Let’s talk about Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” music video.
The video for Swift’s lead single off her upcoming album Reputation is smashing everywhere. What many consider the return of their favorite pop star, Reputation is supposed to be as much a reinvention as it is a response to her recent media backlash. “Look What You Made Me Do” is surely an affirmative taste of what’s to come, as the track proudly nods to Swift’s haters and naysayers. And if the song itself bears a strong message, the “Look What You Made Me Do” video is her sentiments on crack.
The music video is audacious, lavish and epic. It is also completely laden with allusions to her media presence, with nods to her feuds with Kanye and Kim Kardashian West, Katy Perry, and well, everyone else that hated her this past year.
2016 and beyond was not exactly kind to Swift. After she was exposed for lying to Kanye West, the public began to see her in a different light. If you’d like to read my thoughts and analysis on that event, you can do so here. Without delving into those politics all over again, many agreed that Taylor Swift profitably victimized herself. Once beloved by so many for her role-model image, her mean-girl persona was slowly being unveiled. The queen of girl squads and supposed female empowerment engaged in behavior that looked an awful lot like bullying; her hit song “Bad Blood” was inspired by her beef with her contemporary, Katy Perry. Reports of her friend-breakups and catfights were about as frequent as her romance rumors. Top all of that off with her stingy legal attitude toward writing credits, streaming services and fan merchandise, Taylor’s reputation was at a bit of low point.
Taylor Swift has always had a way with the general public. Everything about her blonde curls and signature red lipstick is marketable. Her songwriting in particular hits a sweet spot in demographics where it appeals to young listeners and applies to adult women. People are able to relate to records about break-ups and make-ups, but when they know the album is inspired by Swift and a famous lover, who they follow through media coverage, her work becomes a must-have. Taylor Swift has always known this.
I previously discussed serial dating hate and how it has shaped Taylor’s image. While she has dealt with cheap jokes about her many relationships, she has ultimately reaped their benefits. If you consider the progression of her music career, she combats relationship criticism with breakup records. Those records sell like hot cakes and Taylor is left standing in the sun. It’s a business model that she has perfected.
This is why “Look What You Made Me Do” misses so many marks for me. Once the media spun Taylor with a mean-girl image, rather than her ex-girlfriend trope, she handled it the only way she knew how. The “Look What You Made Me Do” music video is supposed to satirically embrace her media scandals and criticisms, but more or less reiterates audiences’ reservations about the star.
The music video features Taylor sitting on a throne of snakes– a nod toward Kim Kardashian’s Twitter shade which led to a flood of snake emoji comments on Taylor’s social media accounts. And while I understand that Taylor Swift is reclaiming the insults hurled her way, isn’t the best way to not be a snake … not be a snake? Releasing a song that prolongs a feud seems counterproductive if the drama has supposedly been put to rest.
I really must admit that the music video for “Look What You Made Me Do” is spectacular, with awesome production quality and bad-assery throughout. I do appreciate Taylor’s thorough artistry when it comes to her music visuals– an important aspect of pop music that many artists seem to neglect. That being said, the song nor the music video do not push the boundaries of music or art in 2017. Often we hype up what is fun and entertaining as iconic and legendary. I cannot justify the iconography of Taylor Swift’s career to where she should appear as 14 different versions of herself to deliver a joke.
In the ending sequence of the music video, the 2009 VMA’s version of Swift says she “would very much like to be excluded from this narrative”– an obvious joke referencing her previous words about her drama with Kanye. Taylor has stood firm in her side of the story with that feud, so mocking herself in such a way is confusing. Does she admit to being in the wrong, despite the other 4 minutes of the video stating otherwise?
Celebrity beefs aside, many call this Taylor’s middle finger to the overall mainstream media. Clearly she feels burned by media, as her next record is supposed to set the record straight on her public portrayal. Women are at a permanent disadvantage when it comes to their media portrayals, that’s a given, but what is the exact irreparable damage media has implemented on Taylor’s reputation?
Taylor’s latest single shares the lyric “another day, another drama” with the 2007 Britney Spears song “Piece of Me”. At the point in time when Britney released “Piece of Me”, innumerable paparazzi followed Britney’s every move. With unstable mental health, Britney was publicly questioned concerning the custody of her children, photographed up her skirt, fat shamed and labeled as an “American tragedy” on major media platforms. Her song “Piece of Me” was the side of the story she could only tell musically– an anthem that reclaimed the power media had gruesomely taken from her.
Britney Spears shared the experience of media abuse with many other celebrities. If you consider what fame and exposure was capable of doing to late stars like Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana and Anna Nicole Smith, goading Taylor Swift about her frenemies does not seem quite as harmful.
Recently, Taylor Swift won her sexual assault trial against radio DJ David Mueller. While media is characteristically misogynistic, mainstream media coverage of her trial was every bit of kind to the singer. I saw many news anchors and discussion forums speaking in favor of her bravery. This case was representative of what too many young women go through, and Taylor Swift was praised for being a voice for the silenced. I would love to hear her delve into those issues on her new album. But for whatever reason, Swift thought it was pertinent to release music grounded in pettiness and conceit.
The Kim/Kanye/Taylor debacle occurred quite some time ago and the wheelhouse of pop culture has continued to churn. Simply put, Taylor Swift is placing importance and where it does not belong. Entire police unions have never petitioned for Taylor Swift’s boycott, as they have for Beyoncé. Taylor Swift has never had to answer interview questions about her genitalia like Lady Gaga did when nasty rumors circulated. While she is one of the biggest pop stars of our generation, her image is not nearly as controversial as “Look What You Made Me Do” lets on. At the end of the day, Taylor Swift is a white woman whom mainstream media has maintained basic respect for. The same cannot be said for other celebrities.
The “Look What You Made Me Do” music video is crushing viewing records by the minute. Swift-mania is making its resurgence; no doubt Reputation will earn Taylor another multiplatinum record that fills the hearts of listeners around the world. While her name will be the one on everyone’s mind for a while, what conversations will Taylor Swift start? Will she go against the grain of public perception? Make career moves that change people’s minds? Or will she continue to stomp her feet, demand attention and insist that others made her act accordingly?
What do you think of the “Look What You Made Me Do” music video?