The only way out of a public-relations nightmare is straight through it, we learn on Taylor Swift’s not-so-subtle new single, “Look What You Made Me Do.” The song is her return to the spotlight, three years since the album “1989,” and, more crucially, a year since the prime-time showdown of her feud with Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West. Recall that Kardashian West posted recordings of a phone call in which Swift appeared to give the go-ahead on Kanye West’s now-infamous “Famous” lyrics: “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? / I made that bitch famous.” (To this day, Swift claims that she never approved the word “bitch.”) Swift emerged from that debacle seeming like a two-faced operator, willing to play the victim and the naïf for her own reputational gain.
That fiasco threw Swift’s image so dramatically off course that there was no ignoring or good-girling her way back to innocence, and she wears the snakeskin proudly on “Look What You Made Me Do.” Produced by Jack Antonoff, the song picks up the nineteen-eighties electropop thread of Swift’s last album but shifts hard toward a darker, more industrial sound. Lyrically, Swift paints herself as the antihero of a neo-noir thriller: “The world moves on / But one thing’s for sure / Maybe I got mine / But oh, you’ll all get yours,” she sings. You imagine her seething quietly in the metaphorical shadows of the Kardashian-West home, donning red lipstick and clutching a knife. Swift, having successfully graduated from country to pop, is now finding a home in the world of camp. This is celebrity fan fiction as pop music.
“Look What You Made Me Do” would like us to believe that we are experiencing an entirely new Swift. “I’m sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now,” she says in a spoken-word refrain. “Why? Oh, ‘cause she’s dead!” And yet “Look What You Made Me Do” is more of the same: Swift has been manipulating tabloid story lines—her relationships with famous men, her feud with Katy Perry—in her lyrics for years now. And, as much as she is clearly enjoying stepping into the role of the bad girl, this turn is still premised on victimhood. After all, the song isn’t called “Look What I Did.” “I don’t like your little games / Don’t like your tilted stage / The role you made me play,” she sings. “All I think about is karma.” As for the exact form that Swift’s retribution will take, we’re still left wondering.