Disclaimer: I’ve been a Taylor Swift fan since her second album “Fearless” debuted in 2008. I saw her on tour in middle school in what is the now the Amalie Arena. I was obsessed with “Speak Now” in my early years of high school, and really could see myself in her romantic country-pop lyrics, despite my complete lack of romantic relationships. I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t a big fan of Red. It had a few good singles but overall it didn’t inspire the same obsession as before.
Three years ago, she dropped the “Shake It Off” music video. I was in my freshman year of college.
The energy and joy that came from the music video made me feel unstoppable. Those feelings continued with each single she released for the 1989 album. I listened to the album on repeat for months, followed all the Swift blogs I could find, and obsessed over every paparazzi photo that surfaced. While I couldn’t go to the concert when she came to Tampa, I teared up watching her Apple music exclusive concert movie. To say I’m biased when it comes to Taylor Swift isn’t far off.
By Savannah Gibbs
The reputation-era has begun and old Taylor Swift isn’t here to take your sh*t anymore.
Dropping the “Look What You Made Me Do” single on Thursday night, she wasted no time in calling out Kanye West and Kim Kardashian for the 2016 feud and bad press coverage that followed.
The opening lyrics read, “I don’t like your little games/ Don’t like your tilted stage/ The role you made me play/ Of the fool.”
Last summer, Kardashian infamously exposed Swift for making misleading statements about whether or not she had been aware of West’s “Famous” lyrics about her, in 22 Snapchats on Kardashian’s story.
Swift’s representatives have said she was not aware of the line “I made that bitch famous” in the song, and that she “wanted to be excluded from this narrative, one I have never asked to be a part of.”
Now it seems Swift is deciding to step back into the narrative and reclaim it for herself.
While I originally thought the tilted stage reference was a metaphor for literally tipping the scale in their own favor, it has been rumored to be referencing Kanye’s floating stage during his The Life of Pablo tour.
I think there’s another piece of the Kimye/Swift story we don’t have because she tells us that she was played a fool and they lied to her with lines like “you said the gun was mine,” and “how you laugh when you lie.”
I know, to many, it seems like Swift is playing the victim again but I think the malicious intent portrayed in Kardashian’s snaps from last summer suggests there is more to the story than what was presented.
We are left to make our own assumptions. The caption on Swift’s Instagram photo says it all: “There will be no more explanation. Only reputation.”
The line “Maybe I got mine, but you’ll all get yours” points to a larger audience than just Kimye. It’s directed at Katy Perry and the never ending “backup dancers” feud. It’s to Calvin Harris, her ex-boyfriend, who accused her of trying to bury him. But I think most of all it’s to the media, the memes and the haters who’ve been twisting her story for so many years.
This line leads me to believe that the rest of “Reputation” could follow the same self-parody setup Swift took with “Blank Space.” She has worked closely with video director Joseph Kahn in many aspects to cultivate her brand during the 1989 era, and they created very deep visual metaphors in her last music video Out of the Woods, which is something I think will continue Sunday night at the VMA’s.
The second verse “I don’t like your kingdom keys/ They once belonged to me/ You asked me for a place to sleep/ Locked me out and threw a feast,” seems to once again be directed to the media. Swift was seen as an American sweetheart figure before the feud, and the kingdom she is talking about is likely Hollywood.
Despite trying to seem dark, Taylor is still using her old tricks. The one-sided conversation bit has been used in Taylor’s songs since the beginning of her career. The whole “old Taylor” being dead line is cringe-worthy at first, but I do have to admit the line is catchy after a few listens.
Rising up from the dead
During the past year Taylor Swift may have disappeared, but like she says in the song, she rises up from the dead all the time.
When she started to date A-list celebrities in 2012, she continued to write music directed at them. But this time people started to complain about it.
A criticism often thrown Swift’s way is that “She only writes about dudes who break her heart” or, “Why does she have to play the victim again and again?” If we’re looking at the Speak Now or Red era, then yes, she wrote songs about getting her heart broken. But she also wrote about the struggles of growing up and wanting to be independent. She has always aimed at writing relatable music that could be enjoyed by the masses
Over the course of her career she has become known for stadium pop.
Otherwise known as arena rock, where in the 1970s rock bands became increasingly popular groups started creating material inherently designed for large audiences. Arena rock developed from the use of more commercially oriented and radio-friendly sounds.
Nearly 50 years later, pop music has changed from producing what might just sound good on the radio to what is best for mass production. Lyric videos, music videos, merchandise and worldwide stadium choreography that can be produced into a feature length film, such as “The 1989 World Tour–Live,” are all thing she is considering now when making a song.
Taylor Swift knows how to play the music industry’s game. She knows when to release singles to make the most money. She knows how to squeeze every dime out of the public to build a successful empire.
When Swift debuted her first country album, it was almost as if she knew that it would be the easiest way to break into the industry. She quickly proved she could push the boundaries of country toward pop and slowly transitioned fully to pop. She’s played the music industry like her sparkly guitar for the past 11 years and she doesn’t plan to quit anytime soon.
But with this single, she’s here to talk about bigger games than heartbreak. She’s here to talk power and revenge.
Both themes many of her young fans may only relate to on a fictional narrative. But I imagine the older crowd understand the games people play. As people grow up, they get beef with people in their lives and these sharp, icy lyrics are easy to connect with. Swift is hitting back at Kanye, at the media that criticized her & said she’s done, and at the romantic partners who hurt her over the past three years.
According to Vanity Fair, “The first single almost seems to function as the prologue of a musical,” and I completely agree. It’s dramatic, theatrical and with a dash of EDM —it leaves us wanting more. The Tampa Bay Times said, “There are some quasi-emo, almost theatrical builds in the instrumentation and bridges, but the thrusty, lusty, minimalist beat of the chorus is basically Miami bass.”
If we look at the artists that have influenced the evolution of Swift’s songwriting, the new beats have been a long time coming. She teamed up with Ed Sheeran, who’s been mixing music since he started opening for the European leg of her Red tour in 2014. The way he plays with repetitive hooks and samples most likely took root in Taylor’s brain while she wrote “1989.”
During the 1989 era, she dated Calvin Harris and helped him produce Rihanna’s single “This Is What You Came For.” The Scottish DJ may have had an influence on “Look What You Made Me Do”, with all the different beats flowing together. The single has been described as electropop, though I think it will lead into a more pop-rock album.letn
Jack Antonoff, the co-writer for the single and three “1989” tracks, has his hand in yet another successful pop song this year. He lent his talents to Lorde over the summer with “Green Light”, and he has worked with pop artists from Sia to Zayn over the course of the last several years. The writers of the Right Said Fred 1991 hit “I’m Too Sexy” also received co-writers accreditation on the song, as once you relisten to the classic you can’t unhear the melody in Swift’s single.
Predicting the future of Swift
Though you can’t predict an entire album’s feel from one single, especially with Swift (look at Shake it Off and compare it to the heaviness of Clean), there are some themes that are obvious.
Swift is going dark. Some have compared it to Jenny Humphrey’s storyline in “Gossip Girl”, where she goes from a very innocent good girl to an edgy bad girl almost overnight. I wouldn’t say Swift is going from good to bad, but rather acknowledging she’s a complex person who isn’t taking crap anymore. She is ready to show us her flaws.
She’s completely rebranding herself from the bottom up. She deleted all of social media posts a few days before posting a video of a snake over the course of three days and ending with several posts announcing the single and album.
In 2015, Swift told GQ Magazine that she used to watch “Behind the Music” every day, searching for downfalls and where artists went wrong. She’s studied what it takes to be famous and is working with the best of the best to keep her where she needs to be.
This is what Swift does, she controls the story, even when it’s not necessarily flattering. She studied up and plotted revenge, and now she’s ready to shed her skin like a snake and come back more powerful than ever before.
Since the release of “Speak Now”, Swift has live-streamed the announcement of her new album. I mean, who doesn’t remember her iconic white two piece, her beautiful red lipstick and her new feathered bob that came with “1989?”
Now her social media captions aren’t even written as if they’re from her. Instead, the captions are strategically branded in the third person. Every aspect of the Reputation era is brand new. Her merch is inspired by Kanye’s Yeezy merchandise. She’s directly ripping him off as if to fight back at the nonsense he’s been throwing her way for almost 8 years. If it was me, I’d be over the feuds too. Maybe this is her way for ending them once and for all.
She’s definitely here to be someone’s nightmare. She’s not calling people “Mean.” This isn’t “Bad Blood.” This is revenge.
This is her reputation.
Update: The music video for “Look What You Made Me Do” has since been released since the publishing of this article. Watch it below.