The glittery, glammy assault of Reputation, Taylor Swift’s deafeningly anticipated sixth album, confirms the American singer’s status as one of the last true rock stars. She looms — over music, over social media, over the zeitgeist — as famous for her romantic adventures as for her pop. But her increasingly combative songs speak to a thrilling determination to take on all comers, regardless of, yes, the reputational consequences.
That’s potentially discommoding for anyone who thinks female pop stars should steer a fundamentally different course from head-banging rockers, but a delight for those who recognise a preening rock deity when they see one.
Anger is the dominant emotion on Reputation, a record that emerges from a tsunami of feuds, disses, rumours, and hype. Tay Tay’s ongoing stand off with Kanye West is the inspiration not only for wham-bam single, ‘Look What You Made Me Do’, but also the trippy clubland pell-mell of ‘This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things’.
The target practice doesn’t end with an eccentric rapper. In the liner notes, Swift despairs that her lyrics will be deconstructed and misconstrued by a celebrity gossip complex determined to break down her life into a series of break-ups and hook-ups, and there is a sense, throughout Reputation, that the artist’s greatest ire is reserved for the fame monster that has made her both ubiquitous and frequently disparaged.
"My reputation’s never been worse, so,” she coos in her sugar shriek on ‘Delicate’. “You must like me for me.”
Around these uncompromising sentiments, Swift and her songwriting team — including St Vincent collaborator Jack Antonoff — have woven a springy dance-floor tapestry, brimming with angular beats, jack-knifing tempo changes, and melodies spun from the hardest candy.
Only at the end does she take off the mask and bear her heart, with the acoustic ‘New Year’s Day’.
As journey into the inner life of one of music’s biggest celebrities, Reputation is riveting. As pop album, it is extraordinary.