The first part of Persephone's myth is joining with the shadow lover. This could be a conscious pursuit to heal the repressed parts of the soul and find compassion for the internal capacity towards monstrousness, but with American society still tight in the clutches of Puritanical repression that sort of preemptive self exploration is rare. More commonly, modern Persephones can't run from their darkness anymore. Masks slips, the pressure to maintain an image becomes too much, or sometimes they are simply tricked. While we love our bad boys, giving them far more chances than they deserve, we are not nearly so celebratory of "bad girls". In fact, most bad girls as they exist in music fulfill the fantasy of a woman who can be sexually used and then discarded without feeling bad about it.
“Knew he was a killer/first time that I saw him/ wonder how many girls he had loved and left haunted” It's the first line on the album, and sets up a familiar premise ; the dangerous but loveable bad boy. Unlike previous hits like “I knew you were trouble” she re-casts herself as an equal in both darkness and power– “ But if he’s a ghost than/ I can be a phantom/ holding him for ransom.” Longing for love is a common theme for Swift, but it takes on an edge throughout this album. Far from the passive princess waiting to be swept away on that white horse, songs like "Don't Blame Me", "So It Goes", and " Dancing With Our Hands Tied" explore the exhilaration of love edged with the possibility of destruction. While "Get Away Car" looks from the other side of a failed affair with a new awareness of personal responsibility.
Middle class feminine worth is so tied to the myth of being "marriage material" aka, innocent- not too sexually experienced or expectant, that being outside of those expectations implies a certain un-love-ability. While Persephone may be a catch before she is abducted, she is untouchable afterwards. She might get to visit her mother, go through the motions of her old life, but she is representative of both new life and decay.
There is an underlying fear that the harder Swift tries to hold on to something good, the more likely it is to be corrupted. Even peppy hits like End Game have this anxiety woven in throughout the lyrics" I don't want to touch you/ I don't want to be/ just another ex love/ you don't want to see" sings Swift in the pre-chorus, as if to warn both herself and the subject of the song off. The bigger reputation, the harder and more publicly picked apart the fall, after all. Songs like "Delicate", "Dress", and "New Years Day" share the struggle of staying vulnerable enough to hope, contrasted with a new sense of wariness. "Is it too soon to do this yet?" she wonders, but she doesn't pull away.
Visiting the underworld and abruptly discovering that any power granted under innocence is an illusion is an ordeal, it changes Persephone's role in the world and gives her real power instead of just the semblance of it.
"Did Something Bad" is as much a biting criticism of the manipulation that is rampant throughout the entertainment industry as it is and admission of out playing the players. “If a man talks shit then I owe him nothing/I don't regret it one bit cause he had it coming” Swift decrys. We all know that music industry can be kill or be killed. It doesn't have to be, but in it's current incarnation it's all about power and who has it. In "Look What You Made Me Do" Swift reincarnates herself as a ruthlessness Boss, no longer needing to maintain the guise of sweetness. "I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time/ honey I rose up from the dead I do it all the time" This alternative Persephone tale is no victim wife, she has seen the position of exquisite authority she has landed in, and she seizes it.
While it would take me forever to go through the whole album song by song and break down the different lyrics, I hope that this provides an alternative way to listen to the music. All things said, Reputation is a pop album, and a super solid one at that. It's also limited by the need to appeal to a large audience. In fact the main challenge Swift likely runs into is how often her songs are used to try and pick apart what is going on in her life rather than seen as the mirrors into our own souls that music is meant to be. Reputation in on Spotify now, so you can form your own opinions and let me know in the comments.