Nov 11, 2017

CD Rating: Taylor Swift - "Reputation"

In the year 2017, what do audiences expect out of pop music? Should it be escapism, or a platform to open up about bigger and more conflicting themes? It's tough to say in large part because the world has been rather unkind with countless cases of gun violence and a horrific hurricane season leaving entire countries in shambles. To an extent, there should be some form of self-awareness, or an investment in a world outside of the performer's life. This is largely why Taylor Swift's much anticipated new album "Reputation" feels a bit disingenuous. From the moment her first single ("Look What You Made Me Do") dropped, there were cries of her being a vapid, redundant performer who has run out of things to say. The bigger irony is that considering her previous album "1989" gave her a new identity, it's sad how "Reputation" reflects how anemic of a shelf life this identity has. She's still doing her thing, but who cares anymore?
In many ways, "Reputation" plays like an album outing Swift as a modern day Republican. The album art alone depicts her as a martyr, wishing to be more than what the "fake news" is saying about her. This album exists as a response to those criticisms, though not in any way that feels direct or fulfilling. On songs such as "I Did Something Bad," she admits her imperfection only to suggest that if you did something wrong to her, you deserved it. There's a conflicting call for sympathy and a deity status. She wants to be the hero in her sonic atmosphere even if she does little to earn it. Seeing as she's now been an acclaimed singer for 11 years, choosing to call your old self dead on "Look What You Made Me Do," at the age of 27 mind you, is extremely condescending. What is the new Taylor Swift? Just someone who still sings songs about being in and out of love. Even her metaphors are childish, such as the Bonnie & Clyde-ridden "Getaway Car" track that alludes to her being a criminal. If she's not Republican, she sure sounds like the New Taylor is taking notes from the current commander-in-chief.
The "New Taylor" mode also doesn't sound all that new. Considering that "1989" showed her growing as an artist by venturing into catchy pop tunes, it's disappointing that even her production suffers even as her lyrics remain evanescent to maturity. Instead of finding the heart in her hooks, she has decided to embrace arena-size melodies that feel tinkered by producers to get the most listens on her version of Spotify. "...Ready for It?" opens the album with the suggestion that things are about to be exciting, and the booming chorus that follows wants the listener to believe this. To her credit, she starts off creatively, even trying to make a sports analogy to love in track two: "End Game." The only issue is that this is a move not unlike the far catchier "Blank Space," which turns a Starbucks-like scenario into a Mormon-style relationship. 
Swift's goal is to reinvent love songs every few years. Early on, it was cute to hear her sing anthems yearning for acceptance. Who could forget the value of "You Belong With Me?" as a teenage ear worm? It's long gone now, as the New Taylor will have you believe. Instead it's empirical imagery and cries to have sympathy thrust upon her for being dumped. Over course, she admits fault in being dumped, but it's still someone else's fault. In an era where people are marching to protest integral things like women and immigrants' rights, it's bizarre to think that Swift seems to have locked herself up in her house and become Marie Antoinette, listening to Twitter while culturally appropriating her sound into something disheartening. Even the soul of "Reputation" feels hollow, if just because it doesn't challenge or offer much interesting in Swift as a performer. To say she's just repeating what worked on "1989" would be egregious. Like Katy Perry showed earlier this year, she's stuck in herself.
This is all unfortunate because the album ends with the best song of the 15 tracks. "New Year's Day" is one of the few instances where her amorous lifestyle isn't contradicted within verse by vitriol. What is there is a friendly sense of joy in being with someone. The simple act of cleaning up after a part on New Year's Day is downright charming. Given that it's one of the few tracks that leans more towards ballad than booming stadium hit, it works so much better. It may not be a stretch for Swift as a lyricist, but it shows that her current identity crisis is tragic because she still has something in the Old Taylor worth celebrating. It may not be the only reason to resuscitate that body, but it at least has more feelings than the New Taylor's "Reputation" album.
So, what should audiences expect from Taylor Swift in 2017? For many, the criticisms here have been largely obvious since the beginning. Being a drama queen is what she does, choosing to appeal to teenage girls despite being a decade removed from graduation next month. It's a bit disconcerting that this is where she wants to take her career when what she had done before, even on "1989," has more appeal and reflects someone who makes music that people can relate to. "Reputation" is about relating to the nasty, contradictory, vindictive nature of Swift - a very successful woman clearly in denial about how the world wants to see her. This is an album that feels selfish, most of all because nothing has changed for Swift in the past few years while everything has for her listeners. She doesn't need to get political to stay relevant, but maybe try looking out the window once in awhile to notice that the world has a different orbit.

Overall Rating: 2 out of 5

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