After a rollout that included UPS trucks, a teaser for an app, a questionable sci-fi music video, and marketing tie-ins to both college football and Shonda Thursdays, Reputation, Taylor Swift’s sixth studio album, is finally here. As evidenced by singles like “Look What You Me Do” and “... Ready for It,” Reputation is Taylor like we’ve never heard her before. After spending a night with the album—and marveling over the crimes producer Max Martin has committed against pop music—The Ringer staff agreed to answer a handful of questions.
1. What is your 280-characters-or-less review of ‘Reputation’?
Amanda Dobbins: Reputation is better than the singles suggested, and I will probably never listen to it again.
Juliet Litman: There are two good songs on this album, and that’s because they sound like outtakes from an earlier Taylor record.
...— Lindsay Zoladz (@lindsayzoladz) November 9, 2017
... it doesn't NOT sound like Witness
Andrew Gruttadaro: I’ve never heard a 27-year-old talk more about being drunk.
Justin Charity: Reputation is the Syriana of Taylor Swift albums. It’s confusing and fine, I guess.
Rob Harvilla: A B-minus doomed to be denounced as a D-minus; a lukewarm goof condemned to the fires of the hottest takes in the history of Western civilization.
2. What is your favorite song on the album?
Gruttadaro: The Future ad-libs in “End Game.” (OK, but seriously, I don’t hate “Dress.”)
Litman: “New Year’s Eve,” because it has the most Country Taylor.
Charity: “Dancing With Our Hands Tied.” It reminds me of the soundtrack for this space alien horror video game called Prey, which I’ve played a lot this year.
Dobbins: I have been quite vocal in my opposition to Jack Antonoff’s stranglehold on pop music, so I am eating crow here: “Getaway Car” is the best song on the album. Max Martin and Shellback have betrayed me. Also, I hate the pop music of 2017.
Zoladz: Either “Getaway Car,” “Gorgeous,” or just the chorus of “I Did Something Bad,” because I believe the bad deed she’s referring to is “write the verses of this song.”
Harvilla: A tie between “So It Goes …” and “Dress,” because people who’ve always found Taylor’s awkward-dork shtick cloying and false can take some solace in the fact her attempts to sound sexy are legitimately (and somewhat winsomely) awkward and dorky.
3. What is your least-favorite song?
Zoladz: I cannot hang with “End Game,” sorry. Also “King of My Heart,” “Dancing With Our Hands Tied,” and “So It Goes …” all feel like filler, which is unacceptable on an album that is certifiably way too long.
Harvilla: “Look What You Made Me Do,” for the line delivery of her “the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now” bit alone.
Litman: Tracks 1-7 are all sonically harsh, but the drops in “I Did Something Bad” are particularly unpleasant.
Gruttadaro: I will never listen to “I Did Something Bad” again; it shares production cues with a song the Lonely Island made for a movie about a fake Justin Bieber who’s too narcissistic to realize how bad his new music is.
This song also includes the line, “They’re burning all the witches, even if you aren’t one.” I assume actual witches are very unhappy about being included in Taylor’s narrative.
Charity: “I Did Something Bad.”
Dobbins: The rollout of Reputation has been a front-to-back disaster, but the biggest mistake was releasing the four worst songs as the singles. Every single person who worked on this strategy, in any capacity, should be fired.
4. In your best estimation, what is ‘Reputation’ actually about?
Harvilla: The limits of narcissism, and the inevitability of full-blown pop-star backlash. It’s Lady Gaga’s Artpop with way less art and way too much pop. It’s a controlled descent to the rock bottom that Taylor will triumphantly bounce back from when she makes her back-to-country album in (hopefully) the next three to five years.
Gruttadaro: Half of the songs are about her current boyfriend, Joe Alwyn; half of them are about Tom Hiddleston but rewritten to seem like they’re about Joe Alwyn; and all of them are about how everyone is just, like, so obsessed with Taylor Swift.
Litman: It’s a cynical assembly of songs targeted at mass commercialization. There’s enough specificity to fuel the Swift vs. Kardashian-West fight, but no greater emotional depth.
Charity: Taylor Swift and her wack-ass problems.
Zoladz: Karlie Kloss.
Dobbins: [whispers] I’m a Karlie shipper now, too. Have you guys listened to “Dress”?!?
5. Finish the sentence: “Taylor Swift's collaboration with Jack Antonoff is …”
Litman: … what produced the best song on the album, “Getaway Car.”
Gruttadaro: … not that bad? As much as I don’t approve of what Antonoff has done to pop music, his half of the album is much more listenable than the other half.
Dobbins: … too much. Antonoff is good for exactly one (1) song on an album. Let's all calm down.
Zoladz: … going to keep happening whether we like it or not. Sigh. Look, I think Antonoff makes some smart choices here, like the intimate sparseness of “New Year’s Day,” which is a very nice closer. And even though “Getaway Car” basically sounds like a Bleachers track, I (uncharacteristically) kind of love it. But I am getting a little sick of his omnipresence in the pop world right now and would not be angry if he just, like, took a gap year in 2018.
Harvilla: The time has come to crowdsource this guy a long vacation.
6. What is the most baffling production choice?
Harvilla: There is no banjo.
Charity: The vocoder on “Delicate.” Cut that shit out.
Zoladz: That at least four of these songs sound like they belong on an Imogen Heap album.
Gruttadaro: It’s incredible to watch this video of the making of “Gorgeous.” This was a Taylor Swift song! Now it sounds like a deep cut from an Icona Pop album, only worse.
Dobbins: Well I certainly don’t understand the Annie vibe on “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.”
Litman: Taylor Swift’s strength is in songwriting, but this record champions her vocals. It’s a curious choice, since I am fairly certain she would not get all four coaches to turn around on The Voice.
7. Let’s talk about the Ed Sheeran–Future song.
Dobbins: I’d rather not.
Litman: Do we have to? Ed Sheeran makes undeniably pleasant songs … until now. Leave the rapping to Future, Ed.
Harvilla: It is the sound of three very confused people being paid so handsomely that it mitigates their confusion but greatly increases ours.
Charity: I’ll give it this much credit—it’s way smoother and better than “Bad Blood,” Swift's no. 1 record featuring Kendrick Lamar on the remix.
Zoladz: I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative.
Gruttadaro: What a time to be alive.
8. What was the best (or, best-worst) part of the ‘Reputation’ album rollout?
literally just passed a Fed Ex truck blasting Bodak Yellow, what an exquisite Taylor Swift subtweet!!!!— Lindsay Zoladz (@lindsayzoladz) November 6, 2017
Dobbins: There is no good part. This is a decent, if soulless, album, but its tone-deaf—and honestly plain stupid, when it comes to “Look What You Made Me Do”—presentation will permanently overshadow it.
Gruttadaro: Taylor plastering her face on a fleet of UPS trucks really felt like the height of this absurdly capitalistic rollout. That said, I feel somewhat robbed that I still haven’t seen one in the wild.
Charity: It stars Taylor Swift, an AI who has yet to persuasively mimic human charm.
Harvilla: That Cardi B (and Post Malone) stomped all over it.
9. Fill in the blank: “‘Reputation’ is _____ for Taylor Swift.”
Zoladz: … going to make a lot more money ...
Harvilla: … a useful receptacle into which a bunch of not technically incorrect but nonetheless still awfully grouchy and unpleasant people can deposit their long-simmering enmity ...
Litman: … an anomaly ... This is Taylor Swift’s 808s & Heartbreak. Subsequent albums will be more recognizable Swiftian fare.
Gruttadaro: … a way to talk about finally going to the bone zone ...
10. What does Taylor Swift do next?
Zoladz: Make a country album! Please!
Gruttadaro: My take: Abject failure can actually be a very good thing for artists. It readjusts expectations and standards, while also course-correcting the artist’s instincts. If Taylor drifts back to her old sound even a little bit on her next album, it will be received as the greatest piece of music released in the 21st century. So yes, Reputation is a long con.
Litman: Go on tour for 18 months, where she will make millions of dollars without too much controversy. It’s the safest thing she can do.
Harvilla: Take all the Get Over Yourself, It’s the Trump Era criticism this record will inspire to heart, and record an earnest and engaged album of sociopolitical commentary that all the people who hate this record will hate way, way more.