In one of the most stunning comebacks in recent music history, Swift “rose up from the dead” with a single proclamation in her heel-turning single “Look What You Made Me Do”: The “old Taylor” is officially dead. Since its release, “Look” — the lead single from her upcoming album reputation — has provoked polarizing discussions among pop culture consumers, and whether or not Swift’s scornful return will mark the demise of a gifted songstress.
Make no mistake: Swift is hellbent on revenge, and she’s coming for blood. I couldn’t process the moment when I first listened to the track on Thursday evening. My jaw dropped by the time she chanted her first chorus, and I was left in disbelief. I’ll be honest — I expected a bubble pop diss, but what I got was a darker, more aggressive “Blank Space 2.0.” And I loved every part of it.
I can agree with other listeners that “Look” is not as profound in lyrical content. While some may argue that Swift has sacrificed deep narrative writing at the expense of thinly veiled attacks against her adversaries, the “Bad Blood” singer nevertheless displayed a talent that only pop geniuses possess: the ability to deliver a mantra and statement that become ingrained in every listener’s head. Whether or not people like the track, “Look” has become both a cultural phenomenon and a testament to Swift’s identity as a ubiquitous force in music. Most importantly, it reaffirms yet another hotly debated topic — Taylor Swift’s status as a modern pop icon.
Within a day of the song’s release, “Look What You Made Me Do” received polarizing opinions from both listeners and critics. People had a lot of questions. What did we make her do? Who is the new Taylor? One of the most prevalent criticisms of “Look” is that Swift is attempting to rehash the stale drama that left her publicly shamed and disparaged in 2016. The single was deemed “melodramatic,” “petulant, “tired” and “outdated” in a flurry of scathing reviews.
But why shouldn’t Taylor Swift sing that she doesn’t like Kanye West’s tilted stage? After all, male artists have done it from time to time without receiving direct character attacks. Drake and Meek Mill clapped back at each other in “Back to Back” and “Wanna Know,” respectively. Neil Young took a jab at Lynyrd Skynrd in “Southern Man” and Alabama.” Guns N’ Roses released “Get in the Ring” to get back at music critics who wronged them.
It’s the same argument that Swift made in 2014: If male artists can write about their emotions and get away with it, then why can’t she? Swift’s critics are blinded by a layer of internalized misogyny that’s forced them to align with the notion that she can’t afford to react to her experiences through her own lens. I don’t care to know the truth behind her feud with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West — all I can say is that I admire Taylor Swift for standing her ground, staying true to her style of deeply personal songwriting and not giving a flying f-ck about what anyone thinks of her.
Swift’s anger in “Look” is not unwarranted; in fact, it’s understandable. After being placed under a microscope by the press for several years, Swift was spammed with snake emojis across social media platforms, scrutinized for engendering fragile, white feminism and labeled as an opportunist who exploits every situation to play the victim. To release a record with such a different tone takes a truly confident woman, and Swift managed to channel her rage and pain with a cool surliness that defies her musical conventions.
Again, I’ll say it: Taylor Swift is a musical sensation and icon of our generation. “Look” is sonically different from everything she’s created so far, and it’s a sign that Swift is a pop chameleon (or a snake, for that matter). It’s incongruous, it’s strange — some might not even call it pop — but it’s a cynical, emblematic piece of iconography that will echo in everyone’s minds for several months to come. Taylor Swift has been deliberate and intentional on every creative front, and in “Look” she continues to push the boundary of the intersections between music and identity.
The “Look” music video, which ends with 14 effigies of past Taylor Swifts mocking each other, ties in everything Taylor Swift wants observers to know about her return. She’s a master of satire, owning every persona used against her. She’s a snake queen rising from the dead. And she’s the powerful artist reclaiming the brush — this time to paint her own narrative.
Taylor Swift knows you’ve been talking about her, and this is what you made her do. “Look” is a tour de force that has already destroyed records across the board. In 24 hours, the single was streamed 10.1 million times on Spotify, the largest global debut for a single track in the service’s history. Its music video surpassed 38 million YouTube views in one day, toppling Adele’s crown for “Hello” by a margin of more than 10 million views. And Billboard predicts that “Look” is headed for the largest digital sales week since “Hello.”
If “Look What You Made Me Do” is only the beginning of this journey, I’m excited to see how Taylor Swift will dominate every conversation about pop music when reputation arrives.