In case you didn’t hear, Taylor Swift has died. The old Taylor, that is. Innocent Taylor, Vulnerable Taylor, Girl-Next-Door Taylor. The Taylor who posted about her cats on Tumblr and regularly got trampled on by nasty boys. The release of her upcoming album’s lead single, ‘Look What You Made Me Do’, acted as a sort of manifesto, a confirmation that the Taylor of old was no more, having been replaced by a harder, savvier, angrier Taylor who will not be taking anyone’s shit lying down. Sadly, it seemed I was the only person who liked it.
Less than two weeks after the track’s release, Tay has released a second song from new album ‘Reputation’, the peculiarly punctuated ‘…Ready For It?’
Opening with a warped, unwelcoming blare, Swift makes immediately clear that Taylor 2.0 is still running the show. Gone are the melodic guitar riffs and the chic synth shimmers, replaced by a throbbing, skeletal arrangement that hums with low-level aggression. Strange, given that beneath the shivering electronics is a declaration of love.
“Younger than my exes, but he act like such a man, so I see nothing better, I keep him forever,” Swift spits over a skittering, trap-influenced arrangement. ‘…Ready For It?’ might be Swift’s most challenging listen to date, lacquered with braying, tuneless electronics. But like her previous single, Swift is still pointing to the media’s unfavourable perception of her. “First time that he saw me / Stealing hearts and running off and never saying sorry,” she sings, seemingly mocking the femme fatale image that has come to taint her once immaculate reputation. But she’s different now, Swift is keen to remind us, but perhaps not in the ways ‘LWYMMD’ made us expect. She’s tougher, sure, but she’s also more settled. “I’m so very tame now / Never be the same now, now” she asserts, suggesting a newfound domestic bliss.
But if Swift is truly feeling content, she hides it beneath agitated electronics that point to unease and frustration. This is only heightened by Swift’s delivery, a series of clipped rap – yes, rap – verses that suggest she’s probably better suited to the pop tunes that made her famous. And I hate to be the guy to point this out – as it will undoubtedly be said a thousand times more – but while the track’s arrangement with its rap and trap influences borrows heavily from black music, Swift’s track record on speaking out on black issues is dire. Much has been made of her silence while America slides further into a dystopian, racist hellscape and ‘…Ready For It?”s rap stylings are ill-advised at best and downright ignorant at worst.
While Swift has regularly been criticised for playing the victim, ‘…Ready For It?’ feels like more of an attempt to establish dominance. Not only is her tone more self-assured, but the concluding chant of ‘Let the games begin’ places Swift in a position of control, unfamiliar territory given her keenness for playing the role of wronged party. But despite its confidence, ‘…Ready For It?’ is a jarring listen, one that unsettles and isolates. It lacks the compelling hate-narrative of ‘LWYMMD’ as well as the swelling pop choruses of her earlier work, making for a flavourless, derivative listen. But as Taylor has already told us, she’s changed. As she sings sappy couplets over an alienating electronic throb, she’s dancing on the grave of the Taylor of yesteryear, assuring us that whether we like it or not, the new Taylor is very much here to stay.