Look What You Made Me Do
Generally speaking my knowledge of celebrities is passive. I know who they are, I know the things they do, I know the other celebrities they are currently dissing on social media. Having said that, I’ve never deliberately sourced this information myself. I guess it’s part of the deal of living in the culture that we do, you will accumulate vast amounts of knowledge on matters that you have no interest in having knowledge.
That’s how my relationship with Taylor Swift became after the release of 1989 in 2014. All of a sudden there was a new biggest act in the world and accordingly I passively acquired knowledge of her relationships, her social media use, the year she was born and so forth. I had a new character in the backdrop of my life. Just like every other celebrity at this level, Taylor Swift wasn’t a real person, she was a character that some people thought was real, a name you overhear in the supermarket, an image that you recognise because it looks like the other images you have seen.
Then I suddenly realise that these celebrities are real people, with real feelings and real emotions. If I were to tickle them, they would laugh. If i were to cut them, they would bleed. These are real people. And then I also realise, quite quickly, that I don’t really care much for them. This is the baggage I bring with me when I listen to a multimillionaire complaining that the cool group at school are being mean to her.
This schoolyard angst is essentially the driving force behind Swift’s new single Look What You Made Me Do, taken from her forthcoming album Reputation (released on November 10, complete with pastiche photo of Calvin Klein era Kate Moss and tasteful use of the Good Charlotte font FTW!).
The majority of the discussion around Look What You Made Me Do has revolved around the “new” Taylor Swift. This in itself is unremarkable, pop stars have been making the most of postmodern identity for decades, flowing from one incarnation to another and cashing in along the way, all with the cultural authenticity of a fast food burrito. The song is not so much a statement, rather the statement is the alibi for the new product (Swift is the product).
Musically the song could be by anyone. At times it sounds like Lady GaGa, at others it sounds like Katy Perry, there’s even a little rap bit in the middle that sounds a bit like My Humps. There’s a beat running through it which I suspect was just a placeholder that someone intended to replace before the final mix but forgot to. I’m also kind of bummed that there’s no guitar solo, she needs to do more songs with guitar solos.
But overall as a grand statement, as the song is being talked about, it’s a failure. It’s not subtle, it’s not profound and it’s not clever. There’s an odd reoccurring theme of victimisation here that’s coupled with the emotional narcissism I usually associate with Eminem songs. Swift seems to be ill at ease with the idea that people, particularly rich ones, are generally not nice people. My advice: read 1984 Taylor, it’s all in there. If she’s only just learning this, it’s probably because she’s one of those not very nice people.
Perhaps most disturbingly, Swift’s frustration seems to have taken the form of well formatted record keeping, as she sings “I’ve got a list of names/and yours is in red, underlined/I check it once/and then I check it twice” (which reminds me, I need to get onto my tax return). Making this revelation/ cry for help all the more concerning is that in the video for the single it comes moments after Swift is sitting naked in a bath full of diamonds… and also eating diamonds. Maybe diamond poisoning is a thing and she has it, I don’t know, I haven’t had time to look into it.
Earlier this year Father John Misty suggested that Swift’s lack of vitriol towards Trump played in his favour during the Presidential campaign (yes, it is a reach), but the fact is, Swift has kind of positioned herself as the Trump of pop culture. Consider this a warning to future generations. She’s in the game, but her contemporaries don’t seem to want her in the game. She’s maintaining her relevance by being seen as an A-list outsider, not welcome, but part of the furniture. As the song reaches its end she repeatedly sings, “I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me”, and it feels like her “drain the swamp” moment, the closest she’ll ever get to shaving her head and assaulting a car Basil Fawlty style with an umbrella. It’s a shame that a celebrity so at the forefront of popular culture and so persecuted by her contemporaries can be so bland.
Ultimately, Look What You Made Me Do leads us to one conclusion, and perhaps this is Swift’s covert genius: if this is what happens when A-Listers throw shade at her on social media, if this is what we made her do, then for f***’s sake, LEAVE TAYLOR ALONE!