I think I’ve found Taylor’s problem. And no, it’s not Kanye. Taylor began her instant-success career as a loveable nerd. In ‘You Belong with Me’ she was the alt-girl-next-door. Uncool, bookish – she was the classic ‘I take my glasses off and…I’M ACTUALLY SUPER HOT’ heroine. Now Taylor’s trying to be COOL. She’s trying to be the heroine who turns up in a new ‘I don’t even care – I don’t even care so much that I bought and tailored this whole new outfit’ outfit at a big event, stunning everyone in attendance. Like Sandy in Grease. But she’s not Sandy in Grease turning up to the fair. She’s Taylor IRL turning up to her own album. And it hasn’t worked. It really hasn’t worked.
Well, her hooks still work. The saving graces of ‘…Ready for It?’ are the “In the middle of the night/in my dreams” sections, which help you remember how you can really love Taylor’s music (whilst the rest of the song tries to help you forget). Speaking of throwbacks to Taylor’s old sound, ‘Call It What You Want’ is by far the best single. But I think that’s because it sounds like it’s from 1989. ‘…Ready for It?’ is bad. Not in a ‘so bad it’s good’ way either, just bad. Sure, it was meant to be a big-impact single, firing shots and all that. Perhaps this is why it sounds like an imitation of something Kanye made, by accident, in the studio when recording Yeezus. But that single I will never be ready for. Its singles such as these let us know that the old Taylor is, in fact, dead. To be fair, she did tell us.
The song ‘End Game’ features Future and Ed Sheeran rapping. Future features on a Taylor Swift song – that fact alone should prove my point regarding Taylor-trying-to-be-cool. And incidentally, Ed Sheeran rapping at all is Ed-trying-to-be-cool. But I do really like the beat. Less so Taylor’s lyrical content. I understand that she wants to be romantically important to a hot man, but we’ve heard these themes before and I thought the old Taylor was dead? I like ‘Don’t Blame Me’, I do. It kind of sounds like Flume did a remix of ‘Take Me to Church’ but I do like it. Another song, seen later in the track list, which sounds like it was produced by Flume is ‘Dancing with Our Hands Tied’. Which is also, sonically, pretty good. Until the song drops into the verses, wherein Taylor’s vocals make you feel like someone’s let her loose on the karaoke machine (again).
‘Delicate’ easily suits Taylor best of all the songs on Reputation. The tone of her voice is well-tuned and matches the subtlety of the backing track. The computed echo of ‘Delicate’ in the chorus is also, notably, quite classy. It’s become quite the cliché in modern pop but it can be well-executed. Honestly, it reminded me of the vocal manipulation on ‘Nikes’ and anything that reminds me of Blonde is a good thing. ‘So It Goes…’ is also a decent number. Though I was spiritually shaken when I thought Taylor had called herself a ‘bad girl’ – but no fear, she writes that she is, in fact, a non-bad girl who simply does ‘bad things’ with *insert white celeb-man here* (literally, amirite?!) Sadly, the bad hits return with ‘King of My Heart’ – the chorus sounds like she’s singing along to the song rather than singing the song. Taylor also appears to RAP a verse. Or do I mean, spit dem bars. Perhaps she thought “well it worked for Ed!” Except that it didn’t and it doesn’t (oftentimes I like you Ed, and I get that The Marshall Mathers LP inspired you, I do, but rap in your room or when running or when doing the laundry or…just not on a song, OK?).
If ‘End Game’ made you feel like you were treading on thematically trodden-on territory, ‘Dress’ will…surprise. ‘Dress’ is indeed a surprisingly explicit song. Taylor makes sounds that, how do I put this, she definitely wasn’t making on 1989. Maybe the bath she’s spilling wine in is, like, hot or something. Overall, the song is pretty good. I’m just shocked (‘at least [I was] electrified!’, which, to be clear, is a factitious reference to a poor line in the song, though you can only get a copy of the lyrics if you pay £10.99 – that’s TEN NINETY NINE POUNDS – for the album on iTunes (or just go on RapGenius (because Taylor Raps now)) that it’s Taylor being so unseemly. The show closes on ‘New Year’s Day’, which kind of sounds like a lullaby and makes ‘Dress’ feel like a distant memory. Indeed ‘New Year’s Day’ sounds like its being sung to a baffled foetus. But not in a clever, ambiguous-meaning kind of way. Like it was an accident.
I think the most trying aspect of this album is the number of musical styles Taylor attempts to cover. Each song supposedly represented a caricature of Taylor, whether it be one depicted by the media or incidentally by herself in one of her previous songs. But 15 songs mean 15 characters and 15 attempts at musical distinctiveness. Some styles, like the skins she is shedding, were bound not to fit Taylor. In fact, no one (not even Max Martin) can stylise each song without some of them coming off as poor rip-offs of trendy pop sounds that Taylor has absent-mindedly chosen to sing along to. The only reputation Taylor should have been concerned with is her musical one. But alas.