Tracing “Reputation” to…Kanye West (Who Else?)

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A few people who know me know that I love Kanye West’s “Bound 2.” For those reading this, congratulations — you now have something in common with those good people.

I can’t entirely justify my love for this song, which arrives at the end of West’s aggressive, oppressive 2013 album Yeezus like a splash of cold water on a humid summer day. The rest of that album is striking and nasty; “Bound 2” is bracing and cuddly.

Except for, you know:

I wanna fuck you hard on the sink
After that, give you somethin’ to drink
Step back, can’t get spunk on the mink
I mean damn, what would Jeromey Romey Romey Rome think?

What’s heaven without a little hell?

It’s the last song on the album for a reason. The immediately preceding track, “Send It Up,” seethes, squirms and skitters with an assist from Daft Punk. The chipmunk soul and lyrical clarity of “Bound 2,” which peaks at a resplendent chorus from soul legend Charlie Wilson, sounds like it belongs on a completely different record — or as a profane, exuberant corrective to this one. (I miss the old Kanye, etc.)

***

Perhaps it also belongs on Taylor Swift’s reputation, which — full disclosure — I have yet to hear in full. Let’s take a look at a quartet of lines in the first verse of “Bound 2.” Notice anything?

I know I got a bad reputation
Walking-round-always-mad reputation

Leave-a-pretty-girl-sad reputation
Start a Fight Club, Brad rePITTation

(Genius is not 100% certain that West intended for “Pitt” to stand for “put” in that last line — but I am.)

It’s impossible to know if this line was echoing in Taylor Swift’s head as she fashioned the concept for her latest album. It’s also impossible to know if “…Ready for It?” purposefully mimics or merely stumbles upon the beat from “I’m In It,” the sixth track on Yeezus.

But this is a blog, so I will draw connections where perhaps few exist, as the law decrees. Kanye West and Taylor Swift tend to be pretty anxious about their reputations, combative with “the media,” protective of their commercial success, defensive about their artistic achievements and polarizing to their legions of observers. They both bend genre to their will, and they both have scores of antecedents in the music industry. Everyone has an opinion about them, and that opinion is fairly mercurial. Both started as heroes in their artistic community and have now isolated themselves from all but their most loyal personal connections. Both have a rocky relationship with political discourse. Both get weird at awards shows, sometimes with each other.

Of course each can exist apart from the other. Both have accomplished extraordinary feats with major cultural implications. Both still have more to say, to us if not to each other.

***

Taylor Swift’s “Bound 2” is called “New Year’s Day.” Whatever you think of reputation, which has won over some fans and mystified others, “New Year’s Day” is jarring. The only instrument backing Swift’s vocals is a piano. Swift’s voice is plaintive and wistful. The lyrics are as sharp and vivid as the best in her catalog (I particularly love “Girls carrying their shoes down in the lobby”). “Where has this Taylor been?” I wondered aloud before snarkily sending a tweet about how the old Taylor is not dead. (If the old Taylor ever dies, the new Taylor will not record a song that features a line about the old Taylor being dead.)

Pop stars don’t owe us anything. Especially at Taylor’s level, an intimate connection with her listeners falls lower on the priority list than pulling off a successful comeback and selling a boatload of albums in advance of a lucrative tour. Yet here’s “New Year’s Day,” like a gift from a friend with whom you were never quite as close as you believed you could be. And over there is “Bound 2,” whose tonal eccentricity was magnified when Kanye West performed the song on Fallon…backed by a chorus of children who definitely do not and should not know what spunk on a mink is. Naturally, Swift performed “New Year’s Day” on Fallon too. Symmetry, sometimes, is beautiful.

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