Taylor Swift is a chameleon in every sense of the word. More than a decade after the release of her self-titled debut album, the country-turned-pop superstar has molted into her darkest and most mature persona yet for her closely guarded sixth record, Reputation (out Friday, November 10).
Swift, 27, kicked off her latest album cycle in August with the release of the Peaches-esque single “Look What You Made Me Do,” on which she proclaims, “The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now / Why? Oh, ‘cause she’s dead.” And yes, at times Reputation is a drastic departure from her previous projects, albeit songs like “Gorgeous” and the euphoric “Getaway Car” could easily pass as leftovers from her poppy 2014 magnum opus, 1989.
That said, Swift is more grandiose and hard-hitting than ever this time around. The electropop opener, “…Ready for It?,” is colossal and channels the similarly distorted, bass-driven beats that were prevalent on her longtime adversary Kanye West’s 2013 album, Yeezus. She rap-sings about her boyfriend, British actor Joe Alwyn, acting “like such a man” despite being “younger than my exes,” before breaking into the tune’s melodic chorus.
At times, the Grammy winner’s lyrics are a bit edgy. On multiple songs, she sings about being intoxicated, an apparent attempt at shedding the good girl image that has followed her since she was spilling teardrops all over her guitar. “Dress” finds Swift moaning and telling her beau that she “only bought this dress so you can take it off,” while the forthright “I Did Something Bad” includes the atypically profane line, “If a man talks s–t, then I owe him nothing.”
Still, the so-called “old Taylor” pops up a couple of times. On “Gorgeous,” she sings, “Guess I’ll just stumble on home to my cats, alone,” while the anthemic “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” takes on the haters: “Here’s a toast to my real friends / They don’t care about that he said, she said / And here’s to my baby / He ain’t readin’ what they call me lately / And here’s to my mama / Had to listen to all this drama / And here’s to you / ‘Cause forgiveness is a nice thing to do.”
Swift holds her own throughout the 15-track LP, save for double-punch features from her pal Ed Sheeran and rapper Future on “End Game.” But it’s not until the closing track, “New Year’s Day,” that she really strips down and gets vulnerable. The piano ballad is reminiscent of the lovelorn songs that catapulted her into superstardom, as she croons, “Hold on to the memories / They will hold on to you / And I will hold on to you.”
In all, Reputation offers a rare, but sometimes manufactured, insight into Swift’s personal life. In the months leading up to the highly anticipated release, she opted to skip promotional interviews and even managed to dodge the paparazzi whenever she stepped out. This time around, she’s letting the music speak for itself — and that’s OK because it’s one of her most solid and cohesive efforts thus far.
3 stars (out of 4)