“The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? … BECAUSE SHE’S DEAD.”
That’s what Taylor Swift informs us halfway through her new single, “Look What You Made Me Do,” the first release from her forthcoming album Reputation, out in November.
Gone is the Taylor who sang about magnanimously forgiving her enemies, or the one who bopped around shake-shake-shaking it off while the haters hate-hate-hated. That Taylor is dead, and this Taylor has been to Hot Topic, bitch.
The central idea of “Look What You Made Me Do” is the same idea at the center of most Taylor songs: She was innocent, and she has been wronged. But now she’s not going to just sit around and take it anymore.
Katy Perry? Fuck her. Kim Kardashian? Fuck her. And especially fuck Kanye West, whose floating stage seems to get a name check. “I don’t like your little games / Don’t like your tilted stage / the role you made me play, the fool / No, I don’t like you,” she snarls.
Taylor’s going all Emily Thorne on her enemies, she declares. She’s got a revenge list, and she’s crossing off names now.
In real life, history suggests that Swift has inflicted more than her fair share of damage in many of these feuds, but that doesn’t appear to have dislodged the larger meta-narrative of her work: Taylor Swift songs are about being the wronged and innocent party, so that’s what’s happening in “Look What You Made Me Do.” It’s just that now, she’s been so wronged that she’s going “dark.”
Of all the pop stars in the world, there are few whose existing images are less suited to a bad girl phase. But with that said, as Taylor reminds us in the song, she rises up from the dead all the time. Her greatest gift as a star thus far has been her ability to weaponize the backlash against her into something like “Blank Space.” Let’s see if she can manage to pull off that trick one more time.