes of the Ghost of Taylors Past) in her lyrics and her melodic structure, many of these songs are disappointingly generic and repetitive. If any other, less popular artist released these songs, they’d receive little to no attention.

The success of this album rides solely on Swift’s reputation itself … which she probably knew when she decided to take this route musically. Yet, when riding along with Swift in her getaway car to a new sound and image, I found the ride frustratingly dull and a little bumpy.

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1 Comment

One Response to “Taylor changes direction too Swiftly in ‘reputation’: The album ranked and dissected song by song”

  1. Crystal R. Sung on November 17th, 2017 2:44 pm

    Wow 👏🏻 what 👏🏻 a 👏🏻 great 👏🏻 roast 👏🏻 i mean review 👏🏻

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Taylor changes direction too Swiftly in ‘reputation’: The album ranked and dissected song by song