I can categorize my life in Taylor Swift albums, more so than any other artist. Her debut album will always remind me of my elementary school years when my parents had somehow convinced me that country music was the only kind of music, which led me to the conclusion that Taylor Swift was the only good music. “Speak Now” takes me back to when I was ten years old and I felt like a huge rebel singing “Better Than Revenge” in my backyard because that lyric about mattresses was pretty risque. “1989” is a throwback to junior year and a really, really long car trip; I liked the album in the beginning and about one song by the end.
I have more Taylor Swift songs on my phone than I have starting with the first three letters of the alphabet combined. Clearly, good old T-swizzle has always provided a good portion of my top jams. Therefore, the news of her new album release was the most exciting thing to happen since when “La La Land” didn’t actually win that Oscar. However, the release of her singles preceding the album made me a little nervous.
I like to think of Swift’s development as a singer-songwriter a little bit like Italy before language standardization. If you took somebody from the southern-most tip of Italy to the northern-most region of Italy, their dialects would be so different that they may not be able to understand one another at all. But if you travel just one village north, the dialects would vary, but not enough that there’d be any trouble communicating. “Fearless” is a smidge different from “Taylor Swift,” and “Speak Now” is a smidge different than “Fearless.” But “Taylor Swift” is a lot different from “Reputation.” The biggest overall shift we see in Swift’s music is that she’s become more mainstream.
To begin, I have 100 percent respect for Swift’s right to experiment with different music genres and explore musical styles, so even when it’s not to my tastes, I’m not going to hate on her. That being said, since her debut as a country singer, Swift has become more and more mainstream with each of her albums, bringing her songs underneath the wide umbrella of pop music. However, no matter how many times her songs play on the radio, no matter how popular she gets, there has always been something in her music that is very characteristic to her and her alone.
The singles released before the release of “Reputation,” including “Look What You Made Me Do,” “…Ready For It,” “Call It What You Want” and “Gorgeous,” as I said, made me nervous for what would be on the album. If Taylor Swift wants to explore hip hop and rap, that’s totally her decision, but the reason I’ve always liked her is because she drives alongside the mainstream instead of totally submerging in it. In her constantly shifting exploration of genre, Swift has started to play with sounds that near the realm of hip-hop on her new album, and while she never really raps, she comes close.
“Reputation” has come closer than any of her previous albums to really giving in to what dominates so much of popular music and several of the songs do. Tracks at the beginning such as “End Game” (which does feature rapping from Ed Sheeran and Future, just not Swift’s) and “I Did Something Bad” would sound like any other song on the radio if they weren’t sung by Swift. Something about the inflection and quality of her voice manages to maintain her own characteristic sound. It’s also interesting to note that classic Taylor comes out a lot more in the verse than in the chorus in many of her new songs.
Besides her distinctive voice, no matter how much her sound and style may change, Swift’s lyrical mastery is a constant throughout all her work as well, which doesn’t change with “Reputation.” Although her themes stray a little more from the feel-good romance that dominates much of her previous albums, her new themes don’t dominate the entire album. Songs like “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” address things like excess, fame and (you guessed it) her reputation, but songs like “Get Away Car” maintain good old love story subjects.
Overall, “Reputation” is my least favorite of all of Swift’s work, however when I look back at college in 20 years, no doubt it’ll be to the soundtrack of “Look What You Made Me Do.”
Alex Houdeshell is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.