At long last Taylor Swift returns, but ‘ME!’’s message of self-acceptance can’t reach beyond the superficial

The first track of the TS7 era is here and features Panic At The Disco!'s Brendon Urie

Few pop stars can create as much of a furore over a simple countdown clock as Taylor Swift. A little under two weeks ago, the musician shared one such timer on her Instagram story, putting her fans on notice that something was on the way. Her loyal followers, of course, had already been busy decoding her recent posts of palm trees and staircases for weeks, their Tay-Sense tingling, looking for any clue their idol would be returning soon.

Last night (April 25), hours before the countdown clock reached zero, Swift confirmed what all those amateur pop sleuths had all been hoping for – new music was on the way. Now, she’s gifted us ‘ME!’, a collaboration with Panic! At The Disco’s Brendon Urie that kicks off the TS7 era in a burst of vivid colour and pop panache as loud as the all-caps, exclamation mark of its title suggests.

Like ‘Delicate’, it opens with Swift’s isolated vocals fed through a vocoder, but there’s an immediate difference between the two. Where, on the ‘Reputation’ track, the singer sounded a little vulnerable, emotional and coy, on ‘ME!’ She’s full of confidence and in total control. No longer is she feeling the insecurities of the start of a relationship, instead realising her flaws are what makes her unique. “I promise that you’ll never find another like me,” she asserts cheerily.

In an Apple Music video, Swift explains that the song is about “not feeling like you’re replaceable.” “I feel like we’re sent so many messages every day that there’s a better version of yourself on a social media app with better abs in a better vacation spot,” she says. “But you’re the only one of you. That’s it – there’s just you.”

While that point is the crux of the song, Swift and Urie swapping lines about their traits in relationships and giddily crying, “I’m the only one of me!”, it’s hard not to be left feeling a little cold by it. The lyrics are just surface messaging about self-love and acceptance, the kind of hollow #positivity that is slapped on greetings cards and slogan t-shirts and sold as empowering.

Coupled with the triumphant brass, plinky-plonky piano, and the natural euphoria in Urie’s vocals and how they intertwine with Swift’s, it could well have the effect its leading lady wants and make people “feel better about themselves”. But, if it does, it feels like a quick fix that will wear off as soon as its relentless buoyancy becomes cloying or that cheesy breakdown  – one that sees Swift yelling, “Hey kids, spelling is fun!” before she and Urie deliver the nonsensical line, “You can’t spell ‘us’ without ‘me’” – starts to grate.

It’s a little unfair to expect Swift to play healer and therapist to all that listen to her. But, without reaching beyond the superficial, ‘ME!’ comes off as just another pop song striving to make big, relatable statements dressed up in ecstatic, major key hooks.

As the last chapter of the star’s story showed, it would be foolish to judge whatever is coming next entirely off the back of this one song. ‘ME!’ does give us a few hints though, namely a change in attitude. At the start of its accompanying video, a snake slithers along a brightly-coloured cobblestone path, hissing before erupting into hundreds of butterflies. That, and the accepting theme of the lyrics, suggest the don’t-fuck-with-me sentiment of the ‘Reputation’ era will be long gone; that Swift is no longer revelling in playing the villain. ‘ME!’ might not land quite how Swift wants, but it’s certainly nice to hear her in a more sanguine mood.