Taylor Swift shapes new narrative with 'Look What You Made Me Do'
The pop star's comeback addresses much more than her celebrity feuds
“I’m sorry. The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now.”
But the new Taylor is happy to take your call.
After a whirlwind of teaser videos featuring a menacing snake and rows of speculative comments on Taylor Swift’s newly blank Instagram, fans finally got the news they had been waiting over two years for: a new album is coming their way. The announcement not only brought a striking black and white album cover and a new single, but also the introduction to a totally new era of Swift. And it wasn’t just the missing signature red lipstick that made fans look twice.
Swift has, from an artistic perspective, taken a dark turn, trading in her sparkly “1989” tour outfits for edgy couture. She also seems to be veering away from her typical bubbly, lovestruck pop sound, taking on a taunting, eerie audio that seems fitting of a 90s supernatural horror film -- partially because the beat from Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy” compliments Swift’s single line chorus.
“Look What You Made Me Do” comes after a year’s worth of feuds, scandals and trials, acting as Swift’s cumulative addition to the ‘narrative’ she has excluded herself from for so long. This includes Katy Perry and Kanye West’s open criticism of Swift which sparked a fury of social media fights and the origination of the infamous snake emoji. Through it all, Swift (mostly) stayed silent.
That is, until she released her single. Now, people believe that “Look What You Made Me Do” is a direct response to Perry and West when, truly, those are personal and petty fights in her eyes.
There’s a third party that Swift has real problems with: the news media.
You may say, “But wait, she directly references Kanye’s ‘tilted stage’ and Perry’s ‘feast’ and basically wrote a whole diss track and is playing the victim, again.” Well, clearly, you haven’t seen the music video.
A beautifully crafted Tumblr post laid out the parallels between each seemingly bizarre and lavish scene in the video and headlines roasting Swift over the past few years. For example, an image of her robbing the ‘Stream Co.’ bank with her cat-masked crew matches with accusations of greediness when she pulled her catalog off of Spotify in 2014. The perfect lines of robotic models mock those who compare her ‘girl squad’ to an exclusive type of cult. The “I Heart T.S.” t-shirt, the quick quip of her “Shake it Off” persona (“You can’t possibly be that surprised all the time”) and even the throne of snakes all match up to notable moments when the news media has hammered Swift.
And the message goes beyond the big visuals. Much of Swift’s transition from the “1989” era to her “Reputation” comeback relies on the little details that tell you that, despite a two year leave, she was paying attention. In fact, she’s been paying attention this whole time. She dawns her iconic blue “Out of the Woods” music video dress in the beginning, a slight nod to the last video she made before taking a break. Her pseudonym while writing for ex-boyfriend Calvin Harris (Nils Sjoberg) is engraved in a headstone in the haunted graveyard. A single dollar bill lies by her in the bathtub in reference to her recent sexual assault trial. Twelve snakes surround her as she, the lucky 13th snake, sips tea on a gold chair engraved with “Et tu Brute.”
The victim. The snake. The boy-hoarder. The greedy millionaire. The leader of a cult. The always surprised winner. The one who keeps receipts and makes them into songs.
These are just a few of the news media’s interpretations of Swift which she lays out in the video and allows a final bow. And, no, they won’t get an encore.
This level of criticism is not in the news media’s job description, especially when it comes to pop stars who are simply pursuing a career that brings them, and others, joy. While the media does exist to report news and hold people accountable, it should focus on the ones that actually need to be held accountable because their actions affect other people. In fact, maybe pop culture media needs to begin holding itself accountable after it has spent years preying on the every move, word and song of a young pop star. I mean, just look at what they made her do.
Yet, there is a sense of excitement in this version of Swift. The boldness of her visuals, her willingness to experiment with sound and the general unpredictability of her upcoming image is, in fact, what makes Swift’s comeback so exciting. Currently, Swift’s creative direction is an enigma, and the dark image of “Look What You Made Me Do” could just be the first manifestation of the “Reputation” era. We haven’t even heard an interview or seen an Instagram post not promoting the single yet. The next time we see or hear Swift, who knows what we will get?
Furthermore, she’s not just making simple, catchy songs and aesthetically pleasing music videos anymore. She’s actually adding to the narrative both auditorily and visually, even if it’s not one that people might agree with. This is her narrative. This is the fans’ narrative. And Swift is in control from this moment forward.
You can’t mess with the new Taylor Swift anymore, and you’re gonna need much more than a headline to bury her reputation.