Dress (Taylor Swift song)

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"Dress"
Song by Taylor Swift
from the album Reputation
ReleasedNovember 10, 2017
StudioRough Customer (Brooklyn Heights)
Genre
Length3:50
LabelBig Machine
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)
  • Taylor Swift
  • Jack Antonoff
Audio
"Dress" on YouTube

"Dress" is a song by the American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift from her sixth studio album, Reputation (2017). She wrote and produced the song with Jack Antonoff. A slow jam, it has an R&B production that contains stuttering beats and falsetto vocals in the refrain. The sexual lyrics consist of syncopated phrasings and are about romantic devotion: the narrator tells her lover that she bought a dress only for them to remove it.

Critics generally praised "Dress", deeming its lyrics about sexuality as a new aspect to Swift's artistry and image. They complimented the sultry and sensual production and intimate lyricism. Some reviewers consider it an album highlight and one of Swift's best tracks. Commercially, it received certifications in Australia and the United Kingdom. Swift included "Dress" in the set list of her Reputation Stadium Tour (2018), in which she performed the song and dedicated its choreography to the dancer Loie Fuller.

Background and release[edit]

Taylor Swift released her fifth studio album, 1989, in October 2014. 1989's synth-pop production transformed Swift's sound and image from country-oriented to mainstream pop.[1] The album was a commercial success, selling over five million copies in the United States within one year, and spawning three Billboard Hot 100 number-one singles.[2] The BBC asserted that the success solidified Swift's status as a global pop star.[3]

Taylor Swift performing while dressed in a black gown
Swift performing "Dress" on the Reputation Stadium Tour in 2018

Swift was a target of tabloid gossip during the promotion of 1989.[4] Her "America's Sweetheart" reputation, a result of her wholesome and innocent image, was blemished from publicized short-lived relationships and disputes with other celebrities, including a dispute with the rapper Kanye West and the media personality Kim Kardashian.[5][6] Swift became increasingly reticent on social media, having previously maintained an active presence with a large following, and avoided interactions with the press amidst the tumultuous affairs.[7] She conceived her sixth studio album, Reputation, as an answer to the media commotion surrounding her celebrity.[8]

Big Machine Records released Reputation on November 10, 2017; "Dress" is track number 12.[9][10] Although the song did not chart, it was certified in Australia (platinum)[11] and the United Kingdom (silver).[12] Swift included "Dress" in the set list of her 2018 Reputation Stadium Tour; a white-robed figure with extended arms weaving white fabric ran around her, while she performed the song wearing a one-piece suit and a complementary black gown.[13] During the concerts, she dedicated the choreography of the song's performance to the dancer Loie Fuller, whom Swift described as a woman "who fought for artists to own their work".[14][15] Vogue's writer Laird Borrelli-Persson opined that Fuller's failed attempt of protecting her "famed and much copied" serpentine dance from copyright paralleled to Swift losing the rights of her first six studio albums to Big Machine in 2019.[15] On the Eras Tour show on August 7, 2023, in Los Angeles, Swift performed an acoustic guitar version of "Dress" as a "surprise song" outside the regular set list.[16]

Music and lyrics[edit]

Swift wrote and produced "Dress" with Jack Antonoff, who recorded the track with Laura Sisk at Rough Customer Studio in Brooklyn Heights, New York. Antonoff programmed all the instruments, and Serban Ghenea mixed the track at MixStar Studios in Virginia Beach, Virginia.[17] As with much of Reputation, "Dress" incorporates urban elements of hip hop and R&B.[18] Its synth-pop production incorporates stuttering beats and syncopated phrasings.[19][9][20] Andrew Unterberger from Billboard described it as a slow jam and said its production styles evoked the music of the English alternative R&B musician FKA Twigs,[9] while Evan Sawdey from PopMatters deemed it an imitation of FKA Twigs's "Two Weeks" (2014).[21] NPR critic Ann Powers wrote that the rhythms of "Dress" evoked the beat of R. Kelly's 2002 song "Ignition (Remix)".[18] According to The New York Times critic Jon Caramanica, it is one of the Reputation tracks that embrace "soft-core pop-R&B" with a "synth-thick production that moves at a sensual gallop".[22]

In the refrain, which is accompanied by a synth drop, Swift sings with falsetto vocals ("Say my name and everything just stops/ I don't want you like a best friend/ I only bought this dress so you could take it off").[9][23] Chris Willman from Variety thought the falsetto evoked the vocal stylings of Prince,[24] and Carl Wilson from Slate named Prince's "If I Was Your Girlfriend" (1987) as a reference point.[23] Caramanica characterized Swift's falsetto as "blushing exhales" that recalled the styles of AlunaGeorge.[22] The sensual lyrics of "Dress" are about emotional intimacy, with sexual imagery such as spilling wine in the bathtub, hands shaking from anticipation, and wanting one's lover to carve their name onto the bedpost.[9][25]

Critics extensively discussed how the sexual lyrics developed Swift's image. GQ's Ira Madison III felt that the sexuality and emotional frankness in "Dress" was an appropriate move for Swift, whose romantic relationships had been presented "entirely unsexed, devoid of any real emotion", in the press.[26] Powers remarked that the lyric "I only bought this dress so you could take it off" was the song's hook, and it represented her newfound relaxed attitude towards sex. Whereas Swift had previously been conservative about sex in her music and image, the embrace of sexuality helped her cross a "self-imposed line".[18] Unterberger connected the dress imagery to Swift's previous songs, such as the "little black dress" in "Tim McGraw" (2006) and the "nice dress" in "Wildest Dreams" (2015). He commented that the frank sexual act of taking the dress off was a gradual culmination of Swift's sexual explorations, which she had been subtle about in her past albums, such as "Give me something that'll haunt me when you're not around" in Speak Now (2010) or "I'll do anything you say if you say it with your hands" in Red (2012). According to him, that Swift repeatedly sings "Take it off" signified her artistic and personal evolution.[9]

Reception[edit]

When "Dress" was first released, critics and fans were fascinated by the lyrics, particularly the hook, "Only bought this dress so you could take it off."[27][28][29] Powers said that the lyrics showed Swift singing about sex while sounding "freer and more truly happy than ever before".[18] Sawdey said that the track exhibited "a nervousness and yearning we haven't seen from [Swift] before", deeming the themes compelling.[21] Kitty Empire of The Observer deemed "Dress" one of the album's "masterclasses" that showcased Swift's "passion".[30] Madison commented that the song found Swift at her "perhaps [...] most sexually explicit" and complimented it for showcasing a mature development from her past songs about adolescent lover, which made her more relatable.[26] Wilson picked it as a "sensual highlight" that represented Reputation's themes of sexuality that marked an artistic and personal growth for Swift.[23] In AllMusic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine picked "Dress" as one of the album's standouts for showcasing a "blend of vulnerability, melody, and confidence" that is "deeply felt and complex".[31]

Other critics also praised the production. Unterberger highlighted the third refrain where the instrumental stops after Swift sings, "Say my name and everything just stops", before resuming again "taking an entire beat of silence". He opined that this trick made Swift "a great pop songwriter" because by saving it for the third refrain, after "three minutes of continuous humming synths, the silence hits infinitely harder than any further drop ever could".[9] Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine hailed the track as a "reminder that Swift is capable of making pop perfection seem effortless",[32] Jamieson Cox of Pitchfork dubbed the song a "panting, shuddering highlight" that saw Swift singing "with palpable confidence and ease",[33] and Meskin Fekadu of the Associated Press called it a "winning song" for showcasing a "sensual" side of Swift.[34] In The Line of Best Fit, Eleanor Graham lauded the "effortless" hook and the "impossible effervescence of the chorus", deeming "Dress" the only Reputation track that "sounds like [Swift's] future".[19]

Retrospective reviews have remained generally positive. In Vulture, Nate Jones described "Dress" as a "slinky" track that offered "an unexpected payoff for years of lyrics about party dresses", citing the lyric, "I only bought this dress so you could take it off", which represented a newfound confidence to express her sexuality.[35] Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone said the song featured "the ache in [Swift's] voice, the yearning in those synth sparkles" and compared the way Swift "interrupts her own wordplay with forlorn sighs" to Prince's "Little Red Corvette" (1983).[36] Laura Snapes of The Guardian deemed "Dress" a "gasping" track and Swift's "first actually sexy song", ranking it among her best works.[37] In Esquire, Lauren Kranc wrote that "Dress" was one of Reputation's best tracks and Swift's "underrated classics" for showcasing "perfect pop song formula and raw, head-over-heels vulnerability".[38] The A.V. Club's Mary Kate Carr selected "Dress" among the 22 "underrated Taylor Swift songs" and described it as "the perfect marriage of Swift's romanticism and newfound lust".[39]

Personnel[edit]

Adapted from the liner notes of Reputation:

Certifications[edit]

Certifications for "Dress"
Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[11] Platinum 70,000
United Kingdom (BPI)[12] Silver 200,000

Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

References[edit]

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