Taylor Swift Hasn’t Shed Her Old Skin. She’s Still Playing the Victim.
The old Taylor Swift is “dead,” she claims. But in everything from her album artwork to the title of her new song, she’s still doing what she always has: shifting the blame.
Last summer, Kim Kardashian and Taylor Swift took National Snake Day, a C-list holiday, and turned it into Christmas in July. On that fateful summer day, Mrs. West called Swift a snake emoji on account of her less-than-transparent dealings with Kanye West. The pop star was outed as having apparently signed off on a Kanye track that she later blasted as misogynistic, and the reptile association quickly stuck. Instagram even had to update its tech in order to exterminate all the serpents on Swift’s social media. While TayTay tried to do damage control, her subsequent statement was fairly unconvincing. The disgraced former girl-next-door proceeded to slither under the radar, taking refuge in cool, dark, human-sized suitcases and Nashville, Tenn., home of the copperhead and timber rattlesnake.
Just over a year after Swift unwillingly became the celebrity spokeswoman for National Snake Day, she deliberately claimed the historic happening that was the solar eclipse. Now, solar eclipses aren’t like dumb stars—you can’t just slap a name on one for $19.95 and call it yours. And yet Swift managed it anyway, deleting her entire Twitter presence only to release a ten-second clip of a slow-moving snake on the morning of August 21. By shedding her social media skin and owning her snake affiliation in one fell swoop, Taylor somehow managed to upstage the solar system. It was the ultimate attention grab, scheduled to overshadow an awesome moment of scientific scene-stealing. Who cares about the dumb moon blocking out the sun when Taylor Allison Swift just released a 10-second video of a snake and is probably about to drop the white girl Lemonade nobody asked for?
Let’s be real: it’s already been an impossibly long summer, and the painful lack of good pop music isn’t helping. Who among us hasn’t felt the urge to stare directly into a solar eclipse after listening to “Bon Appétit”? Taylor Swift, who is neither newly blind nor stupid, clearly sensed it was her time to strike. In quick succession, she released two more snake videos, culminating in the August 23 announcement of her new album, Reputation, slated for release November 10.
Snakes are famous for eating small rodents and also subterfuge. But while the comparison may initially appear to be a negative one, the snake also has many positive qualities, such as the power of reinvention. Snakes regularly shed their skin once they outgrow it, which is badass. Swift, who is in dire need of a total reputational makeover, has found inspiration in the drastic metamorphoses of her serpentine sisters: she’s back, restored, and ready to self-expose.
While Swift has made a habit of over-architecting her public image, refusing to express political allegiances or even admit that she collaborated on a Calvin Harris track—probably a smart call—all signs point to a newly transparent TayTay. The just-released cover art for her upcoming album, Reputation, features fake articles and the New York Times font, suggesting that Swift is finally going to address rumors and set the record straight. But Swift will always be the pop star who made her possibly fake boyfriend go swimming in an ‘I Heart T.S.’ tank top, a rare form of Rhode Island water torture. In other words, no matter how sincerely the singer is trying to reveal her true self, she’ll always be a showman first. She cannot turn off the part of herself that lives for spectacle and image control, and we wouldn’t have her any other way.
Just how intensely is Taylor Swift scheming? As far back as 2014, the New York Times reported on how TayTay “maximizes use of social media” to hype her album releases. Now, three years later, Swift has ripped off the Times’ own signature font and plastered it over her face to announce her sixth album on Instagram. This cover art may be too tacky to qualify as some illuminati shit, but it’s certainly illuminati adjacent. Swift’s face is partially covered by newspaper font, her true self obscured by the media’s malicious reporting. Like Donald Trump before her, Swift is clearly trying to turn negative press coverage to her own advantage, placing the blame for her own bad reputation on a third party. In the age of “fake news,” Swift’s next record seems poised to distance her from the Taylor Swift who’s been endlessly covered and constructed by tabloids and gossip sites. Alternatively, this could all be a dog whistle to her Trump supporter fans.
Swift’s cover font also bears a more than passing resemblance to Kanye’s Saint Pablo Tour merchandise, which could be hinting at a Kimye diss track(s?) to come. And if you add up each digit in Reputation’s release date—11/10/2017—it equals 13, Taylor Swift’s favorite number. Taylor Swift is a freak.
Conspiracy theories aside, it’s clear that Swift is here to write herself back into the narrative she previously asked to be excluded from. While she’s done dramatic album announcements in the past, this elaborate, mysterious orchestration seems tone-deaf in light of her “reputation” as a master manipulator and a phony. After all, when Swift was outed by Kimye, it wasn’t just for her lack of transparency re: signing off on Kanye’s track. The real scandal was the way in which Swift, despite having the heard the song prior to its release, proceeded to play the victim, publicly shaming the rapper for trying to take credit for a young woman’s success. Whether or not you agree with Kanye’s claim that he made Taylor famous, it’s clear Swift only took objection to the sentiment when she saw an opportunity to manipulate the storyline, reframing the entire controversy around her performative feminist agenda. And when you’re Taylor Swift, a star who refuses to protest or express an actual political opinion, triumphant displays of girl power are crucial to convincing the world that you’re actually a feminist.
Since Taylor’s machinations have been so widely criticized in the past, it’s strange that she would want to double down on her victimhood narrative, further portraying herself as maligned and misunderstood. “Look What You Made Me Do,” the new single that finally dropped late Thursday night, was the perfect sonic encapsulation of Swift’s slithery, subtweet-laden social media campaign. The song opens, “I don’t like your little games / Don’t like your tilted stage,” a clear allusion to the elevated stage that Kanye West used during his Saint Pablo tour. Swift says she has a “list of names” and promises that “you’ll all get yours.” Still, in keeping with her adolescent appeal, the pop singer’s scorched-earth vengeance track could easily double as a generic middle school diary. “Honey, I rose up from the dead, I do it all the time” she brags while the melody beats on, moody and electronic and utterly undanceable. “The world goes on, another day, another drama, drama / But not for me, not for me, all I think about is karma,” she goes on, culminating in the clichéd conclusion: “I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me.”
The problem with “Look What You Made Me Do,” leaving aside its questionable musical merits, is that it continues to shift the blame. The very title implies that Swift’s reinvention was forced on her by a cruel, conniving world. In fact, this whole upcoming album is just another testament to the singer’s marketing savvy. Already, Swift is hyping the world premiere of “Look What You Made Me Do” at Sunday night’s VMAs, the site of her and Kanye’s first showdown. She’s also selling $60 gold snake rings and Reputation tees, because of course she is. The old Taylor Swift isn’t dead and gone—she’s just exploring new revenue streams.
Swift can complain about her mangled reputation all she wants, but the facts speak for themselves. The pop singer, while inarguably talented, often comes across as highly secretive at best and deceitful at worst. If Taylor Swift actually wants us to trust her, she could start by publicly announcing that she didn’t vote for Donald Trump—even if that means pissing off some of her fans. Until Swift is ready to let go of her perfectly controlled (albeit compromised) reputation, the pop star’s vision of glowing headlines and a fresh new start will stay a fantasy.