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It’s difficult to listen to Taylor Swift diss tracks and not picture the star wringing her hands at just how clever she’s being. On 1989, songs like ‘Style’ and ‘Shake It Off’ hit the mark and toe the line of side-eyeing pop stars who broke her heart, and the media who took it all right to the bank.
Swift has managed to balance commercial and critical success with vicious hate campaigns, call outs, leaked phone calls, and International Snake Day 2016. She has, rather impressively, remained a step ahead of her ‘haters’ in the music she puts out, taking hold of the silver linings and turning them platinum.
‘Look What You Made Me Do’ is the first release from Swift since 2014, and easily the most frustrating attempt at a clap-back that she’s released so far. It’s a genre-hopping, unsettled, erratic statement, which had the potential to say so much more than it eventually did.
The most pressing problem is Swift’s newfound inability to spot a hook when it’s right in front of her. Her last two albums are almost academic examples of how to write pop music, so why is it that now she can’t seem to find the wood for the trees? The verses are run-of-the-mill diss-pop, the chorus is a rather cringe-worthy Lorde impression, and hidden within these stylistic clashes is the voice of Taylor Swift, too dizzy to find her way out.
Around three quarters of the way into the song, Swift’s reserved, cutting tone repeats ‘I don’t trust nobody / and nobody trusts me’. It’s a moment of real emotion from the singer buried in chaos, almost accidently fragile and truthful.
How can she trust anybody? Her phone calls have been leaked, she has been sexually assaulted, the victim of hate campaigns, slut shaming, invasions of privacy, and public feuds with some of the most lauded celebrities on the planet. How can we trust her? She simply hasn’t given us a reason to, not since her reinvention as a glossy pop robot from outer space.
Hidden beneath the musical equivalent of one of those ‘I’m deleting my Facebook’ posts, here, is Swift’s position within popular culture. Nowadays it’s not enough to love our pop stars from afar, we need a relationship with them. Swift fans have adored the singer’s social media presence for it’s ability to extend a perceived open hand of friendship. She invited her fans to her house, made them cookies, played them songs from her new album, and took some well placed vintage Polaroids for the gram while she was at it. Who can really blame her, it’s what we expect from our pop stars.
But no more.
That Taylor, we are informed, ‘can’t come to the phone right now […] cause she’s dead’. Well, at least her social media is wiped, save for some less-than-subtle silent videos of snakes in metallic, sterile greens and black. Peace signs and denim shorts with Haim on the beach? Love hearts in the sand with Calvin Harris? Old Taylor. Dead.
Must we now face mourning her position as one of the best pop songwriters of the 21st century? It’s not like we can blame her for this dip in quality: there’s only so many clever ways she can bite back at an industry who will profit whether she succeeds or fails. Look what we made her do, indeed.
Taylor Swift releases her new album Reputation on November 10th. Listen to her new song ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ here.