Some loved it and a lot of people hated it.
After weeks of refusing to listen, I gave in. After hearing it a few times, I wondered, “Is this really a ‘new Taylor?’ Is the old Taylor really dead? Or is she telling the same narrative, just with an angrier tone?”
Turns out, “Look What You Made Me Do” is another song in which Taylor refuses to take responsibility for any of her actions. She addresses multiple conflicts throughout the song via her lyrics and cinematography in the music video, calls out anyone who has done her wrong and makes it clear that none of it is her fault. The theme of all these call-outs is, “They screwed me over, but I did nothing wrong. Now, I’m out for revenge.”
Despite the new vibe we get from this song in contrast to her previous records, it isn’t anything new. Taylor remains the same artist who has profited off playing the victim. The difference now is that the anger and revenge are much more explicit and are no longer limited to ex-boyfriends.
Themes of revenge
The opening images of the music video for “Look What You Made Me Do” create a scary, dystopian feeling to set up Taylor’s story of revenge, opening with a visual of a grave labeled “Taylor Swift’s Reputation.” The zombie who rises from the dead is none other than Taylor herself.
The lyrics include themes of malice, revenge, threats and blame on everyone except Taylor. She makes threats, including “I’ll be coming for you” and “I’m going to haunt your bad dreams,” that hint at revenge — essentially blaming others for negatively affecting her career.
She sings, “This is your fault, not mine,” “Look what you made me do,” “…the role you made me play,” and lines relating to someone taking the kingdom (presumably the music business and her successful career) from underneath her. Taylor goes so far as to say that she has a list of names and that those who wronged her are definitely on it.
The music video also includes an allusion to the idea of a “new Taylor” — one in which her old reputation is shot to hell and her new one is founded on calling out the wrongdoings against her. Old versions of Taylor are in a giant pile, crawling to the top where the new one resides. The ending scene shows Taylors of the past and society’s criticisms of each one.
Who is she calling out?
Let’s give this song some context. The most obvious call out in this song is directed at Kanye West and Kim Kardashian.
The drama between Kanye and Taylor began when he cut her off while she was receiving the 2009 Video Music Award for Best Female Video because he thought Beyoncé should have won.
The most recent drama revolves around Kanye’s song “Famous,” where he calls her a “bitch,” which Taylor references in her song. Both Kanye and Kim argue that Taylor gave him permission to use that language.
Though Taylor has denied these accusations, the couple has done its best to prove this via Snapchat videos from earlier in the year on a July 2016 episode of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”
The song also calls out Taylor’s famous feud with Katy Perry, which began in 2013. Taylor dresses as Katy in the music video and is shown holding several Grammy’s, which is likely a hit to Perry, who has not won any to date.
Throughout the entire video, there is also the theme of snakes, which is likely in relation to Taylor’s 2016 break up with Calvin Harris and the trending #TaylorIsASnake, which followed Taylor’s announcement that she wrote Harris’s top hit, “This is What You Came For,” under a pseudonym.
Her “new” reputation
Not only do we learn about the long list of people she hates, but we also start to see “the new Taylor” in the song lyrics and music video.
The music video opens with an image of the gravesite of Taylor’s reputation, signaling its death. The word “reputation” shows up multiple other times in the video — on a plane, on the dancers’ clothing, etc. — to draw attention to the transition she is attempting to make. The now famous line, “The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh, because she’s dead,” makes it clear she has no desire to be connected with the Taylor we have seen in the past.
She clearly wants to create a new image for herself and move beyond her old reputation. But is she really creating a new Taylor, or is she just playing the same trope in a different style?
“Look what you made me do”
Taylor draws attention to the name calling she has faced throughout her career, including “bitch,” smiling too much, playing the victim, etc. It seems she has put up with enough of this and is ready to transition to an edgier, take-no-shit Taylor.
She obviously isn’t playing the nice girl anymore.
But she is still playing the victim. She still refuses to take any blame for anything that has happened to her and literally states “look what you made me do.” She takes no responsibility for her own actions in the conflicts, but instead puts the burden on others involved. For her, this backlash and very public call-out was a long time coming and she is not the one to point fingers at.
Is she right for calling them out?
I am in no way arguing that the treatment of Taylor is okay. It is part of a larger system of sexism in Hollywood that even she is subjected to.
Taylor is criticized for writing songs about her ex-boyfriends, but is anyone keeping track of how many people Calvin Harris has slept with? It’s the classic slut vs. stud stereotype.
How much backlash did Kanye face for calling her a bitch, or interrupting her at the VMAs? Or was he applauded and revered for it? Are we wrong for criticizing her?
Maybe Taylor is right for calling out all of the people who have wronged her — that we are judging her too harshly, that this song is paramount to her career, that she truly is building a new reputation for herself. Good for her for standing up for herself.
I can see the validity in these arguments but I still can’t buy them. She is addressing these conflicts with a very vindictive, rue-the-day attitude and is directing her anger at three to four people who have made her life difficult.
She crafted a song based on a personal vendetta against these individuals, and she is out for blood.
This song represents the cattiness of the drama she has been involved in, keeping the “new Taylor” tied to the old, dramatic, poor-me attitude she had as the “old Taylor.”
She parodies herself as the girl who writes too many songs about ex-boyfriends and plays the victim, but she is still performing those same acts. She is still playing the victim, just in an 'I’ll get back at you’ kind of way. Essentially, this song is saying “I’m mad at you for being mad at me and making my life and career hard. Oh, and none of it is my fault.”
I would have far more respect for this song if it wasn’t so vengeful. If she were calling out the larger issue of how name calling, sexism, taking sides and slut shaming has affected her career in a negative way, then yes, I would say this could be an empowering song with a truly new version of Taylor Swift. But she misses the mark here, continues to play the victimhood and refuses to accept responsibility.
Unfortunately, a new outfit does not mean a new Taylor if the lyrics tell the same story.