For whatever faults Taylor Swift may have, which we are not party to because we are not her friends, she’s always been a hell of pop singer and songwriter. Swift is an easy punching bag. She’s prone to saying clueless things, being interrupted on-stage by Kanye and has apparently through no fault of her own become something of a Nazi idol. For whatever reason, everything Swift does seems weirdly calculated and inauthentic. One would think that a former country star wouldn’t give the impression that she’s cool and metallic to the touch but such is Swift’s public persona.
Through all of this, she’s managed to turn her pain or “pain” into a series of legitimately great country pop records that display an emotional and vocal range that’s rivaled by few in the music industry. The reason she’s so popular is because she’s incredibly talented, in other words.
After a year of some public tribulation, in which Kanye called her out on “Famous,” said she had given permission to use her name, she denied that she’d been contacted, was subsequently outed as having given some level of permission, posted a weird note on Twitter and then went into temporary celebrity exile. When she announced her new project via snake-a-gram, I’ll admit I was excited. She made bangers out of tiny incidents we’d never even heard of. What would she do now that the whole world was watching, with as juicy a target as exists in pop culture–Kanye West.
Would she return with a country banger? Would she continue the transition begun in 1989, into still-personal pop superstardom?
“Look What You Made Me Do” seems like it’s coming for everyone (even Beyoncé?) but specifically Kanye. Gone is the warmth that made even “Shake it Off” feel weirdly personal. Instead, we get a Swift that’s been stripped of what made her a great pop singer and put into a Generifier 3000. Out pops this weird little fart of a song that we’re going to hear all over the radio for the next three or four months.
Life is better, generally, when pop music is good. You hear it in Ubers, you hear it in clubs, you see it talked about on Twitter. So this single is disappointing because it not only doesn’t break out of the narrative, it also isn’t very fun to listen to. Now, you could say that it’s not Swift’s job to make us comfortable. Sure, that’s possible. But she’s, first and foremost, a musician. If she’s not making good music, and her public persona continues to confuse, then what are we doing here?
Probably listening to “Look What You Made Me Do” over and over and over again. It is, after all, kind of catchy.