Sky Ferreira said it best: “I blame myself/ For my reputation.”
Of course, that was a song that roundly and viscerally emasculated the music industry, fandom and the like in a way that also seemed profoundly intelligent. If only Taylor Swift had that level of self-awareness for her own Reputation.
Don’t get us wrong, though. Taylor Swift is deeply conscious of her image, how to present it, how it appears, and how people might react. But that doesn’t translate to her music here, which puts her front and centre as woe-is-me victim one minute and then “I don’t actually give a fuck” brigand the next. Cue “so what is the truth?” Oprah gif immediately.
This is pop for the rightfully scorned, the sort that might be adopted by Gretchen Wieners after complaining she can’t help being disliked for being popular. It’s that obtuse, whether it’s the embarrassing End Game (featuring Ed Sheeran as she rises and falls with the cadence of ‘big reputation, big reputation… I got big enemies’) or the wannabe bad-girl act on I Did Something Bad. It’s a pretty decent song, but it’s delivered so unconvincingly that you think the worst thing Taylor Swift might have done is cheekily eat a bit of Pick N Mix before putting the rest in her paper bag.
There’s no denying that Swift is a talented songwriter, but everything about Reputation is painfully overblown. There’s drama for the sake of drama, with no gravitas in both performance or production; songs like Don’t Blame Me make us long for the time where a break-up song would yield some heartfelt moments of vulnerable confession instead of vocoded tripe. The genre is an ill-fit for Swift, who seems more like a facsimile of another artist than her genuine self. If, at this stage, we even know who that is.
Skipping along Look What You Made Me Do – which, if anything, serves to highlight that it’s always someone else’s fault in the world of Taylor Swift – it’s hard to find a song here that won’t sound dated in a year or so. So It Goes runs into Gorgeous which runs into Getaway Car with nothing but sheer indifference, with a slight flicker of interest coming in the peppy streak of Dancing With Our Hands Tied.
At the end of the day though, Taylor Swift seeks to create conversation and that’s exactly what she’s done here. The irony of it is, of course, that she’s pretended to be her most authentic self via the most inauthentic means (R&B queen on Dress? Puh-lease), giving us nothing but calculated epithets that are designed to get people guessing. And irony begets irony in the paradox of Taylor Swift, as her worst album to date is the one that will most likely keep her desired reputation very much intact.