We gave it an B+
Taylor Swift lied to you. A couple months ago, the 27-year-old pop icon declared the Old Taylor dead on “Look What You Made Me Do,” the menacing, polarizing lead single from her forthcoming sixth album, Reputation. But “Gorgeous,” the LP’s latest advance track, finds her back in her comfort zone. With its addictive beat and thoughtful lyrics, “Gorgeous” isn’t just a classically Swiftian pop confection — it’s also the best taste of Reputation yet.
“LWYMMD” hit No. 1 on the Hot 100 and broke several records, even though it didn’t really sound like a chart-topper. Listeners loved or hated the song, but most agreed on the basics: Swift’s musical return was angsty, icy, and disjointed. Partisans spun those traits positively or negatively, but the track was inarguably a break from Swift’s previous smashes. Jack Antonoff has possessed pop’s Midas touch in 2017, producing Lorde, St. Vincent, and Pink, but his aesthetic poorly complemented Swift’s take-no-prisoners material on “LWYMMD.” Antonoff’s other recent collaborators make work riven with irony and cynicism and, for better or worse, Swift’s lyrics rarely stray into that lane.
For “Gorgeous,” she’s once again struck gold with Max Martin and Shellback, who produced the bulk of 1989 and her 2012 hit “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” Here, Swift doesn’t spurn the kitschy synth-pop that’s characterized her recent output, but a buoyancy resurfaces that “LWYMMD” and “…Ready For It?” — the second Reputation song Swift released — sorely lacked. Modulating synths propel the instrumental, while economical acoustic guitar accentuates it. And the single ding of a triangle directly preceding the chorus is the most exhilaratingly playful idiosyncrasy on a Swift song since the beat dropped out on “Blank Space.”
Swift’s greatest strength, and the reason her singles have historically appealed to so many, is her talent at spinning emotional hardship into musical triumph. “Shake It Off” and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” had dark cores, but Swift parlayed vitriol into victory. With their lumbering instrumentals and petty lyrics, Reputation‘s prior releases hinted she’d lost that finesse — that she’d become mired in the vitriol. Thankfully, with “Gorgeous,” she’s back on top.
By extension, that means that she’s letting listeners in: Whether Swift seethes with jealousy about the one she can’t have or resigns herself to stumbling home to her cats, a sincere, unflinching message drives “Gorgeous” that’ll resonate with anyone who’s had an unrequited crush. Though Swift sleuths have already begun to dissect who the lyrics are about, it doesn’t really matter — and that’s the signature of a true pop gem. Old Taylor, good to have you back. New Taylor, the dishonesty’s forgiven. B+
Listen to “Gorgeous” above. Reputation arrives Nov. 10.