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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Album review: Reputation strips away the success to reveal a more vulnerable Taylor Swift

Darker and broodier, Swift’s new album confirms her status as pop music’s reigning queen

Taylor Swift's Reputation. Big Machine via AP
Taylor Swift's Reputation. Big Machine via AP

Over the course of six albums, Taylor Swift has transitioned from burgeoning country music talent to stadium-slaying pop queen. Such trajectories come at a price, however.

In Reputation, Swift examines the various aspects of growing up in public, from the albatross of being viewed as a wholesome role model to seeking mental and emotional balance among the whirlwind of paparazzi and social media attention.

To accommodate some of Swift’s most introspective sets of lyrics yet, her team of producers - including Swedish pop-meisters Max Martin and Shellback - provide her with a sonic landscape that is often dark, broody and claustrophobic.

The opener and hit in waiting, Ready for It?, is a case in point. It is one of a few tracks which has Swift skirting with hip-hop; its heavy and distorted electro groove recalls Jay-Z’s 2009 hit On to the Next One. Swift’s steamy verses have her juxtaposing relationships with images of a puppet show and prison cells before it all breaks out in a cathartic and euphoric EDM chorus.

End Game has her teaming up with pop rival and friend Ed Sheeran and rapper Future for an effective trap music number which looks at how maintaining reputations is bound for failure.

It is in the album’s middle section where it really gets interesting as Swift addresses her own role in her ensuing dramas. Over the lurching electro riffs in I Did Something Bad, fans will find it hard not to think of ex-beaus - the DJ Calvin Harris and actor Tom Hiddleston - when Swift coldly addresses her propensity to call off relationships prematurely: “That’s the way the world works; you gotta leave before you get left.”

In a follow-up, the tropical-sounding Delicate, Swift acknowledges her icy demeanour is essentially a defence mechanism. She sounds spent and vulnerable as she gives a new love interest a "take it or leave it" deal: “My reputation has never been so good, so you must like me for me.”

Like its three-year-old predecessor 1989, Swift’s new release falls short of classic status however, due to its bloated tracklist. With 15 songs on offer, the album sags when Swift goes on automatic pilot. For all its chart success, lead single Look What You Made Me Do is a joyless pastiche while the bubble-gum pop of Gorgeous is so sweet it hurts.

Fortunately, it doesn’t detract from what is overall another bar-raising release by Swift. With Reputation, she cements her standing as one of her generation’s best pop-smiths.

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Read more:

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Look what you made us do: Taylor Swift's 5 most vengeful songs

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Reputation

Taylor Swift

(Big Machine Records)