Could the final song on Taylor Swift’s Reputation hint at what’s next for the artist?
Reputation is here, and it’s exactly the decadent, musically and lyrically rich, delicious helping of pop crème brûlée that 2017 needed. Following Swift’s true pop debut with 1989, Reputation brings her even deeper into the realm of “pop star.” Gone are the days of twang and “Tim McGraw”; this is the moment of vocoders and vigor.
Not every song on Reputation is an anthem or a high energy club track. Swift successfully blends her brand of electro-pop into the more slow-paced, vulnerable moments of the album, also. The beautiful lyricism and feelings behind “Dress” and “Delicate” are masterfully enhanced with vocal effects and synthesizers. From tracks 1-14, Reputation is a flawless collection characterized by huge vocals and heavy beats.
And then there’s “New Year’s Day.”
The piano ballad is tacked onto the end of the largely sonically cohesive album, and completely changes the tone of the Reputation experience; effectively bringing you down from the high of the rest of the ride. Don’t get me wrong, the track is stunning and undoubtedly deserves its place in Swift’s repertoire, but the question is why here, and why now?
A possible response could be that “New Year’s Day” just happened to be an amazing song that she wrote within the timeframe of Reputation. That’s almost definitely true, but I think there’s more to it than that.
Right from the very first snake video, nothing with Reputation has been done arbitrarily. The album, along with the rebranding of Taylor Swift, as an artist, have been meticulously calculated down to the final decimal. Rest assured, ever since Swift’s famed social media purge, there hasn’t been a post that occurred “on a whim” and there most definitely isn’t a note on the album that isn’t exactly where she wants it to be.
Swift has always been adept in her songwriting, but her artistry and business savvy improves with each endeavor. While a song’s placement in her earlier albums could perhaps have been dismissed as unimportant, the same can’t be said for her more mature collections. “Long Live” was an appropriate and meaningful finale for Speak Now, but it certainly didn’t match the thematic impact of the use of Red’s “Begin Again.”
1989 proved Swift’s true capability with an album closer. “Clean” functioned as the perfect conclusion to the epic saga that the album depicted. Not only does the singer proclaim that she’s finally cleansed herself of the high drama relationship that 1989 explored, but the track actually sounds and feels like a sigh of relief and a moment of clarity after a storm. It concludes the exciting, new, and tumultuous 1989 chapter and leaves you with a sense of closure, purity, and readiness for what’s to come.
If there’s a song on Reputation that comes close to achieving that, it’s not “New Year’s Day,” but “Call It What You Want.” If the album’s about the singer owning, accepting, and surmounting her reputation, the penultimate track is the culmination of that. You took her crown but despite her reputation, she’s found someone that grants her true happiness. Call it/her/him/anything what you want, but she’s going to be okay. “Call It What You Want” is Reputation’s “Clean.” It successfully wraps up the themes of the album, and leaves Swift, and the listeners, in a place of preparation for what’s to come.
With that said, I’m left with only one conclusion regarding Repuation’s actual closer, “New Year’s Day.”
It’s not an ending. It’s a beginning.
I mean, really, it’s right there in the title. New Year’s Day, as a concept, is the epitome of beginnings. It’s a time when people vow to shed the mistakes of the previous year. A time when everyone pledges to do better. To move, even slightly, closer to their ideals.
It’s also there in the lyrics. The song takes place the morning after a party. If there’s one Taylor Swift album that could be compared to a party, it’s Reputation. With its density of up-tempo tracks and bass drops combined with the explicit mentions of alcohol and dance floors, this album is, by far, Swift’s most club-worthy. “New Year’s Day” places itself after all of that, both literally and metaphorically.
It’s even there in the music. There’s no definite end note to “New Year’s Day,” functioning as an effective period to the ambitious anthology that is Reputation. Instead, the piano chords trail off into infinity, seemingly following Swift as she continues on her journey.
If “New Year’s Day” has truly been cast as a launching point, rather than a target, it could mean that Taylor Swift’s next era will be a more stripped down one. The artist is constantly reinventing herself, persistent in her desire to outdo her previous efforts, so it would make perfect sense that she’d want to go in a completely different direction, following the intense concept of Reputation. Perhaps even the line, “don’t read the last page, but I stay,” is a nod to the fact that the Taylor Swift of “New Year’s Day” is sticking around.
This could be great news for fans who have been longing for a return of the more subtle Swift. Many fans who have been with the artist from her first country album are still hoping that she’ll return to that genre, someday.
While I doubt that Swift would fully return to her roots, the idea of the next album being stripped back is an exciting one. She’s matured so much as an artist since Taylor Swift was released, and her vocal abilities somehow seem to be growing at a miraculous rate. The “new Taylor” stepping back into some of her old forms would surely be an entirely new experience, and a fantastic one, at that.
Of course, for now, we’re still too busy raving about Taylor Swift’s Reputation to look too far into the future, but if “New Year’s Day” is an indication of what’s to come, well…I’m ready for it.