More important than her pen remaining pointed, however, is the fact that for the first time on an album, Taylor sounds like an honest-to-god human. She's been brilliant since Speak Now, but there's a difference between intelligence and emotional intelligence. On Reputation, Swift has finally realized that being right or getting the last word isn't the most important thing. You might be the messy one, the lost sheep, the sinner, the seducer. A real grownup can acknowledge that sometimes, they are the bad guy (a lesson Billie Eilish was clearly taking notes on throughout). And as long as that isn't your entire existence, that's fine.
When she gets deliciously petty on "This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things," you don't get the sense that she thinks it's justified – but she's relishing playing the part of an asshole for a minute (perhaps not coincidentally, that's a role the song's presumed target famously toasted back in 2010 when she was still concerned with presenting as Best In Class).
But the real crux of the album is found in "Gorgeous," which sees a frisky Swift romanticizing her drunken attempt to cheat on her boyfriend because a dangerously attractive stranger has entered her field of vision. A stentorian moralist might lash her for abandoning the mantle of 'immaculate princess' in favor of becoming a tipsy twentysomething torn between cheating on her partner or cuddling her cats, but one is a hell of a lot more relatable than the other. She's acknowledging that stumbling, both physically and morally, is part of life. Her motivations here are muddy and a little embarrassing -- and never before had Taylor Swift sketched out such a fully-formed, fallible version of herself in a song.
And that's what makes Reputation the most mature, fascinating and ultimately satisfying release from Swift so far. Prior to this album, you might describe her songwriting as "romantic," "longing," "poetic" -- all wonderful things, but adjectives you could readily apply to many celebrated songwriters. Not so with Reputation. Here we have a top-tier talent embracing her contradictions, acknowledging her flaws and refusing to let you judge her. In terms of pop music, moral grey areas are rarely painted in such screaming color.