Decoding Taylor Swift's reputation: A track-by-track breakdown of her revealing new album
Taylor Swift doesn’t give a damn about her bad reputation. Or does she?
On her sixth studio album, reputation, the Grammy winner, 27, plays with perception. Since rising to fame in 2006, Swift’s knack for super-personal storytelling has been a blessing and a curse. She’s one of the best-selling female artists of all-time. But she’s also fallen prey to the pitfalls of fame and, in recent years, has become as well-known for the headlines she makes as the music she releases.
And it’s her experience with fame — and how it’s influenced her reputation — that fuels her latest LP. Reputation is an experimental departure for Swift. But she hasn’t lost her genius for an oh-my-god-we’re-the-same-person lyric or earworm hook.
By now, Swift knows that everyone on the internet is going to scrutinize every single lyric, and it seems this album was writtenwith that in mind. The star flits between über-personal love songs and over-the-top takedowns throughout the set, and at times one might wonder if she’s sharing from the heart, having an identity crisis, playing a character to stir the pot — or some combination of the lot. And that’s the point. Reputation is a keen commentary on modern celebrity. And more importantly, each of the songs makes you feel something — and that’s what pop music is all about.
1. “…Ready For It?”
Album opener “…Ready For It?” sets the tone for Reputation: dark, dramatic, sexy — and occasionally saccharine. Over a foreboding bass synth, Rave Goth Taylor raps about a budding relationship, all but likening the chase to a game of cops and robbers. Until the 47-second mark, at which point she drops the tough-girl shtick and unleashes the chorus, so sweet and soaring you’d think it was a 1989 Target bonus track you unfortunately and unwittingly passed over.
“Ready” is also the first time the singer alludes to her new beau Joe Alwyn (“Younger than my exes, but he act like such a man though”) and their blossoming relationship, with lyrics that would make Curly-Haired-Blue-Eyeliner-And-Ballgown-Wearing Taylor blush. (See: “In the middle of the night, in my dreams / You should see the things we do, baby”).
2. “End Game” [Feat. Ed Sheeran and Future]
On “End Game,” Swift continues to play with hip-hop, (surprisingly) convincingly holding her own alongside pal Ed Sheeran and Future, who provide rapped verses.
Throughout the track, she contemplates her public persona (“I got some big enemies”); that of a potential suitor (“me and you we got big reputations … you and me we would be a big conversation”); and decides she wants to be his “end game.”
So who is it about?
Before his relationship with Swift made headlines, Alwyn was an up-and-coming actor with two IMDb credits to his name.
If not Alwyn, that leaves some of Swift’s other ex-lovers to consider. The “I don’t wanna be just another ex love” line could point to Calvin Harris, who has famously been linked to Ellie Goulding, Rita Ora and Tinashe. Then there’s the “I don’t wanna miss you like all the other girls do” bit. Tom Hiddleston has legions of fans.
3. “I Did Something Bad”
Hell hath no fury like a Taylor Swift scorned.
On seething standout “I Did Something Bad,” Tay comes out guns a-blazing — literally, the frenzied, horror-movie production includes faux gunshots — unapologetically firing off bitter barbs about the ex that “had it comin’.” Unless you lived under a rock or were without WiFi for the summer of 2016, it’s pretty obvious Calvin Harris inspired the track. But then again, some of the song’s lyrics also seem like insight into her short-lived fling with Tom Hiddleston.
So let’s break it down.
What Happened: In March of 2016, Swift and Harris shared photos from a sexy tropical paradise. Just a few months later, they suddenly split. Then Swift was spotted showing off major PDA near her Rhode Island home with Tom Hiddleston.
“I Did Something Bad” Lyric: “I never trust a playboy, but they love me / So I fly them all around the world, and I let them think they saved me.”
What Happened: In June of 2016, PEOPLE confirmed Swift and Harris had split. All seemed amicable, but just a month later everything exploded. Swift’s rep exclusively confirmed to PEOPLE that Swift wrote Harris and Rihanna’s hit “This Is What You Came For” under a pseudonym. Harris then accused Swift of “trying to tear your ex bf down for something to do” because she needed “someone new to bury like Katy” (referencing Swift’s storied feud with Katy Perry). Shortly after, she was seen jetting around the world with new boyfriend Tom Hiddleston, perhaps the world’s most high-profile rebound relationship.
“I Did Something Bad” Lyric: “He says don’t throw away a good thing / But if he drops my name then I owe him nothin’ / And if he spends my change then he had it comin’.”
What Happened: After the fallout with Harris, many on social media crucified Swift, accusing her of being manipulative. If the song is about Hiddleston, however, it could be a reference to how public their relationship was.
“I Did Something Bad” Lyric: “They’re burning all the witches even if you aren’t one / They got their pitchforks and proof, their receipts and reasons … So light me up.”
In conclusion: When detractors called Taylor a relationship-obsessed man-eater, she delivered the delightfully ironic “Blank Space.” Call her a calculating witch, we get “I Did Something Bad,” in which she campily plays the part, particularly well in the booming chorus: “They say I did something bad / Why’s it feel so good?”
As we’ve learned time and again: Tay always gets the last word.
4. “Don’t Blame Me”
Swift continues to spin the public’s opinion of her — that she’s boy-crazy, that she plays the victim — into sonic gold on the bluesy “Don’t Blame Me.” And this time around, she’s unapologetic.
“I been breakin’ hearts a long time and / Toying with them older guys / Just play-things for me to use,” she sings, sounding bored — until she meets a new man (Alwyn?). “For you … I would lose my mind … Love made me crazy / If it doesn’t you ain’t doin’ it right.”
“Delicate” appears to provide listeners with another look at Swift and Alwyn’s relationship and why it works. The track finds Swift in the beginning of a relationship, crucified in the court of public opinion but with a nonjudgmental man. She’s likely referencing her beef with Calvin Harris and her feud with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West over the rapper’s “Famous” lyrics.
“My reputation’s never been worse,” Swift sings, “so he must like me for me.”
6. “Look What You Made Me Do”
Swift’s polarizing lead single is a response to all the criticism that’s been thrown her way over the years, from the lying snake who can’t be trusted to the constant victim. It’s jarring. It’s not as obviously ironic as her other self-satire “Blank Space.” But with the meta lyrics mixed with the ridiculous Right Said Fred sample, it just works.
7. “So It Goes…”
Sparks fly between Swift and her lover on this steamy slow-jam, which could easily have come from the same writing session as her and Zayn Malik’s Fifty Shades Darker collab “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever.” “Back against the wall … Lipstick all in your face … I’m yours to keep,” she sings. “You know I’m not a bad girl, but I do bad things with you.”
“You’re so gorgeous / I can’t say anything to your face / ‘Cause look at your face,” Swift sings over twinkly, music boxy synths. “And I’m so furious / At your for making me feel this way / But what can I say / You’re gorgeous.”
It’s pleasant, and it grows on you with each listen, much because the lyrics — while not exactly poetry — perfectly capture that smitten feeling everyone’s experienced.
9. “Getaway Car”
Hold on tight for this drama-filled joy ride. “Getaway Car” appears to hint at a (gasp!) love triangle.
“I wanted to leave him / I needed a reason,” Swift sings. “With three of us, honey, it’s a side show / And a circus ain’t a love story.”
After news of Swift and Harris’ split broke, she and Hiddleston were linked just a few short weeks later. Not long after, Harris and his pal John Newman released an infidelity-fueled track, “Olé,” which some reported was inspired by Swift.
Is “Getaway Car” related to those rumors? Or is Swift just an avid Car and Driver subscriber?
10. “King of My Heart”
“King of My Heart” finds Swift unlucky in love, swearing off men — until Mr. Right appears out of nowhere. Despite the song’s title (and her past penchant for fairytales) the titular royalty appears to be in reference to her British boyfriend.
Swift spends most of the dance track professing her love to “the one I have been waiting for.” But she still finds time to throw some shade at “all the boys with their expensive cars.” (In case you were wondering, yes, Calvin Harris does have a Range Rover.) In a word: Yas, Queen.
11. “Dancing with Our Hands Tied”
On “Dancing with Our Hands Tied,” Swift details a rough patch in a relationship. Some fans have hinted it’s about Alwyn, which would make sense given their low-key romance.
“I loved you in secret … People started talkin’, putting us through our paces,” sings Swift, who has gone to great lengths to keep her and Alwyn’s relationship private. “I loved you in spite of / Deep fears that the world would divide us … I’m a mess, but I’m the mess that you wanted.”
“Dress” is an ode to a secret lover who loves her after all “my mistakes, my rebounds, my earthquakes” — and her bleached hair.
Cute, right? Not so fast!
For every sweet sentiment (“Even in my worst times, you could see the best in me”), there’s a deliciously lascivious one. E.g. “Only bought this dress so you could take it off, take it o-o-o-o-off / Carve your name into my bedpost.”
13. “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”
So this one’s about Kanye West. While her first Yeezy-inspired track (2010’s “Innocent”) was a heartfelt, understated ballad, her 2017 offering is extra AF — but probably just as heartfelt.
“There I was giving you a second chance / If only you weren’t so shady / But you stabbed me in the back while shaking my hand / And therein lies the issue / Friends don’t try to trick you / Get you on phone and mind-twist you,” she coyly quips over sirens and bumping bass on the theatrical bop.
“Forgiveness is a nice thing to do,” she adds in her best holier-than-thou voice before bursting into a cackle. “I can’t even say it with a straight face.”
And this is why she’s “Famous.”
13. “Call It What You Want”
As fans astutely alerted the Twitterverse, “Call It What You Want” is a follow-up to Swift’s 2008 single “Love Story.” But this time around, she’s done away with the Romeo and Juliet allusions. That’s not to say she hasn’t been through some feuds of her own.
“My castle crumbled overnight / I brought a knife to a gunfight / They took the crown, but it’s all right,” she sings, instead taking solace in the man who stuck by her side who just so happens to be “fly like a jet stream.”
14. “New Year’s Day”
On “New Year’s Day,” Swift celebrates the person who’s there for you when the party ends for the mundane things, whether it’s cleaning up empty bottles or sharing a cab home. It’s a sentimental, spare ballad, with Swift backed only by the piano. “Hold on to the memories,” she insists. “They will hold on to you.”
This article originally appeared on People.com