By Kevin Mazur/.
“I don’t trust nobody, and nobody trusts me,” Taylor Swift sings in the bridge of her much-anticipated, much-discussed new single, “Look What You Made Me Do.” And it’s hard to blame her. There is no pop-culture figure at this moment whose every action is picked apart in the way that Swift’s is. Nothing she does can just go quietly remarked upon. It’s either the greatest song ever, or the worst outfit you’ve ever seen, or the most inspiring message, or the least relatable facial expression. An entire news cycle was recently spent dwelling on the question of whether Swift was . . . hiding inside a storage box in a photo that circulated on a wire service.
For most of 2017, Swift has been carefully silent, out of the public eye. The impulse is easy to understand; as she sings in the single, “The world moves on, another day, another drama, drama / But not for me, not for me, all I think about is karma.” While there were enough reports and rumors swirling during her “hiatus” that it was clear Swift was brewing up something, the shape of her sixth album didn’t become clear in any tangible way until earlier this week, when she announced, via Instagram post, that she would be releasing Reputation on November 10. (This came after several semi-cryptic posts of a snake, in which she seemed to be “reclaiming” the snake imagery that had been targeted at her following Kim Kardashian Snapchat-gate.) The album art features Swift amidst floating newsprint. It was immediately clear that Swift was going to be pushing back against the narratives that have permeated the Internet discourse over the past few years—perceived feuds with fellow artists, high-profile relationships, and the rest. Would reputation be a way for Swift to annotate the headlines of the past few years, like the musical version of a Genius post?
Well, after hearing the first single, it’s too early to tell. “Look What You Made Me Do” is brash and laced with angst and frustration in a way that Swift singles generally are not (“Shake It Off” seems even more impossibly chipper now by comparison). But, aside from a lyric here or there (Twitter has decided Swift’s reference to a “tilted stage” refers to the stage of Kanye West’s Life of Pablo tour), there isn’t much specificity here in the way of a “Dear John” or “Out of the Woods” or “All Too Well,” where it was easy to piece together the timing and circumstance related to what she was addressing. “Look What You Made Me Do” could be about an ex-boyfriend, or a fellow pop star, or a rapper, or a reality-television star married to a rapper, or some other celebrity entirely. More likely, it’s about all of them at once—or, rather, the general underlying set of circumstances existing on the Internet and elsewhere that results in Swift getting placed in a photo composite opposite another celebrity again and again and again (sometimes by this very Web site).
If anything, the first single almost seems to function as the prologue of a musical. She’s setting the scene here for the 14 (!) tracks to follow. She’s fed up. She’s not thrilled about what she perceives as what “you” have done, what “you” have forced her into doing, how “you” have created the twisted environment she inhabits—and, yes, she’s going to tell you why. She has a “list of names,” as she explains in the song, and there’s a very good chance we’re going to be hearing about a lot of the people on it!
While many have noted that Swift appears to be moving in a different, perhaps surlier direction, based on the one song (produced by Jack Antonoff, with whom she collaborated on three 1989 tracks), there is much here that seems similar to previous Swift album cycles. She is releasing her music with familiar timing (single in late summer, album in the fall). She’s working with Antonoff and frequent music-video collaborator Joseph Kahn again. She’s teaming up with a whole lot of brands. She is associating with Shonda Rhimes television shows. She is carefully rolling out her materials.
While the tenor is different (there is no cheery Yahoo livestream this time around, and the captions on her social media are written in a distanced third person instead of the conversational tone of previous cycles), it’s safe to say we are going to be hearing a lot more from Swift soon—the music video premieres this Sunday night at the Video Music Awards—and you can be sure it will be exactly in the way she wants us to hear it. Even after stepping back for the past year, if there is anything Swift has achieved time and time again, it is taking hold and constructing a narrative.
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