When I first listened to Taylor Swift’s new album, I didn’t recognize the sound. This was a new Taylor Swift.
“Reputation,” Swift’s sixth studio album, is dark, despite its pop genre. Swift is moody, angsty, and sensual from beginning to end in an album that feels like one complete masterpiece. While she sings of her adoration for her current boyfriend, actor Joe Alwyn, and she takes digs at her personal feuds with rapper Kanye West, singer Katy Perry, and her ex-lovers, the songs convey a universal mood. It sounds like 2017.
The numbers show it. On Friday’s release date, “Reputation” sold more than 700,000 copies in the United States alone, according to Billboard, collecting the largest sales week in 2017 in its first day even before becoming available on streaming services.
It’s been three years since the 27-year-old singer-songwriter released a new album, breaking a trend of releasing new music every other year. If Swift had followed her previous pattern, “Reputation” would have told an entirely different story.
But the album’s storytelling is one thing Swifties since her sundress-and-cowboy-boots days will recognize, as she moves from feelings of anger and frustration to finding peace with the “death of her reputation,” all while conveying it with a stuck-in-your-head chorus song after song.
In the midst of today’s political polarization and Hollywood scandals, a few lyrics convey the confusion in conflicts playing out on social media and in the news: “They’re burning all the witches / Even if you aren’t one / They got their pitchforks and proof / Their receipts and reasons.”
The album’s lead single “Look What You Made Me Do” and its music video attack her enemies as well as the media for their limited portrayal of her. Meanwhile, conservatives and liberals alike criticize their bias. The lyrics convey that skepticism and never-ending news cycle heaviness: “The world moves on / Another day another drama, drama / … / I don’t trust nobody / And nobody trusts me.”
Other songs refer to how “my drug is my baby,” getaway cars, and “dancing with our hands tied,” continuing a dark mood and sense of powerlessness throughout the disc. These metaphors parallel the current culture’s elements of escapism and the suffocating restraint on free speech that comes with political correctness.
Swift’s lyrics obviously appeal to feminism, though, a reminder of the women’s marches and #MeToo campaign: “I want to wear his initial / On a chain round my neck / Chain round my neck / Not because he owns me / But ’cause he really knows me,” Swift sings in “Call It What You Want.”
The album’s narrative does shift toward the end, however. Swift draws focus to a redemptive love story. Although “Dress” is probably the most sexual song on the album, lines like these remind fans of the Taylor Swift they know and love: “Even in my worst times / You could see the best of me / Flashback to my mistakes / My rebounds, my earthquakes / Even in my worst lies / You saw the truth in me.”
In the last three songs, Swift shows maturity in regards to her thoughts on the events she discusses earlier in her album. In “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things,” she seems to be leaving behind the drama to prioritize her family, boyfriend, and “real friends.”
In the final track, “New Year’s Day,” which is unfortunately Swift’s lone ballad on the album, she finds a brightness in the little things in a new era: “But I stay when it’s hard / or it’s wrong or we’re making mistakes / I want your midnights / But I’ll be cleaning up bottles with you / On New Year’s Day.”
That’s something we can — and should — take from what Swift has written. Even though 2017 has come with tragedies and devastation, it is precisely those reasons that should help us to recognize that who we are — our reputations — come from the things we treasure the most.