When ‘Tears On My Guitar’ was released in 2006, many grew to like the sweet-sounding blonde teenager who rocked ringlet curls and sang about unrequited love with her acoustic guitar. She was as cute as a button, her lyrics raw and true; she also made country music hot again by permeating the charts with actual bops sans the southern twang. From then on, Taylor Swift always played the girl next door, her image hardly tainted by her well-played act of ‘America’s sweetheart’, so when she announced her entry into pop music with ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’, everyone adjusted well because she played her cards right.
Today, Swift is in hot water for all the mess she never cleaned. Instead of fixing her feuds, she thrived on them and wrote song after song. Everything was blamed on her competitors, enemies, ex lovers, the industry, but never herself – including her controversial choice to pull out from all streaming services. As the world waits for her latest material titled Reputation to come out this fall, media publications have pointed out several aspects of her brand new single ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ as her attempt at self-awareness after many years of playing the victim – some even comparing her upcoming work with some of the industry’s greatest. Is this Swift’s act of self-redemption? Here’s what I think.
While everyone is hung up on Game of Thrones, the hot Mayweather vs. McGregor fight, Trump’s continuous barrage of tweets, and chaotic events surrounding this year’s SEA Games, Taylor Swift sneakily released a teaser of a slithering snake on Twitter, suggesting that she’s either (1) a Slytherin, or (2) putting out new music. Accurately, a cover art circulated the media and more snippets of the upcoming song surfaced every website in the form of GIFs. Before the full track was out, the hype was real – people wanted to see what the whole snake thing was all about. Was she plotting revenge? It’s natural to wonder, especially after the singer mysteriously disappeared from all of her social media accounts, then returned to the media with a sexual assault trial against “ass-grabber” DJ David Mueller and justifiably won.
The single – upon its release – was a miss in my humble opinion. When compared to her older bops that had proper progression and catchier melodies, ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ was a musical disaster, her talk-sing techniques in the song were all over the place and for once, I miss 1989 Taylor more than ever. On the other hand, the accompanying music video is where it’s at – if you want to dig deeper and read into that whole snake symbolism she’s got going. It’s a dark and satirical self-reflection piece from Swift, who is famous for twisting stories to fit into her own narrative despite that good-girl image she constantly parades. Described as “a Regina George in sheep’s clothing” by Katy Perry herself after their feud, Swift was also under the spotlight for selective activism, and her one-dimensional views of feminism. She’s a confusing figure who constantly tries to put the blame on others even when there’s concrete evidence (thank you Kim for the leaked phone call) everywhere, then comes up to receive her Grammy award with a passive-aggressive speech addressing the issue:
“As the first woman to win Album of the Year at the Grammys twice, I want to say to all the young women out there: There are going to be people along the way who will try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame. But if you just focus on the work and you don’t let those people side-track you, someday when you get where you’re going, you’ll look around and you will know that it was you and the people who love you who put you there. And that will be the greatest feeling in the world. Thank you for this moment.”
Nobody wanted to deal with her shit no more, but fans and non-fans stood by because she kept putting out songs that were annoying but easy to sing on karaoke nights. She was that girl, spiteful but too cute to ignore. In the music video of ‘Look What You Made Me Do’, Swift reenacts moments and characters that had led up to her current reputation. With a little help from director Joseph Khan, Swift takes a jab at her past self by burying the facade she’s kept on for too long. Stay till the end and you’ll see other, more straightforward parodies of herself (at the 2:50 mark, Swift announces that the “old Taylor is dead”) and an outro that includes 15 of Taylor Swift’s best personas, from 2009 VMA Taylor, the Taylor from Red, and even nerdy Taylor from ‘You Belong With Me’.
Dan Weiss of Chicago-based publication Consequence of Sound put up an interesting article over the weekend, mentioning two big names of the past and today by putting Taylor Swift and Michael Jackson side-by-side, at the dismay of internet users. Titled ‘Look What We Made Taylor Swift Do‘, the writer offered a breakdown of the starlet’s latest song release, bringing into detail of the superstar’s milestones and history, the good and the bad.
— Consequence of Sound (@consequence) August 25, 2017
Interestingly, Swift’s Reputation record is not even out (one single is not enough to be representative of the whole album), yet Weiss put it in the same category as Lady Gaga’s Artpop, Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience, The Beatles’ White Album, Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, and lastly, Michael Jackson’s Dangerous, calling it a watershed moment for these musicians. The writer predictably make out Reputation to be as divisive as the rest, though I’d like to think that most of us who’ve witnessed Taylor Swift’s acts over the years would be more relieved than offended by Reputation at the rate that it is going now.
In retrospect, I do agree with the statement by Weiss that this is Swift’s first “arthouse awakening,” where she exhibits not only authenticity but responsibility over her actions, without drifting away from themes that make her, her. Judging based on only ‘Look What You Made Me Do’, Joseph Khan – who also directed the music video for ‘Blank Space’ – maintained balance by instilling similar colour palettes, her famous red lips, and lyrics that are gaudy but help get her message across. It’s experimental without straying too far, but it is also a breakthrough for the star, who first landed into fame for her cookie-cutter country girl look and love songs. With Reputation, Swift is at risk of either making it big again or staining her long and hard-earned list of accolades. Just like Michael Jackson, whose Dangerous album made him lose the public during the time of its release, Reputation could do that to Taylor Swift, no matter how unbreakable she may seem in the industry.
It is important to note however, that unlike all the albums Weiss named in his article by artistes who underwent a rebellious streak, Swift is simply retaliating by owning up to her mistakes, rather than growing up gracefully as Justin Timberlake did in The 20/20 Experience or like Michael Jackson did with Dangerous, his most socially conscious record to date. Only time can tell whether Reputation is everything we’ve ever hoped for from Swift, who seriously needs to start burning old bridges and grow up from all the petty drama she’s caused. In the meantime, we can relish ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ for its aesthetic and more if the tune is something you can jam to, otherwise, keep your expectations high for Reputation, which is set to drop on 10 November.
“I’m sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now.”
“Oh ’cause she’s dead!” pic.twitter.com/MSmfm4j2lM
— Dave Itzkoff (@ditzkoff) August 25, 2017
If you’ve been keeping track, netizens has pointed out that this is the date of Kanye West’s mother’s death – though Swift confirmed that it’s only a coincidence. Out of respect, I hope that she will change it and not be that girl again (learn your lesson honey), but who knows, she might’ve even penned an apology track for Yeezus? Or that old Taylor isn’t really dead after all? We’ll never know until it happens.
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