‘Reputation’ Is Taylor Swift’s Fiercest Album Yet

Whether you consider yourself a Taylor Swift devotee — anxiously hanging on the pop star’s every lyric and flying the flag in the face of her equally vocal detractors — a decidedly anti-Swift provocateur or somewhere in between, there’s no denying the country singer turned pop titan has a knack for reinvention. It’s an especially impressive trait considering the turmoil Swift has endured, both manufactured and otherwise, over her decade-plus in the spotlight. From celebrity feuds turned tabloid fodder with the likes of Kanye West, Kim Kardashian and her myriad of ex-boyfriends to financially-driven battles with streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music Swift has had her work cut out for her. And let’s not forget the swaths of controversy surrounding the tactics used to sell tickets to her latest tour, a move that has significantly skewed the outlandish amount of pre-orders for the new album. All that social chaos aside, there’s an electricity in the air as her most ardent of supporters wait for “reputation” to become digitally available and to grace brick-and-mortar Target stores as a good old-fashioned compact disc.

That ability to hang on to and build such a raucous fanbase speaks to Swift’s enduring persona, one that rises above criticism and all the fun the internet pokes at her expense. She has always been the model of taking the punishment with a pinch of grace (see “Shake it Off”). The millions she has stacked up probably soften every blow anyway. It’s not until “reputation,” Swift’s sixth and most daring effort yet, that the songstress appears fed up and ready to throw hands.

“Reputation’s” confrontational tilt comes as no surprise, especially considering Swift’s recent slew of tabloid-esque magazines along with the album’s first single and music video, “Look What You Made Me Do.” Both appeared in the lead-up to the album’s debut that pivots on the media’s portrayal of the singer, using all the negativity and hoopla to her advantage. All those materials marked a departure from the graceful and usually good-natured temperament her fans so adore. That Taylor is dead, and that message rang out loud and clear in the lead single and its subsequent video which sees the pop diva climb out of a grave in full zombie form. The clip also pulls no punches when it comes to Swift’s former friends and flames, cheekily playing off the gossip mill’s frenzied reaction to then boyfriend Tom Hiddleston wearing a tank top proclaiming his love for “TS,” and later even taking a shot at Katy Perry and Kim Kardashian. The claws, as they say, are out, and they sure are sharp.

From the beginning, “…Ready For It” boldly blares cinematic synths to kick off “reputation,” displaying Swift’s decision to adopt a hip-hop cadence, making aspects of “reputation” feel combative, if not a little sardonic. “I see nothing better/ I keep him forever/ like a vendetta,” she sing-raps on the opening cut. Vendetta is a constant on “reputation,” but it’s especially cutting on tracks like “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things,” an anthemic force of trap that thumps and bumps with the best of them while Swift derisively decries former friends and flames for their foolishness. “Did you think I wouldn’t hear all the things you said about me?” She asks over an urgently paced beat with just the right amount of keys to give it a tongue-and-cheek feel. “Friends don’t try to trick you/ get you on the phone and mind-twist you/ and so I took an ax to a mended fence.” There’s even a hint of blatant braggadocio on “I Did Something Bad,” a boastful celebration of the hearts to which Swift has layed waste over the years. “You gotta leave before you get left,” she sings while the dubstep-esque chorus lopes along at a pace that’s sinister in its leisure. “They’re burning all the witches even if you aren’t one,” she proclaims. “So light me up/ go ahead and light me up.”

While its enticing to get wrapped up in the gossip wars, it’s worth tipping the proverbial hat to Swift’s constantly evolving sonics and her ability to so readily straddle whatever sounds are in vogue. This time around she imbues “reputation” with a steady stream of trap-inspired fare, even assuming a rap persona to round out the ensemble complete with that signature hip-hop cackle (you know the one). She blatantly plays to the dance floor on “King of My Heart,” a club-ready banger that unwinds into a fortified ear-worm of a chorus with a savory bridge to boot, and she launches a barrage of disses on “Call It What You Want,” lamenting that “all the drama queens taking swings/ all the jokers dressing up as kings.” If you listen closely you can hear the sizzle. To more thoroughly satisfy those into the trap cuisine, Swift even enlists heavyweight Future for a verse on “Endgame,” but considering the Atlanta stalwart’s status, the track ultimately feels like a disappointment. Ed Sheeran even out-raps Future at one point with a tightly woven sing-rap verse, although when he tries outright busting a flow things sound a tad bit embarrassing for the singer from Suffolk.

Though, not everything feels expressly built for the party crowd, giving “reputation” a margin of variability. “Getaway Car” feels reminiscent of Swift’s single “Style” in all the right ways before the final bars strip down to nothing but drums before petering out like a getaway car reaching its final destination. “Dancing With Our Hands Tied” provides a catchy yet constructive commentary on high-profile relationships and the crushing weight of public scrutiny. “I loved you in spite of deep fears that the world would divide us,” Swift admits. “I’m a mess but I’m the mess that you wanted.” Meanwhile, sitting pretty at the end of the album, the closing cut “New Years Day” is a ballad driven by piano and tinged with guitar that harkens back to the “Fearless” days.

Ultimately, “reputation” still packs many of Taylor Swift’s signature love and relationship songs for her fans, yet is a re-tooling of Swift’s persona, giving her more power than in albums past. With “reputation” Swift is willing to flaunt her celebrity instead of bashfully ignore it, all while continuing the sonic evolution synonymous with her career. 

Reputation” is available for purchase directly from Taylor Swift’s website as well as iTunes Nov. 10. “Reputation” can also be exclusively streamed for 24 hours alongside Swift’s greatest hits via iHeartRadio stations beginning Nov. 10 at 12:01 a.m. ET with the official “reputation” album release party airing at 8 p.m. ET.