Unaffected (probably) by the lukewarm critical response to “Look What You Made Me Do,” the rollout for Taylor Swift’s new album, Reputation, continued apace over Labor Day weekend. The artist debuted “… Ready for It?” Saturday before a nationally televised college football game and then released the single properly overnight. A smart move — if you’re only as good as your last song and your last song wasn’t good, best to drop a new song as soon as possible. Simply by virtue of not being “Look What You Made Me Do,” the new song marks forward progress, and it’s not terrible on its own, either. Welded together by Swedish pop mastermind Max Martin and his longtime teammates Ali Payami and Shellback, the production more than carries its own weight: Hypnotized by the cumulative grind of synths, one can just about forget the fact that Swift is — or at the very least sounds like — she’s rapping for the first time.
For some observers, the track’s abrasive sonics suggested that Swift, after “taking back” the snake imagery directed at her last summer by fans of antagonists Kanye and Kim Kardashian, was appropriating the glass-breaking noise popularized by Kanye’s 2013 punk-rap opus Yeezus. There really are some similarities, though resonances would likely be too strong a phrase. The austere, start-stop pacing of the lead-in to “Ready” sounds a bit like that of Yeezus centerpiece “I’m in It,” though more homogenized.
It’s tempting to marry every statement Swift releases to her Kanye drama; when Swift herself contributes to the temptation, as on “LWYMMD,” it’s impossible not to. But if it’s Ye-related shade she’s throwing on “Ready,” it’s (thankfully, finally) too faint to register. That doesn’t mean that Swift has arrived at an original new sound, either. As “Look” openly borrowed the cadences of its hook from Right Said Fred’s 1991 novelty hit “I’m Too Sexy,” so the bass-drum rhythm in the verse, trap hi-hats layered over said rhythm, and the vocal key of “Ready” all bear a striking resemblance to those of “Kids,” the second track from the raucous indie duo Sleigh Bells’ 2010 debut album Treats.
Intentional or not, this won’t be the first time that Sleigh Bells, an indie act that would count itself fortunate to sell one percent of the albums Taylor Swift has sold, has had its sound lifted into the mainstream: Back in April Demi Lovato settled a lawsuit with the band for taking, without attribution, the rhythm section from its Treats banger “Infinity Guitars” for Lovato’s “Stars.” Given that the links between Swift’s new single and Sleigh Bells’ old song seem more extensive than those tying “Stars” to “Infinity Guitars,” it’s possible that Sleigh Bells has grounds for yet another lucrative lawsuit against a pop star. Even if that doesn’t happen, it’s as great a time as any to listen to “Kids,” a forceful, innovative song which stands in relation to “… Ready for It?” as grasping a ripe, freshly picked orange does to viewing a hi-res digital photograph of a glass of Sunny Delight.