The chorus of Taylor Swift’s lead single, “Look What You Made Me Do,” off her new album Reputation (yes, I’ll still give her promo because I’m weak!! I’m only human!!) triggers in me a reaction I did not think it was possible to have. No matter how many times I listen to it, the chorus manages to surprise me, and not in a sexy way. It surprises me in the way of accidentally stepping in something wet when you have socks on.
This, however, does not mean that I have abstained from listening to it or that I’m not excited for the album or that I would ever turn down the opportunity to work for Taylor (being slim and model-like, I would be an excellent to her squad, but would settle for doing some writing for her or even being a lamp in her office. I’m flexible, Taylor, and that’s one of the many positive qualities I would bring to employment with you).
My adverse reaction to “Look What You Made Me Do” is most similar to eating something that you have a previously unknown allergy for. Not bad, but more…uncertain. It’s like me and avocado: I don’t know if I’m allergic, but my tongue sure does feel funny after eating it.
I was expecting (eagerly) a cleverer, ruder, sharper “Blank Space,” a pointed and satirical effort to skewer the multitudinous perceptions of Taylor Swift. In “Blank Space,” Taylor shed that annoyingly inauthentic disbelief and revealed that, yeah, she knows what we say about her. And by being so outlandishly unbelievable, she actually became believable. I recognized the misogyny behind the reporting surrounding her relationships, I believed that she doesn’t take her relationships nearly as seriously as the media does. Addressing her own inauthenticity made her authentic.
But despite its superficial resemblance to “Blank Space,” “Look What You Made Me Do” firmly roots itself next to “Better Than Revenge” in Victimhood Village. In “Better Than Revenge,” Taylor takes aim at the girl who “stole” her boyfriend. The entire song is dedicated to eviscerating this girl: her body, her clothing, her attitude, her intelligence. She’s a boyfriend-stealing, vintage-wearing slut. Nowhere is the boyfriend, who willingly left Taylor to be with someone else. He has no verses directed at him, his football jersey-wearing, his incessant need for hair gel. He is spared in this attack because to Taylor, he played no part in his leaving. He, in this song, is just a pawn without agency.
Taylor similarly positions herself in “Look What You Made Me Do” as both the victim and the pawn. She’s the victim of, we can infer, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian and Calvin Harris and Katy Perry and the media and men and feminists and misogynists. But she’s also painting herself as someone without agency. Look at what you made me do. I didn’t do it on my own, you did.
And what is it that Taylor thinks we made her do?
In the fallout of the “Nils Sjöberg”-Snapchatgate scandals, it hasn’t been much of anything. It’s been radio silence for months. So is she referring to before Snakegate?
Is it it’s leaking that she was the secret songwriter behind a Calvin Harris hit? If it’s aimed at Kanye West, is it a bizarre attempt to make herself the victim in a situation where she was exposed as a liar? If it’s this song working as an attempt at a Burn Book, then it fails because her digs are too vague for any cuts.
She’s exposing other people for exposing her as a double-crosser? Or she’s exposing them for double-crossing her for double-crossing them? I’m getting mired in the potentialities, but it’s almost impossible to right yourself on ground as murky as this. And it’s impossible to decide how I feel on what she does when I don’t know what “what” is.
What are you trying to say, Taylor? That you’re bad but we made you this way? That you’re good but they (we) want you to be bad?
“Look What You Made Me Do” (both the song and the video) doesn’t feel triumphant, or snarky or sharp. It feels overplayed. It feels harsh. It feels, despite being the years-old drama over employees between two millionaires, small. I don’t know if “Look What You Made Me Do” needs to be better or changed (I’m still listening to it because a Taylor Swift bop is a Taylor Swift bop), but I would’ve liked something different.
Something more empowered, that acknowledged that in addition to being a musician and a performer and a celebrity, Taylor Swift is also a businesswoman. And in business, you sometimes have to make unpopular decisions. So she made the best decisions for her brand, which involved cutting other people at the knees. That’s the thing I would like to listen to: unapologetic, clever, rude. Not blaming your conniving behavior retroactively on other people. Not seeking revenge for a mess of your own making.
So I guess the moral of the story is seriously, Taylor, I will send you my cover letter and resume.