“Taylor Swift released a new album, and she’s one of the biggest pop stars in the world right now so hey, why not review it?” This was my line of thinking as I sat in a restaurant on Friday evening after hearing “Bad Blood” by the inescapable Ms. Swift on the radio. With Marissa graduated and teaching high school kids and Katia waiting until Sia releases her Christmas Album next week to write a music review, I decided that maybe it was my turn to give it a shot. When I expressed the idea to my girlfriend Kat, we both checked Spotify hoping to find Swift’s new album, Reputation, streaming. Sadly, or perhaps mercifully, it wasn’t. I remembered that Swift had issues with the music streaming giant in the past so it shouldn’t have been a surprise.
Before I go further, I should state that I’m not a huge fan of Taylor Swift or her music. Her songs often come off as vindictive, judgmental and even a bit mean. However, you can’t really deny her impact in the music industry right now, showing an impressive rise throughout the past ten years. She’s been able to transition from country music to the world of pop with relative ease, even stopping now and then to attempt other genres such as dubstep and even rap music.
After finding nothing on Spotify, we then turned to iTunes. Swift’s album was available for purchase and download at $13.99. I wasn’t about to spend fourteen bucks on a Taylor Swift album, regardless of all that stuff I said in the previous paragraph. However, there was still one more option. It was likely that the album could be found at the local Walmart, where surely it would have a much more reasonable price. The corporate giant is known for having low prices, or at least that’s how it markets itself. We depart the restaurant and decide to head to Walmart to check it out. Along the way, I ponder Ms. Swift’s career.
In many ways, this current generation of music is far different from those in the past. For years, an artist would release a new album on vinyl, cassette or CD, and fans would flock to stores to purchase them. However, the introduction of the iPod and the subsequent rise of downloading and streaming music from the internet has changed things. Now this generation of music is mostly made up of artists who focus on releasing singles, with full albums mostly being secondary, if happening at all.
The new singles-driven music industry has brought us a number of popular new artists in the past ten years, such as Rihanna, Drake and the Chainsmokers, that have released dozens of popular singles, but aren’t really known for their albums. Of course, you have certain exceptions to this rule. 21 by Adele, My Dark Beautiful Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West, and To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar will probably stand the test of time, and one could argue that Taylor Swift’s 2014 release 1989 would be among them as well. In that album, Swift completed her transition from country girl to pop diva in stunning fashion, releasing an album filled with catchy hooks and infectious pop beats. Even a non-Swift fan like me had to admit that it wasn’t really all that bad. Plus, the singles from that album were everywhere for at least two years. The thing was a monster. It was like the Frampton Comes Alive of this generation.
“Did you just compare Taylor Swift to Frampton Comes Alive?” Kat looks at me with confusion as well pull into the Walmart parking lot.
I make an attempt to defend the statement, saying that it is ultimately up to the future generations to decide which albums stand the test of time and that for all we know, Bangerz by Miley Cyrus could be seen as the definitive statement of our time. We both tremble at that thought.
Upon arriving at the Walmart electronics department, we find a several copies of Reputation on display. Walmart was indeed selling them at a lower price than iTunes at $12.98, exactly $1.01 lower than iTunes. I’m still quite hesitant as a pick up a copy of the album and glance at the track list.
The first track is called “…Ready For It?” which I determine that no I’m probably not. I give it a 2/5 for not holding my interest. The next track is called “End Game” and appears to feature pop singer Ed Sheeran and mumbler, er rapper, Future as guests. I determine that nothing good could come from such a thing. 0/5. I set the album back on the rack and decide not to purchase it. Even after Kat shows me that for a mere $10 a month, I could listen to Reputation on Apple Music, I decide that maybe I’ll just look at one of her singles instead.
After returning home, I get on YouTube and find the video for the Taylor Swift single “Look What You Made Me Do” on the Taylor Swift Vevo channel. In short, the song is bad. Production-wise, Taylor seems determined to bring back the tacky pop stylings of Will.i.am from the early 2010’s. The thing that I find baffling is how she liberally borrows the beat of “I’m Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred, a One Hit Wonder from 1991, while repeating, “look what you made me do! Look what you made me do!” over the beat and then… rapping. For Swift, who’s known for how gifted of a songwriter she is, this entire song is kind of confusing for someone like me and must be absolutely heartbreaking for an actual fan of Ms. Swift.
The song is a response to a feud between Taylor and Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, where Kim exposed Taylor for something and then there was some other drama and I’m sure you can find it all on TMZ. Essentially, this song is Taylor talking about being a “bad bitch.” There was a similar song on her 1989 album called “Blank Space,” which featured a nice hook, carefully-crafted lyrics and a very artsy, minimalist pop beat. It was the polar-opposite of whatever she attempted to do with this track.
The whole thing makes me wonder if we are witnessing Taylor Swift in the middle of a meltdown. Part of me regrets not actually listening to the entire album and giving a detailed report on my findings, but the saner part of me is glad that I didn’t. For some reason, this album, with such vindictive track titles as “Don’t Blame Me,” “I Did Something Bad,” and “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” encourages me to stay away. I even looked at some of the reviews online to see if maybe I was mistaken and it was worth a listen.
Metacritic gave the album a solid 75/100. In Canvas numbers, that’s a solid C. Most reviews called it messy and “a moving disaster,” though one critic stated that in “Look What You Made Me Do,” Swift transforms from a girl-next-door to someone who is “glamorously sophisticated.” Upon a re-watch of the video, I’m not sure he was thinking of the same Taylor Swift that I was.
My overall perception of Taylor Swift is that she’s judgmental, vindictive and ultimately not a terribly nice person, and a lot of that seemed to be confirmed just by a quick glance at the track list of this album and reviewing her first single. Perhaps it’s just me, but more than likely, it’s simply due to Taylor Swift’s reputation.