Taylor Swift’s “Reputation” Lyrics Decoded: Who or What Every Song Is About
Taylor Swift dropped her sixth studio album, Reputation, late Thursday night, just slightly ahead of its November 10 midnight release. Three months of mysterious buildup paid off when, as soon as it hit download services, fans took to social media with their praise, insight, and straight-up screaming over their idol’s first new music in three years.
Along with the songs we’ve already heard — “Look What You Made Me Do,” “…Ready for It?,” “Gorgeous,” and “Call It What You Want” — Reputation has an additional 11 tracks to analyze, with lyrics previously theorized to be about her time away from the spotlight, her feud with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, and her reported boyfriend Joe Alwyn. Below, we take a look at what — and who — people think every song is about.
1. “…Ready for It?”: The second single, “…Ready for It?” was a total 180 from the revenge-fueled first single, “LWYMMD.” Fans immediately latched onto lyrics like, “Younger than my exes but he act like such a man, though,” to support their theory that the song is a tribute to Swift’s reported BF Joe Alwyn. And while the music video depicted a battle between two different Taylors, it was also filled with hidden messages, including the name “Joseph” and the year “1991” spelled out in Chinese characters in the background.
2. “End Game (Featuring Ed Sheeran and Future)”: Swift delves into her public persona (one of the album’s main themes) and further explores a mystery romantic relationship in the album’s second track, which features the first of many uses of the album’s title, “reputation.” Here, she sings some pretty telling lines about her “enemies” (and maybe exes?): “I bury hatchets, but I keep maps of where I put ’em/Reputation precedes me, they told you I’m crazy/I swear I don’t love the drama, it loves me.” She also details a conversation with someone about their “big reputations,” saying they “would be a big conversation” — but, as fans pointed out, Alwyn is still a relatively up-and-coming actor. Could it be about Calvin Harris? Tom Hiddleston? Whoever it is, she wants to be their “end game.”
3. “I Did Something Bad”: No one is safe from Swift’s scorn in the album’s third track. “They’re burning all the witches, even if you aren’t one/They got their pitchforks and proof, their receipts and reasons,” she sings of her “Famous” feud with West and Kardashian. She also seems to drag Calvin Harris over their messy breakup and the “Nils Sjoberg” songwriting scandal of summer ’16, singing, “If a man talks sh*t, then I owe him nothing/I don’t regret it one bit, ’cause he had it coming.” Some fans think she could also be referencing her short-lived and very public rebound relationship with Tom Hiddleston when she sings, “I never trust a playboy, but they love me/So I fly them all around the world, and I let them think they saved me.” Shade all around.
4. “Don’t Blame Me”: Swift sings an intense love song to Joe Alwyn here, telling him, “For you, I would cross the line, I would waste my time, I would lose my mind…My drug is my baby/I’ll be usin’ for the rest of my life,” while also giving a sly nod to her battle with the media — and tackling her oft-accused victim complex head on — in the title.
5.“Delicate”: Swift dives right into why her relationship with Alwyn means so much to her in the first line of “Delicate.” “My reputation’s never been worse, so you must like me for me,” she sings. It could also be a nod to her short-lived infatuation with Hiddleston, as she references the casual nature and newness of the relationship. “We can’t make/Any promises now, can we, babe?/But you can make me a drink…Is it cool that I said all that?/Is it chill that you’re in my head?/’Cause I know that it’s delicate.”
6. “Look What You Made Me Do”: The first single that Tay released back in August needs no introduction. It skewers the Wests, her exes, Katy Perry, her badass symbolic sexual assault lawsuit, her squad, and yes — even herself. While it doesn’t exactly set the entire tone for the album, it was exactly the message the superstar wanted to send for her comeback, for better or worse.
7. “So It Goes…”: Here, Swift sings, “You know I’m not a bad girl but I do bad things with you,” and talks about “scratches down your back now,” making this sound like it could have come from her Fifty Shades Darker writing sessions. She sings about meeting the subject in a bar, and while diehard Swifties are dead-set on this being an album of love songs about Alwyn and ONLY Alwyn, others think this one could be about Harry Styles. Hmmm…
8.“Gorgeous”: The third single released prior to Reputation‘s release was a shift in tone, going from dark and edgy to bubbly and lovesick. Most immediately assumed it was another song about falling in love with Brit actor Alwyn, thanks to ambiguous lyrics about an accent (“You should take it as a compliment/That I got drunk and made fun of the way you talk”) and their ages (“I got a boyfriend, he’s older than us/He’s in the club doing I don’t know what”), though some have questioned whether it’s ACTUALLY about meeting Hiddleston while she was still dating Harris. Swifties maintain it is “100 percent about her angel boyfriend of one year,” as they were allegedly told to say at her secret album listening sessions.
9. “Getaway Car”: “Getaway Car” is a song about a romance — maybe even a calculated one — that’s doomed from the start. Swift even sings about needing a reason to leave someone and admits she “didn’t mean it” with the one driving her getaway car. Ouch. This one has Hiddleswift written all over it.
10. “King of My Heart”: Swit swears off relationships in “King of My Heart” before meeting “the one I have been waiting for.” She calls herself his “American queen” (Alwyn’s British) and even throws shade at her exes, the “boys with their expensive cars/Their Range Rovers and their Jaguars.” (Harris owns a Range Rover and Hiddleston a Jaguar. Burn.)
11.“Dancing With Our Hands Tied”: Though it starts with an allusion to meeting someone when they were 25 — the age Alwyn was when their relationship started in 2016 — this song also refers to someone in the past tense: “I’d kiss you as the lights went out/Swaying as the room burned down/I’d hold you as the water rushes in/If I could dance with you again.” Some fans think it could be about Styles, but the mention of a locket also has people wondering if it’s about Harris. (He gave her a locket for their one-year anniversary). Either way, Swift is clearly aware of the pressure that public attention can put on a relationship, and once again sings as if it’s doomed from the start.
12.“Dress”: Fans who attended the secret Reputation listening sessions reported that the singer’s parents had to leave the room during this song, and now we know why. Swift is more plainspoken about her sex life than she’s ever been, singing, “Only bought this dress so you could take it off/Carve your name into my bedpost.” Fans have no doubt this one is about Alwyn, and even think she’s hinting that they met as far back as the 2016 Met Gala — which is also where she met Hiddleston. “Flashback when you met me/Your buzzcut and my hair bleached,” she sings (Alwyn sported a close-cropped cut for filming at the time).
13. “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”: This one is a blatant Kanye West diss track. “Friends don’t try to trick you/Get you on phone and mind-twist you,” she sings, detailing how the Kimye feud derailed her picturesque, “Gatsby”-like life.
14. “Call It What You Want”: Swift’s time out of the spotlight gets the ballad treatment, as she sings about her reputation taking a hit — and her BF loving her through it anyway. Fans have pointed out how happy Swift sounds in this track, not only because she’s in love, but because she came out on the other side of a media storm and learned to not care about what other people think.
15. “New Year’s Day”: On the album’s closing track, Swift pays tribute to the real deal — the person who’s there for you when the party, or the glitz and glamour, ends. Because it wraps up an album of love songs most likely about her current BF Alwyn, it’s easy to read it as her settling into a life of domestic bliss with him. But not everyone is convinced, and some fans think there are hints that it could be about Styles. The New Year’s Eve Times Square kiss, the trip in a taxi, the Polaroids, their breakup shortly after New Year’s. Hmmm. Either way, the lyrics “Hold on to the memories/They will hold onto you,” set to the plaintive piano ballad, are a beautiful way for the album to end — and emotional Swifties would agree.
What do you think your favorite Reputation song is about? Let us know @BritandCo!
(Photo via Jason Merritt/Getty)