Review Summary: The old Taylor is not all dead yet but she might be becoming a stranger we could recognize anywhere
As a country singer, Taylor Swift was my main compass while I navigated my artistic exploring. Through her I discovered my art didn't need to be this overcomplicated craft, that what I wanted to do was to share my experience as simply and as honestly as possible even if it made me sound like a crazy, clingy, vengeful woman, because emotions aren't supposed to be flattering. And I wasn't the only one moved, back then you could hardly find any Taylor Swift review that didn't describe her as being well above her peers. Now, three years after 1989, we have with Reputation her first attempt at hip-hop and a continuation of the pop identity she developted in her last big change of genre, and it's not without achievements but this time around one could easily name at least five manstream pop artists who are sounding a lot more impressive these days.
The record opens with ...Ready For It" and Swift's rapping, which has all the bravado you want from a hip-hop song while still sounding very Taylor. The contrastingly soft chorus makes the song all the more interesting, but it's also an unfortunate reminder that blackness is just a phase for a woman who thrives in being a white fantasy. Second song End Game is a collaboration with Future and Ed Sheeran, and subverts structure by starting from the chorus - a small victory for the mainstream hating fan like myself. The song feels very old school and summery and great, making one wonder why she'd include Future's embarrassing lines such as "You so dope, don't overdose/I’m so stoked, I need a toast", probably a strategic PR decison of not releasing a song with just the two whitest people in the globe rapping. I Did Something Bad keeps the listener's ambivalence going: the "rrrata-ta-ta-ta" post chorus sound near the gunshots is the coolest thing I ever heard, and as much as it's fun to hear her strip out of her niceness and fully confess to manipulating, lying to and playing men with no regret, it is mind bending to hear that right after her act as a victim of fake news during End Game. As a fan I'm concerned she had a stroke. The upside though is she's back to exposing her flaws like she did in her earlier days - back when the entire world wasn't watching -, now with the seriousness of a woman who has big reputation issues to deal with and is too powerful for her own good - it's a big relief after the silly "good girl faith and a tight little skirt" persona.
One of the main high points in the album comes soon after that with Delicate, a very airy production under a beautifully sweet R&B melody, with Swift softy singing about a romance that unexpectedly begins during the worst of her reputation drop. Her surprise with being desired after she's no longer seen as girlfriend material, the hesitance and fear towards a very delicate situation, it's all there, added by the sudden freedom of not being able to make long term plans and just settling for a drink instead. The wondering is conveyed perfectly by the sound effects in which her question echoes back and forth incessantly, isn't it isn't it isn't it... A similarly clever craft is presented later with Dress, where the desperate pining too raw to be verbalized with more than little moaning sounds of "ahh" repeated in a crescendo reads like an honest expression of the emotional experience of lust. A constrasting failure is Call It What You Want, a sound that feels more Jack Antanoff than Taylor and was already done better in 1989, something that could also be said about Getaway Car, So It Goes and Dancing With Your Hands Tied, all competing for the spot of least interesting song she ever wrote. Here she’s trying to paint this very abstract, metaphorical landscape on top of an eletronic beat, and no one wants to see that from Taylor. We want that from Lorde, Taylor Swift we want to see behind a microphone and a guitar, singing her ***ing heart out and telling us exactly what happened and how, regardless of the genre. Although Gorgeous is also repeating the cool electronic production of 1989 almost to the copying of Blank Space, it manages to avoid the listener's apathy by having one of the smartest lyrics in the record: "You make me so happy it turns back to sad" is the quintessencial Swift line in that it presents a very complex feeling in a digestible nutshell, showing that somewhere between the hollowness there's still the girl who knows a thing or two about poetry.
Speaking of the old Taylor, we get that sharpness all back in This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, a catharthic sing-along reminescent of We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together. It’s without a doubt the statement piece in Reputation, where she gets to the West feud with more detail, and does so with that glorious conversational intonation that makes it seem as if she’s right in front of you. It has that same cheerleader quality we hear in the second verse of Look What You Made Me Do, and it all works. The album ends with New Year's Day, another feast for old fans, this time bringing forth the more contemplative, stripped down Swift. Makes you wish she never changes beyond recognition, never becomes a stranger whose laugh you could recognize anywhere.