Content Warning: This column mentions sexual violence.
Hello, is this thing on? This is a column where I take a stab at the good, the bad and the ugly of pop music. Last year I kicked things off with a Kanye throwback, so let’s start with the complete opposite: whatever the heck Taylor Swift is doing right now. But first, I have a confession: I have this recurring nightmare where I’m in a job interview, and the interviewer slides over the picture of me sporting side bangs and blue sparkly eyeshadow at the Taylor Swift Fearless Tour and asks, “Care to explain this?” I don’t know what is more cringeworthy: that or Swift’s first single “Look What You Made Me Do” off her upcoming album “Reputation” (2017).
Following the success of her sexual assault legal battle, Swift has done a musical 180. While the “I’m Too Sexy” (1991)-influenced backtrack sounds like it was made on GarageBand, the video proves to be more engaging. After a juvenile zombie opening representing her rebirth, it’s chock-full of references to who else but Kanye West. Check off Kim’s jewel-filled Paris robbery, Ye’s near-fatal car accident, Taylor cradling a Grammy and a dance sequence reminiscent of rival Beyoncé’s “Formation” (2016). Sitting atop a golden throne engraved with “Et tu, Brute?,” Swift has fully transitioned from Juliet of “Love Story” (2008) to queen of the empire. She redeems LWYMMD with a final self-dragging skit. Who doesn’t love 14 clones ganging up on “You Belong With Me” (2008) band-geek Taylor, y’all?
Speaking of humble beginnings, recall Swift’s “Thug Story” collaboration with T-Pain in 2009. Lyrics like “You don’t wanna fight me … In my extra small white tee,” have as much zing as LWYMMD’s diss, “No, I don’t like you.” Want some frosé for that burn? (I imagine there is large overlap between T-Swift biddies and frosé fanatics). In all seriousness, the reason why this new Taylor feels wrong is because she’s trying so hard to be something she’s not.
Earlier this month, Swift dropped her second single, “…Ready For It?” (2017), returning to her “1989” (2014) glitzy pop vocals, but with an overdose of bass. I’m still not sold on ‘bada– Taylor.’ It’s hard to pull off edginess with lyrics like “Stealing hearts and running off and never sayin’ sorry.” Did you catch that, guys? She’s not sayin’ sorry! She’s also probably unliking all your Instagram photos.
So, is she a snake or the heroine? Either way, the bottom line is that you can’t avoid her. Even my grandma will know about “Reputation” when the UPS truck delivers her Talbots turtleneck sweaters. It’s the feud that keeps on giving — but Kanye and Taylor are millionaires for a reason. I’m placing bets now that the two cooked up this whole thing as a truly genius PR strategy. I’m not taking sides, but I will get my popcorn and wait for the West/Swift 2020 presidential bid. Thanks for tuning in, and check out my column playlist “is this thing on?” on Spotify for more.