Taylor Swift’s entire brand can be boiled down to victimhood and her relationships with men. Her first four albums, which focused heavily on those relationships, prompted a trend of hot takes speculating about which ex-boyfriend was the subject of which single.
As a longtime Swift fan, I hated the media coverage that surrounded her relationships. Yes, she often wrote about her exes, but this theme was not necessarily exclusive to her. Many pop stars, including men, wrote songs about their past relationships and didn’t receive the same amount of ridicule as Swift. To me, this was infuriating — and it seems that Swift found it infuriating as well.
Enter 1989, one of my favourite pop albums of all time. Its second single, “Blank Space,” showcased a degree of humour and self-awareness that had been missing from Swift’s prior albums. Its accompanying music video, symbolic of Swift’s relationship with the media, was brilliant. If you didn’t see it, you missed out on one of the best pop culture moments of 2014.
For me, it was both endearing and enjoyable to watch Swift’s character development: embracing feminism and creating an album that prioritized her over her relationships with men. She had finally risen from the pit of victimhood.
Now comes the era of Reputation, which has shattered all of that progress. On a surface level, the first two songs released from the album, “Look What You Made Me Do” and “…Ready for It?” are badly produced and don’t live up to the catchiness of Swift’s previous singles. If you could have captured a video of me listening to “Look What You Made Me Do” for the first time, you could have pinpointed the exact moment I lost hope in Swift — within the first five seconds.
Reputation feels like a step back for Swift, back into the victimhood that resulted from her relationships with men. I understand that she might be attempting to capitalize on her controversial feud with Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West over West’s song “Famous” from The Life of Pablo, but it completely undermines the brilliant brand that Swift built for herself with 1989.
The most memorable line from “Look What You Made Me Do” is, without a doubt, “I’m sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh, ’cause she’s dead!” But personally, I’m mourning the old Taylor Swift.
— Avneet Sharma
After disappearing from the public eye for over six months, the biggest name in pop music is back with two new singles and the announcement of the Reputation album — though it’s hardly a new direction for her.
Many aspects of Taylor Swift’s new single, “Look What You Made Me Do” — from the haunting orchestral opening to the synth-dominated and simple but unmistakably catchy chorus — sound like they could have come off Lorde’s latest album, the critically acclaimed Melodrama. This is to be expected, as both were produced by Jack Antonoff of fun., Bleachers, and Steel Train.
Similar to what we’ve seen in “Blank Space” and “Shake It Off,” both the single’s video and lyrics are packed with clever self-deprecating references, including media depictions of Swift as someone who sleeps in a giant birdcage and as the ringleader of a manufactured ‘squad’ of models.
The song also takes direct aim at Kanye West, with whom Swift has been engaged in a feud after the rapper released “Famous,” most likely due to the lyrical content: “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/I made that bitch famous.” Call it petty if you like, but Swift has been taking aim at her opponents from her country music days to her pops ones, with tracks such as “Mean,” “Bad Blood,” and the countless songs targeted at her exes.
Swift has also received criticism for a scene in the video allegedly making light of Kim Kardashian West’s robbery in Paris, as well as for the announced release date of Reputation, which falls on the same date as the anniversary of West’s mother’s death.
These criticisms are misguided. In the scene that some say references the Paris robbery, Swift is in a bathtub filled with diamonds, firing a finger gun. The scene appears to in fact be a reference to another media depiction of her “crying in her marble bath tub surrounded by pearls.” In addition, album release dates are commonly set on Fridays and are often decided by the label, not the artist.
The second single for the album, “…Ready For It?,” begins with deep synth basses — ironically similar to West’s Yeezus album — and features Swift rapping. Despite starting her career as a country artist, Swift has never been afraid to experiment with different genres. She has dabbled in punk (“Better than Revenge”), synth-pop (1989), and even dubstep (“I Knew You Were Trouble”).
It’s inaccurate to say that anything we’ve seen has been a radical departure from Swift’s earlier work — aspects of ‘the old Taylor’ are still very much alive. With two strong singles released so far, I’m excited to see what Swift has in store for the rest of Reputation.
— Tom Yun