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A Newfound Vulnerability in Taylor Swift’s “reputation”

Big Machine Records

Big Machine Records

Rachel Zuraek, Guest Writer

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She’s a snake. She’s money hungry. She dates too many guys. Whether you agree with the rumors or not, it’s no question that Taylor Swift has quite the reputation.

Since her musical debut in 2006, Swift has become one of the most well-known and successful artists in the modern music industry. But, her fame came with a big consequence: accusations of being a lying, money-obsessed minx. Though she has addressed these rumors in previous songs, Swift’s latest album, “reputation,is entirely dedicated to the story of how her reputation has shaped her current life. And it tells quite a different tale than songs which came before.

In her 2012 album “Red,” “The Lucky One” narrated Swift’s urge to change her personality to gain the media’s affection. But in her single “Shake It Off,” released two years later, Swift’s opinion seemed to change. She no longer cared about appealing to the “haters.” Rather, she sang, “I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake/ shake it off” when dealing with those proclaimers of her horrible reputation.

Last month, when Swift released her highly-anticipated sixth album, “reputation,” it was clear that something about “shaking it off” was unsuccessful for Swift. Her reputation had remained something she thought deeply about. But, instead of merely discussing it, Swift does something unexpected: she verifies her reputation is accurate, lending to a level of vulnerability untouched by her previous discology.

One major facet of Swift’s reputation is her tendency to fling herself at any new man she meets. Instead of opposing this claim, Swift confesses the accuracy of it wholeheartedly throughout the song “Getaway Car.” While narrating her involvement in a love triangle, Swift mentions how her boyfriend “was runnin’ after us/ I was screaming go, go, go/ but with three of us honey/ it’s a side-show/ but a circus ain’t a love story/ and now we’re both sorry.” Swift acknowledges that she lives up to her reputation by running away from her boyfriend to start a new relationship, realizing it was a mistake.  

This admittance raises an important question: though this flighty tendency is proven correct, should Swift believe every other rumor about herself? Throughout the album, Swift struggles with drawing lines between her self-image and public image after realizing they may not be mutually exclusive.

Throughout a healthy amount of songs, Swift proves that certain facets of her reputation don’t describe her. In “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things,” the line “it was so good being friends again/ there I was giving you a second chance/ but you stabbed me in the back while shaking my hand” gives a look into her side of celebrity feuds, discrediting her reputation as a fabricator of drama.  

But in other songs, Swift struggles with how much of her reputation truly defines her. The lyric “they’re burning all the witches even if you aren’t one/ so light me up” in “I Did Something Bad” is an example of this struggle, as Swift realizes she is not a “witch,” but still allows herself to be burned regardless.

What ultimately allows Swift to draw the line between her self-image and public image are people who love her regardless of how accurate her reputation is. In one of the last tracks of “reputation,” titled “Call It What You Want,” Swift sings “[my baby] loves me like I’m brand new/ so call it what you want.” To Swift, “brand new” really means without the taint of her reputation. This clean slate leading to Swift’s indifference about how the media labels her relationship is aided by the opinions of those who know her best.  

Besides content, the largest difference between “reputation” and Swift’s previous discology is the sound. These harsh beats, drops and rises new to Swift help to emphasize the vulnerability in certain tracks. “reputation” songs which claim the inaccuracy of Swift’s reputation have precise beats and explosive choruses to contrast with the auditory softness of songs where reputation defeats her, adding auditorial vulnerability. Therefore, tracks in which she admits the accuracy of facets of her reputation are an auditory middle-ground: “Gorgeous” has sharp accents in its verses which are cushioned by an acoustic-based chorus. Even though listeners may miss her country sound, this background music manipulation shows an artistic range which Swift dominates throughout “reputation.”  

Swift takes a large step by confessing the accuracy of her flaws which align with the media is a large step for Swift. For 16 years she has denied the public’s portrayal of her, afraid to give them the power to define her. Yet, in “reputation,” Swift is able to confess her reputation’s accuracy and define herself. The discovery of true rumors also leads to the discovery of false rumors, allowing Swift to clarify who she really is on her own terms. In losing the concern of having her music maintain her facade of perfection, Swift made “reputation” into an expression of vulnerability, truly opening up a new era for one of Hollywood’s formerly most guarded popstars.

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A Newfound Vulnerability in Taylor Swift’s “reputation”