Taylor Swift is Back, with a Vengeance

Last night, Taylor Swift dropped “Look What You Made Me Do,” the lead single to her upcoming sixth studio album Reputation, which is set to release on November 10th.

Swift first teased us on Tuesday, posting three videos of a snake on social media, evidently a response to her reputation of being a snake and an attempt at reclaiming the image as a positive means of empowerment.  It was Wednesday that she officially announced that she had a new album, something fans have been waiting on; her trend up until this point had been to release a studio album once every two years, making the gap between 1989 and Reputation her longest yet at nearly three years.

Given the album’s title—and the contents of her new single—it’s likely that the album will center largely around a fight back against her negative reputation.  That’s not new for Swift, who’s been fighting against a reputation as a serial dater since early in her career, and in more recent years has engaged in feuds with stars like Katy Perry, ex-boyfriend Calvin Harris, plus Kanye West and Kim Kardashian.  Still, it seems like her focus here, more than usual, is to redefine that narrative for herself.

The single sees a darker side of her in a sharp turn from the light pop aesthetic of 1989; “Look” is vengeful and spiteful, the response of a singer scorned.  It’s heavy on bass, including its “I’m Too Sexy” interpolated beat in the chorus, as Swift bitterly reflects on a sour experience with someone (the prevailing theory being that it’s directed at Kanye West).

The pre-chorus feels just like the Swift of old, keyboard working behind clever, fast-paced lyrics about rising from the dead, but otherwise the song is, by and large, a departure from anything she’s put out before.  It shows flexibility and certainly presents questions about how this will manifest in a full album, but in a lot of ways, it feels like she’s trying a little too hard to manifest a new image.  The bridge is the most evident example of this, featuring a phone-like affectation to her voice as she says, “I’m sorry, but the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now / Why? / Oh, ‘cause she’s dead.”  It feels like an evolution from the similar technique she used in Red’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” but what worked as an accompaniment to the over-the-top fun then feels forced in the darker atmosphere here; Swift is trying to tell us that she’s been played one too many times, and it seems like her style shift is an attempt to be taken more seriously, but her delivery feels a more appropriate accompaniment to middle-school drama than a 28-year-old’s media misfortunes.

Certainly, this leaves us with even more curiosity about what Reputation is going to be like, and as a fan of hers going back to her debut, I know that I’ll be waiting anxiously to see where it lands.  At the moment, however, I’m skeptical; “Look” shows that she has the attitude and the mettle to head in a new direction, but it feels like she wants the world to see her as “the new Taylor” more than she’s actually changed.  My other skepticism is that what I love about Swift is just her songwriting, her ability to poignantly strike the fun and the heartrending with equal power; I (perhaps naïvely) aim to avoid the celebrity drama surrounding her, which has become more than a little stale to me, but her new image seems to deeply intertwine the two.  (One could argue that’s always been the case, but I listened to her in enough of a vacuum that I mostly avoided it.)

Still, I must say that “Look” grows on me with each listen, and even with hits like “We Are Never Ever” that seemed a little silly, I’ve had no lack of enjoyment listening to them; Reputation currently seems unlikely to be my favorite era of Taylor Swift, but even with her ups and downs, she has yet to truly disappoint me.  This new chapter holds innate promise based on that if nothing else, and I’ll try to stick my head in the sand to avoid engaging with any of her potential spectacles so I can focus on the music.  In the meantime, there’s “Look What You Made Me Do” and plenty of speculation to tide us over until November.

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