Ranking Taylor Swift’s ‘Reputation’ in tiers

I love “Reputation.” I’m relieved, impressed, the whole shebang. It has its faults, but overall it was worth the hype.

I’m fully aware that it’s way too soon to call one better than the other, but I think this album is at the very least in the same class as “1989.” I recently put the 1989 songs in tiers, so I figured I’d do that again with “Reputation.”

I used the same categories I used for the “1989” rankings, so while I feel like this album doesn’t actually have anything “worse than bad,” it certainly has a “by far the worst” song by scale.

Also, this probably won’t be as good a breakdown as the previous one, as you can often pick up something new each time you hear a song. I’ve only heard these songs like five or six times, so we’ll all have better thoughts on them once that number gets into the dozens.

Before jumping in, some quick observations:

– I think that Jack Antonoff did a great job here. I always hold my breath when he’s in charge of a project because his heavy-yet-cushy sound has yielded the same thing too many times. Some producers are instantly identifiable when you hear a song — Timbaland, Mutt Lange, Jeff Bhasker among them — and that’s a good thing because they’ve cultivated a way of putting any type of song through their machine, so to speak. In the case of Antonoff, it can be a bad thing because it just sounds like part eight of a song you’ve already heard: The synths and drums are the same, the drum fills are the same, there’s a gang vocal at some point. We liked it the first 10 million times.

So in that respect, his work on “Look What You Made Me Do,” “Dress” and “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” show that he’s a stud of a producer capable of much more than the one trick on which he’s made his name. He isn’t just “The Bleachers sound” and his best work on this album is not The Bleachers Sound.

Where his group of songs on this album gets disappointing is the fact that “Getaway Car,” which marks a major regression to The Bleachers Sound, will probably be the biggest hit off this album. So while Antonoff has grown a lot as a producer over the last couple of years, that time has also allowed The Bleachers Sound to become so popular that it’s his worst work on this album that will be the most welcomed.

– I tweeted this Thursday, but I’m glad that Swift has embraced more obvious studio magic regarding her vocals. She’s been using pitch correction forever, but it’s been cleaner and more natural-sounding (probably Melodyne). The average listener probably doesn’t detect it on a song like “Today Was a Fairytale,” but it’s there. And that’s not a “she can’t sing” thing: Pitch correction has been way misunderstood as a crutch where it’s often just a necessary enhancement to keep up the other perfectly tuned and/or quantized sounds as software instruments become more prevalent.

“Reputation” uses a ton of Autotune and also has fun with vocoders and it never feels out of place. Swift did everything she could to try to make more of a hip-hop album and it would have been weird if she hadn’t used Autotune.

To the rankings:

ELITE (1)

“Delicate”

This album will probably be more associated with Antonoff, but Max Martin and Shellback did nine of the songs to Antonoff’s six. As such, it stood to reason that there would be a “That’s cute, kid, but let the old guys show you how it’s done” moment from the Swedish duo. “Delicate” is it.

With the first verse and chorus, “Delicate” shows that it can be huge using a minimal beat in the verse and no percussion at all in the chorus. That accomplishes something “Call It What You Want” can’t, as the latter never moves the needle at all.

But, much like “Can’t Feel My Face,” the second verse is where the song kicks it into high gear. The beat drops out for the first measure before introducing live (read: definitely programmed, but live-sounding) drums for the first time all song. Then, on the line “Do the girls back home touch you like I do?” she switches both the rhythm of the melody and switches from her stocatto singing to a legato, lingering delivery. It’s the vocal equivalent of crossing a defender up and Taylor might as well be Kyrie Irving.

GREAT (4)

“Dancing With Our Hands Tied”

“Dress”

“End Game”

“This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”

This album got most of the cringe-inducing moments out of the way with the singles released beforehand, but it saved one last one for “End Game,” where Taylor bites Drake’s style and raps with an accent she does not have.

That’s the only thing wrong with that song, though. Future is fantastic and Ed Sheeran confirms that he’s one of those “If I weren’t a musician, I’d just be a different musician” kind of guys. It’s big, it’s grand and its sequencing on the album alleviates any concerns about the entire project once you get past that first round of “big reputation” bars.

“This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” is a personal favorite because the verse sounds like it could be on St. Vincent’s “Masseduction” and the bridge sounds like it could be on Fun’s “Aim and Ignite.” That’s the Jack Antonoff I want in my life. Glad he’s there.

That track is also an interesting entry in the “which kind of obnoxious can Taylor Swift be?” discussion. Where it’s lame on “…Ready For It?” and borderline disturbing on “End Game,” her ad-libs on “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” calls back to the Old Taylor, the “like, ever” Taylor. Deep down, that’s who she still is.

GOOD (2)

“Look What You Made Me Do”

“I Did Something Bad”

They should seriously sell the movie rights for “Look What You Made Me Do,” because what a story it’s had. As first impressions go, it might go down as one of the most polarizing pop singles ever. It was a shock to the system and it challenged a demographic (basic top-40 fans) that has never signed up to be challenged. Simply put, it was the least-accessible song Swift had ever released.

Yet when all was said and done, subsequent listens and context of the album has confirmed this is one of Antonoff’s best on the entire project. Even by interpolating another song’s chorus, the song is more clever and miles more unique than “Getaway Car,” the safest of the Antonoff productions on this album.

So much of Taylor Swift’s package is attitude. This song is overflowing with it, and rather than trying to be cute about it, she opts for more theatrical. That pops back up on “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” as well, so while we all feared upon hearing LWYMMD that it would influence other songs on the album, the fact that it did ended up being a good thing.

GOOD ENOUGH (4)

“King of My Heart”

“Getaway Car”

“So It Goes Goes…”

“New Year’s Day”

Let’s talk about “New Year’s Day.” One of the big takeaways I had with “1989” was that it was littered with nods to Sara Bareilles’ “The Blessed Unrest.” There still has not been much of a line connecting Swift and Bareilles other than that they’ve both worked with Antonoff, but the Bareilles influence pops up big-time on what is the only song on the album that would fit on a pre-electro pop Taylor album.

That’s not a bad thing, but it shouldn’t go overlooked. There’s a vulnerability with which Bareilles delivers her ballads, and Swift channels it in just barely pushing out the low “day” on a descending line in the chorus.

The song is still its own thing, and it calls back to “Fearless”/“Speak Now” era Swift as much as it does to Bareilles. That’s not a bad combination at all, even if the end result sounds a tad too derivative.

NOT VERY GOOD (1)

“Don’t Blame Me”

Sounds like someone put “Take Me To Church” in the microwave. I love it!

BAD (2)

“…Ready For It?”

“Call It What You Want”

“Call it What You Want” suffers from some sort of paralysis, as it has all the makings of a song that should do something, but doesn’t. In fact, I thought the chorus was a pre-chorus the first time I heard it. That song goes nowhere.

I wrote when “…Ready For It?” came out that Taylor was being a little blasé about the fact that rapping isn’t so easy that she could just clear her throat (literally) and do it. That holds up even in context of the rest of the album, as she doesn’t need to rap on “Delicate” for it to have more of a hip-hop vibe. Beat is dope though.

WORSE THAN BAD (1)

“Gorgeous”

The best part of this song is the cats line. And cats are terrible. That should tell you how bad the rest of the song is. Did you know “face” rhymed with “face?” I had not.

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Comment (1)

  • Dangit dj how dare you insult cats like this.

    joe
    Reply

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