Listening to a Taylor Swift album happens on two levels. There’s the cursory listen, the one that reveals which songs sound completely different from Swift’s past work, which songs have that signature Swift earworm quality, and which songs aren’t quite up to snuff. And then there’s the deep listen, the one where every lyric stands poised to unlock some secret reference to her personal life.
“I Did Something Bad,” the third song on Swift’s new album Reputation, is a standout of both.
The song itself sounds like a mean-girl imperial march wrapped around a churning beat, with thunderous stomps and synths that zip and zag, threatening to rip the song at the seams. It’s the best pop song on the album — which is why it’s so surprising that Swift has managed to weave so much juicy personal gossip into it.
“I Did Something Bad” is as petty as it is catchy.
In four minutes, Swift laces in references to longtime nemeses Kanye West and Kim Kardashian West, while also dissing exes Calvin Harris and Tom Hiddleston. The number of vendettas on display is impressive, even for a master revenge songstress like Swift.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the song’s delicious Swift saltiness:
Kanye West is referenced in the first verse
The lyrics: “I never trust a narcissist, but they love me. So I play 'em like a violin, and I make it look oh so easy. ’Cause for every lie I tell them, they tell me three. This is how the world works — now all he thinks about is me.”
What they mean: This is one of the most blatant references to Kanye West on Reputation. West has been described in the press as a narcissist multiple times — and when it comes to Swift’s rivals or exes, none have been characterized as a “narcissist” as frequently as West has.
Swift is also talking about “playing” West and telling him a “lie.” This is most likely alluding to the fallout over his song “Famous” in which he raps about making Swift — though West calls her “that bitch” — a household name. She voiced her displeasure about the song at the 2016 Grammys, and in an acceptance speech talked about how he tried to take credit for her musical accomplishments. Prior to “Famous,” Swift and West had supposedly become friends and ended the feud that began many years earlier, when West infamously interrupted Swift’s acceptance speech 2009 VMAs.
The “lie” Swift is singing about is a little more unclear.
One of the possibilities is that she’s admitting she was “lying” in saying they were ever friends, and in giving him the green light to rap about her — the main conflict surrounding “Famous” was that West said (with his wife Kim Kardashian West later providing taped proof) that he called Swift, talked to her, and got approval from her to refer to her and call her “that bitch” in the song. Swift claimed she never approved the lyrics.
Another possibility is that Swift is talking about “playing” West in general — that she orchestrated the whole thing and is now admitting to playing the victim card at the time and using it to her advantage.
Further, Swift talks about other people telling “three” lies for every one that she tells, insinuating that she may have more in the bank about West that she hasn’t yet revealed.
Calvin Harris gets slayed for not giving her credit on “This Is What You Came For”
The lyrics: “He says, ‘Don't throw away a good thing.’ But if he drops my name, then I owe him nothin', and if he spends my change, then he had it comin'.”
What they mean: The key clue here is the line, “if he drops my name, then I owe him nothin’.” This seems to be a reference to Swift’s romance with DJ-producer Calvin Harris, their tumultuous breakup, and the fact that she co-wrote the lyrics to his hit song with Rihanna “This Is What You Came For.”
In a 2016 interview with Ryan Seacrest, Harris talked about the song and was specifically asked if he’d ever collaborate with Swift, whom he was dating at the time. “You know, we haven't even spoken about it,” Harris said. "I can't see it happening though. No. She's about to take a long break."
That interview, according to People, rubbed Swift the wrong way, leading to their split in early June. In July 2016, Swift’s rep confirmed that she had co-written “This Is What You Came For” under the pseudonym Nils Sjöberg, and the implication was that Harris was trying to take credit (in that earlier Seacrest interview) for a hit song they had created together.
Hence, in the song Swift is likely playing on the idea of Harris’s name-dropping — not in the usual obnoxious way people do when they want you to know that they know someone famous, but in the way Harris metaphorically dropped her name from the writing credits during that interview with People and took sole credit for the song. Swift is now officially credited as a writer of “This Is What You Came For.”
Tom Hiddleston isn’t spared either
The lyrics: “I never trust a playboy, but they love me. So I fly 'em all around the world, and I let them think they saved me. They never see it comin', what I do next. This is how the world works: You gotta leave before you get left.”
What they mean: During the short reign of Hiddleswift in 2016, Swift did indeed fly all around the world with her ... playboy. (Okay, yes, applying that term to poor Bolognese-making Tom Hiddleston might feel like a stretch, but the guy does get around.) From Rhode Island to England to Rome, the pair traveled 6,500 miles together over the course of two weeks. And, according to the rumors, Swift did indeed leave Hiddleston before she got left.
Kim Kardashian West and the media are partners in crime
The lyrics: “They're burning all the witches, even if you aren't one. They got their pitchforks and proof, their receipts and reasons. They're burning all the witches, even if you aren't one. So light me up (light me up), light me up (light me up)... ”
What they mean: After Swift apparently lied about Kanye West during the aforementioned “Famous” fallout, Kim Kardashian West had the receipts ready to go. She ultimately published videos online that appeared to reveal Swift signing off on West’s “Famous” lyrics over the phone — and then posted a series of snake emojis that her followers gleefully reposted all over Swift’s social media pages.
The dragging that ensued was a party for Swift haters — there was even a hashtag, #KimExposedTaylorParty — but Swift herself apparently experienced it as a witch hunt, and not the “I am a witch and I am hunting you” kind. In “I Did Something Bad,” she describes herself as being unfairly persecuted, both by Kardashian West and by the media that accused her of lying.