Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Taylor Swift's Reputation

At the time of this writing it has been a fortnight and four since the drop of Taylor Swift's hot new record Reputation. And since its midnight release I have been listening to the album on repeat non-stop except for breaks to listen to The Writer's Almanac. Even in my sleep my eardrums thrum to the thuds of the deep throbbing bass, wondering what I made her do. I'm ready for discourse. (Note to self: in that last sentence I see potential for some type of disc golf course related play on words. Circle back to this in the future)

Are You Ready For It?

So clever. So good. This is the title of the opening track of the album. It both engages the listener as an active participant as well as establishes expectations for the remainder of the album. AYRFI (as fans refer to it) is also one of the songs that came out as a single in advance of the full album.

What this song does well: it blends the sing-songy melodic characteristics of vintage Taylor with the over-produced electronicish pop-trash of new Taylor. It acts as a tertiary step to acclimate the tender sensitivities of longtime fans by referencing established motifs while preparing them for the aural garbage landslide that is about to assault their ears.

Getting Ahead Of Ourselves

As an established and well respected music critic, I'm afraid I'm wearing my review heart on my blog sleeve a bit here. But before we delve into the many pitfalls and shortcomings of this album (spoiler alert), let's look at the numbers.

Wait. So I'm Microsoft Bing Searching for statistics about record (album) sales because I know it broke all sorts of records (historical milestones) and made like a bajillion dollars in a day and I'm learning all sorts of things that I would have known if I had done more research beyond listening to the album for over 430 hours continuously. Like did you know that Reputation had an official partnership with the United Parcel Service? You could snap a selfie with a specially vinyl wrapped UPS truck and post it on social media for "improved chances" at scoring tickets to a concert. (I propose raising an undead army of skeletons to wage war upon marketing teams worldwide)

And also, I'm about to tell you all of the bad things I thought about this album and am learning that other music critics are saying good things about this album. Is this all just part of the machine? No one benefits from negative reviews, but everyone gets paid when there's praise. Maybe my lens is fogged.

Taylor Swift

She started as the country darling who could connect to the youth with her songs about heartbreak and romance. It was all real boy-crush, girl-crush music. And while it was always pop-country, she endeared herself as the singer-songwriter type who wrote all of her own music in earnest. As she and her sound matured she distanced herself from her humble gee-golly country girl beginnings, but never really lost the image of a musician who writes her own songs. It may be naive on my part to assume that some musicians still make their own music, but with this album she seems to have only a minor hand in songwriting, if any at all.

Part of this problem is in the music industry and media. These aren't just people who are musicians anymore. These are brands. Everything about their life and public perception is carefully curated and presented to the world. So it's important to talk about the person (TSwizzle) especially when the album and its contents strongly alludes to public perception and how the "artist's" reputation might be tarnished.

Taylor is a reputed serial dater who participates in tumultuous relationships for the purpose of creating music about being burned by relationships. This is win-win because she gets to write about both the struggles of falling in love, and also the pain of heartbreak from people who don't care enough or whatever.

Additionally, she apparently has beef with other pop-stars such as Katy Perry. I don't know what this beef is and if it is real or manufactured drama created by record executives, but it works its way (often not so subtly) into her music (deliberate for sales boost? create drama, elevate drama).

The Crux

These two things (relationships & petty feuds) are, for me, the crux of this album's pitfalls. It becomes laborious and exhausting trying to decode the lyrics and figure out who or what event Swift at which is hinting.

Taylor Swift Is Dead

"The old Taylor can't come to the phone right now. Why? Oh, because she's dead!" First, the concept of "coming to the phone" is so dated and hilarious to think about. Like, remember when there were only landlines and you had to call a person's house and speak to their parents first before talking to your friend? And how even more harrowing that prospect was when you were calling someone you were, uh, interested in?

She's making a statement that she's not who she was and that she has reinvented herself. This point is strongly reinforced in the music video where she portrays all of her past character iterations in a battle for the neon cross (neon T (in Ford we trust)). But why?

The New Taylor Swift

If the old one is dead then we presumably have a new one. What is she like? Well, from what I can tell she is dark and oily and dances like Beyonce. There's a little bit of s&m 50 shades vibe, but also like "I am still a very precious object don't touch me" kind of deal. And she is all about auto-tune and bass drops. Taylor will have a long successful career, and hopefully this will be the period that eventually will embarrass her the most.

What Did She Do?

The first single to drop and probably the catchiest earworm on the album is "Look What You Made Me Do." But what did she do? Steve Irkel often wondered if he did that. Is this a Family Matters reference?

But really, what did she do? Because I remember something about a year or two ago. It was something she said or did that had bad optics. And I remember thinking that she would have to lay low for a while and then release something new and flashy. Because until that point she was a golden child who could do no wrong and I'm going to take a moment to see if I can figure this out. She has a very good agent/publicist, btw.

Was it all the groping stuff and lawsuit with that DJ? The suits and counter-suits or possibly something that resulted from the trial? It was mos def bad optics. But I need a Taylor Swift historian to weigh in here.

Or was it in reference to Kanye West? See, here I am again trying to decode lyrics to what is little more than a catchy pop song. Is she Santa Claus, because she has a list that she is checking twice?

Hype Machine

This is what Taylor does best. She (and all her people) drummed up so much hype and anticipation for this album. They did marketing very well, despite being attacked by a skeleton army the entire time. And I too was pumped for the whole album. Because the singles (LWYMMD, AYRFI, and Gorgeous) were interesting but didn't reveal too much and I wanted to hear them in context of the entire album.

Boy, let me tell you: if disappointment were red shoes I'd be Ronald McDonald. (Red, another Taylor Swift album and also a special edition U2 iPod in the Apple Store). Because, y'all, despite all the hype and anticipation...

Here's The Deal

In the end it's still just a pop record for teenage girls. All of the songs that aren't about mysterious celebrity beefs or having receipts are about wanting to be in certain relationships, being in relationships, and dealing with the fall-out of past relationships. Age old themes present themselves like "if it is bad, then why does it feel good?" to which many young people will explore their sexuality and have many awakenings (Kate Chopin? (which I guess might actually might be somewhat relevant)).

The record doesn't defy or challenge conventions by any stretch. So many of the songs I could see just as easily on an album by, like, Selena Gomez or Pink or Miley Cyrus or whatever else is on the radio.

Assorted quotes and quick takes:

"My drug is my baby I be using for the rest of my life"

"Delicate" starts off like an Imogen Heap sounding song.

Does the song "So It Goes..." reference Vonnegut?

She mentions being "chill" in several songs but never says Netflix

"You should think about the consequence of your magnetic field being a little too strong" is basically pro-rape and it's the victim's fault

She makes "ooOOhh" and other assorted moaning sounds in a lot of the songs. I would like an isolated vocals track of just these.

"You said there was nothing in the world that could stop it / I had a bad feeling / And darling, you had turned my bed into a sacred oasis" also rape-centric lyrics

"My baby's fly like a jetstream" pro-chemtrail mind control propaganda. Later in the song sings about chains around her neck (slavery)

"Only bought this dress so you could take it off" glorifies rape culture. Women can only do things like shopping for clothes and want to be dominated by men.


You know those 5 paragraph essays you wrote in high school? I think soon they will be 5.1 where that extra tenth is a TL;DR at the end of every essay.

So the new album by Taylor Swift, Reputation is okay. It's got some bangers. It feels a little uninspired and derivative. It's mainly about teenage girl problems. The old Taylor might be dead, but this can't be her final form. Admittedly, I am only a fan of the hits. I couldn't tell you about any TSwizzle deep cuts and I think that will continue to be true after this album. I'm a fair weather Swift Head.

Rating: I dunno, like 6/10? What is even good or bad these days?
She's still pretty, though, and for girls that is the only thing that matters.

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