The old Taylor Swift is dead. At least, that’s what she’s telling herself and above all, wants you to believe. In reality, the country-turned-pop star is the same as she ever was – even if she doesn’t realise it – only this time with a new addition: her most controversial single to date, ‘Look What You Made Me Do’. Despite collaborating with Jack Antonoff, a producer on 1989 who has most recently worked with Lorde on Melodrama, the track is a comeback that has truly divided fans and listeners alike.
Preceding the announcement of her new album, reputation, and the release of her new single, Swift’s social media went dark, before videos of snakes appeared across her social media accounts. Swift has become known as a snake in the past year or so, alluding to her venomous spats with Kim and Kanye, as well as her on-going feud with Katy Perry. This era of T-Swift seems to be her attempting to reclaim this image.
I say attempt, mainly due to the fact that not a lot has changed. Yes, her sound is different. Combining an interpolation of Right Said Fred’s ‘I’m Too Sexy’ and a subdued cheerleader-style chant in the chorus makes the track both catchy and catastrophic. LWYMMD is, to put it simply, odd. The immediacy of the dramatic piano riff and her use of falsetto in the bridge before the very, very bad chorus, tricks the listener into thinking they’re going to hear something daringly decent. Taylor then begins to explains how her unnamed subjects have actually made her ‘smarter [and] harder in the nick of time’ and that she has ‘a list of names and yours is in red, underlined’ in true Arya Stark-style. An allusion to her penchant for writing about her exes, or simply to give the impression she’s out for revenge? Who knows anymore. And as for the spoken word section in which she declares that ‘the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh, ‘cause she’s dead’ is ridiculous, and also sounds really bloody terrible. Surely if the old Taylor is dead and she has truly reinvented herself, she wouldn’t need to go to this much of a cringe worthy effort to tell us, right?
The Right Said Fred interpolation has been one of the most divisive critiques of Swift’s comeback, with the majority struggling to comprehend the choice while others have been praising her for being different and innovative. It’s a running theme with Taylor: her music and personality seems to be splitting people right down the middle these days. Many of the lyrics seem to be thinly veiled jibes at her pop culture adversaries, referencing the ‘tilted stage’ used by Kanye and Katy Perry, as well as making references to karma a là Perry yet again, and the video is no exception to this either.
The official music video serves to be a seriously explicit way to address Swift’s awareness that she is seen as a snake in sheep’s clothing, if you didn’t already get that from the self-indulgent, ‘pity me’ chorus. The song is full of references: to her song-writing pseudonym when collaborating with ex, Calvin Harris; her recent $1 billion sexual harassment lawsuit; her open letter to Apple; her dalliance with Tom Hiddleston, and she even parodies herself as the leader of an all-powerful ‘girl squad’, yet another thing she has faced criticism for in recent years. However, the most explicit and ‘in-yer-face’ move has to be the ‘Taylors’.
The ‘new’ Taylor stands above several other variations of herself from the past, from the teen country star Swift to the 1989-era Swift, each trying to claw their way out of the frenzied pack to the top of the stage. At the very end of the video, each of these 15 Swifts all talk while standing in front of a plane. This is when things get indulgent and a bit too self-aware for my liking: different Swifts reference different critiques or insults that we are all too familiar with. References are made alluding to previous insults regarding how fake she is, how she plays the victim, and how she ‘would very much like to be excluded from this narrative’, directly quoting her reaction to the 2009 VMAs drama surrounding Kanye West’s stage invasion.
And this is the thing. Taylor Swift seems to think she knows what she’s doing. She seems to think that the release of this song and the apparent embracing of her new-found villainous reputation is going to change the narrative. She chants ‘I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me’ like it’s a badge of honour to wear, something to be proud of but is it really? LWYMMD continues to serve the same existing narrative that has been in place for some time now: Swift is playing the blame game for the umpteenth time. Rather than tell the world, ‘this is who I am’, she instead comes out fighting with the argument of ‘well, you made me this way, it wasn’t my fault, this is the role you made me play’. She even sticks to similar metaphors, referencing ‘kingdom keys’ and the ‘actress starring in your bad dreams’; she may like to think she’s left the fairy-tale princess Taylor persona behind, but she still seems to be stuck in her ivory tower looking down on everyone else.
LWYMMD signals a new direction which for some major pop artists like Swift could be seen as refreshing and new, but in this case is seriously baffling and truly underwhelming. One can only hope she can salvage what little of her reputation she has left when her albums slithers its way to us come November.
[Originally written for Redbrick]
Image credit: Business Insider