I sat with Taylor Swift’s latest album ‘Reputation’

“Reputation,” is a rather assertive reminder that, in the end, as a society, we have to treat each other with love and respect; otherwise we can’t have nice things.

Taylor Swift, an American singer-songwriter, released her sixth studio album, called ‘Reputation,’ through Big Machine Records on November 10, 2017. A wild success, ‘Reputation’, debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart. It was certified triple platinum, becoming RIAA’s 2017 top-certified album of the year, after selling two million copies in its first week, according to Nielsen Music.

Before the reveal of the title, release date, and the cover art, Taylor reset her social media pages and uploaded three video’s of a snake’s tail, body, and head in August 2017. Theories exist that this is a reference to the “snake” nickname bullies were inconsiderate enough to pin on Taylor after one of her representatives revealed to TMZ and People.com that, “Taylor Swift wrote ‘This Is What You Came For’ under the pseudonym Nils Sjoberg.”

‘This Is What You Came For’, is a single produced by Calvin Harris, a Scottish record producer, DJ, singer, and songwriter that features vocals by Rihanna. It’s a great song but, could it be that song that caused a quarrel in Taylor’s eyes? Maybe we’ll never know. Also, Taylor’s public feuds with Kanye West and Katy Perry instigated bullies who posted snake emojis on her social media pages and gave rise to #TaylorSwiftIsASnake. It was a rough year for Taylor Swift. But, let’s move on from that irritating mess of a narrative. If you’re part of the vast number of people who remember how these fallouts went down, then you don’t need me to reiterate.

You don’t have to look much further than the ‘The Reputation Prologue’, the introduction to ‘Reputation’, that’s featured on the first page of both the CD booklet and the Target-exclusive magazines to understand Taylor’s inspiration for ‘Reputation’. Let’s take a look at what Taylor had to say:

Here’s something I’ve learned about people. We think we know someone, but the truth is that we only know the version of them they have chosen to show us. We know our friend in a certain light, but we don’t know them the way their lover does. Just the way their lover will never know them the same way that you do as their friend. Their mother knows them differently than their roommate, who knows them differently than their colleague. Their secret admirer looks at them and sees an elaborate sunset of brilliant colour and dimension and spirit and pricelessness. And yet, a stranger will pass that person and see a faceless member of the crowd, nothing more. We may hear rumours about a person and believe those things to be true. We may one day meet that person and feel foolish for believing baseless gossip.

This is the first generation that will be able to look back on their entire life story documented in pictures on the internet, and together we will all discover the after-effects of that. Ultimately, we post photos online to curate what strangers think of us. But then we wake up, look in the mirror at our faces and see the cracks and scars and blemishes, and cringe. We hope someday we’ll meet someone who will see that same morning face and instead see their future, their partner, their forever. Someone who will still choose us even when they see all of the sides of the story, all the angles of the kaleidoscope that is you.

The point being, despite our need to simplify and generalize absolutely everyone and everything in this life, humans are intrinsically impossible to simplify. We are never just good or just bad. We are mosaics of our worst selves and our best selves, our deepest secrets and our favourite stories to tell at a dinner party, existing somewhere between our well-lit profile photo and our driver’s license shot. We are all a mixture of our selfishness and generosity, loyalty and self-preservation, pragmatism and impulsiveness. I’ve been in the public eye since I was fifteen years old. On the beautiful, lovely side of that, I’ve been so lucky to make music for a living and look out into crowds of loving, vibrant people. On the other side of the coin, my mistakes have been used against me, my heartbreaks have been used as entertainment, and my songwriting has been trivialized as ‘oversharing’.

When this album comes out, gossip blogs will scour the lyrics for the men they can attribute to each song, as if the inspiration for music is as simple and basic as a paternity test. There will be slideshows of photos backing up each incorrect theory because it’s 2017 and if you didn’t see a picture of it, it couldn’t have happened right?

Let me say it again, louder for those in the back…
We think we know someone, but the truth is that we only know the version of them that they have chosen to show us.

There will be no further explanation.
There will be just reputation.

Ms Swift, who is 27 now, wants to move past all the turmoil and drama that emerged during the Taylor versus The World era so that she could get on with her life. She’s got much more important priorities: making good music for her real fans and finding genuine love, for example. ‘Reputation’, is a rather assertive reminder that, in the end, as a society, we have to treat each other with love and respect; otherwise we can’t have nice things. ‘Reputation’, is much more intimate than that though. ‘Reputation’ is an aide-mémoire to the world that there’s much more depth to the human character then what someones physical appearance, online persona, or reputation suggests.

‘Reputation’, was produced as a result of a collaboration between Jack Antonoff, Max Martin and his affiliates, and Swift herself, who serves as the executive producer. It’s a dramatic 360-degree artistic transformation for Swift.

They’ve created an eclectic album that puts Taylor Swift’s sound somewhere in between Pop, R&B. and Electronic music. Let’s call it synth-pop after it’s lived a little bit. Synth-pop is one of the genres that has changed the landscape of mainstream music, and now it’s turning Taylor’s music too. The synthesizer is the dominant musical instrument here. However, there are songs on ‘Reputation’ that exploit stripped down acoustic and minimalistic synthesized melodies. Each chorus is extensive, and each song has robust hooks. Martin and Antonoff even score metaphorical goals in succession when they insert multiple diversified tone shifts within one song, on almost every song.

‘End Game’, the sole collaboration on ‘Reputation’, is one of the albums recherché standouts. You can add “the ability to soft rap” to Taylor’s list of capabilities after you listen to this banger. Synthesized melodies produced by Martin and affiliates, the sharp shuffling staccato of a snare drum and the audible TISH sound of a splash cymbal, support Taylor as she delivers a subdued rap that’s worth a Mill Benjis, “I hit you like bang, we tried to forget it, but we just couldn’t. And I bury hatchets, but I keep maps of where I put ‘em.

Reputation precedes me, they told you I’m crazy. I swear I don’t love the drama, it loves me. And I can’t let you go, your handprints on my soul. It’s like your eyes are liquor, it’s like your body is gold. You’ve been calling my bluff on all my usual tricks. So here’s the truth from my red lips.” The featured musicians on this song are doozies too: Our favourite red-haired balladeer from England, Ed Sheeran, and Future Hendrix, better known as Future, who add their well-done verses into the mix.

Taylor demonstrates her skill at absorbing and sampling melodies that are avant-garde in Pop on ‘Reputation’. One such song is ‘Don’t Blame Me’, which has significant sonic similarities to Hozier’s 2013 song called, ‘Take Me To Church’. “Don’t blame me, love made me crazy. If it doesn’t, you ain’t doin’ it right. Lord, save me, my drug is my baby I’ll be usin’ for the rest of my life. Don’t blame me, love made me crazy, if it doesn’t, you ain’t doin’ it right. Oh, Lord, save me, my drug is my baby, I’ll be usin’ for the rest of my life,” Taylor coos the chorus, while an upbeat sequenced synth arrangement ambushes and replaces the accented beat that came before it. By the time the fourth chorus and bridge come in, Taylor is vehement and impassioned, “I get so high, oh! Every time you’re, every time you’re lovin’ me. You’re lovin’ me. Trip of my life, oh!” she belts out.

There’s a clump of papers around somewhere. Enclosed is a copious bundle of theories detailing who Taylor Swift was thinking about when she wrote the second verse, second pre-chorus, and the bridge on Reputation’s jocular thirteenth song called, ‘This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things’.

Let’s take a look at what Taylor told iHeartRadio about ‘This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things’, during the ‘Reputation’, album release party: “It’s about when people take nice things for granted. Like friendship, or trusting people, or being open or whatever. Letting people in on your life, trusting people, respect – those are all really nice things,” she said.

Supported by nothing more then what sounds like the brisk-moving suppressed tick-tick of a metronome at 1000BPM, synthesized snaps, and a couple of extra splendid effects courtesy of Jack Antonoff, Taylor sing-says “It was so nice being friends again. There I was, giving you a second chance. But then you stabbed me in the back while shaking my hand. And therein lies the issue. Friends don’t try to trick you. Get you on the phone and mind- twist you. And so I took an axe to a mended fence. But I’m not the only friend you’ve lost lately. If only you weren’t so shady.” These words so vile they could hurt someone’s feelings and cause their beautiful roses, that are in tip-top shape, to wilt, in seconds. Taylor, an altruistic and philanthropic woman, must have felt quite hurt by whomever she wrote these wounding words for.

Have Mr Antonoff add bells to the beat used during the second verse, and invite a chorus to sing alongside Taylor, and you’ll get the melodious bridge, ”Here’s a toast to my real friends. They don’t care about the he-said-she-said. And here’s to my baby. He ain’t reading what they call me lately. And here’s to my momma. Had to listen to all this drama. And here’s to you ‘Cause forgiveness is a nice thing to do. Haha, I can’t even say it with a straight face,” continues Taylor. And then, ‘This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things’, ends with an anthemic chorus that denounces all that is bad about the antagonism and hate that once invited itself into her life.

Taylor told iHeartRadio,

The way I feel the album is, as far as a storyline, is I feel like it starts with just getting out any kind of rebellion or anger, or angst, or whatever. And then, like, falling in love, and realizing that you kind of settle into what your priorities are, and your life changes, but you welcome it because it’s something that matters to you. And this last part of the album feels like settling into where I am now. So it started with where I was when I started making the album and ends with kind of my emotional state now. And this song, I think, really reflects that probably the best on the album, and it’s called “Call It What You Want.

‘Call It What You Want’, and I would argue, ‘New Years Day’, which continues the narrative Taylor establishes in ‘Call It What You Want’, is Taylor singing about finding love and recognizing an intense desire to hold on to it.

Taylor Swift, an international pop star, is a human being, just like you and I. Just like the rest of the good ones, she probably wants happiness, peace, fulfillment, love, and respect. Compassionate human beings hope others succeed. And, if possible, compassionate human beings help each other. Then, triumph together. So, like compassionate human beings, all of you should cut Taylor some slack. Who knows, maybe Taylor will find love? And then, perhaps next year, we’ll be able to have nice things again?

Music distribution in the 21st century of the Anno Domini era has been re-defined by streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music, and Tidal. Streaming gives a musician who’s fanbase is invested in their music enough power to launch one song to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart within the span of a half an hour. In a world where a singer is predisposed to release hit single after hit single while taking their time producing a full-length album, Taylor Swift and her outstanding team of music producers give you an album that’s replete with hit singles. And, it’s available everywhere!

Have a listen!

Written by Manny King John


GRUNGECAKE presents ‘UNCUT’ featuring BXHXLD (Brooklyn, NY)


5@5: A morning playlist featuring Gibberish, Moullinex, and more