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Taylor Swift’s ’Reputation’ sounds dated and disposable

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Annie Zaleski

Two stars

Taylor Swift Reputation

After Taylor Swift conquered the world with 2014’s 1989, it wasn’t clear where she would go next on Reputation, her sixth studio album. Would she continue down a comfortable pop path, or use her considerable musical leverage to venture even further afield? Although Swift initially hinted at the latter option with the Tim Burton-goes-electroclash “Look What You Made Me Do,” Reputation instead travels in well-worn creative directions.

That’s an unfortunate choice, largely due to her choice of collaborators. With contributions from producer Jack Antonoff on six songs and Swedish svengalis Max Martin and Shellback on the rest, Reputation plays like a pastiche of contemporary pop, hip-hop and electronics—and it instantly sounds dated. (If anything, the album underscores that Martin and Shellback’s once-bulletproof production approach now feels behind the times.)

Swift’s rampant vocal manipulation—including her frequent use of a vocoder—is distracting and distancing, while overuse of digital gloss robs other songs of personality. On “End Game,” a hip-hop-inspired collaboration with Future and Ed Sheeran, her voice is indistinguishable from random session singers. Elsewhere, the chorus of the EDM-zippered “I Did Something Bad” wields a trilling, reggae-redolent vocal effect that’s completely out of place.

The generic music feels at odds with Reputation’s push toward more sophisticated subject matter, including reflections on mature relationships and defiant self-confidence. Swift’s lyrics often rely on tired tropes—comparing a love to a drug that gets her high, talking about getting drunk, references to “crimson lips” and allusions to her Kanye West feud—or are cringeworthy (“I’m laughing with my lover/ ... Trust him like a brother).

As per usual, Reputation contains the occasional great lyrical zinger (“I never trust a narcissist, but they love me,” “And I bury hatchets, but I keep maps of where I put ’em”) and flashes of greatness. “Dancing With Our Hands Tied” is a sleek, gothic New Wave homage about a relationship doomed before it starts, while the cotton candy-delicate “Call It What You Want” and the nuanced piano ballad “New Year’s Day” are about romantic happy endings.

It’s no coincidence that the latter songs are Reputation’s best moments. Although Swift often gets criticized for her sincerity, her songwriting works best when it’s unvarnished and genuine. 1989 proved Swift could play the pop game on her own forward-thinking, vulnerable terms and succeed. In contrast, Reputation largely plays it aloof and safe, and ends up feeling completely disposable.

Tags: Music, Album
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