Unless you were too busy fighting off cutters in the Terrace salad line or the WiFi in your new Collegetown apartment has yet to be set up, you probably heard that country-singer-turned-pop-sensation-turned-fallen-icon Taylor Swift ended her year-long media hiatus last week and released her first piece of new music since 1989. The song, entitled “Look What You Made Me Do,” is the lead single off her upcoming sixth album Reputation, due out in November and designed as a clapback to last year’s showdown with Kimye. (TL;DR Taylor denounced the misogynistic line referencing her in Kanye West’s song “Famous,” Kanye claimed Taylor gave him permission to use it, and Kim had the tapes to prove him right.) The whole showdown was ugly, dramatic, and utterly damaging for Taylor’s carefully constructed pristine image, but the uproar surrounding it has pretty much subsided in the year since. That is, until Taylor resuscitated it with a song as ugly and dramatic as the events that inspired it.
Before I continue, I must preface this by saying that I do not intend for this piece to be a generic “let’s all bash on Taylor Swift” tirade. Taylor’s music was never really my taste, I’ll admit, and I thought she was shady AF long before Kim Kardashian proved it to everyone else (what kind of artist is someone whose career is literally founded on writing about people who have wronged her?). But despite this, I know when to give credit where credit is due. Taylor Swift is talented and deserves her title as a pop icon. Personally, I preferred her pseudo-country days, but I acknowledge her shift to full-fledged pop has been good for her. “Blank Space” is a great song, and when it first came out, I unabashedly listened to it on repeat for a month. I even supported 1989’s win for Album of the Year, despite my belief that Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly was utterly ROBBED. My purpose is not to compose a diatribe against everything Taylor Swift stands for, or to call her a snake, or denigrate her just for being her. What I do have a problem with is how completely and utterly manufactured this “comeback” is to the end of reinforcing the narrative of victimization on which she has capitalized for literally years.
If the fact that she thought she needed to release a “comeback” album wasn’t enough, her intention to use LWYMMD to reposition herself as a target is most obvious in the song’s lyrics itself. It’s not just that “Look What You Made Me Do” is a bad song, although, plainly, it really is. The opening verses that claim, “I don’t like your little games/Don’t like your tilted stage/The role you made me play/Of the fool, no, I don’t like you” make Taylor sound sophomoric and childish. And with almost no vocal range and such lack of harmony between the various parts of the song, it’s a far cry from the kind of music featured on 1989. What really gets me, however, is the chorus—and for that matter, the title as well. With all the lyrical ingenuity of a fourteen-year-old wannabe Avril Lavigne writing emo songs from her childhood bedroom, Taylor croons:
Look what you made me do
Look what you made me do
Look what you made me do
Look what you just made me do.
More than their simplicity, what bothers me most about this line is that it enables Taylor to completely absolve herself of responsibility for her actions. Asserting that her haters “made” her do anything puts forth the erroneous notion that Taylor lacked any agency in her vilification when, in fact, it was precisely her compulsive attempts to play the victim card that got her into this mess in the first place. We all know—in part, because Taylor hasn’t let us forget—that she is powerful and successful in her own right; her alleged outrage over Kanye taking credit for her fame attests to that. But if she’s going to take ownership for her fame, she also has to take ownership for her mistakes and acknowledge that it is fully in her capacity to be different.
And then there’s the video—oh, where to even begin? From the “Thriller”-esque zombie Taylor crawling through a graveyard to the “Formation”-esque synchronized dancing to the human pile of Taylors Past, the whole video is just an artistically-appropriated hot mess. But you don’t understand, it’s satire! It’s supposed to be dramatic! You’re not supposed to take it seriously! DON’T WORRY, I GET IT!! As if it weren’t obvious from the intonation declaring that, “The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now because she’s dead” (AKA the point in the song where I had to stop listening), it’s extremely clear to me and everyone watching that Taylor has put to rest the former versions of herself that allegedly “died” along with her reputation and transformed herself into someone new. Which would be a totally cool and appropriate metaphor if, you know, there weren’t people who were actually dying all over the world and suffering from circumstances far worse than a tarnished status—real social issues on which Taylor, despite her internationally celebrated status and massive social media following, consistently fails to comment. (But that’s a whole other can of worms.)
What’s worse is that this is only a preview of a fully-fledged album allegedly all dedicated to the same purpose: blaming others for her tarnished image and further exonerating herself under the guise of victimhood. A friend of mine wondered if the rest of the album could be this bad. On one hand, given that LWYMMD is Reputation’s lead single, I would conjecture not to expect much else quality-wise from the remaining tracks. On the other, it could very well be that Taylor’s team pushed this one out not because it was good, but because they believed it would generate the most hype for her album—a possibility which would be equally laughable, but unsurprising given her impressive PR team. Whatever the case, all I can say is if you’re going to make a “comeback” album, at least have the decency to make good music. “What Do You Mean?” didn’t change the fact that Justin Bieber is a troll, but at least it was catchy enough to let his assholery slide.
Taylor, girl, I might not be your biggest fan, but I know—and I’m sure even your most devout fans would agree—that you’re better than this. You’re talented and successful and clearly smart, if not a little disingenuous; start making music that is worthy of you. You want to stop haters from hating on you? Don’t release an album whose only end is to add fuel to their fire. You want people to perceive you as fundamentally good and virtuous and feminist? Don’t let your public image become a priority over doing legitimate good, and start celebrating yourself and others instead of tearing them down. And you want to be “Famous” in your own right? Then stop allowing your very deliberately public relationships dictate the music you create. Because the truth is, you’re famous enough to do whatever TF you want—there’s no one stopping you from doing better.
And then maybe the next time you sing “Look What You Made Me Do,” you’ll have done something worth talking about.