Gone are the days when critics had the power to pronounce artists “dead”. Now, it seems, they have taken matters into their own hands.
By now, you’ve probably heard the news: “The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now….she’s dead!” Together with the sudden erasure of her social media accounts, and a move away from the Victoria’s Secret aesthetic, it is very clear that we are at the beginning of what Swifties lovingly refer to as an “era”.
At least, that’s what Swift is desperate for us to think. But why, if she is seeking to obliterate her past, has Swift called her upcoming album Reputation, a word that by its very definition requires a past?
And why so keen to kill off the old Swift? What did she ever do to deserve an early demise? Done in such a contrived manner, it reeks of fear. Fear of the PR effects of supposedly bitchy falling-outs so publicised by the media. Fear of remaining the same. And, perhaps most of all, fear of never again reaching the height at which 1989 set the bar.
Valid fears, one and all. But this violent casting-off of the old would be far less offensive and far more effective, if the single around which this hype was generated was something more than…okay. Ish.
I won’t lie: the opening is spine-tingling. Strings? Sparkling synth? Hello. And then those booming beats, with Taylor right on the mic, her breath in our ears, spitting words that have the syntactic mastery of Blank Space. “I don’t like your little games/ Don’t like your tilted stage/ The role you made me play/ Of the fool, no I don’t like you”.
At the 45th second we have our pre-chorus, where, with rapid-fire piano chords and even quicker lyrics, things are starting to escalate (“But I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time”) and that volume knob is going up, up, up.
The anticipation of a theatrical burst of anthemic, savvy pop is high. Very high. Until that amazingly, deafeningly, anticlimactic chorus.
It’s as though the bottom just drops out of this song. The harmonic underpinnings vanish, the momentum evaporates, and we are left with a sparse, repeated refrain that sounds more like yesterday’s Meghan Trainor than today’s born-again Taylor Swift. I’ll say it again: THERE IS NO CHORUS TO SING HERE. Move along folks. Have a nice day.
To top it all off, there’s something a little offensive about having this accusatory single flung in our faces. What have we done? It’s hard to know. Probably nothing, it’s probably all Kayne’s fault, but even so it feels a little…aggressive.
Revenge has always been her shtick, but as Swift sings “the world moves on, another day another drama/ But not for me, all I think about is karma” it all starts to sound a little petty. 1989 was not only a significant new musical direction, it was a welcome move away from the cryptic mud-slinging. Ironically, Reputation seems to be a return to the insecurity we thought she’d shed.
No, the old Taylor is not dead. She is just in hiding, behind the increasingly impersonal facade of the Swift™ machine.