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Don’t worry, Swifties, it was a fake-out.
In the strange run-up to her sixth album, “Reputation” (Big Machine), Taylor Swift made it seem like she was out to deliver a treatise on the current media climate and how it and other celebrities have done her wrong. The over-the-top first single, “Look What You Made Me Do,” even went as far as declaring the Old Taylor dead. The song and its video, featuring her many personas over the years, was making a point, bluntly and in an uncharacteristically clumsy way musically. When that was followed by the surprisingly derivative single “ . . . Ready for It,” where Swift sort-of raps through verses that sound like “Empire State of Mind,” alarm bells started going off. Though “Look What You Made Me Do” hit No. 1 for three weeks, it quickly faded and “ . . . Ready for It” has yet to really connect on radio.
But “Reputation” — which went on sale early Friday morning, but will not immediately be available to stream — isn’t really about what strangers think about her on social media. It’s about what she thinks of herself and what she wants those closest to her to think.
“Nobody’s heard from me for months,” she sings in the gorgeous love song “Call It What You Want.” “I’m doing better than I ever was.”
“Reputation” has plenty of songs about new love, which should probably be attributed to her reported boyfriend, actor Joe Alwyn, though everything Swift writes clearly isn’t autobiographical. The only “Old Taylor” song is also the album’s best — the closing piano ballad, “New Year’s Day,” where she sings about the details of a relationship after the glamorous party, when “I’ll be cleaning up bottles with you on New Year’s Day.”
“New Taylor,” though, is pretty good at this songwriting thing too, with help from longtime collaborators Max Martin & Shellback, as well as Jack Antonoff. The album’s biggest surprise is “End Game,” which features Future and Ed Sheeran, and is destined to rule radio in a way that the earlier singles haven’t. The unlikely trio have a great time vibing over what could have been a recent Bruno Mars single. You can almost feel the giggles bubbling up as she sings, “Big reputation, big reputation, ooh you and me would be a big conversation.”
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Rather than drawing inspiration from the past, as she did for “1989,” Swift is pulling from today’s pop for much of “Reputation.” There are bits of Sia in the sweet vocoder-opening of “Delicate.” There’s some Halsey in “I Did Something Bad.” And she’s channeling her pal Lorde in “Dress,” with her beat-driven phrasing.
Everything else on “Reputation” is better than the first two teaser singles, which is why industry estimates that it will quickly become the year’s biggest seller seem right on target, with two million copies expected to be sold within a week. “Look What You Made Me Do” was simply a flashy bit of misdirection that allowed Swift to move forward after the toughest stretch of her once-storybook career. The playful “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things,” where she calls out Kanye West and Kim Kardashian West, shows that even New Taylor’s reputation will be just fine.