With a new Taylor Swift album waiting just over the horizon, now is the perfect opportunity for a retrospective look at reputation. What I’m about to say will either blow your mind or make me sound crazy: I believe that on reputation, Taylor purposefully paints herself as a modern parallel to Daisy Buchanan (the romantic interest from The Great Gatsby). More than that, acting in her role as Daisy, she reclaims the narrative from its focus on Gatsby’s perspective, and, in doing so, also provides justice to Daisy’s inspiration, the oft-neglected Zelda Fitzgerald.
Whew. Okay, now that may sound like nonsense, you may be scratching your head and wondering what I’m going on about, but bear with me. We’re about to jump headfirst into a rabbit hole of literary and musical references spanning almost 100 years. This article will cover the basic background info on both Taylor and Fitzgerald, while Part 2 will analyze reputation itself track-by-track and theme-by-theme.
…are you ready for it? Then baby, let the games begin.
The Background Info You Need To Know
First, to prove that it is possible for Taylor Swift to have done this on purpose, let’s show that she’s aware of the Fitzgeralds and their writing. The earliest piece of evidence I could find is from a 2013 Marie Claire interview, where, when asked for a quote she lives by, she chose the following:
“Why don’t you tell me that ‘if the girl had been worth having she’d have waited for you’? No, sir, the girl really worth having won’t wait for anybody.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise
Moving forward, on November 19, 2013, she posted two pictures to her Instagram page (now deleted, but I managed to procure backups) displaying quotes from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first book, This Side of Paradise.
In January 2014, Taylor was spotted wearing a Wildfox-designed “Great Catsby” sweatshirt (which to be fair might have nothing to do with her Fitzgerald fandom and more to do with the excellence of the pun).
In addition to all of this, the most powerful piece of evidence is the fact that Taylor repeatedly brings up Fitzgerald in interviews apropos of nothing (for instance, in this 2015 Vogue interview where she calls Fitzgerald her favorite author or this 2019 Elle interview where she compares music to his writing).
However, while what we have thus far shows at least some familiarity with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work, we don’t yet have anything tying her to Zelda Fitzgerald. So, to prove that point, on May 9, 2014, Taylor did an interview with Teen Vogue, where she reveals that the last book she read was a book about Zelda Fitzgerald (note the past tense there). Just a few weeks later on Memorial Day weekend, Vogue did an interview at her house, where the interviewer notes that she has “a copy of Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by the bed, partially read but much admired“. At this point, Taylor had already supposedly completed the book once but was reading through it a second time for some reason. What was it about the life of Zelda Fitzgerald that intrigued her so?
A Micro-Biography of the Fitzgeralds
Zelda Sayre was from a wealthy family. Francis Scott Fitzgerald was a middle-class alcoholic. While in the Army, Fitzgerald met Sayre and the two immediately fell in love. However, without any sort of social status or financial success to rely on, Sayre felt Fitzgerald was unreliable, and broke off the engagement. Fitzgerald then wrote his first novel, This Side of Paradise, which released to great acclaim and propelled him into stardom. He returned to Sayre with his newfound wealth and fame, and the two were wed. Thus began one of the most destructive romances in American history.
Zelda and Scott were the talk of 1920’s culture, their partying became the stuff of legend. They danced on top of taxis, splashed in public fountains, and got kicked out of hotel rooms. Their love letters to one another are still passed around to this day as beautiful examples of true love, but there was a darkness lurking underneath. Scott couldn’t handle the idea of Zelda as her own independent woman and repeatedly manipulated and gaslighted her. She was also a writer, and instead of supporting her, he regularly hampered her attempts at getting her work published, only to turn around and steal portions of it for his own novels. As time went on, he became more and more abusive towards her, going so far as to lock her inside the house whenever she claimed she wanted a divorce. She was committed to a mental institution, where painful and horrendous procedures were performed on her regularly. She eventually died in a hospital fire, with the memories of her past stripped from her by the electroshock tortures she had been put through.
Taylor Swift and Zelda Fitzgerald
A passing familiarity with the life of these two icons makes it easy to see why Taylor would find the tragic tale of Zelda Fitzgerald so intriguing. Both Taylor and Zelda were hopeless romantics whose writings focused largely on being in love, and both Taylor and Zelda found themselves betrayed by those loves over and over again. More importantly, Zelda Fitzgerald was never respected for her work; men in her life tried to take credit for it, while other men and women called her “crazy”. Meanwhile, Taylor has spent her whole career being called “crazy” for writing songs about her exes, being mocked by everything from late-night television to daytime talk shows. In addition, Taylor has also had incidents in relationships involving her creative work being used without proper credit.
In reputation, Taylor speaks as a voice for all the Zelda Fitzgeralds of the world, women who aren’t deemed worthy of respect simply because they earnestly desire love. Now that we’ve established the foundations of both Taylor and Zelda’s lives, we can begin to tie all of these disparate elements together via reputation itself.
Click here for part 2, where we connect the lives of Daisy Buchanan, Zelda Fitzgerald, and Taylor Swift via the lyrics and music videos of reputation.