I’m Team Taylor. I supported her during her early years as a country superstar in the making. I had her back when she (wisely, financially and from a relevancy perspective) switched her sound to a more pop-oriented tint. I kinda chuckled when she released all her music on Spotify the same day Katy Perry dropped her new album, burying her rival in the process.
Hell, I didn’t even mind that she used her ex-boyfriends as cannon fodder in an array of diss tracks, some of them among her biggest hits. If artists like 2Pac and Eminem could build their careers on diss tracks, why not Taylor Swift?
So it kinda made sense that Swift – who has hits for days with diss tracks like “Bad Blood” and “I Knew You Were Trouble” – went back to that well with the lead single from her upcoming album, Reputation. Nor should Swift catch hell for shifting her sound from pop to a more EDM-oriented style. It’s not like she hasn’t danced between genres before.
There’s only one problem – that new single, “Look What You Made Me Do,” sucks.
Look, Taylor Swift was bound to experience a career misfire at some point. Whereas fellow pop heavyweights like the aforementioned Katy Perry and Lady Gaga have certainly had their ups and downs, Swift’s ride to and through pop stardom has been relatively smooth. Sure, she has had a few beefs with fellow pop stars and ex-boyfriends alike, and gained a bit of a rep behind the scenes because of it, but none of that has really affected the bottom line.
In an era when record sales are nonexistent and concert-ticket sales are on the decline, Swift is the outlier. She has yet to release an album whose sales have dipped below 4 million copies; that includes her most recent effort, 1989, which has moved more than 10 million since its release three years ago. Every venue she plays is a guaranteed sellout. She is, figuratively speaking, bulletproof.
In fact, despite fan and critical reaction that can kindly be described as mixed, “Look What You Made Me Do” is a bona fide hit. The single sits atop every relevant radio and streaming chart, and its accompanying video racked up more than 40 million views during its first 24 hours on YouTube. But whereas previous singles like “Blank Space” and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” were very much of their time, “Look What You Made Me Do” is atypical of Swift’s previous work in two ways – it is both boring and dated.
To preface, there is nothing wrong with appropriating others’ work, particularly when paying royalties for the effort, and putting your feelings on wax certainly seems cathartic. But Swift’s latest single manages to misfire in each of these respects.
For starters, the track basically lifts the chorus of Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy” and simply changes the words, so much so that Swift and co-writer Jack Antonoff awarded co-writing credits to Right Said Fred members Fred Fairbrass, Richard Fairbrass and Rob Manzoli. Rehashing a moderately popular novelty track, some 26 years after the fact, is bad enough. But to revisit a feud that many would just as soon forget is where Taylor loses the audience.
By now, the Kanye-Taylor feud is well engrained in the pop culture consciousness. Kanye stormed an awards show stage as Taylor accepted an award he felt belonged to Beyoncé. A wide-eyed Taylor becomes some sort of a cult hero, while Kanye begins his heel turn. The two went back and forth a bit in subsequent years but, for the most part, kept things clean; Swift even presented Kanye with a career achievement award at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2015. And then, we got the “Famous” controversy, in which Kanye made derogatory comments about Swift while using her nude likeness in the accompanying music video, alleging he had permission to do so. Swift swiped back and calls Kanye a liar. Turns out Kim Kardashian had a phone recording alleging otherwise. And on and on.
Which brings us back to “Look What You Made Me Do,” a fairly evident dig at Kanye himself; hell, the title itself essentially accuses Kanye of necessitating Taylor’s response. The lyrics pretty much back it up. Consider the following:
I don’t like your little games
Don’t like your tilted stage
The role you made me play
Of the fool, no, I don’t like you
She’s not done.
The world moves on, another day, another drama, drama
But not for me, not for me, all I think about is karma
And then the world moves on, but one thing's for sure
Maybe I got mine, but you'll all get yours
There’s more, but you get the point. Swift is pissed. But isn’t this a bit late? Weren’t we kinda over the whole Kanye-Taylor beef? And with such a lazy, nonsensical diss track?! Seriously, the chorus is just Swift saying “Look what you made me do” over and over again, all this from an artist who once turned phrases like "darling I'm a nightmare dressed like a daydream."
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Whether “Look What You Made Me Do” marks a career downturn of sorts for Swift, or simply a darker turn as an artist, is to be determined, though the fact that Swift already released a follow-up single (“Ready for It?”) indicates a bit of panic in her inner circle with regard to its predecessor's lukewarm reception. And, to be fair, “Ready for It?", while a bit messy, is far superior to its predecessor.
At this point, it’s obvious Swift is attempting to mature in both her image and sound. The “Teardrops on My Guitar” girl is long gone, replaced by a jaded, savvy woman with an axe to grind and scores to settle. But, were she really attempting to mature, Swift would leave petty beefs alone and stop taking potshots at fellow pop stars and former boyfriends, most of whom don’t approach her level of fame. She’s more than talented enough for her work to stand up on its own, so – like fellow pop star Drake – why bother responding to others’ slights?
Due November 10, Reputation may be chock-full of hits like 1989, or it may very well be the first misstep in one of the more misfire-free careers in the annals of pop music. However it shakes down, the fans have spoken with their less-than-enthusiastic thoughts on Swift’s hit single. Yes, people are actually turning on Taylor Swift. Look what she made us do.
Note: This article has been amended after publication to further clarify author's original use of the word "sampling."