Saturday , September 22 2018

Swift’s Reputation pure pop magic – Singer recrafts sound and image

Taylor Swift, “Reputation” (Big Machine Records)

If you’d stop thinking about her Reputation, you’d actually appreciate the musicality of Taylor Swift’s “Reputation.”

Sure, she named the album that so there will be blog posts and essays deciphering the lyrics — was that about Kanye? Calvin? — but listen to the music, and you’ll discover pure pop magic.

On 2014’s “1989,” Swift showed she could deliver great pop songs. On “Reputation,” her sixth album and second pop effort, she has mastered it.

The production level has enhanced, with little nuanced sounds throughout the album — including use of the vocoder — giving the tracks additional appeal. A good number of the 15 songs are bass heavy and beat-laden, while Swift tells the story of her life in the last two years — going from tabloid drama to falling in love.

She’s striking on the exceptional “End Game,” veering into contemporary R&B territory. Co-stars include rap hitmaker Future and Ed Sheeran, who is sing-rapping in the style he performed before you fell in love with “Thinking Out Loud.”

Like the singles “…Ready for It?” and “Look What You Made Me Do,” other tracks on the album have similar flair and a big sound, including “Don’t Blame Me,” “Getaway Car,” “Dancing With Our Hands Tied” and “King of My Heart.”

Riding those big beats are the lyrics — Swift’s specialty. Some of the words hit hard like gunshots.

“If a man talks then I owe him nothing/I don’t regret it one bit ‘cause he had it coming,” Swift sings on “I Did Something Bad.”

On the thumping and theatrical “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things,” her target is crystal clear.

“And therein lies the issue/Friends don’t try to trick you/Get you on the phone and mind-twist you,” she sings. “But I’m not the only friend you’ve lost lately/If only you weren’t so shady.”

But the album isn’t all boom boom pow and big beats. Closing track “New Year’s Eve” is soft, stripped and slowed down, reminisicent of some of Swift’s earlier work. “Gorgeous” and “Call It What You Want” also even out the gigantic sound of the album, produced with Jack Antonoff, Max Martin and Shellback.

“Reputation” also showcases a more sensual side of Swift. The performer with “that good girl faith and a tight little skirt” sings about scratches on her lover’s back on “So It Goes…,” and a man’s hand in her hair on “Delicate,” one of the brightest spots on the album. On the falsetto-heavy “Dress,” another winning song and R&B-flavored gem.

“Only bought this dress so you can take it off,” she coos.

Outstanding

This album’s got an outstanding Reputation.

In her rise to pop superstardom, Taylor Swift was once earnest and anodyne, her life’s disappointments more a chance for songs of perky commiseration than of rage.

The world has changed, or maybe the 27-year-old has grown up. On “Reputation,” her sixth studio album, Swift is in a fighting spirit — and the story is all about her.

“Reputation” stars Swift as aggrieved and vindictive — not the singer from her last album “1989” who playfully pointed to the chatter among her ex-lovers, but one wielding a baseball bat and ready to smash stuff up on the video for the new album’s first single “Look What You Made Me Do.”

On “I Did Something Bad,” Swift — who breaks new ground on the song by recording a profanity — tells a man who crossed her, “I don’t regret it one bit / ‘cause he had it coming.”

In a possible nod to challenges faced by strong women, Swift continues: “They’re burning all the witches, even if you aren’t one.”

Swift has always brought autobiographical elements into her songs but on “Reputation” one target is unmistakably clear — Kanye West.

West’s wife, socialite Kim Kardashian, sought to defend her husband at the time by releasing a recording of a telephone conversation in which West appeared to consult Swift about the lyrics.

Swift hits back on her latest album: “Friends don’t try to trick you / Get you on the phone and mind-twist you / And so I took an ax to a mended fence.”

The focus on West is all the more striking as “Reputation” for the first time sees Swift embracing hip-hop, completing a transformation from her early days strumming country guitar.

“End Game,” one of the strongest songs on the album, has Swift collaborating with both rapper Future and English songwriter Ed Sheeran, a close friend, in a finely tuned blend of pop and hip-hop.

If the sharp-elbowed tone may reflect the mood of the United States in 2017, one element is strikingly absent — politics.

Unlike virtually all A-list pop singers of the moment, the self-described feminist Swift has stayed mum about President Donald Trump.

The silence may be refreshing for music fans looking for an increasingly elusive political safe space in Trump’s America. But it also marks a shrewd marketing move for an artist who works on the liberal coasts but whose country roots have ensured her a loyal fan base in conservative states.

And even if her persona on the album is harder-edged, she is also making sure her real-life Reputation among fans stays undisturbed.

Swift has made surprisingly few public appearances for “Reputation,” instead communicated through safe posts on social media platform Tumblr.

Taylor Swift’s revenge-tinged new album “Reputation” soared to the top of the iTunes charts on its first day of release on Friday, earning mixed reviews from music critics while fans devoured the lyrics for clues about her latest targets.

“Reputation,” Swift’s first studio album in three years, marks another transformation in image for the country-turned-pop star. It was not made available to music streaming services, in line with the singer’s previous releases. (Agencies)

Swift, 27, is known for using her love life for inspiration without ever directly naming names.

In “Reputation,” fans and music writers saw hints of her ex-boyfriends Calvin Harris and British actor Tom Hiddleston as possible subjects in the tracks “I Did Something Bad” and “Dancing with Our Hands Tied.”

The singer’s current love, British actor Joe Alwyn, was widely seen as the inspiration for some of the more romantic tracks like “Gorgeous” and “Delicate.”

The 15-track album’s mix of hip-hop, dance and just one acoustic ballad projects a tougher, more vindictive image of the singer who made her name 10 years ago with yearning songs about first love and being an outsider.

Swift declared that her old self was dead in “Look What You Made Me Do,” released in August as the first single from the “Reputation” album. It had the biggest YouTube debut in history with more than 43 million views in the first 24 hours.

In a review headlined “Taylor Swift is no longer America’s sweetheart”, Entertainment Weekly’s Leah Greenblatt called “Reputation” an “oddly bifurcated creation, half obsessed with grim score settling and celebrity damage, half infatuated with a lover who takes her away from all that.”

USA Today’s Maeve McDermott said the album was a “fully formed look at a singer in love, and in control,” while Jon Caramanica at the New York Times called it “bombastic, unexpected and sneakily potent.” (Agencies)

By Mesfin Fekadu

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