A track-by-track guide to Taylor Swift's 'Reputation'

Chris Willman
Yahoo Music

In an essay that accompanies the lyric booklet on her new album, Reputation, Taylor Swift writes this sentence twice: “We think we know someone, but the truth is that we only know the version of them they have chosen to show us.” The message is clear: We don’t know the real Swift well enough to judge her. Yet Swift’s career is based on her very knowability, and 15 songs later, fans may come away feeling like they know Swift better than they know themselves — that guarded preamble notwithstanding.

And what there is to know about Swift this time, most of all, is that she’s crazy for a fella, in a way she certainly never has been on record before. In another part of the booklet essay, Swift writes, “When this album comes out, gossip blogs will scour the lyrics for the men they can attribute to each song, as if the inspiration for music is as simple and basic as a paternity test. There will be slideshows of photos backing up each incorrect theory.” Yet there’s really not much danger of that with Reputation, because nearly the entire album is written in the present tense, and it seems reasonable to conclude it was all inspired by one guy, not a photo gallery’s worth.

Taylor Swift’s sixth album is out now. (Photo: Big Machine)
Taylor Swift’s sixth album is out now. (Photo: Big Machine)
Scroll to continue with content

And no, that guy is not Kanye West — although he does show up as an unnamed suspect in a couple of tracks. Everyone’s best guess, despite Swift’s stated wish that we avoid public guessing games: current BF Joe Alwyn, who’d better hope all the lusciously romantic, love-me-for-a-lifetime songs on this album are about him. But what they’re about most of all is not a man, or men, but Swift, still “happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time,” even now that she’s 27 instead of 22 — and more happy than lonely, which may come as a surprise to fans stuck in her Red period.

A track-by-track guide to the heretofore closely guarded album:

…Ready for It?
(Producers/co-writers: Max Martin, Shellback, Ali Payami)
Swift’s current radio single is a scene setter that introduces the electronic elements that will dominate the album, albeit with a far more aggressive tone than most of the remaining tracks. The theme of being able to conduct a relationship in secret, à la her previous album’s “I Know Places,” is immediately established: “If he’s a ghost, then I can be a phantom. … No one has to know.” Also set in place from the outset: the mixture of Swift’s amour for her lover and bitterness over lingering wounds, summed up in the cheeky quasi-rhyme “I keep him forever/ Like a vendetta.”

End Game (featuring Ed Sheeran and Future)
(Producers: Martin, ShellbackCo-writers: Martin, Shellback, Sheeran, Future)
The secret weapon she’s been holding back. Far more relaxed than the singles released so far, “End Game” has one killer hook that recalls classic R&B, and a completely separate killer hook that’s just an irresistible singalong — and that’s before you get to two separate happy-go-lucky raps by Sheeran and Future, the album’s only featured guests. “I wanna be your A-team,” Swift sings, and it’s not clear whether the allusion to Sheeran’s own “A-Team” is intentional or incidental. The album title and theme come into play here, but in a lighter-hearted, teasing way. Most quotable lines: “They told you I’m crazy/ I swear I don’t love the drama/ It loves me.”

I Did Something Bad
(Producers/co-writers: Martin, Shellback)
Remember how, last time around, “Blank Space” was presented as a spoof? “I Did Something Bad” proceeds along the same extreme lines, but this time it feels less like Swift’s satirizing media perceptions and more like she’s actually owning up to some past bad behavior — which, we quickly learn, she doesn’t feel bad about. Swift sings that she’s enjoyed toying with narcissists because “for every lie I tell them/ They tell me three.” Is she role-playing again, or getting darker in her confessionals than anyone would’ve expected?

Don’t Blame Me
(Producers/co-writers: Martin, Shellback)
“I’ve been breakin’ hearts a long time, and/ Toying with them older guys,” the narrator admits at the outset. But then the track takes a turn to become about how Swift has become a changed woman since “Something happened for the first time, in/ The darkest little paradise” — i.e., true love. There’s still less tenderness here than craving, as she falls back on addiction metaphors: “Oh Lord, save me,” she sings, as a gospel-ish chorus swells up alongside her, “My drug is my baby/ I’ll be using for the rest of my life.” Best lines: “Halo hiding my obsession/ I once was poison ivy/ But now I’m your daisy.”

(Producers/co-writers: Max Martin, Shellback)
This number backtracks a bit, to a spontaneous first date. Five tracks in, “Delicate” lives up to its title as the first time we see the vulnerable side of Swift on the album — and there’s a lot more of that to come. Her phone lights up late at night with an invitation to meet in a dive bar on Manhattan’s East Side; later, they’re in a third floor West Side apartment, hands in each other’s hair, but not yet officially a couple. And she’s shocked her potential new beau seems to be falling for her in return, even though “my reputation’s never been worse.” Is it possible Swift really imagined the Kim-and-Kanye fallout would affect her ability to land a good man in Manhattan? Stranger expectations have happened.

Look What You Made Me Do
(Co-producer: Jack Antonoff/co-writers: Antonoff, Right Said Fred)
And now, some explanation of why Swift would have considered her reputation tarnished in that previous song… with the now-famous allusions to the adversary with the “tilted stage.” She may be too sexy for her antagonist, but he’ll be back, briefly, later on.

So It Goes…
(Producers/co-writers: Max Martin, Shellback, Oscar Görres)
Things are getting hotter and heavier with “lipstick on your face” and “scratches down your back now.” There will be arithmetic on the test, too: “You did a number on me/ But honestly, baby, who’s counting?” Well, she is, as the music drops completely out and she whispers, “1, 2, 3,” in a countdown to ecstasy.

(Producers/co-writers: Max Martin, Shellback)
Fans have had a while to live with this major ode to a crush. What most didn’t know until now is that the infant who intones the title word at the beginning of the song is “tiny baby James Reynolds, little cherubic mischievous scene stealer from heaven,” aka the 2-year-old daughter of Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively.

Getaway Car
(Co-producer/co-writer: Jack Antonoff)
Another flashback to a less gratifying romantic past. It’s the closest the album comes to Classic Swift in mood and style, or at least to something you could imagine fitting in nicely on the Speak Now or Red album with a different arrangement. She’s singing of two exes here, both of whom were at one point or another “driving the getaway car” away from a lover she was having a hard time shedding on her own. When the latest guy realizes he’s been left holding the bag, she reminds him that she wasn’t single when they met and “nothing good starts in a getaway car.”

King of My Heart
(Producers/co-writers: Max Martin, Shellback)
She’s back to the early stages of feeling bewitched. And she may be picking up some of her boyfriend’s language from across the pond, when she indulges in some “fancy” wordplay: “Up on the roof with a schoolgirl crush/ Drinking beer out of plastic cups/ Say you fancy me, not fancy stuff.” Further clues that this is a transatlantic relationship: “I’m your American queen/ And you move to me like a Motown beat.” It may be early days for this relationship, but she can’t help cutting to the chase: “Is this the end of all the endings?”

Dancing With Our Hands Tied
(Producers/co-writers: Max Martin, Shellback, Oscar Holter)
Perhaps the one honestly sad song on the album, looking back on a relationship that was hobbled from the start. She laments the handicaps that constricted a love affair with someone who “had turned my bed into a sacred oasis/ People started talking, putting us through our paces/ I knew there was no one in the world who could take it/ I had a bad feeling.” This will be one of the keepers for the “All Too Well” subsection of the fanbase.

(Co-writer/co-producer: Jack Antonoff)
Time to open the windows because there’s some steam coming off this one. “I don’t want you like a best friend,” she tells her intended, making sure she isn’t about to get friend-zoned. “Only bought this dress so you could take it off.” Obviously it’s the sexiest song Swift has ever written, but she spends just as much of the lyric owning up to “mistakes … rebounds … earthquakes” and concludes, “I woke up just in time/ Now I wake up by your side.” If you just took out that sultry chorus, this could almost be a wedding song. But no one’s going to want to take out the sultry chorus.

This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
(Co-writer/co-producer: Jack Antonoff)
Detour time: It’s a party song about the party being over — specifically, probably, the extended détente between Swift and West. She doesn’t seem to leave much mystery as to whom it’s about, anyway, when she brings up Ma Bell: “Friends don’t try to trick you/ Get you on the phone and mind-twist you.” For bad measure, she adds, “I’m not the only friend you’ve lost lately,” and it’s a slight disappointment that Jay-Z does not come out at that point for a cameo.

Call It What You Want
(Co-writer/co-producer: Jack Antonoff)
This too appears to reference the Kim/Kanye brouhaha, but in a less devil-may-care way: “My castle crumbled overnight/ I brought a knife to a gunfight/ They took the crown, but it’s all right.” The rest of the track is very much a love song, with Swift laughing and “building forts under covers” with the man who diverted her attention from all that drama. It may be subtler put up against bolder tracks on the album, but as a penultimate number, it provides a chill-out transition into an even more intimate finish.

New Year’s Day
(Co-writer/co-producer: Jack Antonoff)
At last, acoustic instruments. (At least that’s the sigh of relief we imagine a few Fearless fanatics letting out.) Yet the piano Antonoff plays on this closing track seems so weirdly denuded, so un-“grand,” that it almost sounds as electronic as everything else on the album. The setting is Jan. 1, when the party guests have left and it’s all over but the sweeping. “I want your midnights, but I’ll be cleaning up bottles with you” in the cold light of day, she promises. It’s the woozily blissed-out sequel “Auld Lang Syne” has always needed — and a sign of just how easily Swift is saying “out with the old” to her once-dominant breakup anthems.

What to Read Next