I’m not a huge fan of the Tay-Tay brand but I’m partial to some pop, so when ‘Look What You Made Me Do‘ debuted on YouTube, I admit to clicking the sideways triangle with a little intrigue. The song title reminds me of a phrase an abuser would use but I’m aware that’s something for her PR exec to regret and for me to blithely accept. It’s all so meta that it only requires a surface level viewing. For example, she literally stands in front of a T/cross while previous music video incarnations clamour beneath her feet because she wants us to be aware of how she’s been crucified. If I were a woman of the cloth I would call it blasphemy. But I’m not, so we’re cool. And Madonna did it first anyway.
Musicians are clearly starting to take cues from masters of reinvention such as David Bowie and Madonna, as more of them use chameleon tactics to create a long-lasting career. Taylor’s fierce intelligence is what makes her mini film so compelling – the opportunity for double meaning is both plentiful and plausible. And what does her millennial fan-base love to do more than over-analyse? One devoted ‘Swiftie’ gave a detailed analysis of the symbolism on show, and if I didn’t miss A level English Literature before reading their comment, I sure do now. Those essays were like a free ticket to overthink. I applaud her for standing up for herself because it’s not easy to do in the face of gender stereotypes and covert misogyny.
Setting the tone for the mini film, Taylor literally rises up from the dead (honey I do it all the time) from a gravestone emblazoned with ‘Taylor Swift’s reputation‘. If I had to transcribe said Swiftie’s analysis into a Sparknotes webpage, my first sub-heading under ‘THEMES’ would be ‘Re-birth’. I imagine the theme will run throughout her new album. If only there were some clues as to what the album name is…
IMAGERY: Snakes. Just before the video release, I read a compelling argument for Taylor Swift to be heralded as a Slytherin as her hallmark traits are ambition, cunning, self-image, loyalty and revenge. And here she is, representin’ in full bloom. The ‘Kimye’ feud shrouded Taylor in suspicion: Kanye called her a ‘bitch’ in his song Famous. After Taylor expressed her discomfort, Kim released a secret recording of T.S giving Kanye permission to name-drop her in this way. Vilified for changing her mind in what many saw as a tactical move, snake emojis appeared everywhere. This is her wearing that criticism like a badge of honour:
The ‘I love TS’ top is an allusion to how everyone thought she orchestrated her relationship with Tom Hiddleston for publicity; as though her love life is merely masterminded in order to advance her career and the men she dates are innocent victims. Unlike Calvin Harris, there’s nothing vengeful against this particular ex-boyfriend as they didn’t have any bad blood between them. #katyperrytho
Maybe my favourite throwback is to her ‘squad’. Dressed as though she’s making another Victoria’s Secret appearance, a legion of scantily clad robots line up before her. Their identical clothing and ‘thin white female’ bodies highlight the criticism she received for ‘setting a bad example to young girls’ as it appeared to many that she was trying to create a clan of ‘mean girls’. Once again she plays into the insults thrown at her: the Regina George that Katy Perry labelled her as being; the conceited girl who only hangs out with models.
Much of Swift’s power lies in her ability to poke fun at herself: she seems familiar with the idea that if you own your flaws, they can’t be used against you. In essence, she’s taking control of her reputation. Hierarchies permeate society from class to race to gender, and as the ‘other’ gender, we disallow women (especially in the media) to be multi-faceted individuals. When they defy the labels given to them, they are seen as fake. Hence the dialogue at the end, where she echoes the put-downs leveled at her before screaming at herself to ‘shut up!’. She’s used her smarts to hint at the way women are silenced and berated for almost anything outside of quiet complicity with however they’re treated. I’m happy that in 2017, people still make music videos that challenge our perceptions. It’s all performance anyway, right?
“I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me
I’ll be the actress starring in your bad dreams”