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reputation

November 10, 2017

reputation (stylized in all lowercase) is Taylor’s sixth studio album. Released on November 10, 2017 after a period of highly publicized disputes and immense media and internet scrutiny, reputation is regarded as Taylor’s comeback album by critics and fans alike, seeing her “claim her narrative”. It debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart, having sold 1.28 million copies that week, more than the other 199 listed albums combined.
Taylor Swift. It’s a name that — in 2017 — had reached monumental levels of fame, or rather, infamy. For every headline that praised Taylor, there were nine more that tore her to pieces. From her notorious dating history to her high profile feuds, no part of her life had been untouched. With reputation, Taylor finally fought back. As she proudly declares on the album’s lead single “Look What You Made Me Do“: “Sorry, the Old Taylor can’t come to the phone. Why? ’Cause she’s dead!” One began to wonder whether the Taylor of yesteryears was actually gone. With reputation, she created a larger-than-life caricature of the petty, vindictive snake she had been made out to be. By album’s end though, she assesses her crumbling empire and tattered reputation, discovering redemption in love. Because in the end, reputation isn’t so much a rebirth as it is a retreat inward.
Table of Contents

Background

Taylor, who had identified as a country musician, released her fifth studio album, 1989, in October 2014. With its synth-pop production, she departed from the country music scene to embrace mainstream pop. The album transformed her status to that of an international pop icon. It sold 10 million copies worldwide and its accompanying world tour, “The 1989 World Tour“, was the highest-grossing of 2015. The album’s singles, including three Billboard Hot 100 No. 1s, dominated US airplay for over a year and a half, which Billboard described as “a kind of cultural omnipresence that’s rare for a 2010s album”.

Taylor’s rising popularity with 1989 turned her into a fixation onto which the media imposed questions regarding cultural issues of race, gender, and politics. Tabloid media publicized her romantic relationships with Scottish producer Calvin Harris and English actor Tom Hiddleston, and a feud with rapper Kanye West and media personality Kim Kardashian over West’s song “Famous”, in which he claims he made Taylor a success (the lyric “I made that bitch famous” was particularly controversial). Although Taylor said she never consented to the said lyric, Kardashian released snippets of a phone recording between Taylor and West, in which she seemingly consented to another portion of the song. Taylor told Rolling Stone in 2019:

«I’ve had several upheavals in my career. When I was 18, they were like, 'She doesn’t really write those songs.' So my third album I wrote by myself as a reaction to that. Then they decided I was a serial dater — a boy-crazy man-eater — when I was 22. And so I didn’t date anyone for, like, two years. And then they decided in 2016 that absolutely everything about me was wrong. If I did something good, it was for the wrong reasons. If I did something brave, I didn’t do it correctly. If I stood up for myself, I was throwing a tantrum. And so I found myself in this endless mockery echo chamber. [...] That’s what it felt like in 2016. So I decided to just say nothing. It wasn’t really a decision. It was completely involuntary.»

After the West–Kardashian controversy, critics regarded Taylor as “fake” and “calculating”, a conclusion that surmounted after years of what they saw as a deliberate maneuver to carefully cultivate her public image. Her once-reputation as “America’s Sweetheart”, attributed to her down-to-earth and positive image when she was a teenager, began to fade. The tumultuous events made her the subject of the online #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty hashtag, where her detractors denounced her as a “snake”. A “Rest in peace Taylor Smith” memorial mural went viral. Later that year, Taylor chose not to make an endorsement in the 2016 US presidential election, which definitely didn’t help. Severly depressed, Taylor became increasingly reticent on social media despite a large following.

Recording

Taylor started recording reputation in Nashville in September, 2016. She decided to work with two production teams: one with Jack Antonoff, and the other with Max Martin and Shellback; she had worked with all three on 1989. By engaging a smaller production group this time around, she envisioned that the album would be more coherent but still “versatile enough”:

«There would be no way for me to make something even similar to 1989 and have it be effective. It had to be completely different, because that album was its own thing. [...] I picked people who I'd worked with on 1989, but I felt like they would be versatile enough to kill 1989 and make something new.»

As per usual, she executive produced reputation and co-wrote all of its 15 tracks. Martin and Shellback co-wrote and produced nine, and Antonoff co-wrote and co-produced the remaining six, all of which were co-produced by Taylor. Three musicians co-wrote and co-produced select tracks with Martin and Shellback, including Ali Payami (“…Ready for It?“), Oscar Görres (“So It Goes…“), and Oscar Holter (“Dancing With Our Hands Tied“). The track “End Game” features songwriting credits and guest appearances from English singer-songwriter and Taylor’s close friend Ed Sheeran and American rapper Future.

Recording sessions with Jack Antonoff mostly took place at his home studio in Brooklyn, with several trips to Atlanta and California for him to incorporate ideas from other producers. He wanted Taylor to capture her emotions at a particular time when “you can feel like you can conquer the world, or you can feel like the biggest piece of garbage that ever existed”, resulting in a “very intense” record. He spoke of his work experience with Taylor on Entertainment Weekly:

«She is great at remembering the heart and soul of the process. Some people forget it — sometimes something works and everyone starts to rewire it. But she's really great at knowing what it's about: Talking about what the hell is going on in your life and somehow finding a way to take that exact emotion and make a song out of it. That was the theme of those sessions: 'Let’s just tell this story, whatever that story is, because that's the whole point.'»

As Taylor wanted to record the album in secrecy, Jack kept his studio computer offline to prevent a possible internet leak, and deleted the recording trials once the mixing and mastering finalized.

Lyrics and Themes

During seclusion from the public, Taylor wrote reputation as a “defense mechanism” against the rampant media scrutiny targeting her, and as a means to revamp her state of mind. She said in a 2019 Rolling Stone interview that she followed the songwriting for her 2014 single “Blank Space“, which satirizes the criticism targeting her for dating “too many people” in her twenties, and wrote reputation from the perspective of a character that others believed her to be. Although the media gossip was a major inspiration, recurring romantic themes of love and friendship that had been dominant in Taylor’s songwriting remained intact. She recalled that amidst the “battle raging on” outside, she found solace in quiet moments with her loved ones and began creating a newfound private life on her own terms “for the first time” since starting her career:

«The one-two punch, bait-and-switch of reputation is that it was actually a love story. It was a love story in amongst chaos. All the weaponized sort of metallic battle anthems were what was going on outside. That was the battle raging on that I could see from the windows, and then there was what was happening inside my world — my newly quiet, cozy world that was happening on my own terms for the first time...It’s weird, because in some of the worst times of my career, and reputation, dare I say, I had some of the most beautiful times — in my quiet life that I chose to have. And I had some of the most incredible memories with the friends I now knew cared about me, even if everyone hated me. The bad stuff was really significant and damaging. But the good stuff will endure. The good lessons — you realize that you can’t just show your life to people.»

Taylor said that reputation‘s tracks have a linear timeline, beginning with how she felt when she started working on the album, and transitioning to how she felt by the time it was completed. Inspired by the fantasy series Game of Thrones, she split the album into two sides; one contains songs about vengeance and drama with a heavier production, and the other about finding love, friendship, and “something sacred throughout all the battle cries”. In that sence, reputation can also be viewed as a concept album about Taylor’s celebrity. It seems like she made the deliberate decision, at 27 years old, to abandon her previous youthful and innocent music and image. The songs here reference alcohol and sex more than any of her previous records:

«Creating reputation felt different to any other album I’ve ever made because it felt a lot less fragmented in its storytelling. It was about a journey, from one emotional place to another. Other albums I’ve made have felt like a scrapbook of different memories, but there was something overarching about the theme of this album for me. I wanted it to sound like losing something you thought you wanted, and in the end, gaining something you really needed.»

Overall, Taylor has called reputation her most cathartic album, and something she had wanted to make for years and years: “After I finished it, I was like, ‘Now I can go back to writing regular songs again.'”

reputation Era

reputation Era 2017-2018 When a musician’s career spans more than a decade, the media tends to perpetuate a number of different narratives. Around July 2016, it became an almost universal trend to hate Taylor, as a direct result of a Snapchat video posted by Kim Kardashian, the then-wife of rapper Kanye West. She dubbed Taylor a “snake,” resulting in the #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty which became a No. 1 trend on Twitter worldwide.

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Production

Perhaps for the first time in her career, Taylor decided to chase pop’s zeitgeist rather than boldly reinventing it. reputation is primarily an electropop album, with influences of many urban genres, most prominently hip hop, trap, and R&B. The actual sonic construction of the record is extremely of its time, in that it’s split almost evenly between Max Martin’s long-reigning maximalist pop machine and the thornier, more intimate work of Jack Antonoff. The vibe is clamorous, vaguely goth-y, and synthetic in a way that allows for some startling intimacy. That was Taylor’s goal:

«For reputation, it was nighttime cityscape. I didn’t really want any — or very minimal — traditional acoustic instruments. I imagined old warehouse buildings that had been deserted and factory spaces and all this industrial kind of imagery. So I wanted the production to have nothing wooden. There’s no wood floors on that album.»

The album’s first half, made up of mostly tracks produced by Martin and Shellback, is comparatively heavier in sound. The first four tracks — “…Ready for It?”, “End Game”, “I Did Something Bad” and “Don’t Blame Me” — are particularly aggressive. The second half, mostly driven by Jack Antonoff’s 1980s-synth-pop production characterized by pulsing synthesizers and upbeat refrains, brings forth a somewhat softer, more emotional sound. The closing track, the piano ballad “New Year’s Day“, is a stark contrast to the rest of the album; it was recorded on an acoustic piano in “scratch takes” that do not filter unwanted sounds from the outer environment.
Taylor Swift for reputation (Mert and Marcus, 2017)

Title Significance

Taylor stated that she knew very early on in the writing process that she wanted to name the album reputation, which is why she was able to construct the album based on that concept. At an intimate fan concert in 2018, hosted by AT&T in Chicago, Taylor told the crowd:

«I was thinking a lot about the concept of having a reputation. Because I knew very early on that I wanted to name the album reputation, it was one of the first things [I decided]. So I was able to construct the album based on that concept. Usually, every time before I think, I'd kind of come up with the title of the album pretty late in the process. I used to be like, 'What do all these songs have in common? What word do I use a lot?' And so this one was different because I built it out from the concept of a reputation. There are a lot of, 'I'm angry at my reputation' moments. There are, 'I don't care about my reputation' moments. 'I'm fine, okay? I don't care!' And then there are these moments where it's very like, 'Oh my God, what if my reputation actually makes the person that I like not wanna get to know me?' And so I was thinking about that reality; your reputation, how real is it?»

Taylor further explained that the album had a linear timeline, starting with how she felt when she started working on the album, and transitioning to how she felt by the time of its release.

Album Artwork

The album art for reputation was photographed by Mert and Marcus in May 2017 in London. The cover features Taylor in her signature lipstick, slicked-back hair, grey sweatshirt, and choker necklace. Newspaper headlines and columns are superimposed over one side of her face, which is a mockery at media that plagued her life. The typeface used for the headlines is reminiscent of the signature font of The New York Times. Target released two 72-page magazines that contain different content, including the album in the US. They contain photos, handwritten lyrics, poetry and paintings by Taylor. The reputation Vol. 1 magazine cover was shot by Mert and Marcus. Vol. 2 was shot by Benny Horne and features Taylor in a camouflage jacket.

Minimal Promotion

Surprisingly enough, Taylor didn’t do much promotion for the album’s release. She didn’t give interviews to magazines, nor did she appear on television to perform her lead single. Instead, she did a lot of marketing through her social media accounts and chose to share recordings from her “reputation Secret Sessions” so fans could hear her thought process behind each song. She told Zane Lowe in 2019:

«At the very beginning of the album I was pretty proud of coining the term: 'There will be no explanation. There will just be reputation', and so that was what I decided was going to be the album, and I stuck with it. I didn't go back on it. I didn't try to explain the album because I didn't feel that I owed that to anyone. There was a lot that happened over a couple of years that made me feel really, really terrible. And I didn't feel like expressing that to them. I didn't feel like talking about it. I just felt like making music, then going out on the road and doing a stadium tour and doing everything I could for my fans.»

She embarked on the “reputation Stadium Tour“, which kicked off on May 8, 2018, in Glendale, Arizona. The tour’s visual and stage settings incorporated prominent snakes imagery. It encompassed 53 shows across four continents and wrapped up on November 21, 2018, in Tokyo, Japan. On completion of its 38-show North American leg, with $266.1 million grosed, the “reputation Stadium Tour” surpassed the Rolling Stones’ 70-show US leg of their “A Bigger Bang Tour” ($245 million; 2005–2007) to become the all-time highest-grossing North American tour. In total, it grossed $345.7 million, according to Billboard Boxscore. The show recorded at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, was released as a Netflix exclusive on December 31, 2018.

Release and Singles

On August 18, 2017, Taylor blanked out all of her social media accounts, which immediately prompted media speculation on new music. In the following days, she uploaded silent, black-and-white short videos of CGI snakes onto social media, which attracted widespread press attention. Imagery of snakes was inspired by the West–Kardashian controversy and featured prominently in the album’s promotional campaign. On August 23, she announced on Instagram the title reputation and released the cover artwork.

The lead single, “Look What You Made Me Do”, was released a day later on August 24. Released after a year of hiatus from public spotlight, it is considered as one of pop music’s most memorable moments ever, bolstered by its music video, which gained over 43.2 million views during its first day on YouTube, breaking the record for the most-viewed music video within 24 hours. The single opened at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the biggest single-week sales and streaming figures of 2017 in the US and was Taylor’s first No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart. Shortly after the single’s release, UPS announced a partnership with Taylor, which included reputation-branded trucks and award-winning contests promoting the album across US cities. Other corporate tie-ins were a Ticketmaster partnership for a concert tour; an AT&T deal for a behind-the-scenes series chronicling the making of reputation; and a Target partnership for two deluxe album editions, each featuring an exclusive magazine with poetry, paintings, handwritten lyrics, and behind-the-scenes photography. Taylor also collaborated with ESPN to preview the second single, “…Ready for It?”, during a college football match on September 2; it opened at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Prior to the album’s release, the tracks “Gorgeous” and “Call It What You Want” were released for download and streaming as promotional singles, and “New Year’s Day” premiered during the broadcast of an episode of ABC’s Scandal.

reputation was finally released on digital and physical formats on November 10, 2017, by Big Machine Records. Although the streaming provider Spotify initially promoted the album on its playlists and commercial billboards, Taylor and her label kept the album off streaming platforms until December 1. Throughout late 2017 and early 2018, a string of other singles were released to support the album: “End Game” was released to French radio by Mercury Records on November 14, “New Year’s Day” impacted US country radio on November 27, and “Delicate” got sent to US pop radio on March 12, 2018. The last of which was the album’s most successful radio single, peaking at No. 1 on three Billboard airplay charts: Pop Songs, Adult Pop Songs, and Adult Contemporary.
Taylor Swift on the "reputation Stadium Tour" (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for TAS, 2018)

reputation Stadium Tour

reputation Stadium Tour 2018 “Taylor Swift’s reputation Stadium Tour” was Taylor’s fifth world concert tour, in support of her sixth studio album, reputation (2017). It began on May 8, 2018, in Glendale and concluded on November 21, 2018, in Tokyo, consisting of 53 shows. The tour received 2.55 million attendees and grossed $345.7 million in revenue.

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Critical Reception

reputation is easily Taylor’s most divisive album. Still, it received generally positive reviews from music critics. Many critics praised her personal lyricism and songwriting depicting vulnerability and intimacy despite the first impressions of a vindictive record. They appreciated reputation for exploring vulnerable sentiments beneath the surface of fame and celebrity. The Independent critic Roisin O’Connor and Vulture journalist Craig Jenkins both regarded the record as a showcase of Taylor’s both vindictive and vulnerable sides; the former lauded it for displaying her talents capturing emotional details “that you as a listener cannot”.

The production received mixed reviews. Slant Magazine‘s Sal Cinquemani called it a good pop album but found it blemished at times by “tired, repetitive EDM tricks”,and Pitchfork‘s Jamieson Cox lamented how Swift’s lyrical craftsmanship was overshadowed by what he deemed a conventional and unoriginal production. The Boston Globe‘s Terrence Cawley and Billboard‘s Jason Lipshutz identified some stylistics missteps but said the experiments were worthwhile and made an enjoyable listen. The Associated Press‘s Meskin Fekadu and Variety‘s Chris Willman hailed reputation as an outstanding pop album; the latter lauded the balance between Taylor’s singer-songwriter lyrical strengths and the “up-to-the-second rhythmic pop” of mainstream music.

Commercial Performance

reputation sold two million copies worldwide within one week of release. In the US, the album sold roughly 700,000 copies after one day of availability, and 1.05 million after four days. It opened at No. 1 on the US Billboard 200 with first-week figures of 1,238,000 album-equivalent units that consisted of 1,216,000 pure sales—more than any other albums on the chart that week combined. With the achievement, reputation made Taylor the first artist to have four albums each sell more than a million copies within one week since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking sales in 1991. The album spent four non-consecutive weeks at No. 1, was 2017’s best-selling album in the US, and topped the 2018 Billboard 200 Year-End chart.

reputation topped the albums charts in many European territories including Austria, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, and Switzerland. The album was certified Platinum in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, and Sweden. In the wider English-speaking world, it topped the albums charts of Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Ireland, and Canada. The record was certified Platinum or higher in the first three countries, being certified 3-times Platinum in both Australia and New Zealand. In Asia-Pacific, reputation was certified Platinum in Singapore and Gold in Japan. It sold over one million units in China as of August 2019, becoming one of the best-selling digital albums of all time there. According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), reputation was the world’s second-best-selling album of 2017, with 4.5 million copies sold.

Award Recognition

reputation featured on several publications’ lists of the best albums of 2017, ranking on such lists by Time (No. 5), Rolling Stone (No. 7), Slant Magazine (No. 17), The Independent (No. 19), Complex (No. 26), NME (No. 31), and Spin (No. 48). On individual critics’ lists, it appeared on those by Rob Sheffield (No. 2), Jon Caramanica (No. 5), and Mikael Wood of the Los Angeles Times (unranked). On Slant Magazine‘s list of the best 2010s-decade album published in 2019, reputation ranked at No. 88.

At industry awards held in 2018, the album won an American Music Award for “Favorite Pop/Rock Album”, a Billboard Music Award for “Top Selling Album”, a Libera Award for “Independent Impact Album”, and a Japan Gold Disc Award for “Best 3 Albums (Western)”. It received nominations including an ARIA Music Award nomination for “Best International Artist”, a Billboard Music Award nomination for “Top Billboard 200 Album”, and a Juno Award nomination for “International Album of the Year”. At the 61st Annual Grammy Awards held in 2019, reputation was nominated for “Best Pop Vocal Album”. The album’s packaging and design won two awards from the American Advertising Federation.

Impact and Legacy

Released amidst extreme negative press, reputation was regarded by several journalists as Taylor’s “comeback”. Retrospectively, music critics have opined that the album surpassed the initial disappointment and biased reviews and stood the test of time. Billboard journalist Andrew Unterberger in August 2019 wrote: “With a couple years’ clarity, removed from all the backlash against Swift for her perceived insincerity (and political neutrality), we can now look back on reputation for what it actually was: a very good pop album that was very successful.” Mary Siroky of Consequence observed how time proved it to be an authentic record, contrary to some initial reviews claiming otherwise and, as part of a 2022 piece titled “What Were We Thinking? 15 Times We Were Wrong”, opined that the publication’s initial review was influenced by Taylor’s negative press and its score should have been higher.

The promotional campaign of reputation, specifically Taylor’s “social media blackout” set a precedent for other pop stars to emulate. Commenting on the album rollout cycle, music scholar Jadey O’Regan remarked how Taylor used “the art of pop in the best way” for utilizing “the way she’s been stereotyped in popular culture”. Film director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson cited reputation as an inspiration for her 2022 teen comedy film Do Revenge.

Overall, reputation is a case study in pop history and a prime example on how to make a successful comeback in mainstream music.
General Information
ArtistTaylor Swift
ReleasedNovember 10, 2017
Studio
Genre
Pop
Electro Pop
Synth Pop
R&B
Length55:38
LabelBig Machine Records
Producers
Taylor Swift
Jack Antonoff
Max Martin
Shellback
TAYLOR SWIFT CHRONOLOGY
1989 (2014)reputation (2017)Lover (2019)
Prologue
Album Certification
"7x Platinum" certification by the Recording Industry Association of America. Signifying 7,000,000 units sold.
Tracklist
Album Artwork
Highest Honor
reputation Era

reputation Era

reputation Songs

The Making of A Song

reputation Stadium Tour

Taylor Swift: reputation Stadium Tour

Taylor's Discography