Review: Taylor Swift – Reputation

Just over three years have passed since Taylor Swift won me over, and just two years have gone by since I made that information public. At the time, I admonished myself for the lack of empathy I exhibited toward Swift as she reckoned with fame in the midst of her youth. Her latest album, Reputation, dives headlong into that very conversation from every angle imaginable.

During the album’s rollout, as narratives flew wildly, it was easy to forget that the past three years of Swift’s life consisted of more than just petty feuds with Kanye West and Katy Perry. As stories of sexual misconduct in entertainment continue to crash ashore, remember that Swift handled herself with strength and grace this summer while winning a lawsuit against an ex-radio DJ who groped her.

You can buy Reputation on iTunes.

Even one of the most powerful cultural forces in recent memory is not immune to abuses of power and had to fight for the public perception of her own character. With that in mind, Reputation takes on a significantly more meaningful role than you might think on the surface.

That’s not to say that Reputation is a great album. It’s flawed, certainly, but its significance remains.

If you’re like any of the other 700,000 people that purchased Reputation last Friday, you’re aware that several of the album’s 15 tracks are much better than the singles we were given. In this case, the missing pieces fill in the gaps quite well, making the purpose of Reputation clear. Taylor Swift isn’t embracing her dark side – she’s resolutely stating the control she has over her own relationships, her own persona, her own destiny. It’s kind of powerful in that way.

And oh, by the way, the majority of the album pulses shamelessly with buzzing synthesizers and rattling bass lines, as if to emphasize her point. When it works, as it does on the delightfully trappy “I Did Something Bad”, it elevates Swift to another level of pop excellence. When it doesn’t, we get handed hollow wannabe bangers like lead single “Look What You Made Me Do” or the impossibly clumsy “End Game” with Ed Sheeran and Future.

The aforementioned “I Did Something Bad” works so well because Swift conveys her message with such flare and clarity. During the track’s bridge, she alludes to a dying culture of victim-shaming and misplaced anger, singing, “They’re burning all the witches, even if you aren’t one / They got their pitchforks and proof, their receipts and reasons”. That self-awareness and snark makes her chorus of, “They say I did something bad / Then why’s it feel so good?” all the more bold and empowered.

It’s a strategy that plays well on other tracks like “Dress” and “Don’t Blame Me”, where Swift defiantly embraces her sexuality and control of her own love life. On “Call it What You Want”, when she sings, “I want to wear his initial on a chain round my neck / Not because he owns me / But ‘cause he really knows me”, it’s not a reinvention – it’s a reclaiming of her own story.

These moments make Reputation worth its while, even when things become uninspired (“Delicate”, “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”). Such has been the case with nearly every album of Swift’s career, so offering another cry for her to trim the fat merely seems like wasted breath at this point. Besides, this is what Spotify’s queue feature was made for.

If you’re still in need of finding a storyline in which Swift stands not in the best light, opportunities are available. For instance, take her firm apolitical stance at a time when her voice would be welcome – a stance so steadfast that she is willing to sue a blogger for even questioning her silence against dangerous alt-right groups that seem to support her.

As it turns out, Taylor Swift is complicated, just like the rest of us. Reputation, on the other hand, is not. With her sixth full length album, Swift has boldly declared her own narrative, others be damned. Whether you choose to scoff or turn up the beat and dance is up to you.

3.5/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Taylor Swift Drops New Song “Look What You Made Me Do”

It’s here! Last night, Taylor Swift dropped the first single from her new album, Reputation. The new song, titled “Look What You Made Me Do”, is a dark dance-pop track that takes aim at her enemies, in particular, Kanye West and Katy Perry. Co-written with Jack Antonoff of Bleachers, “Look What You Made Me Do” gives us a glimpse into what could be a much darker affair when her album drops on November 10. Take a listen to the new song below:

You can preorder Reputation through a variety of outlets.

What do you think of the new song? Are you hoping for more of the same on Reputation? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Bleachers – Gone Now

There is a sharp juxtaposition between the title of Bleachers’ second full-length album Gone Now and its content. In fact, the lyrics across the album’s 12 tracks seem to long for things left behind – safety, familiarity, memories – before slowly drawing us back home.

When Jack Antonoff released Strange Desire under the name Bleachers in 2014, it felt full of promise as a potential side project with legs. The success of that debut and the subsequent dissolving of fun. has changed the narrative completely. During the past three years, Antonoff has become a household name thanks partly to his role as hit songwriter for the likes of Taylor Swift, Lorde and more.

You can buy Gone Now on iTunes.

This rapid turn of events helped elevate Gone Now to one of the year’s most anticipated releases. Did Antonoff deliver? Yes, but the reasons why are complicated. Gone Now further realizes the true pop potential of Bleachers, but the resulting collection of songs fire in such different directions that it’s hard to keep up.

Gone Now certainly takes its share of opportunities to relish in Antonoff’s own brand of synthpop, especially on early singles like “Don’t Take the Money” and “Hate That You Know Me”, but it refuses to follow a single thread. “Everybody Loves Somebody” features big drums and horns, sounding like it could have belonged to fun.’s follow up to Some Nights. Likewise, you can almost hear Nate Ruess’ voice atop the folksy banjo on “I’m Ready to Move On”, while the 80s-inspired powerpop banger “Let’s Get Married” sparkles with Hot A/C glee.

If it weren’t for Antonoff’s clever songwriting, Gone Now could easily have flown off the rails in any number of directions. Instead, consistent themes and lyrics are woven throughout each of the tracks to help provide focus, with frequent hellos and goodbyes to “upstairs neighbors” and “the kids downstairs”. It’s expert storytelling as Antonoff shakes away his pop stardom in an effort to find balance. “Hey, I know I was lost, but I miss those days” he tells us in one of many moments that acknowledge the lure of the past he wishes to leave behind.

It’s clear that Antonoff had every intention of weaving Gone Now in just this manner, even if it leaves some listeners troubled that he couldn’t just pick a sound and stick to it. Perhaps that’s part of the album’s brilliance in an age of streaming. Want to digest the story in one stream of thought? Want to cherry pick tracks to queue up as your mood dictates? The choice is yours, and you really can’t go wrong.

On Bleachers’ upcoming tour in support of the album, fans will have the opportunity to walk through Antonoff’s childhood bedroom, which is traveling along to provide a glimpse into the space that inspired a young Jack. It’s another purposefully sharp inverse image of his struggle, but it speaks to a greater truth. No matter where our lives take us, we can always find home along the way.

Antonoff’s skill and transparency give him the all-too-rare opportunity to be a likable pop star, even if he can’t seem to decide if that’s what he really wants. Either way, Gone Now will provide plenty to chew on and dance to as the summer passes through, no matter which direction you’re traveling.

4/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Review: Nate Ruess – Grand Romantic

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Going solo ain’t easy, even if it makes total sense.

As much as we all wanted that new fun. record, it became increasingly clear that we’re as far away from it as ever. If Nate Ruess’ constant pop radio co-writing and guest vocalist adventures weren’t evidence enough, the astonishing success of Jack Antonoff’s indie sensation Bleachers made it all too clear. Fun. may be a cash cow, but there’s currently too much at stake for the individual members’ rising stock.

I’ll admit that I went into Ruess’ solo debut Grand Romantic with a fair amount of skepticism. What does a solo record even look like for an indie rock martyr turned pop star? The picture is blurry at first, but with repeated spins, Grand Romantic turns into a surprisingly delightful, introspective tale.

Built on a foundation of tracks originally meant for that elusive fun. release, and constructed alongside Some Nights producer Jeff Bhasker, Grand Romantic opens with the grand introduction we’d expect, complete with chorus and bells. That display leads directly into “AhHa” – a track so reminiscent of “Some Nights” that it even includes a haunting refrain from the original that spills into the triumphant chorus of, “Oh lord, I feel alive / I’ve gone and saved my soul”.

This hollow glance at the past preceding a triumphant step forward resounds on nearly every level, with Ruess using every inch of his vocal range to power the anthem along. It’s a statement, to be sure, but it’s far from tired. Lead single “Nothing Without Love” follows suit with its hopeful cry, leaving the dark imagery of Some Nights in the rearview mirror.

Before you can label Grand Romantic as the same devil in a new dress, it flips on its head, swaying back and forth between bouncy indie pop and calm piano ballads; joyful noise and painful reflection. Ruess even throws in a few new tricks for good measure, to varying results.

“What This World Is Coming To” is a folk-inspired duet with Beck that is instantly irresistible. Their harmonized chorus of “So let’s get high here in the moonlight / Even the stars go right over our head / I think I’m gonna shine here in the afterlife / Leaving the fight for peace of mind instead” is an instant highlight of 2015. “Moment” is a deep and personal 80s inspired ballad, a sincere glimpse inside a private journal.

On the flip side, “Great Big Storm” has potential as an uplifting, foot stomping track, but falls flat during its repetitive chorus. “Harsh Light” sounds like a Some Nights holdover that doesn’t quite have the same spark. However, to both Ruess and Bhasker’s credit, even songs that fail to fly high don’t sound out of place on Grand Romantic, and the album flows along purposefully.

Even when Ruess takes a dark detour on the painful “It Only Gets Much Worse”, he carries along his sonic sensibilities that keep the track from weighing things down. A tinkling piano and chirping strings carry him even as he sings, “I didn’t mean to let you go / I didn’t mean to bruise but I lost control”. Things come full circle when the album closes with the string-infused and optimistic “Brightside”.

What begins as a familiar friend becomes an animal all its own – Grand Romantic captures Nate Ruess at his most vulnerable, and perhaps his most daring. It may not fill the void left by the disappearance of fun., but Ruess doesn’t seem all that concerned. He shouldn’t be. He and Antonoff have both capitalized on opportunity and appear content to explore new ground while inviting us all along for the ride.

4/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

fun. Post Band Update

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Just a matter of weeks after we listed a new record from fun. on our Most Anticipated Music of 2015 list, the band has released a statement regarding their current status and future. While it appears that the band is still together, it doesn’t seem like there are any plans in place to move forward with a new album any time soon. Rats. You can read the full statement from the band below:

A lot of you have been asking us for an update on when to expect new music from fun. As you know, we like to give you guys news and updates when they are ready, but there has been a lot of recent chatter and we hear you and wanted to speak to you directly to explain a few things.
so here goes-
first and foremost to answer the question that has been raised most often: fun is not breaking up.
fun was founded by the 3 of us at a time when we were coming out of our own bands. one thing that has always been so special about fun is that we exist as 3 individuals in music who come together to do something collaborative. we make fun records when we are super inspired to do so. currently nate is working on his first solo album, andrew is scoring films and jack is on tour and working on bleachers music. the 3 of us have always followed inspiration wherever it leads us. sometimes that inspiration leads to fun music, sometimes it leads to musical endeavors outside of fun. we see all of it as part of the ecosystem that makes fun, fun.
you guys are EVERYTHING to us. honestly. We want to treat YOU GUYS (our amazing fan base) with the respect you deserve; and that is by making music when we are fully ready to make it and never giving you guys anything that is less than 100%. “Some Nights” was a successful album and it would have been very easy for us to jump back in the studio and capitalize on our momentum. but making records and touring when its “good for business” means nothing to us. we make records and tour when we are inspired to do so. that is the very reason why we have built such a special connection with all of you. that is how we can be the most honest to the people who support our music.
It’s also important for you guys to know that the 3 of us are very involved and supportive of all these different projects going on within the fun family at the moment. that fact that our tiny club can produce so many different kinds of music together and as individuals is very special to us.
as always, we’ll keep you guys updated!
all our love
nate, jack and andrew

Are you looking forward to Nate’s solo record, or would you prefer more music from fun.? Let us know your thoughts in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Most Anticipated of 2015: #9 The Return of fun.

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It’s been nearly three years since indie pop act fun. have released any new music. That’s not to say that the trio haven’t been busy – far from it, in fact.

Lead singer Nate Ruess has been a co-writing machine, appearing on tracks from the likes of P!nk and Eminem. Guitarist Jack Antonoff launched his own indie pop side project Bleachers last year, to much acclaim. Along with pianist/percussionist Andrew Dost, the band has still been riding high off of 2012’s smash breakthrough, Some Nights.

So when will the band return from their various endeavors and release new music? Here’s what we know: the band appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon last summer to perform a brand new song called “Harsh Lights” and they are currently in the process of writing new material for an unnamed album.

It seems totally plausible that the band will release that album in 2015. Will the new record match the explosive Some Nights, both in musicality and cultural relevancy? Will the band turn once again to acclaimed producer Jeff Bhasker, who helped make Some Nights such a huge sounding record? It’s clear that this trio is loaded with talent and more than capable of crafting something otherworldly. The only question is how long we’ll have to wait.

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.