Joan Jett did not care about her bad reputation. Maybe it’s time Taylor Swift stopped overthinking things. Swift’s sixth studio album “Reputation,” released on Nov. 10, is a clear departure from anything she has done and it results in a confusing, uninspired sound.
Swift rose to superstardom on a unique fusion of country and pop that worked pretty much only for her. “Red,” and “1989,” were both fantastic pop albums that still featured Swift trademarks: love, heartbreak and clever songwriting. It was unique because it was different from the other pop music on the radio and it led to widespread success. Swift captured the range of emotions that love encompasses and made it her own.
“Reputation,” is Swift jumping head-first into unexplored territory. She’s more explicit with lyrics like “it’s like your eyes are liquor,” and “when you get me on, it’s so simple.” Swift’s music has grown up since her debut album, where she just wished a boy would notice she exists.
The All-American girl image that was carefully cultivated through her five previous albums is thrown straight out the window for the sake of being mainstream. Swift just does what everyone else does on “Reputation,” which is a disservice to her creativity and talent.
The influence of producers Max Martin and Jack Antonoff has hampered Swift’s talent. They’ve stunted an artist who is capable of much better pop music and is at her best on songs like “Style,” “Blank Space” and “Out of the Woods.” While both Martin and Antonoff co-wrote on “1989,” it still sounded like a natural progression of Swift’s music. Now, the pairing has evolved into a detached, boring collaboration.
Swift has spent her entire adult life in the public eye and her music has traced her maturation as a person. Her debut album was hopeful and optimistic about love. The message was that everything eventually works out once your find yourself. Through subsequent albums, her portrayals of love had more depth and examined the emotionally damaging side of the equation. Her lamentations were no longer about her crush on the boy on the football team; they shifted to topics like her real-life breakup with John Mayer.
This album places Swift in the driver’s seat in her stories. She’s no longer the anxious, wide-eyed teenager or the spurned lover or any other iterations of her persona. This is a completely new Taylor, determined and slightly darker. “Look What You Made Me Do,” the lead single, is Swift’s answer to all of the vitriol she’s received in the wake of her feud with Kimye and her failure to get political in a culture where everything has become politicized. “I’ve got a list of names and yours is red and underlined and checked twice,” is delivered like a warning shot to her enemies, something old Swift never would have done.
Higher up on the list of things Swift never would have done: rap. Taylor Swift is not a rapper, which should be an obvious statement. Yet, “Reputation,” has way too much Swift rapping. I’ve never once in my life wanted to hear the singer of “You Belong With Me,” try to be Drake. There is simply too much going on on the album. As recently as three years ago when “1989,” was released, it would’ve been unfathomable for rap star Future to feature on a Taylor Swift song. It is not that Future’s verse is bad, it is just out of place on a Taylor Swift album. “Reputation” struggles so much to find itself – even an Ed Sheeran feature sounds out of place on the song “End Game.”
The eighth track, “Gorgeous,” is one of the few highlights amongthis muddled mess of stylistic exploration. This is the song closest to Swift’s refined pop sound – the drum machine is reminiscent of “Blank Space” – and there isn’t the awkward Drake impression she attempts throughout the rest of the album. “Gorgeous” takes the template of a classic Swift ode to unrequited love, soaks it in alcohol and adds the tension of the singer’s infidelity to create an intoxicating radio hit.
Swift’s willingness to experiment as an artist is commendable, but “Reputation,” seems like an outright miss for an artist who can do better. An overproduced Swift loses her genius as a musician –there is is scant an instrument to be heard on the entire album. Experimentation is part of learning as musician, but changing things just for the sake of change feels like a missed opportunity for a better album.