If the title of Taylor Swift's newly announced album, Reputation, is anything to go on, the singer is finally ready to address the criticisms that've hit her over the past few years. The Kanye West fiasco, her ill-fated relationship with Calvin Harris, that deafening silence during the 2016 election — it's all likely to be on the table in these songs. But the fact that Swift is most certainly acknowledging her damaged reputation on this album isn't enough; unless the record sees her actually owning up to her flaws, not fighting them, she won't be forgiven anytime soon.
Anyone who even remotely follows Swift knows that her public image took a major downhill turn this past year. Although she'd always been criticized by some people for things like her flawed feminism or her cultural appropriation, the singer's overall public image had been relatively positive, up until 2016. A few major events — the Kardashian-orchestrated reveal that Swift had privately approved a Kanye West lyric that she publicly decried, her near-complete silence during an election in which many of her fellow celebs spoke up, those way-too-public "feuds" with stars like Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, and Calvin Harris, her much-criticized, possibly fake whirlwind "romance" with Tom Hiddleston, her use of feminism for self-promotion — led to a full Swift takedown. The singer, it seemed, had become too problematic for even some of her most diehard fans to defend.
What made matters worse was her silence as all of this went down. If Swift had owned up to her mistakes, she might've earned back some respect. Maybe she wouldn't have been entirely forgiven, but many people would at least have given her credit for admitting that she'd messed up. But instead of apologizing, Swift doubled down on her claim to be the victim in these situations, and when that didn't do her any favors, she disappeared. She went off social media and barely appeared in public, perhaps hoping that if she stayed off the grid long enough, she'd eventually come back to our forgiveness.
But that's not how it works.
Swift fans may be excited at the prospect of new music, but for many people, that doesn't excuse what she did or how she behaved afterwards. She may be a talented musician, but her inability to apologize for the mistakes she made, even all these months later, makes it clear that she hasn't learned much of a lesson since the events of 2016.
And so the idea of Reputation, an album likely to address the media criticism of Swift head-on, isn't exactly thrilling. The singer potentially talking about the issues with Kanye and Katy and all the rest isn't enough if she's going to continue to paint herself as a victim, rather than actually own up to what she did.
For this album to truly salvage her image, or at least be a first step on the way to that goal, these songs need to demonstrate the character growth Swift has, so far, refused to show in public. She can't just say that the media has painted her as a fake feminist or a manipulative liar; she needs to say "I deserved it."
If this is what Reputation is actually about, Swift will undoubtedly win back a huge number of the fans she lost these past few years. People might not immediately forgive her, but they'll more likely respect her honesty and humility. But until we know for sure that that's what Reputation is going to do, Swift frankly doesn't deserve the benefit of the doubt.