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The many reputations of Taylor Swift

By Nick Levine
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With sixth album ‘Reputation’ out this week, we track how the singer’s own rep has developed over the years.

1. America’s sweetheart
‘You’ll be the prince and I’ll be the princess’. So sings Taylor Swift on 2008’s breakthrough single ‘Love Story’. It’s a wholesomely romantic line that neatly encapsulates her early appeal. At 18, she was already a scarily accomplished songwriter, but her lyrical tropes were too vanilla to intrigue the grown-ups. Basically, at this stage in her career, no one cared who she’s writing about.

2. The wronged woman
At the 2009 MTV VMAs, Kanye West jumped on stage during Swift’s Best Female Video acceptance speech, rudely snatching the mic out of her hand, to insist Beyoncé should have won instead. While some considered Yeezy’s behaviour boorish, Swift handled the situation with grace and good manners, winning the world’s sympathy in the process. No one could have guessed that this mortifying moment would continue to colour her career, eight years later.

3. The crossover queen
By 2012, Swift was already an A-lister, but songwriting sessions with pop maestro Max Martin took her star supernova. As her sound evolved from slick country to punchier pop, Swift honed her knack for turning tabloid tittle-tattle into lyrical intrigue. Everyone presumed she was singing about Jake Gyllenhaal when she sighed, ‘We are never getting back together. Like, ever.’ And ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’ has got to be about rocker John Mayer, right?

4. The snake in the grass
Led by infectious single ‘Shake it Off’, Swift’s ‘1989’ album was a near-flawless pop masterpiece. But her crown started to tarnish on 2015’s world tour, when a procession of onstage guests – ranging from Julia Roberts to the World Cup-winning US women’s football team – began to look cynical. Then, last year, Swift claimed she was unaware of Kanye’s controversial song about her, ‘Famous’. But Kim K had the receipts: sharing footage of Swift appearing to have prior knowledge of the song’s lyrics. Pop fans who felt misled spammed Swift’s Instagram page with a snake emoji.

5. The maven of vengeance
This year’s comeback single ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ introduced a new, flintier Swift. ‘I’m sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now,’ she says in the song’s voicemail section. ‘Why? Oh, ’cause she’s dead!’ It yields a meme worthy of Gemma Collins, but the track itself feels laboured. Frankly, it’s a chore working out which lines are supposed to be about Kanye or another nemesis like Katy Perry. Swift’s new album is called ‘Reputation’, but will its songwriting be strong enough to restore hers...? Have a listen and decide for yourself.

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