“Is she about to rap?” asked my roommate as we pressed play on Taylor Swift’s new single, “Look What You Made Me Do,” and heard the progression of 90s-esque minor chords. The single comes from Swift’s long-awaited sixth studio album, reputation, which is slated for release this November. Luckily, Swift did not rap. She did, however, confidently put out the most pitiful piece of pop music since “Gangnam Style.” On “Look What You Made Me Do,” Swift awakens her forgotten feud with the Kardashian-Wests in a graceless and anti-climactic cacophony that leaves listeners torn between laughter and pity.
Throughout her career, Swift has been known to artfully transform real-life experiences into lyrics — a reputation that has her fans diligently investigating her music for clues most often pertaining to ex-boyfriends. Though “Look” isn’t shy about pointing the generic finger, a certain lyric has already led to a string of hypotheses. “I don’t like your tilted stage,” Swift sings — or rather, says — referring rather blatantly to the floating tilted stage rapper Kanye West famously debuted on his Saint Pablo tour.
Like a majority of the track’s supposedly insulting lyrics, this one is remarkably comical. Swift and West found themselves feuding last year following a lyric in West’s song “Famous”: “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex. Why? I made that bitch famous.” Swift went on to publicly condemn West in an eloquent speech at the Grammys, warning young women that others will try to take credit for their fame. In her husband’s defense, Kim Kardashian-West leaked the recording of a phone conversation between West and Swift, in which Swift acknowledged and expressed approval of West’s lyrics.
However, with the untimely release of Swift’s track, it seems that the pop star is intent on rehashing tabloid drama the world indulged in and dismissed months ago in order to focus on more pressing issues. Lyrics like “I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time,” are baffling. The entire song dwells in the past tense, but listeners have no idea what Swift is talking about. Is this track supposed to exemplify how she got smarter? What did West make her do? Because from where most of the Internet was watching, it looked like Swift was the one getting schooled.
It’s unclear whether the usually adept Swift saw this colossal blunder of a track as some sort of femme fatale narrative; with its oddball interpolation of Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy” and almost embarrassing lyrics, the song seems like a desperate attempt to interject the final say from a musician who knows she will top charts despite the quality of her product — the melody of which, moreover, sounds like a medley of several different incongruous songs.
And of course, there’s that bizarre bridge, where the “new” Swift, or perhaps the snake on her Instagram, answers a landline of all things, to make the album’s cliché message clear: “I’m sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh, cause she’s dead!” Does that mean Swift’s career of heartbreak ballads is over? Can we expect to find rap battles on the upcoming album? And most importantly, will her incessant blunders ever stop being memes?
Although we won’t know what Swift’s career holds until the release of her album, fans did receive an answer to the latter question with the premiere of the single’s music video at Sunday’s MTV Video Music Awards.
In the video, Swift clings to her baroque essence — bathing in a tub of jewels, sitting atop a throne while a snake pours her tea, crashing a gold Maserati with a Grammy in hand, as if to take a glamorous approach to free falling. In the midst of all that sparkle, however, is dense symbolism referring to Swift’s most famous tabloid moments. To name a few, there’s the Nils Sjoberg gravestone, the “Et tu Brute” carving on her throne, the army of perfect mannequins.
In the video’s finale, 14 versions of Swift’s former self bicker among one another while one stands in the back, reiterating her most famous criticisms: “There she goes, playing the victim, again,” says biker Swift to country Swift. But the finger-pointing returns with 2009 MTV Video Music Awards Swift: “I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative,” she says, referring to the note she wrote in response to Kim Kardashian’s phone recording.