Review: On 'Reputation,' The Old Taylor Swift's Not Dead : The Record On her new album, Reputation, Taylor Swift continues to chronicle the links between romance, revenge and her own personal sense of justice, but also confronts how she may be trapped by her own image.


The Record

The Old Taylor's Not Dead

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You thought you knew Taylor Swift. On her newest album, the pop star says not so fast. The album's called "Reputation." And it's Swift's first album in three years. And it's an introduction to what Taylor Swift is calling the new Taylor.


TAYLOR SWIFT: I'm sorry. The old Taylor can't come to the phone right now. Why? Oh, because she's dead.

MARTIN: The new Taylor, like the old Taylor, is still setting records. Target says "Reputation" is its largest music presale ever. And the video for the album's first single, "Look What You Made Me Do" racked up the most YouTube views of any video in its first 24 hours. At the heart of all that success is Swift's music, which NPR's Ann Powers has been writing about for a whole lot of years. Hi, Ann.

ANN POWERS, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel. How you doing?

MARTIN: I'm doing well.

POWERS: Look what you made me do - talk about Taylor Swift.

MARTIN: Do we like new Taylor?

POWERS: Well, we are fascinated by new Taylor.

MARTIN: That is true.

POWERS: The world is fascinated by her. And on "Reputation," she gives the world, her fans and her critics a giant earful of her own story.


SWIFT: (Singing) Third floor on the west side, me and you. Handsome, your mansion with a view. Do the girls back home touch you like I do?

MARTIN: When Taylor Swift's last album was about to drop, you wrote about how pop stars need controversy, that it propels them. On this new album, can you hear those controversies that have swirled around Taylor Swift?

POWERS: Oh, my goodness. Can you hear them? Can you drown them out? They're everywhere.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

POWERS: She is writing about her own tussles with Kanye West, the rapper with whom she has a feud. She's talking about her own love life. So, you know, the controversy has been coming to her. She is just using her music as a form of weaponry to, if not fight it off, contain it and define it.


SWIFT: (Singing) Big reputations, ah. And you heard about me, oh. I got some big enemies. Big reputation, big reputation.

MARTIN: There are some songs that are a little darker. She's trying to do something edgier. Do you buy it?

POWERS: What I buy on "Reputation" is Taylor Swift's determination to explore every corner of pop that she wants to walk into. And the most, probably, shocking thing to some ears is going to be that she touches on hip-hop and urban sounds in a way she never has before.


SWIFT: (Singing) It was so nice being friends again. There I was giving you a second chance, but you stabbed me in the back while shaking my hand.

MARTIN: I can't shake, however, banjo-playing-Romeo-and-Juliet Taylor Swift.

POWERS: (Laughter) Can't shake it off, huh?

MARTIN: Good one. I can't. And I'm having a hard time, like, allowing both of these Taylors to exist in my mind.

POWERS: Well, let me reassure you, Rachel. The romantic is still there. And the Romeo is still there. She has a lot of songs on this album about resolving all of her issues around becoming a figure of controversy by retreating into a romance with a new boyfriend.


SWIFT: (Singing) All the drama queens taking swings. All the jokers dressing up as kings. They fade to nothing when I look at him.

POWERS: Taylor is still at her heart that woman who believes in true love, believes in friendship and loyalty, believes in justice. And justice means treat Taylor right.

MARTIN: Treat Taylor right.

POWERS: Do it.

MARTIN: Do it now. Ann Powers of NPR Music. She joined us from Nashville, Tenn. Thanks, Ann.

POWERS: Thank you so much.


SWIFT: (Singing) Are you ready for it? Baby, let the games begin. Let the games begin. Let the games begin.

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