The reputation Era
Table of Contents
2016 Was the Apocalypse
Back in February 2016, Kanye West released a new song, “Famous,” that featured a controversial lyric: “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex./Why? I made that bitch famous.” He was referencing his scandalous altercation with Taylor in 2009, when he stormed the stage at the MTV VMAs as Taylor accepted an award to announce that it really should have gone to Beyoncé. In 2009, Taylor was already an enormous star and had 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. But Kanye was suggesting in “Famous” that it was his doing that Taylor became a household name.
Shortly after the song released, TMZ reported that Kanye had checked with Taylor to make sure she was cool with the lyric before he dropped it, and that she got the joke and gave him her blessing. But Taylor, through her publicist Tree Paine, denied it. “Kanye did not call for approval, but to ask Taylor to release his single ‘Famous’ on her Twitter account,” Paine told the New York Times. “She declined and cautioned him about releasing a song with such a strong misogynistic message.” She added, “Taylor was never made aware of the actual lyric, ‘I made that bitch famous.’”
The whole situation turned into a large-scale he-said-she-said and many started to distrust Taylor. The story changed on July 16, 2016 when Kim Kardashian dubbed Taylor a “snake” on National Snake Day on Twitter and posted a series of videos on Snapchat, where Kanye and Taylor were talking on the phone about lyrics in West’s song “Famous”. This conversation occurred prior to the release of the song as he was checking with Taylor about using her name in the song and she apparently agreed.
As soon as the video dropped, Taylor haters exploded. Taylor Swift, they declared, was a manipulative, cold-blooded snake and this video proved it. #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty was the No. 1 trend on Twitter worldwide, and gleeful observers flooded her accounts with snake emojis. showing. Taylor 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 made that bitch famous.” But that didn’t matter to the public. After this battle, many sided with Kim and Kanye. Male celebrities in similar situations are commonly dubbed “cunning” or “smart,” yet Taylor’s reputation was smeared by several influental celebrities and almost every media outlet, from People Magazine to USA Today.
Move to London
Taylor was devastated. At first, she still made some public appearances in New York City, and she even 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 February 2017 at the “Super Saturday Night” before the Superbowl. In between, she also 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 because it makes her happy.”
Sexual Assault Testimony
Taylor eventually 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, asking for just $1. 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 and sparked the “Me Too” movement.
The Old Taylor Couln'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” even 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.
Life Away From the Spotlight
When 1989 came out in 2014, 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 almost 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 also 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
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 let her keep her future master recordings, which should revert to her five years after the release of each song.
Prior to the US 2018 midterm elections in October 2018, Taylor endorsed candidates for public office for the first time, declaring her support for two Democratic candidates. She expressed her desire for LGBTQ+ rights and gender and racial equality, and condemned systemic racism. 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.
Days after making her first political statement, Taylor attended the 2018 American Music Awards, where she 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 took the opportunity to exhort her fellow Americans to “get out and vote” in the forthcoming midterm elections: “I just wanted to make a mention of the fact that this award, and every single award given out tonight, were voted on by the people. And you know what else is voted on by the people? The midterm elections on 6 November. Get out and vote – I love you guys.”
The same night, she officially closed out the reputation era, an important, difficult, but ultimately freeing time of her life, with the following message: