“I’m sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now…”
“Oh, cos she’s dead…”
We only hear Taylor’s side of this phone call, which appears near the end of surprise new single ‘Look What You Made Me Do’, but we hear all we need to. In short: no more Mrs. Nice Gal.
Earlier this week, Swift deleted all the pictures on her Instagram account and replaced them with glitchy videos of what appeared to be a reptile. The third confirmed that we were looking at a snake, which is significant – the snake emoji is the pejorative shorthand for Taylor on social media, the implication being that she’s serving an agenda, a snake in the grass. ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ is Taylor reclaiming the snake, its lyrics defiant and determined, its sound hard and bulletproof. “I get smarter I get harder in the nick of time,” it says. And later, “I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me.”
The track is a co-write with Jack Antonoff, the Bleachers singer and co-author of Swift’s ‘Out Of The Woods’ and, more recently, Lorde’s ‘Melodrama’. Echoes of the latter’s twilight world can be heard in the almost Disney-ish refrain here, but the sound is hard-edged pop – like her smash ‘1989’ album, but darker, more electronic. Where any given ‘1989’ song would have built up to a massive chorus, ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ takes it to a huge drop, and the propulsive mantra of the title.
It’s also a song that echoes Swift’s own past, flipping the perky spirit of ‘1989’ on its head. So where ‘Blank Space’ spoke of “a long list of ex-lovers,” the new single has a more ominous “list of names and yours is in red underlined.” Where ‘Wildest Dreams’ had Swift in “a nice dress, staring at the sunset babe / Red lips and rosy cheeks,” in someone’s “wildest dreams,” here we have Swift declaring herself “the actress starring in your bad dreams.” The spoken-word bit is a nod to the cheerier “this. Sick. Beat” part of ‘Shake It Off’, and you could comfortably consider ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ the anti-‘Shake It Off’ – rather than deflecting the haters, Swift is looking them dead in the eye.
But who, exactly, is the song about? It’s a debate that’s likely to run and run, given the singer-songwriter never names the various ex-boyfriends who’ve had it in the neck in the past, nor specifically who ‘Bad Blood’ is about, even though it’s widely assumed to be about Katy Perry. Perry’s name will come up again, as she’s been talking about Swift while promoting her new album ‘Witness’, telling NME she finds it hard to turn the other cheek when someone “assassinate[s] my character with little girls. That’s so messed up!” Other pop haters include Demi Lovato, who was seen to have criticised Swift’s financial support for Kesha during her legal battle with Doctor Luke.
Other likely targets are Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, who last year released audio footage of Taylor apparently agreeing to the lyric in ‘Famous’ (“I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex”), causing a tide of snake emojis across social media. Taylor countered that there was no recording of her agreeing to the lyric “I made that bitch famous“. The cover of Swift’s forthcoming album ‘Reputation’ (below) – also first seen today – makes a direct reference to the typography and visual style of West’s ‘The Life Of Pablo’ album, on which ‘Famous’ appeared.
And it would be hard not to consider that the lyric about a “tilted stage” or the lines “I don’t like your perfect crime/How you laugh when you lie/You said the gun was mine,” might refer to the recent courtroom drama involving US radio DJ David Mueller, who was found guilty of assault and battery earlier this month when Swift counter-sued him following his groping her in 2013. Swift’s composure in the trial was widely praised, and she’s empowered others to do the same: one US hotline reported an increase in calls relating to sexual assault cases after the verdict.
Ex partners will be thrown into the mix too, whether Calvin Harris, who recently worked with Katy Perry on the song ‘Feels’, or Tom Hiddleston, whose short lived relationship with Swift was ridiculed by the press as part of a wider shift from Taylor being seen as a golden girl to someone who appears a bit too squeaky clean to be true. If people have had their claws out for Taylor following the success of ‘1989’ and the reign of her and her squad, the message is clear: this new incarnation is going to bite back.