Regardless of what you may think of Taylor Swift, it can’t be denied that she’s one of the largest and most popular pop acts in the world. Surrounded by controversy regarding Katy Perry, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian-West, and most recently a blog that compared her to Hitler for not denouncing white supremacy, her newest record Reputation is, at its core, something we’ve seen countless times again and again—an artist’s take on what it’s like living under constant scrutiny.
Ironically enough, Taylor’s main antagonist on the album, Kanye West, released his similarly-themed record My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy back in 2010 when he was returning from scrutiny following his now-legendary 2009 VMA interruption of Swift’s acceptance speech: “Taylor, I’m really happy for you, I’mma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time.”
Kanye West would go on to say on the song “Famous” that he was the one that made Taylor famous, which led to the aforementioned feud between Taylor and the West’s involving claims of what Taylor specifically authorized and what Kim’s recorded phone call with Taylor confirmed or denied. The back-and-forth ultimately led the public to either believe that the whole feud was staged for publicity, or that Taylor was a “snake” who lied to gather fake sympathy as the victim.
Either way, it wasn’t a scene that looked good for Taylor, and she came firing back with the release of her first Reputation single “Look What You Made Me Do” now over a year later. It’s a harsh, spiteful track in which Taylor sheds any bit of Country-star left in her from her pop transformation on 1989, to reveal a more, and ever so ironically, Yeezus-like soundscape to her revenge-driven return.
“Look What You Made Me Do,” though both jarring and awkwardly Right Said Fred-borrowing, is Swift at her most malicious. Though with all the changes in sound and tone, it still follows the Max Martin and Jack Antonoff-produced Taylor Swift formula of overly theatrical anthems that are overtly chipping at the heels of what trends in pop had just ended. It’s a theme that exists all over Reputation, as well as Taylor’s usual jabs at Kanye West and past boyfriends, that accompanies the feeling that Taylor’s attempts at new sounds and styles such as rapping (or talk-singing) are more like the pop-star trying on hats that don’t exactly fit just right.
It’s not that Taylor can’t rap per se, but that it generally feels a bit too uncanny, especially when it’s tied to lyrics such as “the world moves on, but one thing’s for sure/Maybe I got mine, but you’ll all get yours.” It’s the vengeful and spiteful version of Taylor Swift that not only can’t see beyond her own petty feuds, but also forgets where her strengths truly lie. For me however, it’s not the Lorde-esque “Delicate,” acoustic “New Year’s Day,” or borderline-soulful “Don’t Blame Me” that showcase the best version of Reputation-Swift, but instead the Future and Ed Sheeran-assisted track, “End Game.”
I seem to bare this opinion, that “End Game” is a good song, alone, but I stick to it nonetheless. It’s also an opinion that I believe Jon Caramanica, music journalist for the New York Times, might share with me, as he can be heard jamming and singing along to the song at the beginning of The New Times podcast episode on Reputation, but until proven true, leaves a high-opinion of the song “End Game” to a camp of me, myself, and I (aside for the diehard fans that already believe Ms. Swift is infallible). It’s a surprising fascination, that I would enjoy a Taylor Swift song, as I not only don’t really care for the rest of the record, but have never really enjoyed Taylor’s music ever before.
Nevertheless, “End Game” is a song that artfully, and dare I say wittily, combines all of the best attributes of Reputation, as well as paints Taylor in the best possible light for what she is trying to say on the record. It’s a song that (and I’m sure I’ll take even more heat for this comment than I will for simply just enjoying “End Game”) reminds me of “No Problem” by Chance the Rapper. Like Chance’s “No Problem,” Taylor Swift’s “End Game” is a declaration to all the haters that also incorporates the artist’s personal brand, a celebratory chorus, some not-so-great but meant-to-be-fun guest rap verses, and most importantly, an air of playfulness that places the artist at their most self-aware.
On “No Problem,” Chance is attacking the idea of record labels, but it’s performed in a jovial tone matched with the success of his own independence and his signature soul sample placed underneath. 2 Chainz provides what’s essentially a bad verse but passable, and Lil Wayne offers up an acceptable yet overall forgettable verse as well. The guest vocalists’ mediocrity doesn’t really phase the success of the song however, due to its catchy chorus and adored main character. Chance gets to joke about threatening record labels even though he signed an exclusive one-week agreement with Apple Music for the record, and everyone leaves in a good mood.
“End Game” follows a similar formula and feel, as Taylor attacks the media’s definition of her bruised reputation by mocking the concept altogether, blending the theme with what she does best: songs about budding relationships that will eventually fail. Like “No Problem,” there’s also a giant, catchy, bleacher-style chorus, and two guest verses that are mediocre at best but are generally pop-fodder for the listener’s need for a return of the well-crafted refrain. The main difference here, however, is that while Chance is universally loved, Taylor is releasing Reputation to a heavily mixed crowd.
With such a cross-promotional and overly calculated mindset, it’s hard for Taylor to have her fans see her having fun and enjoying herself outside all of the “Look What You Made Me Do” and “…Ready For It?” spite of Reputation, but it truly sounds, at least here on “End Game,” like the pop-singer steps back and makes light of it all.
Big reputation, big reputation
Ooh, you and me, we got big reputations, ah
And you heard about me, ooh
I got some big enemies
Big reputation, big reputation
Ooh, you and me would be a big conversation, ah
And I heard about you, ooh
You like the bad ones too
The chorus (above) honestly sounds like Taylor poking fun at the entire idea of her reputation being bruised, mocking that a guy likes her in spite of her “bad reputation,” as well as the media’s portrayal of the couple as a “big conversation.” “End Game” isn’t a perfect song, as there are moments of Taylor’s rapping that feel like her trying on a hat (and one particular Ed Sheeran tone switch that makes me cringe every time), but in the context of what works the best for Taylor Swift on Reputation, “End Game” is a good song.
I’ve never felt any ill will towards Taylor Swift, though I can’t say I’ve ever truly enjoyed one of her songs until now, and I do completely understand where the issues, frustrations and distrust of her fundamentally stem from, but I do believe that “End Game” is a solid four minutes where the insatiable fan can become the appeased and a wider image of the pop-star can be viewed, at least for the moment, less as an overly calculated, borderline-unnecessary, cringe-filled clap-back, and more as a human.
What do you think? Drop your thoughts in the comments below.