When Taylor Swift released the sparse, stuttering ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ earlier this year, she set out something of a manifesto. This was the dawn of a new Taylor, she implied, a Taylor tired of playing the victim and ready to embrace a bolder, more confrontational sound. The track trashed the fairytale narrative Swift had built over five albums, making the clear statement that she was no longer the helpless princess, but the wicked witch come to seek revenge on those who had wronged her.
Swift’s subsequent single, the blaring ‘…Ready For It?’ continued with the harsh, polarising sound of ‘LWYMMD’ along with lyrics that kept Swift firmly in the driving seat, the master of her own destiny rather than victim to the romantic whims of others. On her newest track, however, Swift seems less sure of her new direction. ‘Gorgeous’ is something of a regression, harking back to the Swift of old with its cutesy lyrics that see Swift back in the shadow of a masculine presence.
‘Gorgeous’ feels more fitting of 1989 era Swift, its 80s-inspired synth sound reminiscent of tracks like ‘Style’ and ‘Blank Space’. Throughout 1989, the album that documented the head-rush highs and crushing lows of a tumultuous relationship, Swift is at the mercy of her lover, a delicate flower waiting to be trampled. On ‘Gorgeous’, she’s back in familiar territory, watching a would-be boyfriend from afar, fawning over his good looks and failing to drum up the courage to speak to him. Whereas ‘LWYMMD’ appeared to establish Swift as a dominant force, on ‘Gorgeous’, her confidence has all but disappeared.
The problem is, post-‘LWYMMD’, going back to the Taylor of old isn’t really an option. Having embraced the role of pantomime villain, Swift can’t expect to return to playing the damsel quite so easily. She made her bed with the snake-themed, trash-talking, no-nonsense diss track and its accompanying video, leaving little room for flip-flopping. Whereas lines like “I guess I’ll just stumble on home to my cats,” might have worked in the past, playing into Swift’s dorky, relatable image, those days are well and truly over.
Though ‘Gorgeous’ adopts many of the tropes of the 1989 album, it pales in comparison to even some of its weakest tracks. Although it features the gloriously Swiftian line “You’ve ruined my life by not being mine,” musically, it’s a clunky, awkward track that never really gets going. In terms of the fascinating evolution of one of the world’s biggest pop stars, ‘Gorgeous’ is a disappointing step backwards, a shying away from the daring new narrative Swift had created for herself. Unfortunately for her, though, a return to the all-American, girl-next-door image of yesteryear is unlikely to happen any time soon.