And now back to our regularly scheduled presentation on Radio Friendly.
Are you ready for it? That’s the question Taylor Swift poses in the aptly titled opening track, ‘…Ready For It?’ I don’t know if I’m ready for it. By the look of the front cover, this Taylor is darker, more dangerous. She’s looking me dead in the eye and mouthing, “I’ll fuck you up boy.”
I don’t need to explain or introduce Miss Swift, she’s the most famous female artist on the planet. I’d even go as far to say bigger than Beyoncé. Her 2017 album, Reputation, came out three years after 1989, her transition album from the twangy country countess to pop princess. I was a big fan of 1989, hell I even liked some of the songs off her album Red. 1989 showed Swift’s sophistication with her song writing and her ability to craft catchy hooks, even if her lyrical themes become a bit repetitive. Wildest Dreams and How You Get the Girl are still some of my favourite pop tracks from the past decade. But with repetitive lyrics about boys and breakups comes a reputation. I’m not saying a slutty reputation, though half the internet would beg to differ, but a reputation of ‘the classic Taylor Swift song’: a catchy pop banger about a dreamy boy or a catchy pop banger about some scumbag who broke her heart. From the opening of her music video for Look What You Made Me Do, listeners around the world knew we aren’t in Kansas anymore. The clip opens with a tombstone reading ‘Here Lies Taylor Swift’s Reputation’. The video continues to show this ‘new’ badass Taylor, dressed in black, fishnet stockings, hair slightly wavy, beating down the old version of herself from previous albums. She’s killing off the girl next door and giving us a dangerous, darker, albeit sexier version. That’s how we are introduced to Reputation, and it’s a bit exciting.
Ready For It begins with blaring, bass synth notes that attack my ears. It’s aggressive and cinematic, as if it’s the opening sound we hear for the next Marvel movie. Now I might be reading into the lyrics wrong, but to me it’s the standard Taylor Swift lyrics. Instead of prince and princesses, we’ve got Swift talking about the first time she sees this dangerous looking bloke, ‘a killer’. But she’s no duchess here, because she’s a robber, stealing men’s hearts. Swift has replaced her story book fantasy with the plot for Sin City. It’s slightly more dangerous but it’s still textbook Tay. And in perfect textbook fashion, the chorus on Ready For It is a banger. The trap beats from the verse pitters away and we have a house-synth against Swift’s beautifully poppy melody. The verses are more aggressive, but the chorus is still memorable and sweet; there’s a conflict in tone already but I don’t mind.
End Game, featuring Ed Sheeran and Future, seems to be a mild message about Swift’s lust for a man, but also being mindful of the reputation that a new relationship would bring, “Big reputation, ooh you and me we got big reputations, ah, and you heard about me, ooh, I got some big enemies.” Future’s verse isn’t that memorable, the song sounds like your general radio pop hit. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, Swift knows how to write those types of songs. She does it well.
I Did Something Bad shows a different production side to Swift’s arsenal that I’m not so fond of. Her backing instrumentation sounds like the butchered offspring of trap, dubstep and house. It’s still catchy, I’ll give Swift that, but it’s a throw away song. It’s not until the fourth song that I hear a stand out track. Don’t Blame Me is a slower paced song with Flume-esque synths throbbing in the background. Swift’s chorus melody is reminiscent of Hozier’s Take Me To Church. Remember that old chestnut? It’s a royal, driving, modulated melody that compliments the backing music very well.
Delicate begins with an auto-tuned vocal melody. It’s not Yachty level auto-tune, which is a relief; Swift needs no tuning to her beautiful melodies. The song is bittersweet, it’s not really a banger pop tune, but it’s catchy and serves well as a filler track. The lyrics are still your standard T-Swift affair: ‘This ain’t for the best. My reputation’s never been worse, so you must like me for me.’ We once again hit the topic of Swift’s reputation within both the music industry as well as the public thanks to her public relationships.
I’m not a fan of the lead single Look At What You Made Me Do. It’s inconsistent in it’s style and tone from the rest of the album. It’s minimalistic with its lacklustre instrumentation, all we get are drum beats and a low synth in the verse, and once the build drops, the chorus goes back to the same boring instrumentation. The message of the track is clear, Swift is saying ‘look at what I’ve become.’ It could be about the shitty propaganda headlines about Swift’s past relationships, or maybe the conversation Swift had with Mr and Mrs West about Kanye’s line in Famous. If you haven’t followed Swift’s career, this song will mean nothing. If she’s using it to announce her new look, then she still should have done that prior to the album, but then leave it off Reputation.
So It Goes is another memorable track that has me bobbing my head. Maybe it’s the fact I’ve been watching a fair bit of Queer Eye, but So It Goes scratches my head banging synth pop itch that I didn’t really know I had. And the same must be said about Getaway Car. The more I listen to it, the more I find myself humming the chorus. I’ve never been a big fan of Swift’s verses, but goddamn, once you get me to the chorus I’m up on my chair dancing like a fourteen-year-old at, well, a Taylor Swift concert.
The second half of the album is relatively boring, I’m looking for that darker flare that Swift announced in Ready For It. Instead, I hear trap beats and electronic production. Latter tracks Dancing With Our Hands and Dress are catchy but aren’t as memorable as earlier songs, so the last four songs on Reputation are skippable. Closing track New Year’s Day is a soft love ballad, something that would suit earlier Swift albums if she just replaced the piano with an acoustic guitar. It’s boring and I don’t really care what she has to say because it sounds the same as what she’s said before; the classic Taylor Swift line. The end of the album is weak, and I expect more from the heavyweight of pop.
In a way, I expected more from the entire album, really. Swift has proclaimed to the world, like a martyr to her own cause, that the old Taylor is dead. A new Taylor has been created in the ashes of her past reputation. A reputation that earnt her the crown for recycled lyrics about lost loves and future fantasies. I know all the Swifties out there will hang me up to dry for saying this, but, Swift might have a new badass Charlie’s Angels look, but she’s still writing the same songs she’s known for. It just so happens that those songs are catchy as fuck pop bangers, that unfortunately share the same lyrical content. I was hoping Reputation would be a bit edgier in production, not just recycling synth melodies and trap beats, but I can’t deny that Swift can write solid hooks that make up for her mistakes. Even though many of these songs could have fit nicely on 1989, I enjoyed the album for what it was. I’m not as caught up in the Swift lifestyle as others, and I feel you need to be to fully appreciate this album. But as a general pop album, it’s not that bad.
Taylor Swift’s Reputation was hyped up for the wrong reasons, but it was worth it in the end.
After the Hype is a weekly series where I listen to an album after the hype dies down and give my general thoughts, sometimes a little whinge. It’s ok to disagree.