Taylor Swift’s new single, “Look What You Made Me Do,” feels like a shitty alternate reality game that you unravel to find out more lore.
This tale begins in 2009, where rapper Kanye West was publicly very mean to Swift at MTV’s Video Music Awards. They publicly made up in 2015. West then included a lyric about her in his 2016 album The Life Of Pablo, which went, “To all my southside niggas who know me best, I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex. Why? I made that bitch famous.” Swift publicly condemned the song and took a jab at Kanye during her acceptance speech for Album of the Year at the Grammy’s. He insisted that he had spoken to Swift and gotten clearance for the lyrics, which no one believed until his wife Kim Kardashian released a tape of that phone call taking place. Fans of West and Kardashian then spammed Swift’s Instagram and Twitter with snake emojis, you know, cause you can’t fucking trust her. On August 21st, Swift deleted all her tweets and started tweeting videos of snakes. This was her lead up to announcing a new album, Reputation, which had its first single drop last night.
A lot of pop stars do this kind of thing now, where they turn the release of their album into huge spectacles. Katy Perry, who Swift also has beef with, hosted a 24 hour livestream where fans could watch her every move in during the promotion for her latest album, Witness. They do it for the same reason why No Man’s Sky had an ARG to promote their latest update: it makes people sit up and pay attention. Even if I don’t like these tunes, which I did not in the case of Perry’s album, these stunts are usually fun to follow. So at midnight, after walking home from the bar, I opened up the YouTube app on my phone and gave the track a listen.
Taylor Swift’s new song is called “Look What Made Me Do.” It sucks.
There’s a lot of incidental bullshit surrounding the wackness of this track as well. Swift is using a very similar font to the one West did for his Life of Pablo merch on her new album cover. Her album is also dropping on the anniversary of West’s mother’s death, a woman he loved so much he wanted to make a game about her journey to heaven. She appears to have engineered the release of this song so that everyone knows it is about West and Kardashian without ever having to call them out by name. In doing this, she can act as if she is not prolonging a now very tired beef while still publicly beefing. Swift doesn’t have to say who put her on the “tilted stage” or made her “play the role of the fool,” as she sings in “Look What You Made Me Do,” but the image of her shocked face as West rushed the stage at the VMAs in 2009 is already primed in people’s minds. This is the diss track equivalent of geocaching.
But here’s what matters: the song is bad. It’s a bassline that sounds suspiciously similar to Peaches’ “Operate” mashed up with a sample of Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy,” and the meanest thing she says in it is, “I don’t like you.” In the bridge there’s a weird spoken word section where she pretends to answer the phone. “I’m sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now,” she says. “Why? Oh… ‘Cause she’s dead!” I’m sure that sounded bad ass in your head, honey.
It’s the passive aggression that really sticks with you after a while. “Look what you made me do,” is what abusers say, both in real life and in Oxygen made-for-TV movies. Taylor wouldn’t have released an new album ten years to the day after your mother died, Kanye, if you hadn’t made her do it. It’s pointed and self conscious—if this actually were a video game plot, I’d accuse it of being overwritten.
Swift has engineered her entire life into an alternate reality game, to the extent that she leaves coded messages in the liner notes to her albums so her fans can decipher who each song is about. Putting all the pieces together in those scenarios can sometimes be very rewarding, but this is the Sombra ARG of pop music. I am looking at what Kanye has apparently made Taylor do, and I feel like this bad song is punishment enough for everyone.