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Look what you made her do: Taylor Swift returns to music scene with highly anticipated experimental album

Natalie O'Dell, Staff Writer

Image provided by MOXIE, used with permission

Reputation is the sixth album from the hugely popular country singer turned pop star Taylor Swift. Similar to her last album, 1989, this album marks a stylistic shift in Swift’s music. She stays in the pop genre she established in her last album, but this time she gives it a more edgy feel with some hip hop influence in the verses, or in the case of “Look What You Made Me Do”, in the chorus. The album takes a lot of risks, especially in its instrumentation, and I consider it to be quite experimental. Is that experiment as successful one? I’d say sometimes yes, and sometimes no.

In the past, I’ve enjoyed Swift’s music. I wouldn’t call myself part of her massive fanbase, otherwise known as the Swifties, but I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve heard from her to some extent, and I have plenty of her songs on my Spotify starred list. To me, this album disappointed in many ways in the process of its experimentation, but there are some aspects I genuinely enjoy.

Two singles were released in preparation for the album, “Look What You Made Me Do” and “Ready For It”. The former is probably my least favorite not just on the album, but of Swift’s music in general. It’s not bad, per say – there are elements of it I certainly enjoy – but there are other things that I find off putting.  As for the things I like, I think the verses are actually pretty well written. I enjoy the ominous instrumental that led into it and I find the lyrics to be well written and fit the melody very well. The song’s highest point is the first pre-chorus. The melody sounds great and uplifting. Because of this I found the song promising when I first checked it out. However, the start of the chorus is where the trouble with this song begins.  It’s very flat, monotone, and repetitive- “look what you made me do” is all it says. The instrumentals only make those bad things worse. This could have been a fairly minor for me if the chorus were not prominent, but unfortunately that isn’t the case. It is all over the song, which is a shame, because, as I previously described, the song had a lot of potential to be great.

The lyrics are not particularly spectacular, but they are serviceable.”

Fortunately, “…Ready For It” is a lot better. It’s not perfect by any means, but it is enjoyable, and that’s enough. The biggest drawback is the dubstep-influenced grinding beat that is played different points in the song, most prominently at the start of the song and at the end of the chorus before the second verse. The reason I dislike it is similar to my problems with “Look What You Made Me Do”, but it isn’t as obtrusive. In fact, I think it gives an appealing sound when it’s combined with vocals in the first verse. As for the positives, I really like the chorus. It has a really mysterious, calm quality to it, which the vocal tone and instrumental contribute to. The bridge is also pleasant, especially the note she hits after it when she goes back to singing the chorus. The lyrics are not particularly spectacular, but they are serviceable. There are a few lines I enjoy, like “Island breeze and lights down low” because I like how it portrays an image of the relationship the song describes. I also like the story the song tells of two people falling in love despite each other’s past romantic issues (“Knew he was a killer first time that I saw him/Wonder how many girls he had loved and left haunted”, “Me, I was a robber first time that he saw me/Stealing hearts and running off and never saying sorry”).

“End Game” incorporates prominent urban influence, and it features rapper Future, who has found plenty of success in his genre. The song a uses a lot of autotune, which is a prominent aspect of Future’s music. The song also features Ed Sheeran, who raps in verse two. I am not generally a fan of Ed Sheeran’s work, but I think he is fine here. However, unlike Future, the song doesn’t incorporate any of his stylistic influence apart from his accent, which adds a bit of appeal, but its minimal. Apart from that, anyone could have rapped his verse and it would have sounded the same.

I’m not really a fan of this track. Part if this is thanks to the heavy use of autotune. To its credit, it is used more artistically than in your average song, but I still find that autotune is annoying and difficult to take seriously, with very few exceptions. The fact it is such a major part of the song makes it unappealing. Perhaps the biggest issues with this song is that it seems a bit messy, and I don’t think the various styles that it tries to use in different parts of the song mesh well together. I think Swift and her producers, Max Martin and Shellback tried to do too much here.

“Did I Do something Bad” is done in a style somewhat similar to “Look What You Made Me Do.” It features a ticking beat in the verses that transitions into sliding synth sounds, then are vocally pronounced in the instrumental breaks. I think most of the song is pretty unappealing. I don’t think the instrumentals combine well with the otherwise decent melody. One part I do appreciate is the verses. They aren’t outstanding but the do provide a nice, haunting atmosphere. The chorus buildup clap is pretty thrilling too, but it only lets me down when the mediocre chorus starts. The bridge is the best part of the song and adds a calm feel, and the lyrics of that part are actually pretty well written. I also like the clapping at the end of the bridge as Swift repeats “light me up”.

I think [Don’t Blame Me] should have stuck to the religious metaphors in favor of the love-drug comparisons, because it presents something that is lyrically interesting.”

“Don’t Blame Me” is slower compared to the other upbeat tracks. It opens with its slightly funky chorus and then goes to the slight, flowy verses. It uses religious symbolism, as well as the massively unoriginal comparison of love to a drug, to tell the story of an infatuation for her romantic partner. I personally think that the chorus resembles a church choir, which connects to the religious aspect. I think it should have stuck to the religious metaphors in favor of the love-drug comparisons, because it presents something that is lyrically interesting, unlike the latter, which is tired and cliche. I simply find this song to be mediocre. Although the chorus is pretty appealing after a couple listens, there’s nothing about it that makes me particularly want to listen to it.

Although “Delicate” is badly opened with autotune-distorted vocals, it quickly reveals itself to be a nice song if you given the chance, with a beat that syncs well to the consistently soft and mellow vocals. The lyrics are fairly effective at conveying the fragility of love. It’s by no means a perfect song, but it’s nice and calming.

“So It Goes…” is another attempt at softer song, or at least in the verses. In the chorus it is much more uptempo and exciting. It is one of the nicer songs on the record. In terms of lyrics it is pretty similar to her previous work, being a song describing a relationship using her signature weirdly specific lyrics (“Lipstick on your face”) and a very candid style (“But, honestly, baby, who’s counting?…/(1, 2, 3)”)

Similar but vastly superior to “End Game”, “King of My Heart” meshes multiple styles in one song, with subtle-sung verses to snapping sound effects, rap-like pre choruses and bridges backed by instrumentals, and a peaceful chorus with guitar strums to softly auto tuned vocals. Although I’ve made my opposition to autotune clear and I would prefer it not to be used here, I actually think it works well for the given situation. The difference between this and “End Game”, and why it works so much better is that the different parts feel as if they’re working together rather than against each other.

“Dancing With Our Hands Tied” is interesting because at first you’d be led to believe it’s just another decent Swift song when it starts with subdued verses, which we would assume would only burst into an enthusiastic, cheerful chorus. Although that is technically still the case, the song takes a more unconventional twist when the verses come to a rave-style chorus with punchy synth. As for the quality of the song, it’s simply okay. Some of the lines are pretty good for describing the relationship the song portrays, but nothing is good enough to make the song stand out as great. For some the chorus might make the song worthwhile, but the style there isn’t one that I personally find all that appealing.

[Dress] feels natural, unlike a lot of other artist’s forced “I’m mature now” songs.”

“Dress” is a low tempo, sultry, slow song with a slow chime in the chorus and breathy vocals. It is much more sexual than any of her previous work, and up until now such messages were almost hidden in her work as if they are begging not to be noticed. Until now, the closest she’s gotten to was “Wildest Dreams”. This marks a point of maturity of her lyrics, or possibly target audience, or a mix of both. Those factors, however, don’t in themselves make for a good song, and that is the case here. It has its appealing moments, but is overall mediocre. I understand what the song was going for, and I even think the producer did a pretty good job of going in that direction, but that I still don’t particularly like that direction no matter how well done it is. The main positive is that it feels natural, unlike a lot of other artist’s forced “I’m mature now” songs. The bridge is the best part of the song, and I think that is due to the change of instrumentals.

“This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” is yet another song in the brand of “End Game” with multiple styles in one song. In this case, the verses feature speech-like vocals over a lightly thumping beat and clap sounds. The pre choruses are similar to the verses of “I Did Something Bad” with their soft vocals and ticking as background instrumentals. The chorus resembles her previous work in melody over a keyboard sound. The different styles don’t work together like in “King of My Heart” nor do they clash like in “End Game”. They are simply there with each other without having any effect on each other at all.

“Call It What You Want” is a slow song with background vocals as background. Unlike the other songs that pick up in the chorus, it maintains the same level of intensity through the entire song. It does use beats to pronounce the words in the chorus, but that’s about it. Despite being a slow song, it still has a very pop-radio, produced song, but I think the way in which the production is done it contributes to the song rather than take away from it. It is probably one of the nicest songs on the album.

“New Year’s Day” is a piano ballad telling the story of a love story on the titular day. I’d like to appreciate it, but I find it boring. Its interesting to see a pop star experiment with things that are less produced, but it didn’t work particularly well here.

Two of the album’s songs stick pretty closely to the style she established in 1989. Those songs are “Gorgeous” and ‘Getaway Car”. They are successful, especially “Gorgeous”, which is the best song on the album. By no means are the lyrical themes very unique, but in terms of melody and production I find they are very pleasing to listen to.

There’s different songs to match different people’s tastes, so there’s likely something for you here.”

Overall, Reputation is an average album in terms of quality but a very varied album in terms of quality. Because of this, there’s different songs to match different people’s tastes, so there’s likely something for you here. Even if you disliked Swift’s work prior to this, this makes it worth looking at, because chances are you’ll find something that resonates with you.

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Look what you made her do: Taylor Swift returns to music scene with highly anticipated experimental album