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Delicate

Single | reputation (2017)

“Delicate” got the coveted track five spot on Taylor’s sixth studio album, reputation (2017). Her goal was to use the vocoder to create an “emotional” and “vulnerable” sound for the track. “Delicate” was the biggest radio hit of reputation as well as the longest-charting solo female song of the 2010s decade on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with 54+ weeks.
Taylor described “Delicate” as one of the songs about vulnerability on reputation, contrary to the album’s recurring themes of vengeance and feigned disinterest in her perceived image. The lyrics are about her insecurity in whether her new love interest would be bothered by her blemished reputation.

Background

Taylor released her fifth studio album, 1989, in October 2014. Its synth-pop production transformed her sound and image from country-oriented to mainstream pop. The album was a massive commercial success, selling over five million copies in the U.S. within one year, and spawning three Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 singles. The BBC asserted that the success of 1989 solidified Taylor’s status as a global pop star.

In 2016, when Taylor was at the peak of overexposure, some of her rivals in the industry (including Scooter Braun, Kanye West and Justin Bieber) succeded in launching a worldwide hate campaign against her. As a result, Taylor disappeared from public view for an entire year and thought about quitting music for good. She became increasingly reticent on social media, having previously maintained an active presence with a large following, and avoided interactions with the press. She conceived her sixth studio album, reputation, as an answer to the media commotion surrounding her celebrity.

Lyrical Theme

Lyrically, Taylor conceived “Delicate” as a confession to a prospective lover (Joe Alwyn), and described the song — notably the fifth track on reputation — as the album’s “first point of vulnerability”. The preceding four tracks are about Taylor’s flippant disinterest in her perceived reputation, sung by the dark alter ego she created for the album. On “Delicate”, she begins to reveal her inner vulnerability. While Taylor was writing the song, she had an image of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Gatsby in her head, running through his mansion, trying to find Daisy:

«The idea of your reputation is definitely something that I play on for the entire album, but when the album starts off it's much more bombastic. It's more like, 'Oh, I don't care what you say about me, I don't care what you say about my reputation, it doesn't matter.' But then it hits this point, on track five, where it's like, 'Oh God, what happens when you meet somebody that you really want in your life?' And then you start worrying about what they've heard before they met you. And you start to wonder, could something fake, like your reputation, affect something real, like somebody getting to know you? And you start to wonder, how much does all that matter? And this is the first point of vulnerability in the record where you're like, 'Oh maybe this does actually matter a little bit.' And how does that factor in, kind of questioning the reality and the perception of a reputation, and how much weight it actually has.»

Taylor Swift
Sonically, the record utilizes chilling voice harmonies backed by a simple instrumental. To create a sound that reflects the lyrics’ vulnerable sentiment, producers Max Martin and Shellback manipulated Taylor’s vocals with a vocoder, which she thought sounded “really emotional, vulnerable, and…sad but beautiful”. This vocoder effect is recurring on subsequent tracks of reputation.

reputation's Track Five

“Delicate” follows Taylor’s pattern of the fifth song of her albums being about vulnerable emotions, following previous fifth tracks “Cold As You,” “White Horse,” “Dear John,” “All Too Well,” and “All You Had To Do Was Stay.” Notably, this is the first of those songs to be about the beginning of a relationship. “I didn’t even do it on purpose,” she confessed. “When I finally was like, this is the final tracklist, I was like…oh, I did it again.”

Music Video

In the music video for “Delicate,” Taylor becomes invisible upon receiving a mysterious note, dances barefoot through public places, and ultimately becomes visible again after dancing in a pouring rain. Critics interpreted the video as her autobiographical reference to her personal life, as she had retreated herself from the press while promoting reputation. Directed by Joseph Kahn, the music video was shot over two nights in Los Angeles; landmarks featured include the Millennium Biltmore Hotel, the 7th Street/Metro Center station, the Los Angeles Theater, and the Golden Gopher bar. It premiered on March 11, 2018, during the iHeartRadio Music Awards. In addition, a vertical music video was released on the streaming platform Spotify.

Live Performances

Taylor included “Delicate” on the set list of her “reputation Stadium Tour” (2018). During the concerts, she performed the song while standing in a golden balloon basket that floated above across the crowd. On April 23, 2019, she performed an acoustic version of the song at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts during the Time 100 Gala, where she was honored as one of the “100 most influential people” of the year. During promotion of her seventh studio album, Lover, in 2019, Taylor performed the song at the “Wango Tango” festival on June 1, at the “Amazon Prime Day” concert on July 10, and at the City of Lover one-off concert in Paris on September 9.

Critical Reception

“Delicate” received widespread acclaim from music critics, most of whom commended Taylor’s songwriting. Roisin O’Connor of The Independent described the song as an example of her “most honest and direct songwriting”. Ann Powers writing for NPR called “Delicate” one of reputation‘s “most memorable tracks”, and described it as a reminder of Taylor’s songwriting talents in creating personal and relatable songs about her generation’s “fashion choices, modes of gossip, dating habits and dreams of a comfortable middle-class life”.

Retrospectively, critics have considered “Delicate” one of Taylor’s strongest songs. Paste‘s Jane Song, NME‘s Hannah Mylrae, and Rolling Stone‘s Rob Sheffield all lauded the song’s depiction of vulnerability in terms of both lyrics and music, specifically through the vocoder effects. Sheffield ranked it first on his list of the best songs of 2017: “At heart, ‘Delicate’ is a story about a girl in her room, hearing an electro-beat that lures her to go seek some scandalous adventures in the city lights. In other words, the story of pop music.” The song featured on 2018 year-end lists by Slant Magazine (9th), Rolling Stone (12th), and Billboard (35th). “Delicate” was one of the award-winning songs at the BMI Pop Awards (2019), and the ASCAP Awards (2019 and 2020).

Commercial Performances

“Delicate” peaked at No. 84 on the Billboard Hot 100 after its initial release as a single.  After its release as a single it became a slow growing radio smash which gained more and more popularity the longer audiences stayed with it. It also became the biggest radio hit from the album, surpassing lead single “Look What You Made Me Do.” The song eventually peaked at No. 12, becoming Taylor’s 41st top 20 entry. It was the fifth song from reputation to do so, making it the first album in three years to have five top 20 hits with the last album doing so being Taylor’s own album 1989 in 2015. “Delicate” also became the longest-charting solo female song of the 2010s decade on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with 54+ weeks.  

Lyrics

[Pre-chorus]
This ain’t for the best
My reputation’s never been worse, so
You must like me for me
We can’t make any promises
Now can we, babe?
But you can make me a drink

[Verse 1]
Dive bar on the east side, where you at?
Phone lights up my nightstand in the black
Come here, you can meet me in the back
Dark jeans and your Nikes, look at you
Oh damn, never seen that color blue
Just think of the fun things we could do (‘Cause I like you)

[Pre-chorus]
This ain’t for the best
My reputation’s never been worse, so
You must like me for me (Yeah, I want you)
We can’t make any promises
Now can we, babe?
But you can make me a drink

[Chorus]
Is it cool that I said all that?
Is it chill that you’re in my head?
‘Cause I know that it’s delicate (Delicate)
Is it cool that I said all that?
Is it too soon to do this yet?
‘Cause I know that it’s delicate
Isn’t it? Isn’t it? Isn’t it?
Isn’t it?
Isn’t it? Isn’t it? Isn’t it?
Isn’t it delicate?

[Verse 2]
Third floor on the west side, me and you
Handsome, you’re a mansion with a view
Do the girls back home touch you like I do?
Long night, with your hands up in my hair
Echoes of your footsteps on the stairs
Stay here, honey, I don’t wanna share (‘Cause I like you)

[Pre-chorus]
This ain’t for the best
My reputation’s never been worse, so
You must like me for me (Yeah, I want you)
We can’t make any promises
Now can we, babe?
But you can make me a drink

[Chorus]
Is it cool that I said all that?
Is it chill that you’re in my head?
‘Cause I know that it’s delicate (Delicate)
Is it cool that I said all that?
Is it too soon to do this yet?
‘Cause I know that it’s delicate
Isn’t it? Isn’t it? Isn’t it?
Isn’t it?
Isn’t it? Isn’t it? Isn’t it?
Isn’t it delicate?

[Bridge]
Sometimes I wonder when you sleep
Are you ever dreaming of me?
Sometimes when I look into your eyes
I pretend you’re mine, all the damn time
‘Cause I like you

[Chorus]
Is it cool that I said all that?
Is it chill that you’re in my head?
‘Cause I know that it’s delicate (Delicate)
(Yeah, I want you)
Is it cool that I said all that?
Is it too soon to do this yet?
‘Cause I know that it’s delicate (Delicate)
‘Cause I like you
Is it cool that I said all that? (Isn’t it, isn’t it, isn’t it, isn’t it?)
Is it chill that you’re in my head? (Isn’t it, isn’t it, isn’t it, isn’t it?)
‘Cause I know that it’s delicate (Isn’t it, isn’t it, isn’t it, isn’t it?)
(Yeah, I want you)

[Outro]
Is it cool that I said all that (Isn’t it, isn’t it, isn’t it, isn’t it?)
Is it too soon to do this yet? (Isn’t it? Isn’t it?)
‘Cause I know that it’s delicate
Isn’t it delicate?

General Information
Albumreputation
ReleasedNovember 10, 2017
Recorded2016–2017
GenreElectro Pop
Length3:56
LabelBig Machine Records
SongwritersTaylor Swift
Max Martin
Shellback
ProducersMax Martin
Shellback
REPUTATION CHRONOLOGY
Don’t Blame MeDelicateLook What You Made Me Do
Single Certification
Handwritten Lyrics
Single Artwork
Making of
Music Video
Music Video (Vertical Version)
Live Performance
Official Audio