Out of the Woods and Into the Fray
WORDS BY ELIJAH ABRAHAM
July 2016 saw 22 Snapchats threaten to derail Taylor Swift’s entire career.
In order to exonerate her villainised husband, Kim Kardashian West famously posted video to Snapchat catching Swift in a vicious lie; pulling apart Swift’s carefully constructed victim narrative, ‘exposing’ her and cementing her status as popular culture’s resident snake for the indefinite future.
In the immediate aftermath of this crucial moment in history, many, myself included, wondered whether Swift had any hope of recovering.
After all, it was uncharacteristic for Taylor Swift to be backed into a corner. Taylor Swift, who hitherto had managed to not only survive most feuds unscathed, but somehow emerged even more successful.
Sure enough though, Swift went silent and the blood-hungry public took her silence as defeat. As one of the biggest titans in pop music and prime fodder for the news cycle, even her silence became a story.
Amidst her absence, those who’d been defined by beefs and trysts with Swift spent time trying, to varying degrees of success, to re-define their own personal narratives (spare a thought for the Late Katy Perry’s Career).
Then roughly a week ago, Swift blacked out all her social media accounts, sending fans and detractors into a flurry over a long-awaited comeback from the pop giant. Fast forward one week and Taylor Swift has just released Look What You Made Me Do (LWYMMD), the first single off her upcoming album Reputation, driving the internet wild and putting swiftly (hehe) to bed any concerns about her career.
Reputation promises a far darker artistic direction, embracing the snake imagery impressed upon Taylor during the height of 2016 Swift schadenfreude. The visuals released so far imply she’s clapping back. The newspaper fonts, the not-so-subtle adoption of Kanye’s Pablo-Era aesthetic – all signs point to Swift enacting her revenge fantasy in blazing fashion.
LWYMMD is an angsty three and a half minute track weaving theatrical strings with a racy filtered drum beat that may or may not have been ripped from Mean Girls. It’s vastly different in style to anything Swift has ever done before. The comparatively dark and edgy tenor of the song seems to indicate it’s not destined for ubiquity like the majority of Swift’s other chart powerhouses. But it’s not an unwelcome edition to the Swift canon either.
The lyrics confirm Swift is back with a vengeance, with talk of “lists of names”, “kingdoms keys” and an admission “all I think about is karma”. Comparisons have been made to various strands of mid-2000s pop – Britney’s media counteroffensive, the palatable punk of Avril Lavigne and Ashlee Simpson. The most fitting comparison so far has been to Fergie which the pumping, chanty chorus seems to imitate flawlessly.
Across the internet, the lyrics have been derided as weak and outright cringey which they probably are.
To understand this track though, one needs to revisit Swift’s earlier work. Taylor Swift has always written music about events and people in her life with the unabashed fervour and spite of a teenager writing in a diary.
But till now Swift has remained notoriously tight-lipped when questioned about the subjects in her songs. It’s a strategy that’s worked for her. Fans and the media clamour to piece together clues about the characters beneath the lyrics while Swift rolls in her millions.
Bad Blood was the first time Swift opted for showmanship over subtlety and it was, musically speaking, bad. Though a commercial smash and chart hit, it was a weak link on the otherwise excellent 1989.
When LWYMMD was announced, many people expected something of the calibre of 1989’s best tracks. When it dropped, the internet took delight in the fact the song wasn’t deemed to be very good. Those people forget that for the most part, Swift’s lead singles have rarely been any good.
I’m still trying to shake off Shake It Off and if I never ever, ever have to listen to We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together again, I’ll be all the better for it. In comparison to those tracks, LWYMMD is miles better as a song.
Bad Blood confirmed for many that Swift couldn’t write a good diss track. I disagree. I think Swift hasn’t had the opportunity to write a good diss track.
Her whole career, she’s been limited by the meticulously crafted American sweetheart image she brands herself with.
In the wake of (let’s be honest, quite mild) negative press, Swift is now practically free of those constraints and she has the capability to create absolute bangers that lyrically annihilate all her Hollywood enemies – which it appears she plans to do.
It’s what she’s been doing her whole career but far more subtly. Bitterness is not new territory for Taylor Swift who once penned a lyric targeting an actress she suggested was “better known for the things she does on the mattress”.
These are shots she’s taken within the confines of her virgin Madonna brand and all I, and many others, want now is for Swift to openly embrace being a hateful soap opera villainessand to create killer, vindictive bops that reflects that.
That’s why LWYMMD is a good song to me. It embraces drama. Following the bridge is an incredible skit where Taylor announces her own death: “I’m sorry. The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh, cause she’s dead!” It’s kitschy and terribly memey but it’s the unnecessarily over-the-top villain backstory 2017 deserves.
Elsewhere, I’ve seen the song referred to as “a high stakes Shake it Off” which is 1000% true. It’s a final gambit for Swift – it’s self-important and petty and bold unlike anything she’s ever done before.
LWYMMD is Swift’s first trumpet. While it falters in areas it generally accomplishes what it sets out to do. It’s a warning track, not a diss track. A disclaimer for what’s about to come.
Why do I think this? Note the lyrics “look what you made me do”. What exactly are we looking at? She really hasn’t done anything worth looking at as of yet. People expecting drama from this one track may have to cough up cash when the album comes to get a proper taste of Swift’s medicine. It’s the “perfect crime” for capitalism’s foremost prodigy.
I could be completely and utterly wrong of course. This whole thing could be Bad Blood: The Album and feature Swift throwing a heap of nondescript shots at multiple targets and missing every single one of them.
This is all to say that this time, I’m giving Swift the benefit of the doubt. As a music listener, I know the track is weak. But as a Taylor Swift apologist, pop trash and general drama enthusiast, I’m holding out for something far, far bigger and more chaotic than what we’ve ever seen before.
Taylor Swift, I hardly knew ye.
Snayklor Ssswift, bienvenue.