As one of the most voraciously targeted musicians by gossip, Taylor Swift's anti-gossip stance on Reputation is a powerful reclamation of her agency. After all, the past three years since her last album, 1989, was released have seen Swift's private life become more scrutinized than ever before. Between her high profile hookups, breakups and public feuds, Swift's reputation has been dragged through the ringer, distorting her public image. However, when Swift erased her social media history in August as a prelude to Reputation's release, it felt like a conscious attempt to regain control. Swift was exempting herself from the gossip narrative that had unwittingly become her legacy. She was slipping back behind the curtain, and it was clear that Reputation was going to be her only comment on any of it.
In the lead up to Reputation's release, the song and music video for "Look What You Made Me Do" saw Swift directly engaging with her public persona and gleefully undermining it. She got "smarter" and "harder, in the nick of time," commanding her own narrative and relaying her perspective of events to an audience who would pick up on its nuances. In turn, Reputation sees Swift boisterously running with this newfound sense of power against her portrayals in the public eye. On "End Game," for instance, she takes ownership of having the sort of "big enemies" that haunt the stories that are often written about her, while songs like "Delicate," and "Getaway Car," tackle her need to now cloak her love affairs from the pervasive, apparently ruinous, eyes of the public.
In the prologue for Reputation, released as part of the Target-exclusive copy of the album, Swift makes her anti-gossip stance even clearer. Talking about the negative "side of the coin," of having been in the public eye since she was 15, Swift says, "My mistakes have been used against me, my heartbreaks have been used as entertainment, and my songwriting has been trivialized as 'oversharing'." She then goes on to reprimand the press directly, "when this album comes out, gossip blogs will scour the lyrics for the men they can attribute to each song," Swift says, "There will be slideshows of photos backing up each incorrect theory, because it's 2017 and if you didn't see a picture of it, it couldn't have happened right?"
As bold a statement as this may be, the sentiment is sadly contradicted by many songs on Reputation. Some of which feel so explicit in some of their references to Swift's private life that you have to question the legitimacy of her anti-gossip stance.
For starters, Reputation is full of songs that appear to be build a very precise narrative concerning Swift's relationship with Joe Alwyn, which so far has been kept fairly private from the public. Hearing Swift swing about her relationships in giddy detail is, of course, part of her indelible brand and to be expected. As such lyrics from "Gorgeous," that reference "whiskey on ice, Sunset and Vine," and the lyric, "met you in a bar," from "Call It What You Want," feel like classic Swift and paint a boozy, mysterious picture of a new romance, that could potentially be about anyone. However, other lyrics feel so loaded with overt references — ones that can be backed up by "slideshows of photos" — that there's no denying who they're about.
When Swift sings "oh damn, never seen that color blue," on "Gorgeous," the listener can make an immediate connection to Alwyn's striking blue eyes. And when on "So It Goes..." Swift sings about wanting to wear "his initial on a chain 'round my neck," we can also draw direct parallels to the Tiffany necklace with a "J" on it that she's been seen wearing out in public. If Swift was hoping to shield this relationship, it seems strange she'd drop such obvious references which celebrity sleuths could easily call back to.
But then there's also lyrics beyond her relationship with Alwyn which appear to provide the sort of conspicuous details that visual receipts can be easily pulled up for. On "King of My Heart," for example, Swift sings, "'cause all the boys and their expensive cars, with their Range Rovers and their Jaguars, never took me quite where you do," which appear to reference the specific cars driven by her exes Tom Hiddleston and Calvin Harris. The Range Rover appears to be a nod to Harris who drives one, while Hiddleston and Swift were seen driving around in a Jaguar in June 2016.
Likewise, when "Look What You Made Me Do," was released, the line, "don't like your tilted stage," raised eyebrows as it appeared to reference West's notorious tilted stage from his Saint Pablo tour. Meanwhile a lyric from "This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things," appears to directly acknowledge Kim Kardashian's infamous sharing of a phone call in which Swift approved West's lyrics for "Famous," ("therein lies the issue, friends don't try to trick you. Get you on the phone and mind-twist you.") It's hard to consolidate an anti-gossip stance with lyrics like this, which feel like a veritable goldmine of tabloid fodder. And as a musician, Swift is arguably capable of rising above this level of songwriting.
Because, the truth is that Swift is a terrific songwriter, something that has been evident since her 2006 self-titled debut. With that in mind, it's easy to argue that she's capable of writing songs that leave out such obvious references that can be so easily mined. Especially if, as her anti-gossip stance appears to highlight, she wants such things to be left excluded from her narrative as a musician. But she hasn't, and that feels calculated.
It's worth noting, that when "Look What You Made Me Do," was released that Swift liked certain fan theories online that speculated certain references within the song. Clearly she wants the lyrics to be excavated for meaning on some level, and during the writing process she must have also been aware that the press would happily do so, decoding many of Reputation's overt references in the process. And quite easily, too. A quick Google search is all anyone needs to turn these lyrical breadcrumbs into a veritable gossip feast.
With this in mind, you have to wonder whether Swift is laying some sort of a conscious trap with some of these lyrics — knowing full well that they would draw certain conclusions and have the evidence to back them up. If this is the case, then it's actually an incredibly smart move in which Swift is still able to control her own narrative, regardless of how other people choose to spin it for her. In decoding the album in this way, we're all proving the main point of Reputation, and its prologue, correct. That the audience is relentless in their snooping for personal details and scandal, even when she's offering them the bare minimum.
Whether Swift's anti-gossip stance on Reputation is all an act or not, there's still something to be admired about the way in which she's still just as happy to lay out her vulnerabilities and personal experience in songs as she always has done. This time around, however, she's managing to maintain full agency over how they're reported. Her reputation is all hers, and nothing anyone can say that can take that away from her.