Thursday, December 7, 2017

Favorite Songs of 2017 (Part Five)

It is not only time for us all to get holly, jolly, merry, and bright, but also time for us to compile all of the tracks that made this year a bit more enjoyable. For reference, one musical act is allowed to have only one track on my countdown. Click the hyperlinks to read parts one, two, three, and four, and check back for my top ten favorite albums of the year post in the coming days.

10. "Lost in Your Light" by Dua Lipa feat. Miguel

Ah, the hit that never was. Its trendier follow-up, “New Rules,” was the wild hit that Lipa wanted since the beginning – so badly, in fact, that she tried to rerelease "Be The One" in what seemed to be a hail Mary pass to becoming a Top 40 artist – but “Lost in Your Light” deserves credit where it is due. Quite the grower, it was at first seemed like a radio-chasing track for Lipa. But as time has passed, it has become a highlight from her self-titled debut album; the warm entanglement of Lipa and Miguel’s vocals over an embankment of synthesizers feels like too natural to have ever felt as foreign as it once did.

9. "Non Believer" by London Grammar

On the encompassing, dusky-toned “Non Believer,” London Grammar vocalist Hannah Reid’s heavyweight harmonies are drenched in a sticky, syrupy vocoder, which digitizes her voice into a wall that slams into listeners at each chorus. (And man, when the instrumentation breaks away and lets the vocals to their own devices at the three-minute mark, it makes for a haunting moment before the song kicks back into overdrive.) Simply put, it's an exhilarating listen from start to finish.

8. "Hard Times" by Paramore

On “Hard Times,” Paramore manages to encase its favorite topic – angst in the highest degree – in hazy, upbeat pop. Hayley Williams is still caught under the weight of living, singing, “Hard times, gonna make you wonder why you even try. Hard times, gonna knock you down and laugh when you cry.” The successful juxtaposition of Williams' grief with the fizzling pop sparks roughly equates to the same basic principle upon which Paramore was founded: barreling through the pain via song, even if that means plastering on a smile but allowing the stretched threads of a singer in crisis show through.

7. "Mama Say" by Betty Who

If you aim to make a tribute track to peak Britney Spears and market it as such, this is the way to do it. Betty Who packed “Mama Say” with a load of Britney lyrical references, a heavy beat that thumps like a basketball pounded across a polished hardwood floor, and – wait for it – a signature early Max Martin staple: a double-layer final chorus with a bridge overlay. It is the unapologetic pure pop track that we've wanted from many pop stars for a while now, but one that we haven't received from the big names in years as they continue to diverge into newer territories. Luckily, Who understands and appreciates '90s kid nostalgia as much as we do.

6. "Around U" by MUNA

On “Around U,” MUNA's frontwoman Katie Gavin recounts the world as she once saw it while enamored with a past lover but realizes that the world she sees now is much brighter alone. It's the most triumphant moment on the trio's outstanding debut album, About U, which is often stuck in a cloud of self-doubt. "Something massive happened here. You can feel it in the atmosphere. Something false that once was true: I no longer revolve around you," Gavin says as the track expands into an encompassing, awestruck chorus.

5. "Los Ageless" by St. Vincent

On her newest album, Masseduction, St. Vincent is much wittier than she wants listeners to believe. Damning west coast show business culture on the jagged standout "Los Ageless," she masquerades her commentary in a love song façade. "How can anybody have you, lose you, and not lose their minds, too?" she wonders out loud over one of her catchiest soundscapes to date. Playing the hell out of her guitar, she layers her instrumental talent over Jack Antonoff's relentless electronic drums and keys. In traditional St. Vincent fashion, it's a technicolor madhouse of a track – but a beautiful one, at that.

4. "Keep Running" by Tei Shi

In a race against time, Tei Shi crafts a desperate plea for a lover, quite frankly, to hurry up. A constant reminder that time goes full-speed ahead while we sit none the wiser, a love-hungry Shi repeats, “Every time I look over my shoulder, I’m getting older. Time is so sad; tie me to it.” The spacey track first counteract, then builds to match, her urgency as layers collide; what begins as a cool drumbeat and bass line turns into a paroxysm of soaring vocal lines and instrumentation.

3. "Tease" by Ralph

A glistening, modern synthpop track built upon a slinky ‘70s rhythm machine for a backbone, “Tease” flourishes into the sunniest, most conversational exposé to come from pop music – one that isn't particularly bitter, but rather nods toward the mere recognition and dismissal of a sweet talker. Ralph’s smooth vocals, just reminiscent enough of Stevie Nicks’ to make note of the similarity, give way to lively instrumentation that begs listeners to dance away their feelings for all the two-timers who were disguised as cool cats. 

2. "Perfect Places" by Lorde

As the album-encompassing finale of Lorde’s coming-of-age manifesto, “Perfect Places” shatters the glorious, perfectionist perceptions of her debut record. In a rebellious turn, she strays from intense intellectualism and into the depths of every house party on the block on Melodrama, but it isn’t until “Perfect Places” that she gives insight as to why. All her heroes are dead and her idealistic dreams are shattered, she admits in a breathtaking chorus. In disbelief, she attempts to find happiness at the heart of every party – and with this track, is the life of said parties, too. By its close, “Perfect Places” settles on the realization that complete happiness will never be, so escapism will have to do.

1. "Someone" by Anna of the North

Anna Lotterud and Brady Daniell-Smith wanted to create a song that sounded like the tracks they listened to as kids of the ‘80s, a decade dominated by warm, fuzzy synthpop and overwrought power rock ballads. And unlike most in their position, Anna of the North was able to tackle both in one song. Tying the gap between Madonna and Journey, “Someone” commences with clipped drum-machine hits and swells into the overwrought ways of '80s power ballads: blaring choruses, prominent guitar lines, multilayered vocals – oh, and a key change, which concretes the duo's successful effort to replicate the authenticity of an '80s radio behemoth.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Favorite Songs of 2017 (Part Four)

It is not only time for us all to get holly, jolly, merry, and bright, but also time for us to compile all of the tracks that made this year a bit more enjoyable. For reference, one musical act is allowed to have only one track on my countdown. Click the hyperlinks to read parts one, two, and three, and check back for the rest of my list in the coming days.

15. "Malibu" by Miley Cyrus

Though Younger Now unsuccessfully tries to stretch its magic across 10 tracks, "Malibu" is undeniably one of Top 40’s best offerings this year. An unexpected move after Miley Cyrus' detour into hip-hop on Bangerz and obscure alternative rock static on Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz, acoustic country-pop blossoms into SoCal soft rock on "Malibu" to successful results. It radiates with a newfound happiness, mirroring Cyrus' life as a re-engaged woman.

14. "Chained to the Rhythm" by Katy Perry feat. Skip Marley

Katy Perry said to expect woke-pop from her fourth major label studio album, and “Chained to the Rhythm” was a positive sign that she could make good on the promise. Utilizing a popular ironic approach to social commentary, it hypnotizes listeners with a looped neo-disco sample, despite its own warnings against the attraction to an arbitrary beat. Witness may have fallen flat of expectations and been no more than typical fodder, but "Chained to the Rhythm" remains one of Perry’s brightest, most self-aware highlights.

13. "Underdog" by Banks

Traditionally a somber artist who unleashes either sorrow or fury in her tracks, Banks has let loose. She strips away sexual inhibition, admitting she is a daunting lover. “Even though I got a reputation unaccompanied, baby, you could make this, maybe you could make it as the underdog,” she over-enunciates over jolting electronic keys and smooth bass. In signature Banks style, she gulps through most of her words as sharp beats kick beneath her.

12. "Something to Tell You" by Haim

The title track to Haim's sophomore record is the antithesis to their debut's magic formula: It allows dead space for the song's elements to breathe. Accompanied by a groovy bass line and deep drums, the track bleeds a summery '70s vibe that the Haim sisters align with effortlessly. Meanwhile, Danielle, Este, and Alana spurt into thick harmonies against little instrumental to support them, accentuating their vocal lines and intensifying the urgency behind the lines, "'Cause I got something to tell you, but I don't know why it's so hard to let you know that we're not seeing eye to eye."

11. "Heroin" by Lana Del Rey

Lana Del Rey’s fourth major label studio album, Lust for Life, is strangely optimistic – something uncharacteristic of the usually gloomy Del Rey. Zeroing in on society as it stands today, it acts, in part, as a protest record, but it often fine-tunes itself with a brighter outlook than expected. However, not all is well in Del Rey's world, especially in her personal life. Paralleling heroin for fame, “Heroin” follows both sides of the metaphor; a booming ballad, it unpacks the destruction caused by heroin in society and fame in her life. She flies over the cinematic soundscape in imperfect harmonies, projecting the organic, raw guise she has boasted since Ultraviolence.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Favorite Songs of 2017 (Part Three)

It is not only time for us all to get holly, jolly, merry, and bright, but also time for us to compile all of the tracks that made this year a bit more enjoyable. For reference, one musical act is allowed to have only one track on my countdown. Click the hyperlinks to read parts one and two, and check back for the rest of my list in the coming days.

20. "Crying in the Club" by Camila Cabello

Okay, yeah, we all know Camila Cabello's "Havana" is great. That hot tropical realness is quite nice. But let's talk about the great pop song that doesn't deserve to be known as just "that one song before 'Havana.'" That song, "Crying in the Club," is a little slice of pop magic. Cabello's slurred vocal is clearly inspired by – and is backed with the vocal remnants of – a Sia demo as she delivers a killer lead-up: "Let the music lift you up like you've never been this free. 'Til you feel the sunrise, let the music warm your body like the heat of a thousand fires."

19. "Prom" by SZA

A warm, organic guitar line and fuzzy drum machines make the perfect cozy soundscape for SZA to dribble her fluttering vocals across. "Promise to get a little better as I get older. And you're so patient and sick of waiting," she sings on "Prom," a track that confronts the flighty, sometimes immature tendencies explored through much of her debut album, Ctrl. It's an outlier on the album in a sonic sense, as the relentless, muffled drum keeps it in a tight pop form, but it's one of the record's most memorable listens regardless.

18. "Fetish" by Selena Gomez feat. Gucci Mane

Ladies and gentlemen, Selena Gomez delivered her sexiest track since "Good For You" and we all let it go unnoticed. In all fairness, it was released at a terribly inconvenient time for Gomez and couldn't be promoted amid her kidney transplant and subsequent recovery, but we shouldn't have done her dirty like that. A double-tracked and reverberated Gomez whimpers over "Fetish" as heavy bass vibrates beneath her, making for the year's hottest track.

17. "Disco Tits" by Tove Lo

This thing is a neo-'90s house banger. You know it as well as I do, so let's not play games here.

16. "Let ‘Em Talk" by Kesha feat. Eagles of Death Metal

We were introduced to Kesha as an intoxicated party girl, drenched in more autotune than T-Pain and hard up for the heaviest 808s ever to be blasted through the aftermarket speakers in the trunk of an old Trans Am. I suppose that felt natural at that time, but now, “Let ‘Em Talk” reveals the type of party girl Kesha really is. She's loud, disruptive, and all-out rock – not because she’s under the influence, but because she’s naturally just out of control. And it’s amazing, considering how long she has been silenced before she was able to be this euphorically crazy again.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Favorite Songs of 2017 (Part Two)

It is not only time for us all to get holly, jolly, merry, and bright, but also time for us to compile all of the tracks that made this year a bit more enjoyable. For reference, one musical act is allowed to have only one track on my countdown. Click the hyperlink to read part one, and check back for the rest of my list in the coming days.

25. "Say My Name" by Tove Styrke

Today's minimalist, bona fide pop Tove Styrke is certainly more than a stone's throw away from the idiosyncratic, left-field one of yesteryear, but I promise she's just as enjoyable. A drastic reinvention of her musical taste, the lightweight "Say My Name" is more traditionally appealing than the cool cuts on her sophomore record, Kiddo; A scrappy ukulele riff and electronic drum beat act as its backbone, while Styrke's lyrics and delivery come across as carefree and conversational.

24. "The Cure" by Lady Gaga

Did Lady Gaga jump on The Chainsmokers' electronic-lite train just before it departed the popularity station? Yep. A surprising departure from the back roads expedition that was her fourth studio album, Joanne, "The Cure" marks the first time Lady Gaga jumped on a trend rather than jump-started it. Did she nail it, though? You bet she did. Released when she replaced a very pregnant Beyoncé on the Coachella main stage, the track is understandably anthemic and just as infectious as you expect a Lady Gaga song to be.

23. "Need You" by Allie X feat. Valley Girl

Allie X came into her own this year, noticeably improving her craft and proving herself worthy of big league ranks in pop stardom; her Collxtion II spotlighted her versatility, bouncing from one inspiration to the next. Between her first and second "collxtion" releases, she learned how to craft a killer climax without yelping over a balls-to-the-wall instrumental burst – a skill she best exhibits on the vocoder-laden "Need You." The most notable element of its ambient backing track, a drumbeat nods along beneath her muddy puddle of robotic vocals.

22. "Top of the World" by Kimbra

In preparation for her third studio album, Kimbra continues to do what she does best: take an organic approach to electronic-influenced pop music. "Top of the World," the second cut from her upcoming third studio album, is a hypnotizing tribal-beat track that was co-produced by Skrillex. On the track, Kimbra shies from modesty to reflect on what she has earned as an artist – and everything there is yet to conquer. She sing-raps just slightly off-kilter, signaling vocoders in and out of the mix to haunting results, before the song resolves into a chanted hook.

21. "Magnetic" by Chlöe Howl

Man, this may be the year's most underrated pop gem. On "Magnetic," singer-songwriter Chlöe Howl barrels over a spellbinding track that sweeps listeners in a sea of sound. It pulsates below her commanding pipes as she unleashes a melody that is impossible not to yell alongside in the car, no matter how much damage may have been done to your vocal cords in the process. After having fallen from pop culture's consciousness a few years ago, this track is a triumphant return.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Favorite Songs of 2017 (Part One)

It is not only time for us all to get holly, jolly, merry, and bright, but also time for us to compile all of the tracks that made this year a bit more enjoyable. For reference, one musical act is allowed to have only one track on my countdown. Below are my honorable mentions; check back for the rest of my list in the coming days.

Honorable mention: "Stay" by Zedd feat. Alessia Cara

Alessia Cara has had quite a good year, hasn't she? "Scars to Your Beautiful" made itself a home in the rotation lists on adult contemporary radio, and her collaborations with Logic and Zedd both found their footing and were nominated for Grammy Awards. Though it rips its opening chop pattern from Banks' "Poltergeist" and nobody wanted to point it out, "Stay" was the traditional EDM track we all needed this year, especially when David Guetta was shut out of the Top 40 and Calvin Harris renovated his production style into something unrecognizable.

Honorable mention: "Cut to the Feeling" by Carly Rae Jepsen

Would a year-end pop music countdown be complete without Carly Rae Jepsen? Of course not, especially when she continues to pump out tracks like this. "Cut to the Feeling," an E•MO•TION b-side that was somehow deemed unworthy of E•MO•TION: Side B, danced its way onto the soundtrack of an animated children's movie that flew under the radar. In tradition Jeppo fashion, she jumps alive in the song's chorus, shouting her way through its lyrics. What a tune.

Honorable mention: "Getaway Car" by Taylor Swift

The closest Taylor Swift brushes into an airy synthpop palette on Reputation, "Getaway Car" stands as the record's magnum opus. Employing Swift's signature storytelling for her best self-deprecating track yet, she parallels her string of short romantic flames to jumps from one getaway car to the next. "You were drivin' the getaway car. We were flyin’, but we'd never get far. Don't pretend it's such a mystery; Think about the place where you first met me," she sings over a soaring soundscape. The track is a subtle reminder that Swift still has a sense of humor about her reputation, despite an entire album dedicated to it, and glaring proof that she can still write one hell of a song, even as a brand new Taylor Swift.

Honorable mention: "Imaginary Parties" by Superfruit

Superfruit as a music group is the same as Superfruit as a YouTube collective: A bit frivolous and conscious as its states as light entertainment, but undeniably fun. Scott Hoying and Mitch Grassi's tight-knit harmonies on "Imaginary Parties" carry lyrics that burst at the seams with fun as they chronicle a night in the bedroom: "Baby, let's get fresh; it's like we just met. If you wanna catch fire, we'll get a little hotter. Wanna keep you satisfied," they sing. A prepackaged party in a box meant to be played on repeat, the song crossbreeds a rhythmic heartbeat with sleek pop production.

Honorable mention: "Bellyache" by Billie Eilish

With an image and voice not far from Melanie Martinez sans baby rattle, 15-year-old Billie Eilish was bound for success in the viral pop universe. Her music is an in-house product, co-written and produced with her brother, age 19. Her debut extended play, Don't Smile at Me, doesn't concrete her as a defining musical force just yet, but "Bellyache" sure is a good start. With its silky build-up and low-riding chorus, it unexpectedly grows into a low-maintenance banger.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Blue Lips | Tove Lo

Earlier this fall, Tove Lo prefaced her newest album with a seven-minute music video that predominantly features very detailed sex scenes with a bargain brand Muppet on acid. The track it was produced for, "Disco Tits," is a banging neo-'90s house track that, while largely a harmless earworm, boasts a few one-liners delivered like nails across a chalkboard. (For future reference, Tove, any mention of nipples is probably a no-go.) It all had us wondering if Tove Lo is okay – in less of a 2007 Britney Spears way and more of a 2013 Lady Gaga way, when creativity takes an absurd form – until we took a hard look at her path to her third studio album, Blue Lips.

Twinkies in the bathtub, daddies on the playground, and freaky people in sex clubs – that was Lo's introduction four years ago when "Habits (Stay High)" ignited in America. So when her second studio album came in the form of a sleek dance-pop record titled Lady Wood, with a title track as outwardly sexual as one could expect, it shouldn't have come as a surprise. While Lo developed an understated cool presence between her debut, Queen of the Clouds, and Lady Wood, her vernacular further regressed. Even the term "lady wood" in and of itself is cringeworthy to a degree.

In that sense, conditions don't improve much on Blue Lips, marketed as the second phase of Lady Wood. Though its title implies lack of sexual satisfaction, it tells quite a different story in its 14 tracks – a tale of a woman's sexual liberation with good intent but without any sort of elegance. "They can't fake it, drying off the seat when they getting up to leave," she sings on "Bitches," a smug, sexy track that explores her bisexuality. (Really, not a track goes by that doesn't reference wetness, bodily fluid, sweat, oral sex, or climaxing.) And like the "WTF Love Is" and "Vibes" of Lady Wood, "Struggle" is the trend-term track of Blue Lips: "Fuck, fuck some sense into me. The struggle is real when you don't tell me how you feel about this love."

But luckily, her knack for slick, attention-grabbing production and cutting melody lines has managed to hypnotize listeners yet again on Blue Lips. The record is more aggressively catchy than her previous releases, grinding into sharp house beats and humid guitar lines. "I'm the queen of the motherfucking discotheque," she declares on introductory interlude "Light Beams," before the record throws itself onto the dance floor (and into the bedroom of another one night stand). The first seven tracks, all hyperactive and hypersexual, match her black-lit ecstasy, yanking listeners into the clouds with her. "Disco Tits" and "Shedontknowbutsheknows" sputter and spasm with heavy electronics, while guitars and clipped beats kick "Stranger" alive. Even "Bitches," in all of its raunchy glory, keeps me coming back for listen after listen.

The album's back half, informally titled by minute-long interlude "Pitch Black," keeps in touch with the first half's sonic palette but takes to midtempo speed as it comes down from her frantic rush. "If it was easy, I'd forget about you, baby, but I never really understood how people can move on from a heart to love another. Oh, if I could, I would," she sings on the effortlessly smooth chorus of "Bad Days," an in memoriam of her recent wild nights. The album's finale, meanwhile, seems to recap how the insane two-album narrative began: "Hey, you got drugs? Just need a pick-me-up only for tonight. Don’t tell anyone I was with you," she repeats on power ballad "Hey You Got Drugs?" 

The story arc that carries from Lady Wood comes to a close nicely on Blue Lips – first with one last streak of destruction then with a crash-landing into reality. Along the way, though, we get lost in Lo's overt drive to be as sexual as possible. (If the album's title and ass-grabbing album artwork didn't let you in on it already, Tove Lo is really just all about sex and she wants you to know it right now.) But goddamn it, we get lost for a reason: Because Tove Lo knows how to make a frank, trashy, infectious banger. Sometimes it's hard to believe that she's so outrageous – again, not 2004 Britney Spears outrageous; it's more like a 2015 CupcakKe outrageous – but we all keep singing about our nipples and repeating our new favorite dirty Fifth Harmony reference alongside her anyway.

Blue Lips is available now under Island Records.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Reputation | Taylor Swift

Three years ago, Taylor Swift sat atop the Empire State Building, surrounded by a live studio audience of fans and cameras that streamed her announcement around the world in real time: After a long career that flirted with the thought, she pledged herself as a bona fide pop star. And she would go on to become quite a successful one, unveiling the neon-lit 1989 and fanning its success across nearly two years. The album and its six singles intoxicated audiences with their shimmering '80s pop, and Swift's unshaken songwriting style kept pop Taylor Swift from seeming too foreign for comfort.

But the Top 40 landscape that allowed her to dominate with the one-two sucker punch of "Shake it Off" and "Blank Space" is no more; a diverse portfolio of hip-hop artists occupy the spaces that used to hold gold-plated reservation cards for pop titans like Swift, Katy Perry, and Adele. Nothing if not an industry mastermind, though, Swift already knows rule number one to pop stardom survival: reinvention. Toying with her tried-and-true two-year album cycles, she spent an extra year in the dark amid an embroilment with Kanye West before unleashing plans for her sixth studio album, Reputation, a high-gloss set that proves Taylor Swift committed herself to the right genre.

She killed off county Taylor for the new, shiny pop Taylor just one album cycle ago, and as it turns out, 2014's pop Taylor was only the first of many versions to come. "The old Taylor can't come to the phone right now. Why? Oh, because she's dead!" she says on lead single "Look What You Made Me Do," a dark-toned manifesto that sneers against an unnamed entity – some argue West, though I tend to align with the theory that it damns the media personified. (West becomes the direct target, however, on the bratty "This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things," which reopens the wounds from VMAs and recorded phone calls past.)

The exaggerated self-portrait on "Look What You Made Me Do" paints Swift as the bad girl, the lying, cheating, sleazy snake that Kim Kardashian implied she was. A preoccupation with her public image lingers throughout Reputation, the first half of which concerns itself with selling – not rebuking – the idea of Taylor Swift as pop culture's ultimate villain. "They're burning all the witches, even if you aren't one. So light me up. Go ahead and light me up," she declares on "I Did Something Bad," a jarring, gunshot-sampling banger. Also revealing a wolf in sheep's clothing, "Don't Blame Me" is a burning slow-jam that admits to shifty behavior but projects that blame onward: "Don't blame me: Love made me crazy. If it doesn't, you ain't doing it right."

Swift has built a career that is reliant on being egocentric – that quality just hasn't been so outward until this point. She has found great success in music that exists almost exclusively in a vacuum, immune to sociopolitical forces that don't pertain to her brand, her relationships, or her music. That, perhaps, is why it seems ridiculous that an uprising has appeared for her to make career-shifting comments on American politics or sexual assault, especially in the wake of her high-profile (and successful) countersuit against a deejay who grabbed her inappropriately. Swift's brand has always been, and even now still is, relatively inoffensive fodder; she has planted herself into American households as a sister and a friend, making her gossip as worthwhile and entertaining as a real relative's newest neighborhood scoop.

At 27 years old, Swift is in her own class among her 20-something contemporaries, having built an empire without a preexisting celebrity preamble from Disney, Nickelodeon, or the like. Since her 2006 debut, she has aged alongside listeners naturally. The ordinary girl who cried over unrequited love in a freshmen-level classroom has grown into the superstar who gets plastered at her own bougie, Gatsby-level parties – and after 12 years to get here, it actually feels later than it should for Taylor Swift to reference alcohol for the first time. (Yes, Taylor Swift acknowledges that she drinks alcohol and has sex a few times on Reputation. Insert slight gasp when she wisps, "Carved your name into my bedpost, 'cause I don't want you like a best friend. I only bought this dress so you can take it off.")

She dismantled her good girl image, but it's important to note that the fundamentals of the old Taylor Swift – the one who found comfort in love and heartbreak – are still intact and are integral to Reputation's story arc. As the world descends on her public image, she shutters inward and toward a lover who calms the waves: "My reputation's never been worse, so you must like me for me," she croons on the bouncy, vocoder-drenched "Delicate." The album's back half is almost entirely dedicated to her love life, once her songwriting's mainstay but now reduced to a subplot. The synth-propelled "Getaway Car" best represents love, even if doomed from its start, as the vehicle for escape: "I was ridin' in a getaway car. I was cryin' in a getaway car. I was dyin' in a getaway car," she sings.

"Getaway Car" is the closest Swift comes to brushing against 1989's sonic palette, and although it is an outstanding highlight, that may be for the best. Swift's image overhaul and commitment to her newest reincarnate make Reputation as successful as it is. Ditching the guitar, her longtime instrumental companion, she is clad in heavy electronics and soupy vocoders. Her vocal showcase and songwriting are more conversational, leaning into a causal sing-rap in places like "...Ready for It?" and "This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things." And she pulls it off well: Throughout "End Game," a song that features Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, and Future, the one who feels most uncomfortable is Sheeran – who would have ever guessed such a development?

A shiny, 2017-chic release fueled on a breakneck sugar rush, Reputation manages to come off as both a natural progression and a wise, albeit calculated, business endeavor. Though she does chalk up her actions as the vengeful consequences of others' doings, Swift no longer plays the outright victim of others' crimes and has aged out of a squeaky clean image. This all plays out over premier power pop that camouflages Swift within this year's Hot 100 cool crowd, which guarantees success even amid an anti-pop era in the mainstream. Reputation proves Swift knows how to read the room, survey the lay of the musical landscape, and plant her feet where they need to be. And if she can continue to do this throughout her career's lifespan, this won't be the last time an impressive new Taylor kills off an old Taylor with one swift slice to the jugular.

Reputation is available now under Big Machine Records.