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The Reputation of Reputation

A look at Taylor Swift’s 2016 album

Hannah Jackson

Staff Writer

March 15, 2022

Reputation, Taylor Swift’s 5th studio album, is known for diverging from her usual aesthetic. Contrasting her usual warm and friendly tone, she enters a world full of black, dark green, and snakes. The tone shift is further reflected with heavier beats and harsher sounds. Whether or not you like the explorative genre that Swift tackles in Reputation, the album deserves merit for its carefully crafted narrative.

The story of the album begins following Swift’s 2016 scandal, one that resulted in resounding waves of hate. While there’s a lot that led to this, the most important piece is that it all happened between Swift and Kanye West, with each having completely different sides of the story. While Swift was eventually able to release evidence that backed up her side, it was too late, and the majority of the internet hated her anyway.

As a result, Swift retreated for a year, completely secluded from the world around her. When she returned, it was with Reputation. The album’s first lead single, “Look What You Made Me Do” painted an image of anger, but ultimately a message of being done—done with caring and conforming to please the media and others. While it came off as harsh, it’s the idea Swift needed to send in response to the unchecked hatred: she could take it. This song presents a tough exterior that many think is the overall message of the album. In reality, this viewpoint is quite surface level compared to the deeper complexities within the album.

To fully understand Swift’s relationship with her reputation, we must first look to her origins. She starts as a teenage-star focused on pleasing the media and the world, terrified of being judged. As she discusses in her Netflix documentary, Miss Americana, facing her greatest fears come-to-life was what Swift needed in order to deconstruct her need to please others. By losing this need to please, Swift finally finds what’s real within her life, leaving behind her fixation on what others think of her.

Thus, Reputation is not about Swift’s new apathetic and tough persona; rather, it is about her new vulnerable and authentic self. This is displayed through the development of the songs throughout the album. While it opens with isolation and anger in the song “Look What You Made Me Do”, she eventually finds love, a symbolic light within the darkness in her final song, “New Years’ Day”. This closing song stands out due to its simplicity. While the rest of the album contains musical flares and a larger-than-life production, it takes a moment to have a quiet, soft beat. She describes her everyday experience with love as if it’s the peace among the storm. It’s the perfect way to close and reinforce the message of light within darkness.

By deconstructing her previous ideas about what she must be, Swift finds her real self, and most surprisingly, real happiness. Despite its own reputation, Reputation is not an edgy, dark, diss album, but rather it is an open, personal album chronicling the journey of acceptance of one’s self and the joy and connection that we can find when we feel the most alone and judged.

The irony of the album is within the title. It’s not simply an album about Swift’s reputation—it’s an album about throwing away the idea of your reputation and accepting yourself for who you are.

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