“I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me.” The line Taylor Swift delivers in a lazy half-rap, half-singing tone in the bridge of her new single, “Look What You Made Me Do,” is perhaps the most self-aware one the singer has ever delivered.
Nearly two years of the public gradually recognizing just how problematic she can be — the embracement of white feminism as her personal brand, turning structural racism into an attack on herself, her deafening silence on anything related to that orange toddler running our country… — culminated in a blow up scandal.
In case you forgot: Swift publicly bashed Kanye West, claiming he hadn’t sought her permission to for that now infamous couplet “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? I made that bitch famous” in his song “Famous.” West’s wife, Kim Kardashian, leaked recordings of a phone call between the two in return, in which it was more than evident that he not only asked, but that she enthusiastically approved. Gee. I wonder why nobody trusts Taylor Swift anymore.
But what this line speaks to is something bigger than the fact that no one trusts Taylor Swift because she is, personally, a snake. It’s campy and ridiculous, perfectly at home on an electroclash track that sounds like listening to a dorm room blast “I’m Too Sexy” from two doors away. (It should come as no surprise that Right Said Fred has a writing credit on the track.) It’s an entirely different sound than we’ve heard from Taylor Swift before, but it isn’t the first time she’s made such a drastic change.
“I’m sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh, because SHE’S DEAD!” Swift recites near the end of song. Except, the Old Taylor is very much alive. Because even if the song was good (it isn’t), it should serve as clear proof that this is par for the course, that we should no longer trust Swift as a genuine artist. She doesn’t evolve; she rebrands.
It’s a bold, if not pointedly ignorant and out of touch, choice to release a single like this one this year. 2017 has not been good to pop stars, particularly female ones. As the climate of our country changes rapidly — Is Swift aware that 2017 America is nowhere close to the same as 2014 America, that getting up in arms about her repeated cultural appropriation offenses the last time around was mild? — they’ve attempted, with varying degrees of success, to pivot to match that.
Katy Perry tried to get woke, Lana Del Rey tried to compare Coachella to Woodstock, Selena Gomez’s single was a bop primarily because she appropriated Talking Heads, and Miley Cyrus decided pretending to be a woman of color wasn’t selling and went back to white bread country roots. It, for the most part, hasn’t worked out too well. The ones who have succeeded, like Lorde and Kesha, have done so not by drastically pivoting, but by growing artistically, by digging deeper for more mature lyrics or stripping away the facade to expose the foundation of their craft.
Now Swift is following suit. This is not the first time she has blatantly shifted her musical aesthetic in the name of trendiness and relevance. With 2014’s 1989, she made an exaggerated, public announcement that she was no longer the country star we were introduced to in 2006 and was leaving country music to embrace a fully-formed pop sound. Why? Because it sells better. Swift repeatedly lets commerce dictate her art when it should be the other way around.
We have now seen Country Girl Taylor, Pop Girl Taylor, and are about to be ushered into the era of Edgy Girl Taylor. We should have all seen this comingwhen she ditched her sparkly jumpsuits and red lipstick for Vetements and a platinum shag, just the same as when she ditched her A-line sundresses and Keds for those sparkly jumpsuits.
It seems, now, that Swift is attempting an aesthetic rebirth and rebrand on every album, attempting, perhaps, to be the Millennial Madonna. The problem is that Madonna’s constant evolution has always been just that — an evolution. It’s been about experimentation, not artifice. The pop sensibility remains the same. The only thing that has remained the same on Swift’s albums is the “pity me, I’m the victim, but I’m also petty” lyrical structure that, frankly, she exhausted two albums ago.
We expect our artists to grow and improve and broaden their horizons as their careers go on, yes, but what Swift is doing isn’t growing. It’s rebranding. It’s trying on different costumes — the latest of which she is laughably ill-suited for — to sell records, plain and simple. We should not trust Taylor Swift because the only art Taylor Swift has mastered thus far is the art of capitalism.