The phrase currently plastered over Taylor Swift’s social media accounts, and the one that opens her sixth studio album, may conjure images of another headstrong female icon battling adversity.
While ‘let the games begin’ may not induce for Swift’s critics the same feelings of empathy it does for admirers of The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen, it certainly makes clear the 27-year-old’s response to recent travails. Her very public feud with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, combined with the ongoing and relentless probing of her private life by the media means that Reputation was set up to be an all-out assault, Katniss-like, on everyone who has wronged her.
The thing is, the album never quite does that. The first single ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ signalled a predictably reinvented Swift, with a half-spoken, minor-key chorus stolen from Right Said Fred and opinion polarised. It was blatantly, unsubtly directed at West (“I don’t like you”) but few predicted it would be her final riposte.
Reputation responds to Swift’s detractors by barely responding at all. Yes, there are moments of painting a good-girl-gone-bad picture (‘I Did Something Bad’) and big, dirty synths that Swift half-raps over (‘…Ready For It?’) but for the most part, this is just another collection of perfectly crafted pop songs.
In analysing the titles, as many did prior to release, ‘This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things’ jumps out as a likely close relative to ‘Look What You Made Me Do’, but it’s closer to 2012 hit ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ – and not just in being a mouthful. It channels frustration and pain into a slick, centrepiece anthem that features the trademark spoken line, while the infectious chorus nods to Avril Lavigne’s ‘Complicated’.
Reputation’s equivalent of 1989’s single ‘Style’ is ‘Getaway Car’, a blatantly optimistic highlight that is sugar-sweet without being sickly. ‘Style’’s much-observed allusions to Harry Styles are expanded here, with ‘Getaway Car’’s imagery making it Swift’s answer to One Direction’s ‘Perfect’ – reputedly written about her.
‘Call It What You Want’, with its aesthetic beat and stunning melody, instantly becomes a career classic, and alongside ‘Gorgeous’, is a further example of how Reputation is less about confrontation and more about cementing her place as a great writer of straight-up love songs.
The media will continue their pursuit of her private life through those songs, and on ‘End Game’, it’s almost too easy. Long-rumoured love-interest Ed Sheeran features as Swift sings ‘I wanna be your A Team’ – a too-obvious reference to Sheeran’s hit ‘The A Team’. ‘End Game’ would appear to be part of those aforementioned ‘games’, with the difference being that Swift is now ringmaster.
Mixed metaphors on ‘Dress’ (‘if I get burned, at least we were electrified’) are uncharacteristic of the proven sharp lyricist. She appears to have focused her energies on producing such an assured collection of songs, that her victory will be the success of this album. And successful it will be.
‘Delicate’ and ‘End Game’ offer contrasting indications of what kind of ‘reputation’ Swift wishes to assign herself. Perhaps she doesn’t know, or care.
Because what Reputation does, is exactly what Taylor Swift is supposed to do. But this time, that’s what no-one expected.