Taylor Swift released Reputation in November of 2017. Having listened to the album in its entirety over 250 times since then, I feel qualified to share my detailed thoughts with the general public. I also recently found out we’ve got the same Enneagram type, which is probably irrelevant but still kind of cool.
“But Megan, Taylor is problematic/a snake/playing the victim/failing to use her platform as a role model for young women to promote social and political issues that matter to herself and her fans!” I know. She knows. Nearly all the promotional materials for this album – not to mention the “Look What You Made Me Do” music video – explicitly address the fact that she has heard all of these criticisms. And she doesn’t really care. Or maybe she does, but wants you to think she doesn’t? Unclear.
The bulk of this review – like the best parts of Reputation – isn’t about the (valid) criticisms of Swift as a person. Instead, it is an in-depth, track-by-track analysis of the album, focusing on the music and, to the extent possible, looking past the baggage that inherently comes with Taylor Swift.
Swift has also been cleaning out some of that baggage. The day before the March for our Lives, organized by survivors of the Parkland school shooting, Swift posted her support for the movement on Instagram. In her caption, she said she had made a donation and explicitly said she supported gun reform. For someone like Swift, this relatively small action is a big deal. Unlike her November 2016 post encouraging people to vote or her vague statement of support for the women’s march (both since deleted as she purged all social media before announcing Reputation), this post directly took a stance and expressed a political opinion. She has also followed through on her promise to support victims of sexual assault, recently making a “generous” donation to RAINN. Will it last? Who knows, but it’s a start.
Throughout all the personal controversy, Swift’s success has not dwindled. Reputation debuted at number one on Billboard 200 and it sold two million copies in its first two weeks, quickly locking in its position as the best-selling album of 2017. She’s added Reputation tour dates due to popular demand, and she’s poised to have a great year.
This success is well deserved. As a whole, Reputation is a solid album. It doesn’t provide the genre-shift that 1989 gave us, and it doesn’t have the innocence of her debut album or the coming-of-age optimism of Fearless. The Swift shown to us on Reputation is older, more confident, and – more than anything else – happier. And I’m happy for her.
Throughout, Swift is acutely aware of her fame and her history. Rather than downplaying these complications or pushing them aside, she confronts them head on with something of a “take me or leave me” attitude. At the same time, Swift shows more vulnerability than she typically does. At a time when Swift has been attacked for being ‘fake’ and carefully crafting a public persona, this gives the album an air of authenticity.
In many ways, Reputation picks up where 1989 leaves off. The “secret message” of her 2014 album concludes, “She lost him but she found herself and somehow that was everything.” In Reputation, she shows us more of who that person is.
Without further ado, let’s get to the track-by-track breakdown!
“…Ready for It?”
Vibe: This song premiered in an ad for a college football game, and this was a weirdly appropriate place for it to premiere. It’s also a great way to kick off the album. If there’s a song you’re going to listen to while you strut down the street perfecting your look of chiseled superiority, it’s this one.
Best Line: “But if I’m a thief, then he can join the heist, and we’ll move to an island, and, and he can be my jailer, Burton to this Taylor. Every love I’ve known in comparison is a failure.”
Weirdest Moment: This isn’t technically in the song, but why is there so much punctuation in the title?? Ellipses AND a question mark? Seems excessive.
Why? It’s catchy, it gets you fired up, but it isn’t particularly groundbreaking. As evidenced by the “best line,” it’s also not one of her strongest tracks lyrically. Still, it has a solid beat and it’s a perfect opening to the rest of the album.
Music Video: Sleek, cyberpunk feel. Swift sort of looks like she’s the queen of a dystopian street gang. She might be growing a robotic version of herself in a weird glass cage. They might both be robots. Unclear, but captivating.
“End Game” (ft. Ed Sheeran & Future)
Vibe: This song should probably be considered the title track of the album – “reputation” is said 13 times (which, as we all know, is Taylor’s favorite number. It’s even in her twitter handle, @taylorswift13). The vibe of this track is hard to pin down. It’s almost edgy, but it doesn’t quite pull that off.
Best Line: “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.”
Weirdest Moment: You know Ed Sheeran’s on this track. You know he raps sometimes. It’s still weird when he comes in on verse two.
Why? Taylor Swift rapping is adequate at best. Ed Sheeran is only a little bit better. This track has grown on me, but it’s still probably my least favorite on the album. Fair warning, it will get stuck in your head even before you decide you actually kind of like it – love her or hate her, Taylor Swift knows how to make an earworm.
Music Video: Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, and Future travel the world partying in fancy clubs, boats, and houses. There are motorcycles and synchronized dances. It feels like the nerdy kids in high school organized a group outing to a “hip” club and thought they were super cool but were, in fact, still the nerdy kids. But they’re having a lot of fun and you kind of want to party with them anyway.
“I Did Something Bad”
Vibe: This is our best first look at Cynical Taylor. The bright-eyed innocence is completely gone in this track. Not only does she swear (she says “shit!”), she sings about “how the world works” and takes on a kill-or-be-killed persona. Does it fall into the “playing the victim” category? Sure, maybe. But it also takes your lunch money and makes you apologize for it. This is the song you play on your way back from dramatically murdering your ex on a bridge at midnight.
Best Line: “I never trust a playboy, but they love me, so I fly ‘em all around the world and I let them think they saved me. They never see it coming, what I do next. This is how the world works: you gotta leave before you get left.”
Weirdest Moment: There’s this weird sound going on in the background that is absolutely impossible to write out in words. It’s cool, but it’s weird. Especially if you’ve watched any of the making-of-the-song stuff where she’s making the noise without sound editing. I like it, but let me reiterate: it’s weird.
Why? It falls into some of the tropes against Taylor, but it’s fun and sexy and achieves the edgy vibe she fails to maintain on tracks like “End Game.” Even if you’re rolling your eyes, you’re also kind of into it.
“Don’t Blame Me”
Vibe: This is a love song. Not a clean fairy-tale love like the Old Taylor used to sing about. This is a love that’s intense, addictive, and a little dangerous. It’s the kind of love that makes you lose yourself a little bit.
Best Line: “Halo, hiding my obsession. I once was poison ivy, but now I’m your daisy.”
Weirdest Moment: About halfway through, you realize that if Hozier did a cover of this song and you had somehow heard it first, you would fully believe this was an original Hozier song. That’s not a thing I’m used to saying about Taylor Swift songs.
Why? The song is full of double meanings and metaphors. It’s also the first track on the album that truly feels emotional and vulnerable. Once you get past the title – which, admittedly, made me nervous when I saw the tracklist before the album came out (oh no sweetie if you tell them not to blame you they are absolutely 100% going to blame you) – you can fall into reckless love with it.
Vibe: Light, graceful, authentic. This song feels both open and constrained in a way that Swift herself so often is. It’s the moment when you’re feeling so much you could explode, but it’s new and you’re scared it could all go away at a moment’s notice if you make one wrong move. This song is full of hope and promise. It’s the nervous flutter you get before you take a chance.
Best Line: “We can’t make any promises, now can we, babe? But you can make me a drink.”
Weirdest Moment: This song was going along, minding its own business, largely weird-moment-free. And then the music video came out.
Why? This is one of my favorite tracks on the album. It’s got cool lyrics, a relaxed and soft beat driving the motion forward, and it makes you think of that person – in your present or in your past – who made you push aside all the distractions and outside pressures so the two of you could just be. Plus it’s ridiculously catchy and, if my personal experiences are any indication, you’ll find yourself having conversations made up entirely of lines from this song. They won’t necessarily be good conversations, but they’ll happen.
Music Video: When the Wildest Dreams video came out, it pulled the song together and made it even more perfect. That is not what happened here. In a possibly-copyright-infringing video (look up Spike Jonze’s perfume ad for Kenzo and judge for yourself), Swift shows obvious discomfort with the magnifying glass of fame and, upon discovering her apparent invisibility, goes on a barefoot dance spree around the city. It’s whimsical, and it mostly works, but it also distracts a bit from the romance of the song itself and resulted in me giving the track a 9.5 rating instead of a 10.
“Look What You Made Me Do”
Vibe: You’ve all heard this song, even if you didn’t want to. Literally nothing I could say about it will change whatever opinion you formed about this song when it was released last August, so I’m not going to try.
Best Line: “And then the world moves on, but one thing’s for sure: maybe I got mine, but you’ll all get yours.”
Weirdest Moment: “I’m sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh, ‘cause she’s dead!” Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE this line, but it’s super weird and we all know it.
Why? This song is catchy and fun, but it feels more like something Swift needed for herself than something made for the enjoyment of others. It’s a little too petty to be taken seriously but not petty enough to feel deliberately over the top. Plus, the alt-right apparently really likes it, which is enough to dock another point or two from whatever its rating would have otherwise been.
Music Video: Actively improves the song. It’s got gorgeous visuals and cool symbolism (see, for example, the single dollar Swift won in her sexual harassment lawsuit, resting at the top of the bathtub of jewels she’s sitting in), and the end of the video – in which she actively makes fun of all the different versions of herself – is a boss move.
“So It Goes…”
Vibe: The love in this song is something of an inevitability. It’s not about the emotions – it’s about the sexual connection, which is new for Swift. It’s got a similar vibe to “Don’t Blame Me,” but it’s softer, and it feels like Swift is less in control.
Best Line: “I did a number on you, but honestly, baby, who’s counting? You did a number on me, but honestly, baby, who’s counting? Who’s counting? ([whispered] 1, 2, 3)”
Weirdest Moment: The whole song sounds slightly breathy. Possibly in a sexy way? Hard to say. Also, more ellipses in the title. Those seem unnecessary.
Why? It’s got some of the same air of desperation that makes “Delicate” work, but it’s nowhere near as memorable, and the relaxed tempo makes it fall into the background as more of a filler track. You’ll enjoy listening to it, but you probably won’t seek it out as much as some of the others.
Vibe: This song is playful, fun, and relatable. Unlike “Don’t Blame Me,” where love makes her crazy, this love makes Swift awkward and adorable. It’s a solid bop.
Best Line: “Guess I’ll just stumble on home to my cats. Alone. Unless you wanna come along.”
Weirdest Moment: The track opens with a small child saying the word “gorgeous.” The child is apparently James Reynolds, daughter of Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively. Knowing the identity of the child does nothing to make it less weird and may, in fact, make it weirder.
Why? It’s cute and flirty and fun. It’s a window into the New, Happier Swift (rather than the New, Edgier Swift she tries to sell for most of the first half of the album). This is a Good Song.
Vibe: Taylor Swift is running a heist but it’s a romantic one and even though she’s stolen your heart you can’t help but realize you should have known this is how it was going to end all along because you met her when she was fleeing with some other guy’s heart and it was pretty clear she was eventually going to do the same to you, and you can’t help but love her for it.
Best Line: “It was the best of times, the worst of crimes. I struck a match and blew your mind, but I didn’t mean it, and you didn’t see it.”
Weirdest Moment: At one point she makes an extended circus/sideshow metaphor and it WORKS.
Why? This song is full of references and metaphors, and even though nothing in my life remotely relates to the experience Swift is singing about, I feel this song in my soul. Her writing – both lyrically and melodically – are at their best on this track.
“King of My Heart”
Vibe: You know the saying about love coming to you when you stop looking for it? That’s this song, but somehow you don’t get mad at it for saying that the same way you do when your engaged friends use it to try to convince you you’re not going to die alone. Instead, you’re just happy for Taylor and you decide that maybe you can believe in love again.
Best Line: “Late in the night, the city’s asleep. Your love is a secret I’m hoping, dreaming, dying to keep.”
Honorable Mention Line: “Is this the end of all the endings?” I do like this line, but it’s mainly getting a shout-out because it’s the line on the special-edition watercolor painting that came with my Target-exclusive Reputation magazine, Volume 1, and is currently hanging above my bed.
Weirdest Moment: When Swift sings “Salute to me, I’m you’re American Queen,” and you’re just like, “I get it, your new boyfriend is British.”
Why? It took me a few listens to really dig into this song, and it gets a bit cheesy at times, which is why it doesn’t get a perfect rating. Plus, it’s at a disadvantage coming right behind “Getaway Car.” Still, it’s well-written and thoroughly enjoyable.
“Dancing With Our Hands Tied”
Vibe: Sometimes, you know something is doomed from the beginning, but you can’t help but go for it anyway because it’s just that good and however long you have together is just going to have to be long enough. This is the love you never really had and never really get over.
Best Line: “I, I loved you in spite of deep fears that the world would divide us. So, baby, can we dance, oh, through an avalanche?”
Runner-Up Best Line: “I’d kiss you as the lights went out, swaying as the room burned down. I’d hold you as the water rushes in, if I could dance with you again.”
Weirdest Moment: Taylor really likes mentioning ages. She’s also really into singing about necklaces. She does both in this song. It’s fine.
Why? Honestly this rating might be more about me because I feel this song on a deeply personal level. That said, I think that’s at least in part because it’s an extremely relatable concept, and Swift does a masterful job taking those emotions and swirling you around in them.
Vibe: Bathroom mirrors clouded over from the steam. Bedsheets that are still warm and a little bit wrinkled. Making eye contact across a crowded room. Holding your breath because you don’t know where this is going but you don’t want this moment to end.
Best Line: “And if I get burned, at least we were electrified.”
Weirdest Moment: Swift references her bleached hair, which I think we can agree was a weird moment for everyone. It works in the song, though.
Best Moment: In addition to having my favorite line on the entire album, this song has the best moment on the entire album, so it gets an extra category of review. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but it happens between 2:58 and 3:04. You’re welcome.
Why? This song is undeniably about sex, which is a pretty serious departure from the Old Taylor. But even though she’s in uncharted territory, this song is easily one of the best she’s ever done. In it, Swift is confident and content, balancing restraint with release in a truly magical way.
“This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”
Vibe: This song does what “LWYMMD” was supposed to do. It’s petty, but the fun kind of petty, and it has a catchy melody (plus, to my knowledge, members of the alt-right haven’t claimed it as an anthem).
Best Line: “And here’s to you, ‘cause forgiveness is a nice thing to do … [spoken] haha I can’t even say it with a straight face.”
Weirdest Moment: Taylor says “rattling” in a weirdly British accent. Again, we get it: your boyfriend is British.
Why? On my first listen, I found this song mildly annoying, but even then, it was always the song stuck in my head. It’s an effective earworm, and – once you stop rolling your eyes – you’ll find yourself singing along. There’s also a solid Great Gatsby reference, which is neat.
“Call It What You Want”
Vibe: Relaxed and content, this song has heard all the rumors and has been torn down by them, but it ultimately decided they don’t really matter because it’s in love and love is enough. This song is what a relationship should be.
Best Line: “All the liars are calling me one; nobody’s heard from me for months. I’m doing better than I ever was.”
Weirdest Moment: This one gets two because I just can’t decide which is weirder. First, she says she trusts her lover “like a brother” which . . . I’m an only child so maybe I don’t get it, but it seems like you want to keep your lovers and your siblings in very different categories. Second, the bridge. “I want to wear his initial on a chain ‘round my neck, chain ‘round my neck, not because he owns be, but ‘cause he really knows me.” Why does he only have one initial? Why did you think it was necessary to clarify that wearing a necklace didn’t make you his property? Shouldn’t that be obvious? Is this what White Feminism looks like?
Why? When this song premiered prior to the album’s release, it was the one that showed me the most about who the New Taylor really is, and I liked what I heard. Having listened to the rest of the album, I think this one is still the early release that’s most representative of the album’s overall vibe. Despite its weird moments, the song is beautiful, well-written, and it shows how truly happy Taylor is right now.
“New Year’s Day”
Vibe: We don’t know where this thing is going but I’m all in. We’re going to be together for the fun times, but I’m also in it for the long haul – the next day, when the magic fades away and we have to deal with the hard stuff. Are you in, too?
Best Line: “Hold on to the memories; they will hold on to you, and I will hold on to you. Please don’t ever become a stranger whose laugh I could recognize anywhere.” These are really two separate lines, but they come back-to-back so I snuck them both in as one.
Weirdest Moment: Swift performed this song on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon shortly after Fallon’s mother died. Earlier in the show, an emotional Fallon talked about how his mom would silently say “I love you” by squeezing his hand three times. Unbeknownst to him, the second verse of “New Year’s Day” opens with the line, “You squeeze my hand three times in the back of the taxi.” Obviously, this made for a really cool and sweet moment. Not “weird” in the traditional sense, but it’s a neat coincidence and there is nothing else “weird” about “New Year’s Day;” it’s just sweet and perfect.
Why? I cried the first time I heard this song. It’s simple and it’s beautiful, and it captures the best and most optimistic parts of this album. I love it so much I learned how to play it on the piano. When we think of New Year’s, it’s usually about New Year’s Eve – the last page of the year. In the last track on Reputation, Swift makes sure we’re thinking about the future and viewing this as a beginning – even if the rest of the pages aren’t written yet.