I am a Taylor Swift fan. I will neither deny it nor apologize for it, and there was a time when I might have done both. But I have been on the Swift team since the beginning. Since the “Teardrops on My Guitar” days. And I am not ashamed to admit it.
A few years ago I wrote a post about Taylor’s last album, 1989, and how it was just what I needed in my life at that time. I wrote about how it helped me start over and heal and begin again. Today I want to do something similar with Taylor’s most recent album, Reputation.
Reputation is definitely Taylor’s edgiest album. It brings to light a lot of her struggles and highlights a lot of things that she’s usually very private about. It lets us into the darker sides of her, and the darker sides of what she experiences as a result of who she is. But like the true artist that she is, Taylor somehow manages to turn that darkness into light.
From beginning to end, Reputation is a journey: each song taking us through a different phase and highlighting different themes. As I’ve thought about this, I’ve settled upon seven major themes throughout the album that have come to mean everything to me. Themes that have changed the way I look at life and helped me see my own experiences in a different light.
Theme #1: The Fall From Grace
Even if you aren’t a T Swift fan, or don’t know much about her either way, it is pretty much common knowledge that she went through the ringer for a while there. As an ardent fan, I feel like I should know all of the details and have a very strong opinion, but honestly, I don’t know all the details. I really don’t know a lot about what happened. What I do know is that it hurt her, and she disappeared for a long time. I do know that it was a very hard fall for her.
Haven’t we all been there? I know I have.
We’ve all been through that point in life when we fall from grace and become very familiar with the feeling of a cold floor against our cheek. And quite frankly there is nothing worse than this kind of brokenness.
This theme is highlighted in a couple of different songs on the album. “Call it What You Want” and “Delicate” are a few. Lyrics like: “My castle crumbled overnight, I brought a knife to a gun fight”, and “my reputation’s never been worse” whisper a little bit of this feeling.
Theme #2: Because You Break Them
Sometimes the people in our lives do stupid things. They do things that hurt us deeply. Things that confuse us. And while that isn’t fair, it is a part of life. What is interesting about this theme is that it is something we’ve all seen, and it can usually lead us down a couple of different paths.
If we have been deeply hurt by others, sometimes the healthiest thing to do is just move on. Leave it behind and start over. And other times we have to acknowledge that the pain changed us, and maybe not completely positively. Pain can do dark things to you. Again, that’s just the way it is sometimes.
“This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” and “Look What You Made Me Do” talk about this idea.
Theme #3: I Did Something Bad
Obviously, I can’t speak for everybody, but I think that most often the theme/phase that follows is usually the rebellious one. It was for me, at least. If we’ve been hurt sometimes we lash out. Sometimes we have to go through a moment in our lives when we do things we might regret later.
The song “I Did Something Bad” is the poster child for this phase. The lyrics say, “You say I did something bad, then why’s it feel so good?” This is an entirely accurate summary of how it feels to do something bad. It is an interesting look at the difference between good and bad or right and wrong. But the cold, hard truth is that sometimes doing bad things is fun.
But I will be the first person to say that staying in this phase really isn’t good. It’s not healthy. At some point, you have to realize that sticking your middle finger to the world is hurting you more in the long run.
Theme #4: In The Middle Of The Night, In My Dreams
One of the things I love most about this album is that while there are heavy themes of brokenness and rebellion, there are also very strong currents of hope and rebirth throughout everything. I love the words, “In the middle of the night, in my dreams,” from “…Ready For It?” because they start off the album with this idea of hope and dreams. The kind of dreams that you saw break into a million pieces against the floor. The kind of dreams that you slowly begin to dream again, piece by piece. The kind of dreams that are so precious you only dare dream them in the middle of the night, when the world can’t reach them.
Theme #5: I Know That It’s Delicate
When you start to begin to dream again, that is when it gets scary.
Picking yourself up off the floor, or letting people pick you up, is one of the hardest, scariest things you will ever do in your life. Because there is a certain comfort in being that broken. When you’re that broken you may be completely miserable, you may be in so much pain and darkness that it is unfathomable, but at least it can’t get any worse. At least you’re there now, not fighting to stay afloat.
So the process of standing up and walking back into the light is slow and scary, and very delicate. It’s very piece by piece, moment by moment. And somehow it can be the most reckless thing in the world to even fathom the idea of hoping for something again. But you do it anyway.
“Is it cool that I said all that? Is it chill that you’re in my head? ‘Cause I know that it’s delicate … isn’t it?”
Theme #6: My Broken Bones Are Mending
“King Of My Heart” is one of my favorite songs on the album, because it is such a blatant celebration of healing. It talks about how bad things happen, and we do find ourselves on the floor sometimes, and it is the absolute worst. But then healing can happen, and it does happen. We just have to believe in it. Even a little bit.
“Is this the end of all the endings? My broken bones are mending.”
I don’t care who you are, these lyrics are iconic. There is a bit of mystery to it. Like she can’t fathom that she’s healing. As if she’s watching it happen in disbelief. Another song has a line which says, “I woke up just in time.”
As if she emerged from her brokenness just in time. As if she threw the darkness aside in an act of wild faith and hope and passion and it was the best thing she ever did. Because now she is mending.
Theme #7: But I Stay
I love the song “New Year’s Day” more than I love many things on this earth. It ends the journey of Reputation on an incredibly beautiful note. It is a foundation song. A remembering who you are song. A grounding song.
I love this song because it is very simple. It talks about standing beside somebody through thick and thin. It talks about a very deep and abiding love. Something very powerful. But also very real and human. The kind of love that holds you through a dark night or helps you clean up after a party.
It is the song that says, “I know I’ve been through a lot of darkness. But somehow I’m still me. I’m better and stronger. I didn’t stay broken. I rose.”
Reputation is an incredible album about rebirth. There is so much to it. I could write a million more words about it, and extract countless other themes, I’m sure. These are only a few. Just some very powerful things that have changed my life and helped me in my own journey.