“In the middle of the night, in my dreams/You should see the things we do, baby,” Taylor Swift tells a guy on the song “… Ready for It.”
Taylor, is that you?
As a teen country crooner, Swift wooed young fans with wide-eyed songs of love and romance such as “Today Was a Fairy Tale,” “You Belong to Me” and “Love Story.” She was in love with love, her effervescent lyrics were effused with wonder and possibility.
But it’s a long, long way from being 16 to being 27—especially for any entertainer trying to stay relevant. Swift has managed that task, to be sure. She’s arguably the biggest musician on the planet today. Her sixth album, Reputation, is Swift’s fourth in a row to debut with first-week sales of more than a million units.
But success has come at the expense of Swift’s once-winsome innocence. Now she’s more likely to sing, “This is how the world works/You gotta leave before you you get left.” And, sadly, there’s a lot more cynicism like that packed into Reputation’s 15 tracks.
“Call It What You Want” includes some self-aware moments as Swift admits, “And I know I make the same mistakes every time/Bridges burn, I never learn.” The song also praises a partner who “really knows me.” “End Game” voices a desire for a permanent relationship (“I wanna be your end game”). “New Year’s Day” quietly expresses fears about a cherished relationship ending: “Please don’t ever become a stranger/Whose laugh I could recognize anywhere.”
“Delicate” reveals a flash of “old Taylor” as she articulates some insecurities about something she told a new crush (“Is it cool that I said all that?/Is it chill that you’re in my head?”). Meanwhile, “King of My Heart” exclaims, “You are the one I have been waiting for.”
“Getaway Car” ends with tearful regret over cheating on someone. “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” salutes those who’ve remained faithful to Taylor during all her ups and downs, especially her mother: “And here’s to my momma/Had to listen to all this drama.”
Album opener “… Ready for It” sets the tone for much of what’s to come here with its suggestive story of a woman seeking to tame a known bad boy. She tells him, “Touch me, and you’ll never be alone.” Then comes this sultry tease: “Oh, are you ready for it?/Baby, let the games begin.” On “End Game,” we hear, “I just wanna be/Drinking on the beach with you all over me.” Later, she adds, “It’s like your eyes are liquor, it’s like your body is gold.”
“Dress” might be the most plainly problematic song on the album, with Swift telling a man, “I don’t want you like a best friend/Only bought this dress so you could take it off.” Elsewhere, she sings, “I’m spilling wine in the bathtub/You kiss my face, and we’re both drunk.” She also instructs him to “carve your name into my bedpost.”
“Delicate” briefly wonders if it’s too early for sex with a new beau (“Is it too soon to do this yet?”) before obviously plunging right into it (“Do the girls back home touch you like I do?/Long night, with your hands up in my hair”). (That song also uses the world “d–n.”) “Dancing With Our Hands Tied” likewise waxes poetic about indulging in carnal pleasures (“And darling, you had turned my bed into a sacred oasis.”).
“Don’t Blame Me” gushes about intoxicating physical intimacy: “I get so high, oh/Every time you’re, every time you’re lovin’ me/ … Every time you’re, every time you’re touchin’ me/ … Oh, Lord, save me/My drug is my baby.” That rush is so powerful, in fact, that Swift sings of completely surrendering herself to it: “Shakin’, pacin’, I just need you/For you I would cross the line/ … My name is whatever you decide.” She also sings, “And baby, for you, I would fall from grace/ … If you walk away/I’d beg you on my knees to stay.”
“So It Goes …” delivers still more of the same. Even though Swift says a man “did a number on me,” every time they get together, the result is passionate, almost violent sex: “You know I’m not a bad girl, but I/Do bad things with you/ … Scratches down your back now.” “King of My Heart” tells someone, “You’re all I want, I’ll never let you go/King of my heart, body and soul/ … The taste of your lips is my idea of luxury.” “Call It What You Want” references having a “lover.”
“Gorgeous” narrates the story of a woman who wants to go home with someone other than the guy she’s with. “Getaway Car” also involves cheating on a partner, as Swift compares a dysfunctional relationship to two people robbing a bank and leaving that third person behind.
“I Did Something Bad” uses the s-word, and Swift sings, “They say I did something bad/Then why’s it feel so good?/Most fun I ever had.” Near the end, she compares herself to the victim of a witch hunt, complete with being burned at the stake: “They’re burning all the witches, even if you aren’t one/ … So light me up.”
Trust, it seems, is a casualties on “Look What You Made Me Do” (which is allegedly about Swift’s famously feud-filled relationship with Kanye West): “I’ll be the actress starring in your bad dreams/I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me.” Swift also alludes to the fact that previous (and more innocent) iterations of her public persona are now deceased: “I’m sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh, ’cause she’s dead!”
“This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” mocks the idea of forgiving someone: “‘Cause forgiveness is a nice thing to do/Ha ha, I can’t even say it with a straight face.”
There was a time—and it seems a long time ago now—that Taylor Swift’s love songs offered a relatively wholesome alternative to the sexed-up music of her contemporaries. That time has passed.
Track after track here brim with both coyly suggestive lyrics and others that leave less to the imagination. Swift’s longing for lasting love does surface in a few songs. But most of the time, it seems she’s willing to settle for a lusty night with a “gorgeous” partner instead.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.