Since her 2006 self-titled debut, Taylor Swift has often been called “America’s Sweetheart.” By separating herself from the barrage of fellow singers her age with a wholesome sound that’s uniquely her own, she cemented her status as a country-pop princess. Indeed, you’d be hard-pressed to find a song with Tennessee guitar riffs charting on Billboard’s Top 10—but Swift has managed to do that, and so much more.
Recently, however, Swift has done the unthinkable. Though each album she churns out has been a step towards pop confection and a step away from her country roots, Swift has been reluctant to let go off her good-girl image. Until now, that is.
Enter her latest record: reputation. It’s a far cry from Red (2012) and its alternative rock beats and the cheerful synth-pop of 1989 (2014). reputation, with its explosive new sound and electro-pop punches, is the darkest Swift has gone, and that’s saying a lot, considering how she used to never stray from the proverbial light. Though her music appeals to a variety of age groups, a big chunk of her target market does consist of the young and the impressionable. So does the risk to alienate some fans pay off?
The answer: It does. It actually does. Despite a barrage of bombastic tracks produced by the likes of Max Martin and Shellback, or the zany new-wave sounds created by Jack Antonoff, reputation is still Swift to the very core. Known for her personal lyrics, reputation still contains Swift at her finest—no amount of electric beats and voice synthesizers can ever truly drown out the sheer emotion of her words. Swift remains a champion storyteller, weaving a tale of heartbreak, nostalgia, and loss—just a trifle more on the vindictive side this time around.
It’s also important to note that despite swapping her sparkly tulle costumes for black leather catsuits, Swift at her most vengeful still has a heart. The abrupt switch in genre highlights the melancholy and self-awareness throughout the album, with soaring, uplifting melodies that still sound hopeful, even when sprinkled with the pounding beats of post-production. It’s a different sound, but still a great one. There’s a lingering sensation that the good-girl-gone-bad is still a good girl, deep inside, and that’s what matters.
Overall, if there’s one thing reputation has promised, it’s shock. But the album pulls it off in the best way possible. After the initial surprise, there comes the realization that reputation truly is an amazing record—a difficult feat to pull off, when one considers its lighter predecessors, as well as the general public’s perception of the singer. It’s still Swift through and through, still the same great lyrics and great hits.
The Old Taylor may not be able to come to the phone right now, but the New Taylor is back and better than ever—and she’s certainly here to stay.