Music Monday: Review of Taylor Swift’s Reputation (Part I)

My original title for this post was – Music Monday: My Thoughts on Taylor Swift’s New Album and What it means to be a Fan in the Reputation Era. 

But that sounds more like the title of an honours thesis, and thankfully, 2018 is the first year I’m starting off as a university graduate and thus, the days of long-winded titles and essay writing are behind me. Or so I thought before seeing the monstrosity that this post turned out to be. Because I’m sure you don’t want to read a 5000 word blog post (or maybe you do which is pretty cool but unfortunately you are in the minority and while I totally appreciate it and you,) the original novel of a post is going to be split into two… novellas. The first (this one) is more of an overview of the second half of my little subtitle and focused on the kind of culture surrounding being a Taylor Swift fan, especially now in 2018 with the relatively recent release of “reputation”, the album era so far, and what it looks like going into the tour starting this spring.

The second post (coming soon) will be more of a look at the album itself, from the individual tracks to the good, bad, and ugly of the album as a whole. And let me tell you… once I tell you the big ugly… you’ll never be able to look at this album the same.

Of course you don’t have to read both posts, (I mean it’s 2018 man, you really don’t have to do anything you don’t want) they were originally one post and thus should go together as sort of companion posts and feature complimentary ideas and common threads. But I can’t tell you how to live your life.

Okay, introductory paragraphs over.

Taylor Swift’s sixth album was released on November 11th, 2017 and while I thought about writing this post right away (or at least, for the following Monday) I just kept having more and more thoughts about it and while the initial post would have been more of a knee-jerk reaction write-up, I decided that this one would be a bit more logical.

I am going to preface my review by saying I am in no way a professional reviewer and this is coming 100% from a place of someone who is a casual fan of music and has been a Taylor Swift fan for over a decade.

Reputation (or as it is styled, “reputation”, which is an aesthetic I can totally get behind) is here and as an album, it’s pretty good. After the insane build-up for “TS6”, however, I felt a bit disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the album. I am still a big Taylor Swift fan. But after hearing people swear on their first-born children that reputation was better than 1989, more lyrically impressive than Speak Now and like a pop version of Red… I had really high hopes.

As I mentioned, the build-up for this album was incredible. After extending the wait between albums from the usual two years, going AWOL for much of 2017, numerous high-profile, highly publicized relationships (both positive and negative) people were expecting something big from Taylor (or well, at least I was). When all of her social media went blank this past summer it was clear that something was coming and in usual TSwift fashion, it was going to be dramatic.

Chances are if you’re reading this post, you kind of know the events that happened next. There were the snake images across social media. The album title being released. And then the first single, Look What You Made Me Do dropped.

Just like in a  sci-fi movie when the mystery creature appears out of the fog or hatches from an egg and the human characters whisper in bewilderment, “what is it?”… the initial reaction to LWYMMD was a mixture of confusion, concern, and intrigue. The song was like nothing ever released from Taylor before and I felt a similar way to how I did when hearing the lead single off Red, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Back Together”. Neither songs were what I was expecting. I initially felt both were some kind of joke. And I was unsure if I liked them, after I realized it wasn’t.

I follow a lot of Taylor Swift blogs on Tumblr. I always have, and many of the posts on my own account are TSwift related. Upon the release of 1989 a few years ago, Taylor joined the website, made a public account, and started following fans. It was awesome and exciting and a BIG deal. But the “integrity” (which is in quotation marks because… well, Tumblr) of the posts in the Taylor Swift fandom were suddenly gone as everyone tried to get that coveted “taylorswift followed you” notification. Even though she was offline for a year (during which time, people felt comfortable in critiquing her again), as soon as she logged back on with the release of LWYMMD, the feedback became overwhelmingly positive. With the possibility of being chosen for Secret Sessions, private parties where fans are hand picked across social media to travel to one of Taylor’s homes (or other secret location) to hear the album in its entirety before the rest of the world, lurking ahead… there was a lot of sucking up. It was like an entire fandom of teacher’s pets. And I felt like my opinions, while not overwhelmingly positive or negative, weren’t matching with everyone else’s.

It is troubling that regardless of how big of a fan I am, I can see so many problematic things about the blind following and praising that many fans give Taylor. She is, in my opinion, a pretty good role model, but is still human and thus, imperfect. But not to the majority of people who would do anything for that illusive like/ follow/ reblog from Taylor herself.

What is truly problematic that is the inability for fans to see fault in their “faves”. This is how we get situations like Logan Paul, where despite the completely atrocious behaviour the person in question partakes in, their fans are so entirely devoted to upholding the idea of their perfection and unquestionable place upon that pedestal. I don’t understand this, personally, as I believe the flawed imperfections of people is what makes them more relatable. Taylor Swift’s relatabilty is what originally drew me to her as an artist and songwriter, but the inability for many fans to identify faults or flaws is, well, YIKES.

It is likely that by posting this I have obliterated any chance I have of any of those follow/ like/ reblog interactions, but I feel like it is that kind of complete idolization that gives Taylor Swift fans a bad reputation (ironically). The term “Swiftie”, which I utterly refuse to use when referring to myself has taken on a connotation of dumb little girl who worships at the alter of Swift. It has happened on more than one occasion where I defended her in university classes and people were shocked that I, an educated twenty-something could be a fan of hers. Despite her undeniable talent, most people judge her based on the lens of media/ celebrity, or the stereotypical crazy fans.

Alright, I’ve climbed off my soapbox.

When the Secret Sessions did happen, the reviews of the album were, obviously, overwhelmingly positive. The people who attended signed some pretty heavy duty confidentiality agreements but still raved over how incredible the songwriting was, how everyone cried during the last song, and made comparisons to former Taylor Swift albums. Obviously these reviews, like the ones for 1989 had to be taken with a grain of salt because of the psychology of it. Of course the album will be seen in such a positive way by the people who got to listen to Taylor Swift’s as-yet un released album with Taylor. Freaking. Swift. in her living room with her parents/ brother/ boyfriend’s brother/ Jack Antonoff/ other fans. It is going to be such an overwhelming and emotional experience and the songs will be tied to those emotions, and thus… be extremely positive. But there were some fighting words. Better than Red is not a statement you can make lightly, or similar comparisons to Speak Now, a fan favourite album that was written 100% by Taylor, and Taylor alone.

Then, Taylor Swift Tix was announced. It was a partnership with Ticketmaster that was marketed as a way to prevent scalpers from getting tour tickets and ensuring that only top fans got the best seats possible. Okay, sounds great. There was even a video made to explain it using, of course, cats.

It all sounded great in theory. People, like me, who are already going to buy the album, go to the concert, share relevant posts, and (already) follow Taylor’s social media would get rewarded by getting the best seats and don’t have to fight the scalpers/ bots. Yay!

But the “first round” of tour dates had been announced and they were exclusively American except for one in Toronto. I figured that these were the places with the most people and where they expected the Taylor Swift Tix program to be most successful. Fine, fair. But she had toured extensively for the last three albums, with the two previous shows here being in BC Place (our stadium in Vancouver) and Speak Now World Tour selling our Rogers Arena. Perhaps she was announcing Arena dates later.

The second round of tour dates were Ireland/ UK.

Then “additional shows” were added. In places that already had dates, including Toronto.

I hadn’t signed up for Taylor Swift Tix in an act of faith that a Vancouver date would be announced at some point. But that December 13th general sale date was approaching and still no word. While I totally understand the upset behind the usual “come to Brazil” movement where people are outraged that artists don’t come to their country, it was somehow even more frustrating when they do and have, multiple times, and do extremely well… but just… won’t? I’m not much of a gambler so it got to the point where I just signed up in order to get tickets for Seattle.

Aside from what I already mentioned, this was really upsetting because not only would I have to pay the (exorbitant) concert ticket prices, but also transportation, accommodation, and take time off from work. The Seattle show is on a Tuesday, which makes it even more complicated. I won’t say how much the whole thing is costing but I will say that I’m paying multiple times more to be at the back of the stadium than I did to be front row at Speak Now. I only had a couple boosts, one for my copy of the album and another for my friend’s who was attending the concert with me. I watched the music video and a couple other things (that I had already done, just not through the TST platform) and followed TaylorNation on social media. To be honest though, I was feeling kind of jaded over the whole thing and did not give it much thought beyond that.

One of the things that really annoyed me was the hype behind getting the LWYMMD music video to the top number of views in 24 hours. I felt it was an amazing music video and I definitely watched it more than once, but for myself. Because I enjoyed it. There were countless people who had the music video on loop just to beat the record. To me, that destroys any meaning the view count has and makes the record completely inauthentic.

Even with the benefit of the doubt being the good intentions of the Taylor Swift Tix program, the whole thing left me feeling very icky. Fans are rewarded for their interactions, so the get points for all the things I mentioned, but also other things that left me feeling… uncomfortable. There were boosts for buying overpriced merchandise, pre-ordering the album, as well as ordering multiple copies. For me, and I’m sure the average Taylor Swift fan, it costs enough to buy one album and the concert ticket, never mind  a replica rose gold snake ring. Even if I was to buy a t-shirt, I would want to do so at the actual concert so not only do I get it tied to the memories and event itself, but I also avoid the insane shipping prices. As for pre-ordering the album, I don’t buy many physical CD’s but it has always been my tradition to go out and purchase the Taylor Swift CD on the day it’s released. I wanted to get the special magazine version that was only available at Wal-Mart in Canada and I don’t trust mailing services enough to guarantee I was going to get it on release day. As for multiple albums, I saw that lots of people preordered albums, purchased it on iTunes, and got multiple copies of the two different magazines and normal physical CD. The excess of it and the amount of waste makes me sick to my stomach and, I hate to say it, validates a lot of the “immature” claims upon fans of Taylor Swift. I did get both magazines as they have different content… but to then get so many other copies of the album? I wish I had that amount of disposable income.

Now that more international tour dates have been announced, it is clear that this tour is very scaled down from what the 1989 World Tour was. Perhaps because they want to do more stadiums then arenas, not having as many dates/ locations in hopes that people (see: suckers like me) who don’t have a concert date near them will instead travel to the nearest one. Considering the size of Canada, it almost guarantees the majority of Canadian fans will have to travel to the States as Toronto is significantly further away. It is interesting as apparently none of the shows have sold out (while the 1989 tour sold out almost instantly) just over two months from the first show (which is on my birthday haha). I want to give Taylor the benefit of the doubt as I don’t want to believe that she would intentionally do this, and I have seen accounts that since her contract with Big Machine Records was for six albums, the label wants to make as much money from this tour as possible as she will likely leave (and potentially start her own label) after this album cycle. From the standpoint of a fan, the whole thing just feels really icky, and instead of being rewarded like the Taylor Swift Tix program claims, I feel like as a fan, specifically a non-American fan, I am hardly being considered at all.

Over ten years since I first added Taylor Swift fan to my resume, I do still consider myself one. However, I am not a fan of the fandom or the corporation side of things. As the girl who hunted down one of her L.E.I. sundresses in 2009, I can say I have no urge to buy a rose gold snake ring or distressed sweatshirt from her online store.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love and support Taylor and her music and while, yes, I do wish the Old Taylor was not dead, I am glad and excited to be seeing the new one at Century Link Field.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, so don’t hesitate to leave a comment! Thanks so much for reading this post and I hope you have a great day 🙂

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