Friday, September 1st, 2017

Taylor Swift – Look What You Made Me Do

Man, look what she made US do.

Elisabeth Sanders: Here is the thing about Taylor Swift: anybody that has truly loved (despite themselves) Taylor Swift has done so because of her sharp, frightening edges, because of the way in which she is the mean girl in the midst of a panic attack, because she’s petty, because she’s crazy, because she believes in things and at the same time when those things aren’t as they seem wants to crush them in the palm of her hand. Any interpretation of Taylor Swift that doesn’t incorporate this is simply bad research. In 2006: “Go and tell your friends that I’m obsessive and crazy–There’s no time for tears / I’m just sitting here, planning my revenge.” In 2010: “And my mother accused me of losing my mind /But I swore I was fine /You paint me a blue sky /And go back and turn it to rain /And I lived in your chess game /But you changed the rules every day /Wondering which version of you I might get on the phone, tonight /Well I stopped picking up and this song is to let you know why” In 2012: “Maybe we got lost in translation / maybe I asked for too much / or maybe this thing was a masterpiece / til you tore it all up.” And finally, in 2014, a culmination of the songwriting combined with the publicity–well, just listen to “Blank Space.” I can’t quote the whole thing. At the time it was brilliant, a parody that dipped just enough into the real, a joke about both media extrapolation and actual content. But we’re past the time for parody. It came, it was good, it went. The criticism still followed, for other reasons, for deeper reasons, for real reasons. Along with, I’m sure, superficial ones. But if “Blank Space” was Taylor Swift’s petty Gone Girl fan fiction, “Look What You Made Me Do” is the unfortunate chapter in which we have to acknowledge that the fiction was never that self-aware, and that an excavation of complication, when confronted with complicated times, sometimes reveals not a complex sympathetic maybe-villain, but simply a person not equipped to be making mass art right now. Taylor’s pettiness, her villainy, her strangeness, has always been her most interesting feature. Maybe, now, too many years into seeing but not seeing it, it’s just–not that interesting anymore. She’s not your friend, and she’s not your enemy, she’s just–well. As she says, “I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me.” I think that might be her final truth.

Stephen Eisermann: I’ve never been a big Taylor Swift fan — I like her music well enough, but there was always something about the details she painted and the cards she showed that it felt a bit… made-up. Still, I always had a weird feeling that Taylor and I had very similar personalities and personal life trajectories (bear with me) and this song reinforces that. When I was younger and “straight” (16-18), I was very quiet, nice to a fault, and introverted. Thanks to my name and skin color, a lot of (racist) older people always said it was hard to believe I was a Mexican teenager because I was so quiet, polite, well-spoken and bright. Much like Swizzle during the “Taylor Swift” and “Fearless” era, I was considered naive but genuine-hearted and people loved to love my niceness. However, I soon started coming to terms with my sexuality and started being a bit more open with myself and others about who I truly was, just like we saw glimpses of pure pop and more evocative lyrics in “Speak Now” and “Red.” I still built stories and a narrative that painted me as more mystery than gay, just as Taylor toed the line between squeaky clean young adult and Lolita, but I was a bit more willing to explore. Soon after, the inevitable happened and I finally had my first NSFW encounter with a man, and was even MORE willing to be who I really was. I let my gay flag fly and if people asked, I wouldn’t dance around the question, but own who I was. Taylor didn’t hesitate one bit when she announced 1989 would be a pop album in its entirety, and I didn’t so much was stutter when telling questioning friends my realization. Still, a part of me hid things from ass-backwards family members and people who I knew wouldn’t “understand,” just as Sweezy continued to play the victim card to hold on to some of the innocence that was slowly falling through her fingertips like sand on the last day of vacation. However, there is only so much sand one hand can hold and BAM — my family became aware of my sexuality and Taylor was exposed. I was at a crossroads — do I drop my family and throw out ALL the dirty chisme I had accumulated over the years at different holidays, effectively exposing the most bigoted family members, or do I keep my mouth shut and weather the hate, being all the stronger for it? I wanted so badly to be vindictive and evil, but I choose the high road for reasons I’m not really sure I can effectively communicate. Taylor, however, has opted for the darker route. “LWYMMD” lacks detail, yes, but it’s intentional. I just… I just know it. She has secrets up her sleeves she will soon reveal — nobody willingly takes the villainous role without ammo, and Taylor has been MANY things throughout her career, but unprepared is not one of them. This song is calculated, petty, unnecessary, and very much beneath her, but it allows me to live vicariously through her and I want her to drag her detractors just as I want to drag my family members through the mud they continue to think I belong in. And just as my bigoted family members will get theirs, so will Taylor’s enemies, I’m sure.

Will Rivitz: “I think I have a part to play in this drama, and I have chosen to be the villain. Every good story needs a bad guy, don’t you think?” -Lorelei Granger, Frindle (Andrew Clements, 1996)

David Moore:
Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl
Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
(Image Comics, 2015)
Synopsis: Years ago, a young woman obsessed with music videos and mythic pop celebrity made a deal with the King Behind the Screen — she gave up half of herself to gain the mystical power needed to eventually lead a coven of music obsessives. Now the deal’s gone sour, and her darker, sacrificed self has switched places to destroy the coven with an ill-advised electroclash revival.

Alfred Soto: Electronic swoops, piano on the bridge, lots of boom boom bap — this single could be the new St. Vincent, or, to return to once upon a long time ago, to a track from Lorde’s estimable Melodrama, a flop also largely co-written with Jack Antonoff. A skeptic of her first singles since 2009, I approached “Look…” with caution; on the evidence she’s anticipated this caution. “I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me,” she sings while soap opera strings add the requisite melodrama, and for a moment I thought she sang “I don’t trust my body.” I’ve never cared about biographical parallels in any art, especially in popular art where the insistence feels like conscription; the blank space where she wants the audience to write his/her/whatever’s name is a sop to us. Less persuasive is the talk-sung part informing her audience that the “old Taylor” is “dead,” as if Fearless fans needed an 808 dug into their faces. It will sound terrific on the radio. I’ll skip it when I buy the album.

Crystal Leww: The emerging narrative of Jack Antonoff as the next king of pop production is perplexing because his resume is honestly pretty thin. It’s unclear what Antonoff actually brings to the table other than an amplification factor; Antonoff’s songs have only been as good as his collaborators. This works when artists are working with a strong vision they can execute against — e.g., CRJ’s “in love and feeling like a teen again” on “Sweetie,” Lorde’s earnest wide open heartbreak on Melodrama. It is damning if artists are falling into their worst habits. Taylor Swift is a very solid songwriter — it’s nearly impossible to have the kind of career she had in country music if you’re not — but it always falls back on specificity, the emotional connection that she can forge with her fans when she knows what she’s trying to convey. “Look What You Made Me Do” fails because it’s unclear what it’s about — is this song about haters? Kim and Kanye? Her exes? The media? — and Antonoff using Right Said Fred makes it all seem very clunky. The song sounds like it could have really leaned into a psycho ex-girlfriend vibe, but it’s not self-aware, not funny, not sure of itself. Ultimately, “Look What You Made Me Do” isn’t awful, but it’s not catchy, which is its worst sin of all. Taylor Swift’s still a decent songwriter (“Better Man” was great; “I’ve been looking sad in all the nicest places” almost made up for that Zayn collab), but this isn’t even yucky — it’s just kinda boring.

Katherine St Asaph: The curse continues. Maybe it’s that the past month I’ve been listening to very little but “Anatomy of a Plastic Girl” by The Opiates and “Justice” by Fotonovela and Sarah Blackwood, and here’s the exact conceptual midpoint. I’ve heard comparisons to electroclash, NIN, mall emo, Lorde, but I hear more Jessie Malakouti or Britney on Original Doll: frantic tabloid petulance, slightly updated with a “Problem” anti-chorus, but otherwise things I like. Otherwise, Swift’s style has not changed: self-referential (“actress” and “bad dreams” shuffle her images to make her the heel) and threaded with subliminals (“tilted stage” is literal, “kingdom keys” keeps up with the konsonance) Just as “Dear John” parodied its subject’s lite-blooz guitar, “Look What You Made Me Do” parodies the austere tracks of 808s and Heartbreak on, like “Love Lockdown” in curdled Midwestern vowels: trading soporific for loaded. The song has inevitably become about everything but itself. Her milkshake duck brought all the boys to the yard, and they’re like, this is garb, and I’m like, the Internet deplorables haven’t adopted this in any better faith than they did Depeche Mode; any of pop’s myriad songs about the tabloids would read as “political” if transplanted into 2017 (is Lindsay Lohan’s “Rumours” about FAKE NEWS?), and Swift’s suffocatingly prescriptive “Southern” “values” pre-Red were as politically suspect as this, and more insidious. The next salvo of attack: its rollout being unprecedentedly gimmicky and exploitative, never mind how aforementioned Depeche Mode did the same pre-order thing, or Britney Spears upholstered-carpetbombed “Pretty Girls” in everyone’s Ubers, or Rihanna’s Talk That Talk was launched with gamified “missions“, or Srsly Legit Band Arcade Fire spent months on fake Stereogum posts and fake Ben and Jerry’s. Doesn’t help that when Taylor is bad, she’s stunningly, loudly bad; the second verse, in its magnification of the cringiest parts of “Shake It Off” and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” seems to last forever. (The phone call is fine, though; no one had a problem with “How Ya Doin’” or, like, “Telephone.”) It’s no good for catharsis, definitely not relatable, maybe on purpose: like being too sexy for your shirt, all you feel is cold.

Katie Gill: On the one hand, Taylor using the language of abusers in the chorus of her song is clueless at best and worrisome at worst. On the other hand, blatantly riffing off of “I’m Too Sexy” is a surprisingly smart choice for a chorus and I’m shocked that I can’t think of anyone who’s tried it before with this level of success. But on the one hand, for a song about how she’s getting smarter and harder, the lyrics don’t reflect that, giving us some petty Regina George level nonsense instead of anything remotely resembling depth or nuance. But then again, that snake is pouring Taylor Swift some tea and all the Taylor Swifts are beating up the other Taylor Swifts in a battle royale hahaha this video is so amazingly dumb. I guess I’ll split the difference and give it a

Alex Clifton:  I’ve always wanted give-no-fucks Taylor Swift, but I’m dying for context, as this album (and song) will sink or swim based entirely on the narrative she creates. She’s clearly setting herself on fire in order to rebrand herself, although I question her self-awareness. The music video indicates yes, with a brilliant 30-second scene featuring various Taylors mocking each other. Yet “Look What You Made Me Do” is also curiously passive, with a reactionary title and a bored chorus–more a sign of privilege and status. The ambiguity between honest, wronged victim and villainous persona here is intriguing, especially given Swift’s penchant for earnestness; obviously she cannot be both, but the tension drives the song. The song itself is a mixed bag; Swift returns to the messy rapping last heard on “Shake It Off” with an equally cringey spoken-word interlude, but her voice is simutaneously delicate and confident as she comes out swinging. While I love seeing Blood!Swift writing a hitlist of enemies like an evil Santa Claus and the hint of confronting the less attractive/more honest parts of her role in the spotlight, only time will tell whether this is truly a playful new direction or more of the same old tune. (Also, what did we make her do? The answer is classic Swift, diabolically obvious: we made her write a song about it.)

Jessica Doyle: A week on I still hear more self-loathing than anything else. Nothing the supposed New Taylor offers up comes off particularly convincingly; there’s no glee in her reinvention. Compare the way she rushes through honey-I-rose-up-from-the-dead when she once sounded like she was thoroughly enjoying Boys only want love when it’s torture. She doesn’t sound smarter, or harder; look what you made me do, when she’s spent the last eighteen months making a point of not doing anything. There’s no air in here, no space beyond the multiple annotated versions and multiple thinkpieces declaring her a walking horsebitch of the Trumpocalypse. Just Taylor Swift practicing telling herself to shut up, Taylor Swift wondering about karma, Taylor Swift reading Buzzfeed and taking careful notes, Taylor Swift unable to make a point about anything at all except Taylor Swift. You don’t realize, when you’re in the thick of it, that self-loathing is just as relentlessly, narrowly egotistical as any other kind of self-obsession. It gets old, finally. It wears you out. It wears everybody out. Right? Yes? Can we all agree to be worn out now? Are we going to allow her to move on? She can’t rise up from the dead if we don’t let her die first.

Cassy Gress: There was a time when I thought 1989 pajama-parties-and-kittens Taylor was the “real Taylor.” I don’t know if that really was. What I do know is that trying to figure out who the “real Taylor” is, and arguing on the internet about it, is fucking exhausting. So much of her musical output has been autobiographical, or meant to sound generically autobiographical to women listeners; so much of her reads as “pussycat with claws.” Sometimes she emphasizes the pussycat side, soft and vulnerable; “Look What You Made Me Do” is the claws side. But Taylor, who we know has the ability to be nuanced and evocative, is here transmitting her intent (to destroy Kanye, or Katy, or Hiddleston, or her old selves, or just to be the cleverest sausage) like a hammer to the skull. This, like much else about her, is exhausting to watch/listen to. I would much rather close the blinds and put on my headphones and watch GBBO reruns in my jammies.

Olivia Rafferty: Washing in with the arrival of her sixth album are a tidal wave of thinkpieces on Swift, all set within the context of her A-list feuds, miscalculations and politics, or lack thereof. We’ve all sifted through stories of fake boyfriends, cheap shots and oblivious colonialism, and I’m going to speak for all of us when I say we probably should just all take a goddamn break from the vortex. I’m placing LWYMMD in a vacuum for now. Reaching into the embarrassing depths of my personal history, I can draw up two different past-Olivias who would be a perfect fit for this song. I’m gifting the verse, pre-chorus and middle eight to my 10-year-old self, and the chorus to my 17-year-old self. Olivia at 10 would lap up the overly-dramatic opening lines, the “I. Don’t. Likes” and their thick punctuation. It’s served with the attitude that would have made you want to stick on a crop top and pick up one of your tiny handbags to fling about during an ill-prepared dance routine — no, Mum, it’s not finished yet! And the moment of absolute pre-teen glory is the cheerleader delivery of the spoken half-verse, “the world moves on another day another drama drama,” I can literally see the Beanie Baby music video re-enactment. All of these melodic aspects are playful but lack the precision or maturity you’d expect Swift to deliver on this “good girl grown up” song. When the chorus hits you suddenly mature into that 17 year-old whose friends-but-not-really-friends played that Peaches song at someone’s house party. You could probably embarrassingly attempt a slut-drop to it in your bedroom, pretending you’re a dominatrix who’s just split some milk on the floor. But the overall impression is that if Swift is trying to be naughty, sexy or dangerous, she’s missed the mark a little. Now at 25 I’m listening and thinking that the chorus still snaps, but if this track was an attempt at sexualising Taylor in a way that’s not been done before, it’s only made it clear that she’s still got a lot of growing up to do.

Hannah Jocelyn: From the first bar chimes sound effect, I was worried, and I suppose my feelings didn’t improve by the time the “tilted stage” line happened. On “Out Of The Woods”, Antonoff and Swift brought out the best in each other (Jack’s big choruses, Taylor’s specific references), but on “Look What You Made Me Do”, they bring out the worst (Jack’s obnoxiousness, Taylor’s pettiness.) Antonoff can do flamboyant earnestness, especially when it blends with Lorde’s self-awareness and quirkiness; he just can’t do dark and edgy. Or even campy, apparently: the glorious video mostly takes care of that, giving the song an intensity and glamour that it doesn’t have nor deserve on its own. Yet even the video often misses the humor inherent in moments like the terrible rap in the second verse, or the already-infamous lift from “I’m Too Sexy”. The ultimate effect is like John Green praising a burn of himself without realizing why the burn was deserved in the first place. In this case, it’s one Taylor saying to another Taylor “there she goes, playing the victim, again”, even though the preceding song couldn’t even play the victim or villain well enough.

Mo Kim: There was a time in my life when I looked up to Taylor Swift. I was eighteen once, clearing my throat of all the doubts that haunted it, and the only way I had to express myself was through songs about slights that exploded like firecrackers. But a voice with that strength comes with responsibility. Sometimes you need to stop reveling in the volume of your own speech to see the platform of power you stand on; otherwise you might build a version of yourself on the rickety foundation of innocence only to find it crashing down. On “Look What You Made Me Do,” she’s still trying for the pottery shard hooks that once made her so important to petty queer kids like me. It works in bits and spurts: that second verse is a bucket of water and an emergency siren to the face, and the pre-chorus utilizes a sinister piano and eerie vocal production to great effect. Too bad, then, that the flimsy chorus and winky-face lyrics cave in on themselves more easily than almost anything she’s written before (like a house of cards, some might say). That it so blatantly abjects responsibility onto her audience, however, is the biggest point against it: instead of personability, or at least the pretense of it, there’s just layer after layer of metanarrative. Instead of a telling that acknowledges her history — a complicated, troubling, rich one — there’s just Queen Bee Taylor, sneering over a landfill heap of old Taylors before she discards of all her past selves. I used to hold stadiums in my chest as I listened to the stories Swift spun; now I feel like the lights have finally crackled out, and here she is, dithering in the debris of her crumbling empire, and here we are, looking down.

Josh Love: If Taylor wants to go in, that’s her prerogative, but because this is a song that none of us plebes can actually relate to, it’s only fair to judge it solely based on whether it goes hard, and I’m sorry to report that Taylor has no bars. “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “Shake It Off” seemed like wild stabs at first too, but they possessed an inclusivity that’s curdled into Yeezus-level petulance here. There’s nothing here to suggest she’s capable of making Reputation her Lemonade. At least the video gives me some hope that maybe she realizes she’s a complete dork.

Anthony Easton: This is the hardest for me to grade, because I still don’t know if it is good, but it is constructed in such a way that people like me (critic, liberal elitist, homosexual) are pressed to have opinions. It steals with such quickness, and with such weirdness that the opinions give birth to other opinons, somewhere between a snake hall and the ouroboros she already quotes. It sounds like Lorde, it samples Peaches, it plays with electroclash, which was a genre that was already heavily recursive. It tries to be without feeling, but it feels all too deeply. That is enough to spend time with, that is enough to unpack. It sounds like Lorde because they are both working with Jack Antonoff. Who is cribbing from who here? Is Lorde playing like Swift, is Swift cribbing Lorde’s lankness, are both pulling outside of their influence, by the commercial, mainstreamed weirdness of Antonoff? Swift was always pretty; her main skill was using guile to a stiletto edge. This edges on ugliness, but it is still “ugly.” Women like Peaches or the cabaret singer Bridgett Everett know how to sing, have the ambition to sing well, but chose to reject good taste for social and political power. Taylor playing with being ugly, with being flat, with kind of half singing, with no longer being the cheerleader, is not a formal refusal of beauty as a political means but has the louche boredom of a hanger-on, with maybe a bit of anger at not being cool enough. It’s a capital blankness that raids and doesn’t contribute. Part of the ugliness of Peaches, part of the joy of electroclash, is not only how it absorbs the amoral around it–Grace Jones, The Normal, Joy Division, Klaus Nomi–but that the sex of it works so hard. The fucking is less pleasure than hard work–the grit of dirt and sweat and bodies. When Swift quotes Peaches, she is quoting the reduction of pop to a stripping down of bodies through a formal aesthetic choice. When she quotes noir, it is an attempt to self-consciously think of herself as a body who is capable of doing real damage. Swift flatters herself as someone whose suicide could be a nihilist aesthetic gesture. She flatters herself as a fatale. She’s still the kid who does damage, and plays naif. You can’t be pretty and ugly. You can’t be a naif fatale. You can’t pretend not to care about gossip and make your career about what people think of you. You can only be so much of a feminist and rest on your producers this much, and you cannot play at louche blankness if it is so obvious how much work you are doing. This might suggest that I hate the song, but I can’t. Swift doing an “ugly” heel turn fills me with poptimist longing, and I want to hear more.

Eleanor Graham: There is a bit in an old Never Mind The Buzzcocks where Simon Amstell says to Amy Winehouse, “We used to be close! On Popworld, we were close.” And Amy Winehouse runs her hand down his face and says, half-pityingly and to thunderous laughter, “She’s dead.” I don’t really know why I’m bringing this up except to illustrate that a woman killing off her former self, against Joan Didion’s worldly advice, has a kind of power. The crudest hyperbole. Like Amy in Gone Girl. You don’t like this thing about me? You wish I was different? Well, guess what — I’M DEAD! This line, which Swift delivers with the manic kittenish venom of Reese Witherspoon’s character in Big Little Lies, is the only redeeming feature of “Look What You Made Me Do.” And yet — even as someone who has openly thrown politics to the wind in the face of such forever songs as “Style”, “State of Grace” and “All Too Well” — this single is too hallucinatory to be a flat disappointment. Quite aside from the Right Said Fred debacle, the “aw” is reminiscent of Julia Michaels, the second verse of a lobotomised Miz-Biz era Hayley Williams, the production ideas of a mid-2000s CBBC show, and the whole thing of a middle-aged man in a wig playing Sky Ferreira in an SNL skit. Disorientating. Almost euphorically horrible. Say what you want about T Swift, but who else is serving this level of pop Kafkaism in 2017?

Micha Cavaseno: Weirdly, everything works for me sorta kinda with the second verse. The percussion thuds in the distance just a little more effectively, and Taylor’s whining drone of a rap screams up into that high-pitched melodrama, only to crash and burn into an anemic “Push It,” as written by someone who forgot Lady Gaga once could fool us into thinking she was funny. Past that subsection and prior, however, the record truly never clicks. You get the sense that Swift, someone so eagerly to seize the moment, doesn’t realize that the horror campiness plays her hand too hard.

Edward Okulicz: Saved from being her worst ever single by an out-of-nowhere, brilliant, Lorde-esque pre-chorus (and the existence of both “Welcome to New York” and “Bad Blood”), this is pretty thin gruel for the first single off a first album in three years. Remember how dense her songwriting used to be? See how clumsy it is on this. Taylor Swift’s devolution from essential pop star to somewhat annoying head of a cult of personality is complete. At least there’ll be better to come on the album. I hope.

Rachel Bowles: I am guessing (and hoping) that “Look What You Made Me Do” is Reputation‘s “Shake It Off,” a comparatively mediocre introduction to what is ostensibly a good album with some timeless songs (“Style” in particular on 1989). Functionally the same, both songs have to reintroduce Taylor in a new iteration to a cultural narrative she cannot be excluded from, both heavy on self-awareness and light on her signature musical flair. Where “Shake It Off” felt anodyne and compressed, “LWYMMD” is beautifully stripped back, chopping between lowly sung and rhythmically spoken word over a synthesiser, strings or a beat — verses, bridges and middle 8’s passing, though ultimately building to nothing — the chorus of “LWYMMD” being the swirling void at its centre, one that cannot hold, however fashionable it is to build then strip to anti-climax in EDM and pop. What did Taylor do? The absence of her critical action, the bloody, thirsted-for revenge, can only leave us unsatisfied, like watching a Jacobean tragedy on tilted stage without the final release of death for all. What’s left is a painful, public death of media citations of Taylor, played over and over, joylessly.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: 1989 is Taylor Swift’s worst album, but that shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a bad thing. For an artist whose vocal melodies were able to effectively drive a song forward, it was a bit odd hearing her rely so heavily on a song’s instrumentation to do all the heavy lifting. Additionally, the painterly lyrics that drew me to her work in the first place were mostly abandoned for ones more beige (simply compare the most memorable lyrics from 1989 and any other album and it becomes very obvious). It didn’t work out for the most part, but I was fine with the mediocrity. And considering how stylistically diverse the album was, I very much saw it as a stepping stone for a future project. Which is why I’m completely unsurprised by the doubling down of “Look What You Made Me Do” — it’s a lead single that’s heavily tied to her media perception, finds her abandoning any sense of subtlety, and utilizes amelodic singing to put greater emphasis on the instrumentation itself. It’s conceptually brilliant for all these reasons, but it doesn’t come together all too well. Namely, the lyrics are almost laughably bad and distract from how physical the song can be, and her calculated attempts at announcing her self-awareness have reached the point of utter parody. That the music video ends with Swift essentially explaining the (unfunny) joke only confirms this.

Rebecca A. Gowns: Every new Taylor Swift single is Vizzini from “The Princess Bride,” letting us know that she knows that we know that she knows that we know that she is Taylor Swift, and since she knows that we know (etc. etc. etc.), she can be confident drinking the goblet in front of her, since she knows that she switched around the goblets when we weren’t looking, and she’s laughing like she’s clearly outsmarted us, but little does she know that we’ve been building up an immunity to her odorless white poison for years.

William John: The hyper-specificity is gone. There are no references here to paper airplane necklaces or dead roses in December or in-jokes written on notes left on doors. In their place, platitudes abound, choruses are forgotten, “time” rhymes with “time”, and “drama” with “karma”. The latter is pursued with a maniacal intensity, the parody spelled out rather brilliantly in “Blank Space” quickly undoing itself. Rather obviously, “Look What You Made Me Do” does not exist in a vacuum, and the timing and nature of its release are what render it particularly dismaying. Its author, not playing to her previously demonstrated strengths, is seemingly at great pains to fuel fire to certain celebrity feuds, all the while insisting on her exclusion from them. It wouldn’t matter so much were she to denounce some of her new fans with the same fervour, but for some reason this era she’s opted out of interviews, perhaps at the time when some explanation driven by someone outside her inner circle is most needed. It’s one way to forge a reputation, indeed. I do like the way she screams “bad DREAMS!” though.

Leonel Manzanares de la Rosa: An auteur whose entire schtick is about framing herself as a victim, now emboldened by the current climate to address “the haters” using the language of abuse, embracing villainhood. No wonder she’s considered the ambassador of Breitbart Pop.

Thomas Inskeep: “Don’t you understand? It’s your fault that I had to go and become a mean girl!” Yeah, okay, whatever, Ms. White Privilege.

Anjy Ou: For the woman who singularly embodies white female privilege, it’s kind of embarrassing that she doesn’t have the range.

Will Adams: If you had asked me three months ago, “Hey, between ‘Swish Swish’ and whatever Taylor Swift ends up putting out this year, which is the more embarrassing diss track?”, I wouldn’t have thought I’d need to think about the answer this much.

Anaïs Escobar Mathers: “Taylor, you’re doing amazing, sweetie,” said no one.

Sonia Yang: With an artist as polarizing as Swift, it’s easy to make the conversation a messy knot about the real life conflicts she’s had, but I find it more interesting to tune that all out and focus on the simplicity of her work as a standalone. “Look What You Made Me Do” is Swift at her most coldly bitter yet, but betrays the resignation of long buried hurt. It’s “Blank Space” but with none of the fantastical fun; it toes the line between wary irony and jadedly “becoming the mask.” Most telling is the dull echo of the song title in place of a real hook, which is actually a favorite point of mine. Reality doesn’t always go out with a bang; it’s more likely for one to reach a gloomy conclusion than stumbling upon a glorious epiphany. Musically, I’d call this an awkward transition phase for Taylor — it’s not her worst song ever, but it’s admittedly underwhelming compared to the heights we’ve seen from her. However, I’ve sat through questionable attempts at reinvention from my favorite artists before and I’m still optimistic about the potential for Swift’s growth after this.

Jonathan Bradley: There is nothing Taylor Swift does better than revenge, and this is not that. This is the first Swift single that exists only in conversation with Swift’s media-created persona — even “Blank Space” turned on internally resolved narrative beats and emotional moments — but it offers little for those who hear pop through celebrity news updates, not speakers or headphones. Compare “Look What You Made Me Do” to “Mean,” a pointed and hurt missive that scarified its targets with dangerous care; this new single, however, barely extends beyond the bounds of Swift’s own skull. “I don’t like your little games,” levels Swift, her voice venom, “the role you made me play.” The central character — the only character — in this narrative is Swift, and she enacts an immolation. Her nastiness is the etiolated savagery of Drake in his more recent and loutish incarnation: lonely and lordly, “just a sicko, a real sicko when you get to know me.” “I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time” could be Jesse Lacey on Deja Entendu but sunk into the abyss of The Devil and God — only it’s delivered over ugly, the Knife-like electro clanging. The line that succeeds is classic Swift in its brittle theatrics: “Honey, I rose up from the dead; I do it all the time.” The spoken-word bridge — the song’s most blatantly campy and deliciously gothic moment — acts as a witchy incantation, walking most precariously the line between winking vamp and public tantrum. Swift has brought her monstrous birth to the world’s light; contra the title, what it is we’ve made her do isn’t even apparent yet.

Lauren Gilbert: I was 18 when “Fearless” was released, and listened to it on repeat my first term of undergrad, feeling freedom and joy and hope. I listened to “We Are Never Getting Back Together” on repeat in an on-again-off-again relationship that should have ended years before it did. I listened to 1989 over and over again after recovering from a nervous breakdown and for the first time, really, truly focused on choosing a life of joy. I should be Here For This. I am not. Pop music thrives on specificity, and Taylor Swift in particular has made a career of writing about hyperspecific situations. This is… generic; it could be sung by Katy Perry, by a female Zayn, by Kim K herself. Taylor offers no hooks to her own life here, and perhaps that’s not a flaw; female songwriters have the right to choose not to expose their own lives, and to write the same generic pop song nonsense that everyone else does. But as someone who bought into the whole TSwift authenticity brand — even while I recognized it as a brand, even while I knew that she was a multimillionaire looking out for her own interests first and foremost, even as she was the definition of a Problematic Fav — I can’t really say I care that much about new Taylor. I could fault Taylor’s politics and personality — and I’m sure other blurbs will — but the primary failing here isn’t Taylor’s non-music life. It’s that there’s no feeling here; it feels as cynical as the line “another day, another drama”. Next.

Andy Hutchins: “I’m Too Sexy” + “Mr. Me Too” – basically any of the elements that made “Mr. Me Too” compelling = “Ms. I’m Sexy, Too.”

Tara Hillegeist: Let’s leave this double-edged sword hang here for a minute: Taylor Swift’s personhood is irrelevant to the reality that she is a better creator than she ever gets credit for. Since her earliest days of the demo CDs she’d like to keep buried, Taylor Swift has never been less interesting or more terrible on the ears than when her songs are forcibly positioned as autobiography. For a decade she has cultivated an audience of lovers and haters alike that never felt her–or truly felt for her–because she never wanted them to know her, driven to own her brand even as she’s deliberately averred to own up to what lies behind it. Witness the framing of an Etch-a-Sketch of a song like “Look What You Made Me Do”: she releases a song about vengeful self-definition mere weeks after finally winning a years-long case against a man who sexually assaulted her and tried to sue her to silence over it on the sheer strength of her own self-representation, and the air charges itself with intimations that she instead meant it for Katy Perry, whose flash-in-the-pan “friendship” she publicly and memorably disowned in a bad song about bad blood an entire album ago, or perhaps Kim Kardashian-West, a woman whose “feud” with her arguably began with Taylor Swift’s attempt to paint herself as the victim in an argument with Kim’s husband but ended inarguably and decisively in Kim’s favor. To claim someone would mangle her targets so ineptly even the conspiracy theorists have to resort to half-guesses and deliberate misquotes to draw out the barbs is a claim it’s especially ridiculous to pin on a musician like Taylor Swift, a control freak who once built a labyrinth of personal references into an album full of songs about protagonists nothing like herself just to prove a point to anyone listening to them that closely about how sturdy the songs would be without knowing any of it. A public conversation that misses the point this drastically can only occur if there’s a deliberately blank space where any sense of or interest in the person it’s about could exist. There is a hole where this most powerfully self-determining popstar lives where a human life has never been glimpsed–because she cast that little girl and her frail voice aside years ago in search of something altogether more influential than such a weak vessel could ever hold. The girl who cajoled her family into spending enough Merrill-Lynch money to cover for her inability to sing until she had enough professional training to sing the songs she wanted to put to her name was never the girl who could truly be a flight risk with a fear of falling, was never the girl who never did anything better than revenge. But she wanted to be the girl who sang the words for that girl, who put her words in that girl’s mouth, more than anything else in the world. She staked her name on nothing less than her ability to capitalize on the reputation she acquired. The Taylor Swift of Fearless and Speak Now was a Taylor Swift who believed she could be someone else in your mind, a songwriter dexterous enough to slip between gothic pop, americana-infused new wave, and pop-punk piss-offs without shaking that crisply machine-tooled Pennsylvania diction. A decade on, she’s learned a lesson enough women before her already learned it’s shocking she wasn’t ready for it: when you’re a girl and you make something about being a girl, everyone thinks you just had yourself in mind. The proof that she was more than that–more than the songs on the radio, you might say–was always there; it wasn’t hidden, it wasn’t obscured. But from Red onwards that Taylor began to die; a straighter Taylor Swift emerged in more ways than just her hair, all the kinks ironing themselves out in favor of her remodeling herself into a different sort of someone else’s voice. Where once stood a Taylor Swift who sang for the sake of seeing her words sung by someone else’s mouth back to her, there now stood a Taylor Swift who sang everyone else’s words about her back to them. Tabloids cannot resurrect a life that a woman never lived, and no amount of retrospective sleight of hand about the girl she might have lied about being can hide the truth that neither can she. Conspiracy theories only flourish when people treat the mystery of human motives like a jigsaw puzzle waiting to be solved–ignoring that she already made it clear that was, still and always, the wrong answer to the questions she wouldn’t let them ask. She wanted fame, she wanted a reputation; she wanted them on terms she defined; she never wanted anything else half as much as she wanted that. She has used every means available to her to earn them. Her awkward adolescence took a backseat to her life’s dream of conquering America’s radio. It’s no shock, then, that all this gossip-mongering rings as hollow as a crown. The messy melodrama of Southern sympathy and thin-voiced warbles that defined the sweethearted ladygirls of generations before her and beside her and will define those that come after her, the sloppy humanities of Britney and Dolly and Tammy and Leann and Kesha Rose; these fumbling honesties, these vulnerabilities have never been tools in Taylor’s narrative repertoire the way she uses the white girlhood she shares with them has been. She owned her protagonists’ anxieties; but those songs have never defined her. This was always the moral to the story of Taylor Swift, to anyone–condemning or compassionate–who cared to really hear it: behind her careful compositions and obsessive pleas, Taylor Swift was never interested in making herself a real person at all. That would have cost her everything she ever wanted. And we, the Cicerone masses, ought very well to ask ourselves, before we let that double-edged sword finally fall: would it have been any more worth it, to anyone, if she had been?

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93 Responses to “Taylor Swift – Look What You Made Me Do”

  1. (Also italics are just with regular HTML tags — < I > < / I > )

  2. oh my god Katherine’s mouseovers
    actually oh my god absolutely everybody (especially KSA, Olivia, Rebecca, and the Will/David combination – additionally, props to Alfred for editing and ordering everyone’s blurbs bc that could not have been easy)

  3. it was actually me on editing :)

  4. yesssss Cassy!!! you did such a good job sequencing this.

  5. It’s Cassy who edited and sequenced this madness. Raise your glasses!

  6. @Anjy Ou. Yes, we get it, you hate white people.


  8. also here’s Tara’s blurb with line breaks after every sentence, for anyone who needs it

  9. @jessica you lost some of my italics! those were important! i like my emphasis.

    as much as i’d like to follow in the footsteps of my beloved adorno & insist on letting my paragraphs stand as unbroken paragraphs, the breaks probably help legibility more than hinder it.

    @terry hxxps://

  10. @tara: I blame Tumblr’s godforsaken interface. I fixed them manually; hopefully I got them all.

  11. @Jessica. Nice use of caps lock. Not at all obnoxious.

    Plus there is ‘monopolistic media concentration’ for a reason. It’s because the level of publicity that particualr artist is recieving is in proportion to their popularity. Although i’d like to reside in a universe where it wasn’t the case, Taylor Swift IS one of the biggest artists out there right now, hence the wave of coverage for her and this dogshit, limp song. This system is NEVER going to change.

    And i’m not a troll for pointing out racism in the comment section. Imagine if i stated Beyonce was famous because of her ‘black female privilege’. The only privilege in the world is due to class differences, not skin colour. But i’m make sure to pass on the white privilege message to the thousands of homeless white people in my country :)

  12. @tara.

  13. and yet you only called out Anjy and not Thomas even though he basically said the same thing… hmmmm…. I wonder why that could be………..

  14. The only privilege in the world is due to class differences, not skin colour.

    Ok obviously privilege rooted in socioeconomic status is huge/important to address but what about when people of different races/skin colors are of the same ses? (not to say that these two things aren’t interrelated either…)

  15. all this incredible exausting ongoing talk about the song makes me feel like Taylor achieved what she wanted with this, which is more than people feeling it’s controversial it’s people going controversial about her and sorta losing their point (since she couldn’t exactly victimize herself this time)… i’ve seen a lot of people, way more than usual, changing their opinion more than once about the song and its meaning. i’ve seen a lot of rushed reviews completely being discredited by the video -and then being excluded or changed, in old fashion pitchfork way- (which kinda makes me feel she hold back the video on porpuse, since it was recorded back in May). at the end i feel like the avarage person listening to this song feels like there’s nothing really wrong about it – sorta of why it’s been highly sucessful – even if they don’t necessarily think it’s good or great, and the people she was trying to shade with this song -which imo is the people obsessed about the moral of her every move and creating a narrative about her life and career- she did. it’s a shame that she was right though, i really wanted to believe she was wrong.

  16. To utterly ignore most of the comments:

    This is what I love about the Jukebox; everyone sincerely engaged and drawing different conclusions. Favs include Jessica (I nearly included a couple sentences on how this seems… miserable; if this is the aspect of her personality, or the cover she wishes to project, this era, it seems… unhappy), Cassy, both Wills, and David.

    And Katherine’s mouseovers!

    Many thanks to Cassy for editing this monster.

  17. for what it’s worth I liked it when it came out and thought the video was predictable


  19. Lol @terry and anyone who says black female privilege is a thing.

  20. ok but what do we all think of …Ready For It?

  21. For all the great things happening in Katherine’s blurb, which I finally got to read on a laptop w/ mouseovers (Mouseovers is going to be the name of my lite EDM side project, thanks), the best part was recontextualizing Lindsay Lohan’s “Rumors” as “FAKE NEWS,” which is maybe the single greatest expression I’ve seen of how overblown marginal geopolitical (or whateveropolitical) connections to EVERYTHING, MAN are feeling these days. (I was really confounded when I heard Swift and alt-right/Trump stuff. It’s just…really odd? Like someone literally just looked at a random picture of Taylor Swift and went into tinfoil fanfic overdrive?)

  22. also @chonkers: there are a lot of self-admitted TSwift fans here, who wrote about this. I really wanted to like LWYMMD; I just… didn’t.

    @Joshua: oh. dear.

  23. LOL @ terry. I would like you to reside in that universe too.

  24. @Joshua: two listens to Ready For It? and I’ve never actually wanted to die more after hearing a Taylor Swift song, and that’s COUNTING Welcome to New York

  25. I actually like it? it’s as if Alessia Cara’s “Stay” were produced by Sleigh Bells

  26. @alex, I listened to WTNY once, had a full body cringe and never dared listen to it again- I say that as a die hard Swifty

  27. I’ve heard RFI like ten times and I definitely like it less than LWYMMD. Structurally, it sounds like an inverse of Trouble (which consequently makes me think of K-pop) but the chorus reminds me of Wildest Dreams… which is one of my least favorite Swift songs. I wish it sounded like Katherine’s description to me because that sounds intriguing. Super interested to hear what the whole album’s gonna sound like though regardless, even if I end up hating it. IS THIS HER YEEZUS? (those TNGHT horns on RFI made me think this)

  28. I mean it’s pretty straightforward

    the intro horns/cherry-bomb production/stadium kapow stuff = I don’t know which cut off Treats this is, all of them?
    “you should see the things we do” = the melody to “Stay”

  29. the only thing I don’t get is how everyone (that I have read, on the internet) is freaking out about how suddenly ~*adult*~ she is when she still is not any more lyrically specific than “the things we do.” like no one’s expecting “eat the booty like groceries” off the new Taylor Swift single but I wish people would stop being scandalized by this vague-ass nothing

  30. woah Ready For It is way better than LWYMMD

  31. Ok yea it’s obvious now that I’m listening to it again Katherine; somehow didn’t even think of Sleigh Bells once before you said it. Also lol at people freaking out… haven’t seen it in the circles I frequent, thankfully

  32. case study:

  33. The opening synth blurt sounds very Yeezus, and, specifically, very “On Sight.” And considering both are the first track on the album… (n.b. I am Team Kanye And Taylor Are Actually Very Similar And Should Be Friends)

    I think what stands out about this song thematically is not the sex — Taylor has sung about sex for 11 years — but that she sings about it in such an emotionally unengaged way. Even if “Style” was more plainly lust-driven than the swooning on “Sparks Fly,” this is quite transactional in its pursuit of pleasure. It’s not more adult, unless you’re using Jay-Z’s “have an affair; be an adult for once” interpretation of maturity, but it is something new for her.

  34. yeah, I’m shocked no one mentioned how the most obvious Kanye thing on “Look What You Made Me Do” was the intro being basically an 808s thing

  35. @Rachel A wish I’d been that brave–I’ve still listened to it since then but have tried to undertake a massive 1989 writing project and then realized “to write about 1989 you’d have to… continue listening… to Welcome to New York” and I briefly considered never writing again if it meant I could avoid that. (also diehard Swifty so I feel your pain)

    @Katherine I need you to know that I read “eat the booty like groceries” and tried to imagine Swift singing it and cackled for like five minutes so thank you for that

  36. Honestly am not too bothered by Welcome to New York. The final six tracks on the album though…

  37. I would love to join your wonderful team, Jonathan

  38. It’s a great team! :D :D :D

  39. Commenting just to ensure the blerg count doesn’t end up stuck on 88. That is the LAST thing Taylor needs right now.

  40. ^ one of several reasons why I use “copperman”

    All I have to say about “…Ready For It” is that I initially thought the line was “Loki was a killer/First time that I saw him”, and the song is overall good but would be better if Charli XCX rewrote and sang it.

    Also that the Sleigh Bells comparison is spot-on

  41. this is GLORIOUS. i love y’all.

  42. There’s another choreography vid for this song from Millennium Dance Complex and it just further confirms for me that I really like this song in this particular context.

  43. we studied lady lazarus by sylvia plath in class today:

    “dying/is an art, like everything else/i do it exceptionally well”

    and my teacher brought up “the old taylor can’t come to the phone right now…” as an extension of the idea