Saturday, November 18, 2017
Tampa Bay Music & Shows

'Reputation' review: Taylor Swift should know she's better than this

RECOMMENDED READING


Taylor Swift has a right to sound bitter.

Since dropping her blockbuster album 1989 three years ago, she has gone from being one of the most scrutinized pop singers on the planet to the most scrutinized singer on the planet. She has endured a sexual assault lawsuit; an endless, exhausting public feud with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian; and calls harping on her to get more politically active, or at least denounce her fans on the extreme right. She’s handled most of it with dignity.

But it turns out shaking it off isn’t so easy after all.

The neon joy that Swift exuded across 1989 is missing from her new album Reputation, which dropped Friday. The chipper, globe-conquering heroine of just a few years ago? She can’t come to the phone right now. In her place is a nearly 28-year-old woman with long list of grievances in red, underlined; and a seeming belief that her life will always be consumed by drama.

"You heard about me / I got some big enemies," she sings on End Game. "I bury hatchets, but I keep maps of where I put ’em / reputation precedes me, they told you I’m crazy / I swear I don’t love the drama, it loves me."

Reputation is the album where she embraces that drama right back. She often sounds defensive (Don’t Blame Me) and spiteful (This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things); she shifts blame and threatens vengeance (Look What You Made Me Do). Honestly, it’s a very 2017 look, if not a particularly flattering one — one needn’t go farther than Twitter or the nightly news to find another highly public figure with many of the same predispositions.

The music matches the message. Few of the album’s 15 tracks — mostly produced and co-written by Max Martin, Shellback and Jack Antonoff — exalt in the major-chord joie de vivre of Shake It Off, 22 or We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together. There is a lush warmth in lower-key synth-pop songs like Dress, Delicate, Call It What You Want and So It Goes, but Swift seems more focused on dropping bangers. Sometimes it doesn’t work — the icy, vampish lead single Look What You Made Me Do, with its jiggly rolls of Miami bass beneath the chorus, feels like a reject from Disney’s Descendents. Hearing her kinda-sorta rap across Ready For It and End Game (alongside Future, no less) is initially jarring, but it doesn’t take long for their blown-out bass and staccato percussion to worm their way into your id.

When she’s not singing about "playboys" and "narcissists" shading her as a witch to be burned (I Did Something Bad); or sneaky ex-friends who "stabbed (her) in the back while shaking my hand" (This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things); she is lamenting how tough loving her can be.

"My reputation’s never been worse, so you must like me for me," she sings on Delicate. On Dancing With Our Hands Tied: "I loved you in spite of deep fears that the world would divide us." And in a moment of introspection, King of My Heart, she laments: "I’m perfectly fine, I live on my own / I made up my mind, I’m better off being alone."

This is where the album’s darker themes work better. The thing about Swift — and maybe only Swift — is that her lyrics make her impossible life feel relatable, even to her youngest fans. Call It What You Want may be a pity party ("All the liars are calling me one"), but it’s also rife with lived-in images of adolescent/20-something love: initial pendants, blanket forts, "drama queens taking swings." Even acknowledging her real-life allure and power on Gorgeous, she manages to sound vulnerable: "There’s nothing I hate more than what I can’t have / guess I’ll stumble on home to my cats."

Some lines recall Swift’s country roots, miles though she may be from her Nashville sound. "Only bought this dress so you could take it off," she sings on Dress. She weirdly sings a lot about drinking — beer, champagne, spilled wine, Old Fashioneds, whiskey on ice, "eyes like liquor," at parties, in bars, on beaches, anything, everywhere, for a buzz — but the album’s most poignant imagery comes in its muted hangover of a closing track, New Year’s Day: "I want your midnights, but I’ll be cleaning up bottles with you on New Year’s Day."

Swiftologists will parse each line to suss out her lyrical targets. I Did Something Bad is likely about ex Calvin Harris; This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things is almost certainly about Kim and Kanye. But knowing this won’t make the LP any better. In fact, This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things nearly undoes Swift’s heel turn altogether. She’s pretends she’s about to forgive Kim and Kanye for ruining her Gatsbyesque pool party by the "champagne sea" (ugh) when she breaks character with a childish cackle: "Ha ha ha, I can’t even say it with a straight face!"

Much like Kanye West with his sad, tabloid-baiting Famous, Swift should know she’s better than this. She has the right to sound bitter, sure, and getting Reputation off her chest might bring some closure to the drama of her 20s. Maybe the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. But we’re willing to hold until the new one lightens up.

Contact Jay Cridlin at cridlin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

Comments
Flo Rida coming to Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg

Flo Rida coming to Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg

In 2016, Flo Rida headlined a free postgame concert for the Tampa Bay Rowdies at Al Lang Stadium.Come January, he'll have the place all to himself.The Carol City hitmaker will top a show at Al Lang on Jan. 14. St. Petersburg. native Macy Kate will al...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Bluegrass and a traditional Thanksgiving meal on tap at annual Sertoma festival

Bluegrass and a traditional Thanksgiving meal on tap at annual Sertoma festival

SPRING LAKE — When it comes to traditional fare, picking, fiddling, harmonizing and a whole lot of foot-stomping make for the main course at the annual Thanksgiving Bluegrass Festival.Since 1980, the event, which will be Nov. 23 to 25 at the Sertoma ...
Published: 11/17/17
Two weeks after Tampa concert, rapper Lil Peep dies at 21

Two weeks after Tampa concert, rapper Lil Peep dies at 21

Lil Peep, a driving force in the young, ascendant, genre-blurring world dubbed "SoundCloud rap" or "emo rap," has died at 21, less than two weeks after performing at the Orpheum in Ybor City.TMZ reported the Long Beach, N.Y. rapper born Gustav Ahr di...
Published: 11/16/17
Randy Newman talks Dodger baseball, his ’70s collaborators, measuring himself against his peers and more

Randy Newman talks Dodger baseball, his ’70s collaborators, measuring himself against his peers and more

Randy Newman was always widely respected by his peers. But back in the '70s, it took him a while to accept he might never be as famous as his peers."I remember hearing Just the Way You Are in a hotel," he said in a recent phone interview. "I was tryi...
Published: 11/16/17
SoundBytes: Yonder Mountain String Band, Robb Banks, Datsik and more

SoundBytes: Yonder Mountain String Band, Robb Banks, Datsik and more

— Jammy bluegrassers Yonder Mountain String Band will make their annual pilgrimage back to Jannus Live on Jan. 25. Click here.— Also coming to Jannus Live: JJ Grey and Mofro with a stellar lineup, including the North Mississippi Allstars,...
Published: 11/15/17
Harry Belafonte to speak at the University of South Florida in Tampa

Harry Belafonte to speak at the University of South Florida in Tampa

Singer, actor and civil rights icon Harry Belafonte is coming to Tampa.The renowned cultural figure will speak at the University of South Florida on Jan. 16 as part of the school's student-run University Lecture Series. It'll take place in the Marsha...
Published: 11/15/17
Vans Warped Tour, a staple on St. Petersburg’s waterfront, ending after 2018

Vans Warped Tour, a staple on St. Petersburg’s waterfront, ending after 2018

For fans and bands alike, the Vans Warped Tour is a sweaty, smelly, screamy rite of summer.Every year, like clockwork, the fest swings through Tampa Bay, almost always at Vinoy Park in St. Petersburg, where hordes of tattooed teenagers, punks and met...
Published: 11/15/17
This week’s top Tampa Bay concerts: Randy Newman, Tiesto, Et Cultura, more

This week’s top Tampa Bay concerts: Randy Newman, Tiesto, Et Cultura, more

THE ENVELOPE, PLEASE: Randy NewmanOscar campaigns are nothing new for Randy Newman. For years, the iconic singer, songwriter and film composer was the most-nominated person in history without a win, until his 2001 trophy for the Monsters Inc. song If...
Published: 11/15/17
Randy Newman will never be a million-seller, and he’s fine with that

Randy Newman will never be a million-seller, and he’s fine with that

Maybe it’s fitting that the Los Angeles Dodgers didn’t win the World Series. Maybe it’s better that all of Southern California didn’t pop Champagne and celebrate as Randy Newman’s I Love L.A. blared through the Dodger St...
Published: 11/15/17
The Castle, Ybor City’s goth paradise, celebrates 25 years of darkness and weirdness

The Castle, Ybor City’s goth paradise, celebrates 25 years of darkness and weirdness

The Castle, the multi-story, gothic nightclub where it's not uncommon to see someone on the dance floor in a Batman cape, a leather corset or a Peter Pan costume — or really anything you can think of — turned 25 this year, which...
Published: 11/15/17