The reputation Era
Kanye West and Taylor have had a less than pleasant relationship through the years, since West interrupted her 2009 acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards after she won the “Best Video by a Female Artist” award for her music video of the hit single “You Belong With Me.” But their feud hit a new peak in summer 2016. Paired with Taylor’s messy breakup with DJ Calvin Harris in June and her immediate, very public rebound with actor Tom Hiddleston, Taylor reached a level of overexposure she couldn’t control anymore. On August 29, 2016, Taylor only wrote one sentence in her diary: “This summer is the apocalypse.”
SUMMER 2016 WAS THE APOCALYPSE
In Kardashian’s Snapchat video, West and Taylor were talking on the phone about lyrics in West’s song “Famous”. This conversation occurred prior to West’s release of the song as he was checking with Taylor about using her name in the song. However, once the song was dropped, Taylor’s publicist Tree Paine spoke out that they felt the song was offensive.
The whole situation turned into a large-scale he-said-she-said and many started to distrust Taylor. She then took to social media to clarify her side of the story that was not detailed in the recording Kardashian posted. Taylor specified that her issue with the lyrics was not the message, rather the misogynistic profanity used to describe her that the pair did not agree upon: “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/Why? I made that bitch famous,” West says in “Famous”. The notion that West made Taylor famous that he details in his song is nonsensical. She won a plethora of American Music Awards, Country Music Awards and Teen Choice Awards long before West’s interruption. She was famous on her own merit prior to West’s disruption.
But that didn’t matter to the public. After this battle, many sided with West. Kardashian dubbed Taylor a “snake” on National Snake Day in a subtweet on social media. Male celebrities in similar situations are commonly dubbed “cunning” or “smart,” yet Taylor’s reputation was smeared by almost every media outlet, from People Magazine to USA Today.
MOVE TO LONDON
Taylor played two very successful Greatest-Hits concerts after the public backlash: one in October at the “Formula One Grand Prix Post-Race” in October, 2016 and one in Fbruary, 2017 at the “Super Saturday Night” before the Superbowl. In between, she released the international hit “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever” with Zayn. But afterwards, Taylor’s radio silence was immediate. No red carpets, no strolls down the streets of New York, no paparazzi photo shoots while leaving the gym. Taylor was far off the grid — unusual for a superstar usually so thoroughly present in the public consciousness.
“Taylor made the conscious choice to disappear,” a “source” (assumed to be her publicist, Tree Paine) said in the beginning of 2017. “She was feeling overexposed and like things were almost spiraling out of control. She’s being low-key and secretive (right now) because it makes her happy.”
In May 2017 it was eventually confirmed that Taylor wasn’t just in hiding in order to avoid further overexposure; she had been in a relationship with British actor Joe Alwyn since September 2016 and wanted to get to know him away from the spotlight. Because of that, she moved to London (England) which is Alwyn’s hometown. Taylor’s security team had “made it a military-like mission to prevent her from being seen”.
SEXUAL ASSAULT TESTIMONY
Taylor returned to the public eye in August, 2017. As detailed within her 2020 documentary “Miss Americana,” a radio DJ, David Mueller, groped her at a “RED Tour” meet and greet in 2013. Mueller attempted to sue Taylor for $3 million in 2015, citing that her accusations were false and cost him his job. Taylor then famously countersued for sexual assault. During the trial, Taylor was brave and unrelenting in her testimony. The jury sided with her and she was awarded the symbolic $1 that made headlines worldwide.
“You don’t feel a sense of any victory when you win, because the process is so dehumanizing,” Taylor said, following the decision. “This is with seven witnesses and a photo. What happens when you get raped, and it’s your word against his?”
This court case showed that no matter how powerful, successful or strong a woman is, they can still fall victim to sexual assault and feel like they’re a shell of who they were because someone felt entitled to their body. Taylor was eventually named “Person of the Year” in 2017 as part of the “Silence Breakers” who spoke up about sexual assault in the workplace.
THE OLD TAYLOR COULDN’T COME TO THE PHONE
“reputation” (2017) was Taylor’s long-awaited “heel turn” which she had already hinted at with her hit “Blank Space” (2014). The public feuds and overexposure inspired her to completely take charge of the narrative and image surrounding her in the media. The “reputation” era began with Taylor deleting everything off her social media accounts and only sharing mysterious posts featuring snakes, a slight to Kardashian’s previous comment.
The “reputation” era was the first time in Taylor’s career where she completely ditched the good girl image she so vehemently clinged onto and tried to preserve. She leaned into the version of herself that the media created and profited off of it. Her first “reputation” single, “Look What You Made Me Do” declared the “old Taylor dead”. But although the album fixates on big enemies and bad reputations, the buried lede is a quiet romance budding in spite of them.
“It’s an album about finding love throughout all the noise…And how it makes you feel when people are saying things about you that you feel aren’t true…If you can find something real in spite of a bad reputation, isn’t that what matters most?” — Taylor Swift
LIVING HER LIFE AWAY FROM THE SPOTLIGHT
Before “1989” came out, you couldn’t turn on your TV or computer, or open a magazine without seeing something Taylor-related. It seemed like she was interviewed on every platform possible, and it worked — “1989” quickly became her most successful album ever.
During the “reputation” era, apart from when she was playing shows, Taylor basically completely stopped making public appearances. She had been a regular fixture at awards shows since the beginning of her career, but starting with the release of “reputation”, she mostly remained absent from red carpets. And it wasn’t just awards shows. She was also rarely spotted by the paparazzi, which was a stark contrast when you consider that a couple of years prior, barely a day went by without Taylor being photographed.
Taylor had almost completely stopped giving interviews, and her posts on social media were few and far between. Her TV appearances were rare and exclusively consisted of performances: She was the musical guest to Tiffany Haddish’s “Saturday Night Live” host in November 2017, and gave a surprise performance on Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show” in lieu of an interview. Meanwhile, although she’d been on the covers of both British Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar since making her comeback, the magazines didn’t publish interviews. Her Vogue cover was accompanied by a poem written exclusively for the magazine, and in the case of Harper’s Bazaar, Taylor took on the role of the interviewer, speaking with ’60s icon Pattie Boyd.
REPUTATION STADIUM TOUR
One aspect why this album cycle is viewed at as an enormous success for Taylor is her mammoth “reputation Stadium Tour”, an all-stadium run in a world where women rarely play such large spaces by themselves. Rather than giving interviews or making public statements, where things are so often interpreted in the wrong way, Taylor took her stadium tour as an opportunity to open up to her fans about the past few years of her life. On the opening night, she made a speech to the audience in which she finally broke her silence on her feud with the Kardashian-Wests.
“I went through some really low times for a while because of it. I went through some times when I didn’t know if I was going to get to do this anymore,” she told the crowd in Glendale, Arizona. “I wanted to send a message to you guys that if someone uses name-calling to bully you on social media, and even if a lot of people jump on board with it, that doesn’t have to beat you. It can strengthen you instead.”
From then on, she took the opportunity to speak at length about a wide range of topics, from the struggles of the LGBT community to how she felt in the aftermath of her sexual assault trial. The tour received 2.55 million attendees and grossed $345.7 million in revenue, becoming Swift’s most successful tour to-date, the third highest grossing female concert tour of all time, and the highest-grossing concert tour in United States and North American history.
“The ‘reputation Tour’ put me in the healthiest, most balanced place I’ve ever been. After that tour, bad stuff can happen to me, but it doesn’t level me anymore.” – Taylor Swift
HISTORIC NEW RECORD CONTRACT
In fall 2018, one of the big topics of conversation regarding Taylor became the upcoming fulfillment of her record contract. Having signed her deal with Big Machine at the age of 15 and selling around 32 million records in the meantime, Taylor was in line for what many speculated could be the biggest record contract ever signed by anyone.
Taylor’s contract with Big Machine Records ended on November 10, 2018, which also marked the 1-year-anniversary of “reputation.” On November 19, 2018, Taylor announced she had signed a deal with Universal Music Group and Republic Records, effective immediately. Though terms were not officially released, the pact could be worth anywhere from $100 million in guarantees to perhaps $200 million, according to Forbes. Likely more important to Taylor than the dollar amount: Universal lets her keep her future master recordings, which should revert to her five years after the release of each song.
Prior to the 2018 midterm elections in October 2018, Taylor endorsed candidates for public office for the first time, declaring her support for two Democratic candidates: Congressman Jim Cooper for re-election to the House of Representatives, and former Governor of Tennessee Phil Bredesen for election to the Senate. She spoke out against Bredesen’s opponent, Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, stating that her voting record “appalled” and “terrified” her. She expressed her desire for LGBT rights and gender and racial equality, and condemned systemic racism.
At the American Music Awards of 2018, Taylor won the awards for “Tour of the Year”, “Artist of the Year”, “Favorite Pop/Rock Female Artist”, and “Favorite Pop/Rock Album” for “reputation”. With a total of 23 awards, she became the most awarded female winner in AMA history, a record previously held by Whitney Houston. During her acceptance speech for “Artist of the Year”, she once again encouraged her fans to vote in the 2018 midterm elections.
Vote.org, mentioned in Taylor’s post, reported that 65,000 people registered to vote in the 24 hours following her post. This was called the “Taylor Swift Effect”, an unprecedented surge even accounting for usual registration increases as deadlines approach. It once again proved that Taylor was the voice of her generation.