Reputation’ by Taylor Swift: The Uncovered Side of a Superstar

Kyle Sabin, age 16

After the undeniable success of “1989,” Taylor Swift’s fifth studio album, it was difficult to imagine the artist producing another album of its caliber, especially following a two-year hiatus from music-making. Yet with the release of “Reputation,” a darker, moodier version of “1989” that draws on the electronica tracks currently ruling the airwaves, Ms. Swift managed to create an album that, while showing more vulnerability than her previous work, still captures the essence of what makes her music stand out — catchy hooks, powerful melodies and rich lyrics.

In the album’s lead single, “Look What You Made Me Do,” Ms. Swift declares her old self dead, and she is right: “Reputation” pushes past the standards that she set for pop music with her previous album by mixing themes from other genres. This is evident from the album’s first track, “ … Ready For It?”, a provocative synthesizer-heavy piece in which Ms. Swift plays around with new lyrical topics and a strident bass. This pattern of trying new sounds is mirrored in tracks like “I Did Something Bad” and “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things,” two tracks full of stabs at Ms. Swift’s foes. In these cases a common occurrence, though, is that you either love the new sounds or hate it.

It is evident, however, that there are elements of the old Ms. Swift in “Reputation.” The musical style of past albums can be noticed in tracks such as “Gorgeous” and “Getaway Car”; both feature sounds and melodies that fans of Ms. Swift’s prior work will appreciate. Both songs’ lyrics reflect a recurring theme in the album — the implications of a romance in the public eye. This motif can also be seen in “Don’t Blame Me,” a gospel-inspired track with a thundering chorus reminiscent of “Wonderland” from “1989.” There are also tender moments — “Delicate” and the ballad “New Year’s Day,” a personal favorite, showcase a more mature Ms. Swift, replacing the lively singer of years past with a woman who acknowledges the criticism thrown her way. These themes are uncharted territory for Ms. Swift, but she charges through with heavy bass and soft-spoken melodies, leading to songs worthy of being played on repeat.

“Reputation” was a risk for Ms. Swift; passive-aggressiveness and fragility are not elements of her previous music, but she ably succeeds in analyzing the impact of superstardom and reputation on a personal basis, her stated intent. The album has a duality that some of Ms. Swift’s past work lacks — it’s bold but subdued, brash but beautiful, deliciously fierce but equally vulnerable. Despite the album’s occasionally questionable choices, it was certainly enjoyable and I believe it is a worthy addition to Ms. Swift’s discography. Look what you made her do, indeed.