I have become a pariah. I live in a darkness of my own creation. I lurk in shadows, seldom leaving the house, cloaked in my own shame. I have lost all my friends. I am hounded during every waking hour. They tell me that I am a trash person now, consigned to live out the rest of my days on the scrapheap with the rest of the garbage, where I belong. And all of this because of Taylor Swift.
Now, I have never been a big Taylor stan, not even during her heyday when Buzzfeed was regularly creaming itself over her faux relatable persona and carousel of famous boyfriends. But I have never hated her either. In my mind, she’s never been an especially exciting pop star, her role as a mirror to mainstream trends and attitudes more interesting than any of her songs. But then came ‘Look What You Made Me Do’, the sparse electro-pop single that changed everything. Overnight, I became involved, part of the problem.
I am aware that ‘LWYMMD’ has not been well received. Even this god damn website gave it a savaging. But for reasons that are beyond my control, I cannot help but be totally and completely here for it. The skeletal, shivering arrangement, the clipped, robotic chant of the chorus and the unashamedly petty drama of the whole thing just ticks all of my boxes. And now no one will talk to me.
But I refuse to be ashamed. Taylor Swift has suddenly become interesting, and at a time when really interesting pop stars are thin on the ground, this is something we should embrace rather than put down. ‘LWYMMD’ may be juvenile in its high school drama revelry, but it’s also another gripping instalment in the turbulent trajectory of one of the most famous women on the planet. Whatever your opinion of her, the fact everyone and their dog seems to have an opinion belies the woman’s relentless intrigue.
Taylor Swift has long been a woman fascinated by her own reflection. Never has this been more evident than in the video for ‘LWYMMD’, an anthology of references that embellishes and mocks the public’s perception of her. Beginning with the gloriously camp image of a tombstone engraved with the words ‘Here Lies Taylor Swift’s reputation’, Swift goes on to cast herself as public enemy number one, depicting herself as a greedy, fame-hungry, manipulative diva who commands a squad of Taylor clones along with an army of snakes. It’s ridiculous and hugely self-absorbed stuff – exactly the type of thing that makes for an excellent pop spectacle.
But for all its egoism, the video also demonstrates Swift’s sense of humour. A fawning troupe of lackeys pop open their suit jackets to reveal matching ‘I ❤ TS’ shirts (a reference to the tee Tom Hiddleston wore during his short-lived relationship with Swift) in a beautifully tongue-in-cheek bit of choreography that undercuts the teen drama with a keen taking-the-piss edge. Similarly, at the very end of the video, we see all of the Taylor caricatures lined up, from VMA victim through to the current reigning snake lord. When the shy, princess-like Taylor – still clutching her VMA – utters “I’d like to be excluded from this narrative” (the immortal words Swift used to remove herself from her ongoing feud with Kanye), she’s met with a chorus of “Shut up!” from the other Swifts.
While many critics have been keen to frame ‘LWYMMD’ as yet another Kanye diss, it would be more accurate to say it’s a dramatisation of the public and media’s vilification of pop’s former golden child. Interestingly, when one version of Swift says “There she goes, playing the victim – again,” she seemingly ignores the fact that ‘LWYMMD’ is yet another instalment in the Swift-as-victim saga. For all its edge and unapologetic hardness, Swift is still positioning herself as the victim of an unfair media witch hunt determined to sully her once pristine reputation. This time it’s wrapped up in skittering electro beats rather than acoustic guitar, but the message is still very much the same.
At its core, ‘LWYMMD’ is Swift’s attempt to reclaim her own image, an image that has been hijacked again and again for the sake of headlines, petty squabbles and memes. When she sings “I’ll be the actress starring in your bad dreams” over dark, fairy tale strings while standing atop a tower of her former iterations, she makes reference to the absurd, theatrical nature of her career, assuring us that none of this is real, that each of these clawing Taylors desperate to reach the apex are mere caricatures. But if the public is eager to portray her as a villain, Swift is happy to accept the role. This is most likely what she’s referring to when she pants “Look what you made me do”. The polarising, frittering electronic track coupled with its sinister dark visuals is a result of the public’s determination to cast her as a monster, she implies.
‘LWYMMD’ is an unexpected twist in Swift’s very modern fairy tale. But some may argue that given her catastrophic fall from grace in the wake of the Kanye fallout, she had little choice but to embrace the persona thrust upon her by a braying public. Either way, instead of bemoaning the release of another self-absorbed pop single, we should be praising Swift’s commitment to turning every aspect of her life into a spectacle for the sake of compelling pop music. We can pretend we’re not into it, or we can embrace it in all its petty, melodramatic performativity. I say we revel in the extravaganza of ‘LWYMMD’, another fitting, and relentlessly fascinating, chapter in the story of Taylor Swift – pop’s bewitching fallen angel.