As a long-time Swiftie, it’s depressed me a little to watch the awkward rollout for Reputation, which appears to be a Taylor Swift’s Yeezus as a concept album about fake news. We have seen Taylor quasi-rap over harsh beats, sing sexual come-ons with the seduction of a stuffed animal, strike unfamiliar poses in body suits—all of this an insistent new model born out of some intense desire to get back at Kanye West, Calvin Harris, or someone. Maybe I’m looking at it the wrong way. Pop is about reinvention, and Swift is now a pop star far removed from her starry-eyed country days. If my memory is long, and I get hung up on the old days, then I’m just showing my age, which means this certainly isn’t for me.
Of course it would be much easier to swallow if the songs were good, and up until now they haven’t been. “Look What You Made Me Do,” “Ready For It?,” and “Gorgeous” all would’ve been completely anonymous if sung by any lesser pop star, and it speaks to Taylor’s teflon brand that even one of them went to No. 1. But her new single, “Call It What You Want,” goes a way toward melting my reservations. She’s rapping, but the production is mysterious and subdued instead of antic, so it doesn’t force her to leap entirely into unfamiliar territory. Her voice stays in a slow, seductive register, as she sticks to the same paranoid themes that have colored previous singles. There are haters and losers, of course, and they’re coming for her, but she finds some refuge in a guy who she can barely describe without turning nonsensical: “My baby’s fly like a jet stream.”
That’s fine, though. She’s come a long way from “Love Story,” where she asked for a guy to save her; now, she only wants to run away. The knock against it is the same as the others. It still does sound like a song that could’ve come from anyone; it’s not ineffably Taylor, like previous lead singles (even the mildly embarrassing “Shake It Off”), because it’s not really clear if the public is buying what she’s selling. The callbacks to the old songs are nice, but for the heads only; there isn’t a lyric that sticks out except for the one where she says she trusts her lover like, uh, a brother. But if I close my eyes, and try not to think about the context coloring how Reputation comes to us, the music sounds pretty good. If the old Taylor really is dead, then that’s the best we can do.