Taylor Swift's talent remains intact on 'Reputation,' her most focused, most cohesive album yet

Randy Lewis, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Another facet of Swift's career that's impressed me is the way she has respected her place as a role model for young women in general and other female musicians in particular.

Among the many ways that's manifested is her personal donation of $500,000 to disaster relief efforts when Nashville, and much of Tennessee, was flooded in 2010 -- before she reached her 21st birthday. She ponied up an additional $1 million last year for flood victims in Louisiana after launching her "1989" tour there.


She wielded her industry clout to politely but firmly chastise Apple for initially placing some of the financial burden of a free trial period for its new streaming service in 2015 on songwriters with a plan that would have withheld their royalty payments -- an idea the tech giant abandoned in response to her open letter.

Even when she briefly succumbed to the temptation to respond to a perceived diss from Nicki Minaj over yet another VMA Awards show in 2015, Swift quickly apologized and held out an olive branch rather than continuing to ratchet up a war of tweets.

As recently as August, she turned the tables on a lawsuit filed against her by a Denver radio host who claimed he was unfairly dismissed from his job after she complained that he had groped her during a post-concert meet-and-greet. She filed a countersuit in which she asked for, and won, a token $1 jury award after she took to the witness stand to speak out not only in her own defense but on behalf of other sexual harassment victims.

Yet bloggers galore still seem determined to take her down for any number of issues, lately many of them revolving around the way she has set the stage for Friday's release of "Reputation."

A plan to create an incentive that would give priority for buying concert tickets to fans who most enthusiastically click away to watch her latest videos or place advance orders for the album was blasted as exploitative.

She's also come under fire for not being vocal enough about alt-right demonstrators who have attempted to co-opt her music into endorsements of their positions, reminiscent of Charles Manson's bizarre misinterpretation nearly 50 years ago of the Beatles' "Helter Skelter," which he insisted was a coded message to him to start a race war.

Then there was the much publicized dissing of her last year from Kanye West in his song "Famous" in which he rapped that she owed him sex because he made her famous by snatching the spotlight from her at the infamous MTV Video Music Awards in 2009 -- even though she had scored multiple hit singles and sold millions of albums well before that incident.

She kept a relatively low profile last year when West and his wife, Kim Kardashian, spoke and tweeted ad infinitum that she had given him her consent about the way he portrayed her in "Famous," offering only a terse denial that that had been the case.

When she released "Look What You Made Me Do" as the leadoff single from "Reputation," she took flak in many quarters for a perceived belated response and for keeping a feud going long past its natural shelf life.


But based on how I've watched her process other life events, what I hear in the song is a woman who recognizes the hurt an ugly life situation has thrust upon her and who owns the consequences of how it that has played out for her, emotionally and psychologically.

"I don't trust nobody and nobody trusts me" is how the sadder-but-wiser Swift portrays herself in this scenario. "Look What You Made Me Do" isn't an exercise in the blame game; it's an acknowledgment of loss over defenses one has been forced to erect out of self-preservation.

In a broader sense, the payoff I'm after in "Reputation" has nothing to do with any shade she's throwing at West and Kardashian or whether in other songs she's leaving any clues on her breakups with Tom Hiddleston or Calvin Harris.

Many eyes, of course, also will be focused on whether "Reputation" extends her streak of albums that have sold more than 1 million copies in the first week. She's the only artist to do so with three consecutive releases.

The only thing that matters in the long run is how she's evolving as a songwriter, a singer and a record producer.

Will anyone care in 10, 20 or 50 years -- heck, in five, even -- who the "him" is in "Getaway Car," when she confesses, "I wanted to leave him/ I needed a reason"? What's much more likely to stand the test of time is the whip-smart form the song's expression of romantic betrayal delivers: "It was the best of times/ The worst of crimes/ The ties were black/ the lies were white/ In shades of gray and candlelight."

Her commitment to growth as an artist is something I sensed more than a decade ago, when we first met in the bunker-like basement of her then-fledgling record company, Big Machine.

And it's still why I fully expect to be as interested at what Swift writes at 37 and 47 as what she's delivered at 27. In my book, that's the only reputation that matters.

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