Look What the Media Made Swift Do

“Look What You Made Me Do” by Taylor Swift is a record-breaking song. The song broke Spotify’s record for number of first-day streams and for most streams by one song in a single day. It also broke the record for number of first-day plays on YouTube and is currently the No. 1 song in the country (Flanagan).

Honestly, I hate it. I don’t think it is a good song, but I also don’t think it matters if it’s a good song.

Despite the general ambiguity of the actual lyrics, the pointedness of some of the symbols in the music video and the tendencies of the media to sensationalize everything Swift were bound to send the song to No. 1. The capacity for speculation and interpretation was too large.

Some of the symbols in the music video are easily interpreted to align with Swift’s various feuds and media run-ins. In the music video’s opening scene, one of the gravestones has the name “Nils Sjoberg” engraved—the pseudonym Swift used when she co-wrote “This Is What You Came For” with her then boyfriend, Calvin Harris. The pseudonym’s use eventually led to Swift and Harris’ breakup and some tense tweets from Harris. In another example, the many snakes that accompany Swift throughout the video appear to reference the incident between the Wests and Swift. On Instagram, Swift posted disparaging remarks about the couple and their use of her in “Famous,” after which Kim Kardashian West released an edited phone call of Swift appearing to approve Kanye West’s line about her in his song “Famous.” Kardashian West’s actions led to many posting the snake emoji on Swift’s social media, calling her a manipulator and liar. The overall tone of the music video uses symbols from her past media scandals to show Swift as manipulative and overly ambitious.

However, the deeper I fell down the rabbit hole of Taylor Swift gossip and tabloid trash, the more I realized how shallow all the “scandals” were. Much of what was said about Swift included indefinites: “seem,” “maybe,” and “perhaps.” I was tired of the media jumping to conclusions, and I was not the one in the article.

The music video of “Look What You Made Me Do” ends with Taylor Swift as she was from the 2009 VMAs (where Kanye interrupted her award speech, beginning their infamous feud) saying, “I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative.” While the music video of “Look What You Made Me Do” embraces—and exaggerates—the media narrative forced on Swift, the lyrics create a different narrative. From the very title—“Look What You Made Me Do”—there is a narrative of victimization. The idea of having been made to do something, being forced into action against your will, allows Swift to carefully cultivate an image of innocence being stripped. The pre-chorus circulates around the idea of “I got smarter, I got harder,” emphasizing how her very public life forced the construction of a jaded worldview “in the nick of time.” The themes of loss and cynicism are further emphasized in the bridge when Swift repeats, “I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me.” The quote shows Swift as cynical in that she trusts no one, and it shows her as a victim in that no one trusts her, both sentiments molded by how the media portrays her. Even the hyperbolic “I’m sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh, ’cause she’s dead!” sets up Swift as a victim of some crime.

The danger of Swift’s careful narrative of victimization is already displayed in comment sections from YouTube to Tumblr. While some think she is a victim of the cruelty of the media and stardom, others see her as playing the victim in order to cover-up for her less-than-graceful media slip-ups. Can we really know whether her victimhood is real or fabricated? The current split in audience between those who see Swift as petty and those who see her as empowered is fairly equally divided. The majority cares more about her music than her life in the tabloids. In the end, her freedom as an artist means she can write whatever she wants, no matter what we as an audience think of it, but her popularity means we will think of it.

Even though I really hate that song.

This article was written by Nicole Kiser. Click here to see more of Nicole’s work.