The wiped social media accounts. A throne of snakes. All black sequin outfits and a dark lip. The high-production, pop-synth edginess was worlds away from the aural familiarity of her previous bodies of work that delivered comfortable country and mainstream dream-pop. Taylor Swift’s reputation was jarring, bold and unapologetic – and ironically, a lot of us weren’t ready for it.
Amongst the public shellshock, reputation continued to make a colossal impact. Billboard confirmed the presales for the album doubled that of its 1989 predecessor. It became the fastest-selling album on iTunes in history, topping the charts in a mere six minutes. On the first day of release, the 700,000 copies sold meant that reputation already had the largest sales week of the year – surpassing Kendrick Lamar’s iconic DAMN which sold 603,000 in its debut week. It was clear that despite the drama – the world definitely stopped to look at what we made her do.
In honour of reputation’s five-year anniversary, we wanted to journey back through the most memorable aspects of (dare we say it) – Taylor’s most iconic era.
The Significance of the Name ‘Reputation’
In the lead-up to this release, Taylor Swift’s public image had been completely and utterly set alight and then burned to the ground. Taylor’s social media comments were flooded by troll campaigns and thousands of snake emojis, which ultimately led the global pop superstar to disappear from the internet and the public eye completely.
Taylor Swift was no stranger to misogyny and public scrutiny throughout the previous decade of her career – especially when it came to her honest and easily ascribable breakup songs (see: ‘Dear John’). But this time, it was different. Taylor was subject to a tyrannical hate campaign, spear-headed by an artist with a hugely loyal and historic fanbase, causing her to fall victim to the toxicity of cancel culture more so than ever before.
“Nobody physically saw me for a year. That’s what I thought they wanted”, she admitted in her 2020 documentary, Miss Americana. She returned to Instagram in August 2017, with cryptic videos featuring the infamous snake that she had become synonymous with.
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And so began the powerful reclamation of her dignity and public image. Taylor took images and insults that were used to belittle her and tarnish her name and completely flipped the script – unashamedly claiming them in her own narrative. Five years on the impact remains – with the album’s affinity for vengeance, comebacks and unapologetic success enshrined in the online slang-term ‘reputation era’, which still circulates today.
very belatedly entering my reputation era btw.
— John Green (@johngreen) November 4, 2022
What could have been the end of her career – was merely the beginning of a revolutionary cultural shift that allowed her to shine bigger and better than ever. As Taylor put it best: “In the death of her reputation, she felt truly alive.”
Though it may seem otherwise, reputation isn’t purely full of dark, electric bassy pop soundtracks about revenge (but don’t get me wrong, my favourite ones are). The true beauty of this album is in its duality – she’s striking but she’s also soft.
Reputation explores the complexities of her lived experience in that period of her life – which in spite of all the tumultuous chaos, is also the time that she fell in love with longtime partner Joe Alwyn. Ultimately, this brought out a softer and more romantic side of this body of work too.
In the first half of the album, Taylor hits us with statement tracks like album opener ‘…Ready for It?’, the iconic confessional ‘I Did Something Bad’ and the obituary of ‘Look What You Made Me Do’. This was Taylor more self-aware, self-assured, defiant and empowered in her actions and in the way people perceive her than ever before.
On the flip side, we are graced with the raw honesty and emotional confessions of ‘Call It What You Want’, ‘King Of My Heart’ and ‘New Year’s Day’ where Taylor opens a door into the pure and wholesome love she is experiencing. Things also get intimate and a lil spicy with tracks like ‘Dress’ and ‘So It Goes…’, a maturity Taylor had been previously censored from coming into, considering the innocence of her ‘good girl’ public image.
The Music Videos
Reputation had some iconic visuals – below are a couple that best encapsulate the polar ends of the record’s impeccable duality.
Look What You Made Me Do
‘LWYMMD’ was the leading single for reputation and considering the mystery around Taylor’s return – this was her debut public statement that signaled the historic storm that was about to come our way.
Packed full of easter-eggs from all her previous eras and her infamous moments of public scrutiny, this was the perfect introduction to reputation. The video begins with zombie-Taylor crawling out the grave of her reputation in a dress from the Out of the Woods music video (which was filmed in lil ol’ NZ!!). As a lifelong teenage Swiftie at the time – this video had me shook beyond recognition.
An introspective tune about the second-guessing and hesitation that comes with the vulnerability of falling in love – you’ve gotta love track 5.
In a sparkly, blue-fringed dress and with dance-in-the-rain magic, ‘Delicate’ explores the freedom Taylor felt in being invisible, and how her romance with Alwyn housed this bliss in a way that she was, ultimately, free to be herself safely.
Kiki Rockwell – Madeline
The reputation album cover also hints to the duality of the body of work. Inspired by newspaper print – an ode to the media that is literally shading her here. One half of Taylor’s face is cast in a deep grey, rendered 2-D, and overridden by written word that labels her and obscures her true self. This can represent this context that drove her to this creative project. On the opposite side, we see Taylor clearly in the light, with more nuance and definition. She has holes in her sweater, but they’ve been mended and stitched up – she’s healing here, with the support of those who know who she really is without all the noise.
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Taylor’s personal looks for the reputation era were bolder and darker than ever before – a creative freedom she was validated in pursuing as she rose from the ashes. Taylor’s signature red lip was now darker shades of purple and burgundy, perhaps representing the brashness and bruising from the moments she’d been attacked so publicly. 1989’s sleek bob was no longer, and Taylor embraced her natural curls once more bringing a sense of ruggedness and of the carefree. On-stage, she rocked black sequin bodysuits, knee-high boots and patched emerald jackets – bringing a sophisticated glamour with an edge.
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The Reputation Stadium Tour
The crowning jewel, and perhaps the most iconic component of the reputation era (I am incredibly biased here) is the 2018 Rep Stadium World Tour. The show broke the record for the highest-grossing US tour, amassing $226.1 million USD in ticket sales alone. It also gained recognition through winning multiple ‘tour of the year’ awards from the likes of iHeartRadio, the Billboard Live Music Awards, the American Music Awards and the People’s Choice Awards. The amount of stage decking used alone was equivalent to that of 10 arena tours, and the stage was bigger than a Boeing 767 aircraft. Taylor brought over 120 crew members overseas to make extravagant spectacle happen, and never failed to thank and address each and every one of the people involved during each show, down to the staff serving drinks at the venue.
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The setlist boasted new and old favourites, and delivered not just the album’s headlining pop bangers, but stripped-down acoustics and medleys also. Every audience member was given a light-up wristband that synced up with the music creating dancing light shows across the stadium (some with the illusion of snakes slithering over the crowd!). Additionally, Taylor also welcomed a myriad of all-star special guests for every show – including pop peers Selena Gomez, Niall Horan, Camilla Cabello and Charli XCX.
The reputation tour was a cathartic experience, radiating such authentic fun, magic and nostalgia and leaving a visceral mark on all in attendance. The historic showcase is permanently documented (thank god) and the full Reputation Stadium Tour show is available to watch on Netflix.
5 years on (and 4 new albums plus 2 re-records later), Taylor Swift is doing better than ever.
Reputation remains a standout in Taylor’s discography, and arguably holds the top spot for her most ground breaking and defiant record thus far. Luckily, her latest album Midnights offers some Rep nostalgia, with ‘Vigilante Shit’ sounding even more Repuslaytion than the entirety of reputation itself, along with the release of the long-awaited and theorised fan-favourite ‘Karma’.
We are forever in our Reputation Era 🐍 🖤 and cannot wait for Rep’s re-recording to give the album meaning a whole new dimension, as Taylor reclaims her masters and continues to define her own reputation.