Taylor Swift is pissed, y’all.
It’s understandable: the past twelve months haven’t been kind. Despite scoring a #2 hit with the Zayn duet “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever” from the Fifty Shades Darker soundtrack, Swift has hopped from one PR mess to another. There was her messy social media breakup with Calvin Harris, and her blink-and-you-missed-it (and be glad if you did) romance with Tom Hiddleston – although that dalliance likely did more harm to him than her for its pure PR cynicism. There was her feud with Kim and Kanye over that infamous “Famous” line; her request to be “excluded from the narrative” was a pop culture moment in and of itself. And then there is Katy Perry, with whom she’s engaged in an ongoing, and boring, war of song lyrics, apparently over a bunch of tour dancers.
So yeah, Taylor’s got a lot to be mad about, at least in her mind, and she’s using her new album Reputation to let it all out. On the cover of her album, she is drenched in black and white and gothic lettering, indicating a darker tone that would suggest notable maturity and growth after a relatively tumultuous period.
But then you hear “Look What You Made Me Do” and you realize that Taylor Swift is as petty as she’s always been. The difference is, she’s embracing it, at least a little bit.
Where old Taylor would’ve woven intricate stories to intimate real-life rifts, “new” Taylor is very upfront. Amidst dramatic piano keys and a fuzzy beat sizzling beneath, Taylor is very direct: “I don’t like you.” Her love of metaphors remains, but she is more openly disgusted at her circumstances. She’s not satisfied with “shaking off” her haters anymore; no, she wants karma and revenge. She’s even built an Arya Stark-like list of enemies (presumably Kimye, Katy, Spotify, Nicki Minaj, her ex-boyfriends) underlined in red and double checked for accuracy. It’s a dark sentiment for someone more associated with love stories and fairytales, and it’s almost refreshing. But unlike her Westerosi inspiration, she lacks the follow through.
After all of that venomous preening, we get to the chorus, a repetition of the song’s title that oddly (but catchily) interpolates Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy.” One wonders, what exactly was she made to do? Is she a victim of whoever is on that redlined list? Or did she do something dastardly, worthy of the “Regina George in sheep’s clothing” moniker that Katy Perry allegedly bestowed on her? Whatever the answer, Swift bares no blame in her side of the story. There’s a sense that she was on the precipice of some revelation that would lead to pop nirvana, but her natural inclination for contrivance and playing the hapless victim held her back. Earworm it may be, and pop radio will catapult this to the top of the charts for months, but it’s an incredible anti-climax.
It’s a shame, because Swift embracing her inner Regina would’ve at least been different. If you’ve spent the better part of a year and a half as pop’s mean girl, why not have fun with it? It seemed like she would in those Twitter teasers, reclaiming the snake imagery that nipped at her heels all last year. But like everything else, the contrivance without levity won out, wasting the most interesting production of her career on half-hearted stabs at ferocity.
If Taylor Swift is really a snake, then she’s fangless; she promises bite but leaves no mark.