“I don’t like your little games/ Don’t like your tilted stage/ The role you made me play/ Of the fool, no, I don’t like you.”
Last week Taylor Swift announced her new album Reputation and the accompanying first single ‘Look What You Made Me Do’. In the run up to both announcements, Swift had wiped her social media accounts and uploaded grainy videos of a snake, alluding to an incident last year in which she stated her wish to be “very much excluded from this narrative”.
The song and the accompanying video has been picked to pieces by not only the questionable “news” sites but also by those publications we hope to get our daily dose of Brexit, Trump and the dire impacts of global warming from. The song’s carcass is now out in the open for anyone with an opinion to take a poke at it and pour their moral authority all over it.
‘Look What You Made Me Do’ has a Hitchcock-ian feel to it, with its opening bars of piano and strings, giving the song a dark and slightly dangerous quality. This delve into nostalgia and gentlemanly type horror and violence is quickly and succinctly cut short by what sounds like a tape being squeezed and fast forwarded. The heavy and deep beat then kicks in followed by Swift’s clipped and breathy vocals.
Perhaps this shift in sound and atmosphere signals the end to the once controlled and etiquette-laden violence that the media used inflict upon its public figures, to the now reputation damaging harassment and violence that is dished out on an hourly basis.
Brian O’Flynn, a freelance journalist, wrote an astute piece for The Guardian in which he evaluated the backlash against Swift and other notable women in the public eye – Hilary Clinton, Lana Del Rey and Lady Gaga. In his piece O’Flynn argues, and rightly so, that any action or indeed inaction by female celebrity is “seized upon with an unconcealed glee by the online horde that now collates and quantifies every female celebrity’s actions for moral evaluation.” In other words, whatever a high-profile woman does or doesn’t do is jumped upon and held up as an example of how morally inept that particular individual is or isn’t.
In Swift’s case, everything and anything she does or has ever done has been hung, drawn and quartered, poured over by the media and public, and analyzed to the point of ridiculousness. Her friends, her music, her facial expressions when accepting awards, her marketing strategy, her romantic trysts… I really could go on and on and on.
“But I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time/ Honey, I rose up from the dead, I do it all the time.”
As the pre-chorus moves in, the pace quickens and Swift’s vocals become higher and papery thin; the previously delicate and nostalgic piano returns but is frantic and almost disappears behind the synths. Again, perhaps signaling the frantic and ridiculous pace and turnover that the media now operates on. There is no time to reflect on a potential story or event in the world, no space to craft a well-written and fact-based piece that is weighted on both sides and can be read and appreciated as story of integrity. Franticness and fear drive the monster that is the media and its diet is 24-hour news cycles and minute-by-minute social media updates.
The chorus reverts back to the heavy and deep beats of the first verse, which is monotonous and lifeless that seems to go on and on, speaking to the never-ending stream of drama and negativity that the media monster lives off.
“The world moves on, another day, another drama, drama/ But not for me, not for me, all I think about is karma.”
‘Look What You Made Me Do’ continues in that same rhythm until it hits the bridge and it reverts back to the nostalgic piano and strings found in the opening bars with Swift’s enunciated and layered vocals repeating the same two lines over and over.
“I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me/ I’ll be the actress starring in your bad dreams.”
Again, it is probably no accident that Swift decided to mirror the controlled violence of a Hitchcock film soundtrack with the image of her as an actress.
The song could be a treatise of how girls and women are damned if they do, damned if they don’t. Both at local level as well as at an international level. We are damned if we choose to be stay at home mothers and damned if we decide to go back to work; we are damned if we are too shy and damned if we are to assertive; we are damned for having children in the first place and damned if we choose not to; we are damned if we take our clothes off (slut) and damned if we don’t (prude); we are damned every which way we turn. Nothing short of perfection is warranted and even then we fail.
We are practically living, walking, smiling, politically aware, socially conscious, Public Service Announcements. As O’Flynn states, women particularly famous women “must emerge from the womb with a complete working knowledge of intersectional feminism” and if not they are destroyed or denigrated.
Swift isn’t the only example of this public witch burning, Lana Del Rey is also. When Del Rey released her album Lust for Life this summer she was lauded for doing what Katy Perry failed to do – create an album of “purposeful pop”. I remember reading one article which might as well as given Del Rey pat on the head and a gold star for being a “good feminist” for finally writing a positive album (something Del Rey has contradicted herself) which focuses on the important issues of today and not wallowing in a life of nostalgia, bikers and affairs with unsuitable men.
The irony is, most of this pressure and venom, keeping with aforementioned snake analogy, is coming from other women, other feminists. Though how you can write articles that denigrate other women for being bad feminists is beyond me, particularly when feminism is about having the power to make choices – political, personal and economic. Yes, there are of course examples of exploitative and misrepresented feminism or the commercialization of feminism, which should be discussed and called out for what they are but Swift and Del Rey are not examples of this.
A side note: I maybe in the minority, but when I listen to music or read a book or look at a piece of art, I want that art to be honest, sincere and authentic. I don’t care if the artist is conveying an ugly side of her or himself or if it isn’t addressing the current political climate. What I care about is that the art I am immersing myself in is true to the artist and an honest reflection of their life; the good, the bad and the ugly.
Returning to Swift’s ‘Look What You Made Me Do’, the “tilted stage” she refers to is the stage in which she and other women and girls are forced to walk upon and which we are frequently knocked off balance for the amusement of the masses whether that be public opinion or the opinion of your social circle. The song is a cleverly critical, albeit dark and vengeful exposition of how the double standard continues to run riot in a society, in which the media holds the keys.