Before you join me in psycho-analyzing Taylor Swift’s new single, “Look What You Made Me Do,” let’s review all the drama and subsequent mystery that led up to it.
In February of 2016, Kanye West releases “Life of Pablo” and the song “Famous,” which contains the following lyric: “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex. Why? I made that bitch famous, I made that bitch famous.” Fans are livid. Kanye responds by saying Taylor was cool with it. Taylor responds, at the Grammys, by saying she wasn’t.
A few months later, in July, Taylor has a whirlwind romance with Tom Hiddleston after her public breakup with Calvin Harris. Conspiracy theorists believe it’s actually a stunt for a new music video because, per her track record, she should be releasing a new album that fall. That same month, Kim Kardashian releases Snapchat video footage of Taylor giving Kanye permission to reference her in his “Famous” lyric, putting the he-said-she-said debate to rest. The internet blows up. Taylor responds in a now-deleted Instagram post (she didn’t know he’d call her a bitch, she says) and then all but disappears from the limelight. Her “squad” seems to dissipate, the usual barrage of paparazzi photos of her slows to a crawl and her social media presence goes mostly quiet.
In the fall, her relationship with Hiddleston ends and no music arrives. In February, she comes out of hiding and performs at a pre-Super Bowl show in Houston, and claims it will be her “only performance of 2017,” in what the internet assumes is an attempt put album speculation to rest. In June, she posts a now-gone video in her Instagram congratulating NBA MVP winner Russell Westbrook. In the video, her bangs are curly and the internet reads way the hell into this, as the internet does. It feels like the return of Taylor. I then predict the release of a surprise album on June 13th, but nothing comes.
On August 14th, Taylor testifies in a civil suit she counter-filed against radio host for sexually assaulting her (and wins). On August 18th, all of Taylor’s online presence goes eerily blank. Her Twitter, Instagram and website are wiped. Everyone freaks out and assumes a surprise album is about to drop — for real this time. On August 21st, she posts a cryptic video of a snake on her Twitter and Instagram. Then come two more snakes. People speculate she is “coming for” Kim and Kanye, given her social media accounts were filled with snake emojis after she was ousted by Kim the previous July. On August 23rd, Taylor announces her new album, “Reputation,” which will be released November 10th, and her first single, which will be released the next day.
On August 24th, “Look What You Made Me Do” drops, along with a lyric video.
This morning, I had a conversation about all of this with self-proclaimed Taylor Swift scholar Ashley Hamilton, a.k.a. Man Repeller’s Social Media Editor, and music fan and amateur cultural critic Erica Smith, a.k.a. Man Repeller’s Managing Editor. Read our conversation below and then please, PLEASE, join in with your own thoughts.
WHAT DO YOU GUYS THINK?
Ashley: My first impression was “this is silly as heck.” My second impression was “the beat is fun but there are things I’d change.” But that’s just me.
Haley: Silly how?
Ashley: That part where she says, “I’m sorry, but the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh. ‘Cuz she’s dead!” It felt extremely Backstreet Boys’ “The Call.”
Erica: Yeah. I let the Titanic interlude in “Oops…I Did it Again” slide because that was 2000, but now it’s 2017. Overall, it sounds like something she wrote for the Pretty Little Liars movie.
Ashley: If this were for a Pretty Little Liars movie, I’d 100% change my tune, tbh. Also, I don’t feel like “the old Taylor” is absent from this at all. I feel like she’s pushing blame on someone else, just like she’s done in the past.
Erica: I think it’s just old Taylor with more black eyeliner.
Haley: Yeah, the whole “the old Taylor is dead” thing is a little ON THE NOSE. The whole thing is, actually. The song, the album name, the way it’s been released.
Ashley: That’s the part that devastates me. Her rollout for 1989 was brilliant, dare I say revolutionary.
Haley: Wait remind me of that? I forget.
Ashley: She did so much for it. She had those listening parties for her top fans. She really hit the streets to share that album. It wasn’t just a drop, it was her opening the world up to her new pop persona and I think she did a great job.
Haley: Was that the one where she debuted the “Shake it Off” video on Good Morning America or something?
Ashley: Yeah. She did a lot of things on a small scale, but she also did things like include polaroids with the hard copy of the album and it made people legitimately buy CDs again for a minute.
Erica: Mmmm CDs
Ashley: I just saw on her IG today that she’s doing a “magazine” with this release, and it’s like, “Oh so you’re doing the same thing?” SO MUCH FOR NEW TAYLOR.
Haley: Wait, I think that’s different and interesting though!
Erica: Do we think the use of the Old English font on the magazine et.al, is a dig at Kanye…
Haley: I thought it was just pulling the script from newsprint as a commentary on MEDIA, but you’re right. Maybe it’s both?
Haley: That brings me to my two main thoughts re: all of this:
1. This whole roll-out has been very very intentional. She’s rewriting how she shares herself and her life (no social media, comments are turned off, “personal photos” will be included in the print magazine instead). She is, dare I say, trying to rewrite her reputation. And she’s figured out a way to do that that will actually sell more physical albums (which has always been important to her, hence her reluctance to join streaming services) by releasing a Taylor-themed magazine people will actually want to buy, that just happens to include a CD. (Side-bar: Does anyone even HAVE CD players anymore?!)
2. It’s also been cheesy and very obvious. But Taylor has ALWAYS been like that. She’s very heart-on-her-sleeve and it’s historically worked for her, but it’s starting to feel like an ultra-gimmick. On the one hand, it’s obvious she’s VERY pissed. On the other, she’s trying so hard to say she’s pissed. Combined with the intentionality around this release, the urgency/earnestness of that raw emotion falls a little flat.
Ashley: That’s exactly why this release disappointed me so much. I mentioned I thought her “1989” rollout was brilliant, but the consequence of it all was severe over-exposure. In that over-exposed place, she made some bad moves. I felt that, for this album, the best way to address everything was to just drop a banger of an album at an undisclosed point in time. I kept hyping the idea of a surprise album so much because I truly thought it would be the best move. Now, not only is she not listening to me, but this single isn’t great.
Haley: Lol @ “not listening to me”
Ashley: Though, to be fair, none of her lead singles have been that good. “Shake it Off” was fine, but “Blank Space” knocked me over.
Haley: Okay but, in my opinion, “Shake it Off” was much better than “Look What You Made Me Do.” Even if it was sugary, it was immediately poppy, likable, very fun and anthem-y. Agreed re: “Blank Space,” though. So good. A surprise album of true hits would have been great!
Did you guys read the huge takedown of Taylor on BuzzFeed last year that broke down why the writer thinks she constantly plays the victim?
Erica: Oh, you know it.
Ashley: I did! This song falls directly in line: Look what YOU made me do.
Haley: Yes, that’s exactly what I was going to say. She clearly wants to reclaim this Kanye West/”Famous” narrative, but instead of taking responsibility and, I don’t know, starting a new story (which she could have done by moving on and dropping a fun album), she is dwelling on this feud and playing the victim again.
Erica: BUT SHE WOULD VERY MUCH LIKE TO BE EXCLUDED FROM THIS NARRATIVE.
Ashley: Yep, but instead of actually excluding herself, she’s building a marketing campaign around it. I talked mad shit on Katy Perry for digging up all her Taylor Swift drama to promote her recent album, but Taylor is doing the exact same thing.
Katy Perry is well aware of how disappointed I am in her
— Ashley Hamilton (@AshleyHammm) June 12, 2017
Haley: Taylor has always wanted to have the last word in feuds and in romances, etc. (Who doesn’t? I think people fail to appreciate the ways they might act similarly in her position. She wants to be liked, which is very human.) Historically for her, getting the last word has worked! But I wonder if this is the one time it’s not working so well. Or at least not working for ME. I think she needs to admit defeat on this one and move on. People’s memories are short anyway! Now she’s kind of kicking up old dust.
Erica: SPEAKING OF KATY PERRY. Are they still feuding? She’s hosting the VMAs on Sunday which I’ll be recapping. I wonder what I’m in for…
Ashley: The official video for “Look What You Made Me Do” is premiering during the show. Based on the teaser, she’s already getting a ton flack for ripping off Beyonce’s/”Formation.”
I got mayonnaise in my bag. pic.twitter.com/ITvDLXlVjZ
— Sarah (@SarahSahim) August 25, 2017
Haley: Right, I’ve seen that. Not good. This isn’t the first time she’s been accused of appropriation. The “Shake it Off” video was a nightmare.
This whole thing — the intentionality of it — I can’t help but feel disappointed. I mean, even though I’m ridiculously critical of her, I’m still kind of a fan of Taylor and a new Taylor era DOES excite me. Like, I want to be on board. But it feels like this whole thing is going to be about revenge, and that feels boring and self-serving. Why can’t it just be fun?
Ashley: Exactly! This is why I wanted a surprise album full of kickass pop hits. It used to feel fun to dissect her old songs to figure out which boy she was talking about, and now it’s like, “Okay, be an adult, not everybody is out to get you.” And if they are, SHAKE IT OFF.
Ashley: I truly apologize for that message.
Haley: I can’t stop thinking the same thing: ON THE NOSE. I will say this though: I do appreciate the new approach to dropping her album. Even if I wish it had been a surprise one, maybe that would be too expected at this point (ironic). It’s kind of interesting that she announced the release date pretty early and it’s compelling that there seems to be this huge, very-carefully planned methodical release coming. I’m kind of looking forward to the rest of it, just because I know it will be done so thoughtfully. It will be fun to have something petty to analyze for two months.
Erica: Lol. I’m not a T-Swift fan in any sense of the word, but I will 100 percent always be here for petty things to analyze.
Ashley: I guess the problem with a surprise album is that we digest and forget about it pretty quickly. There’s definitely something to the old school drawn out release.
Haley: Yes, definitely. And Taylor is actually kind of old school with this stuff, don’t you think?
Ashley: She WAS, but old Taylor is dead, so I don’t know what to expect.
Haley: I’m not gonna lie; I kind of liked the “old Taylor is dead” line, just because of the utter DRAMA of it. She loves speaking during interludes.
Ashley: I can def conclude that old Taylor isn’t dead because she wrote that line.
Ashley: I think Taylor is a marketing genius so I have to assume she knows what she’s doing here.
Haley: Yeah, I respect the thoughtfulness of this release, and I would prob want to do the same if I were her. I just wish it had been done with a different tone overall.
Ashley: I also have to assume she’ll follow the pattern of releasing a first single that is just okay, to sort of shock you into her new vibe. I bet the second single will take it away and realllly make us feel it, ya know?
Haley: Hope so.
Erica: That tends to be a thing with singles and it always freaks me out, but I think you’re right.
Haley: Maybe Tay really has trouble not making music about how she feels and she’s genuinely PISSED off. Maybe a fun album wouldn’t have been genuine.
Ashley: And she should be! Everyone thinks she’s in a suitcase.
Ashley: I don’t know, I think you can be fun and mad at the same time.
Haley: Fun and mad was kind of what “Blank Space” was right?
Erica: Maybe Taylor, Kanye, Kim and Katy are all the best of friends hanging out at the beach right this instant.
Ashley: Laughing at us because they can see right into our Slack conversation. They see everything.
Ashley: We’re playing right into their game and that’s why they’re in charge of my life ya know?
Ashley: Should we start talking about the illuminati now?