Taylor Swift may be one of the most polarizing artists in the music industry. On August 21, she released the first of three promos videos on her Instagram, shortly after she had cleared all of her social media accounts. Each of the three clips featured shots of various segments of a snake slithering through the dark, with the snake's head screaming into the camera in the last clip.
Half of Twitter was rejoicing in the fact that Swift had released these videos, which clearly indicated that new music was on the way, and the other half was a mix of apathetic and annoyed.
Luckily, there was not too much time between the release of the promo videos and the release of her new album’s first single. “Look What You Made Me Do” is a jab at Taylor Swift’s critics. As someone who is not a fan of "post-Speak Now" Taylor Swift and as someone who belongs to the group of people that Swift's new music targets, I decided to give her new single and its music video a chance before I formulated my opinions on it.
Swift's video opens up with her rising from the grave as a zombie, reflecting the death of her old persona. Soon after, we see the first of the many instances of snake imagery. Swift sits on a throne embellished with gold serpents, while live snakes slither around her- an ode to Kim Kardashian's calling of her a snake.
As the video goes on, scenes very similar to those from Beyoncé's "Formation" music video appear. They could be a jab at "Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time" from 2009, or they could be a genuine case of appropriation and misused content.
Swift's video, which leads a lot to unpack, ends with each of her old personas, from the geeky girl from "You Belong With Me" to Swan Lake Swift from "Shake it Off," standing in a line bickering with each other.
"You can't possibly be that surprised all the time" exclaims Swan Lake Swift at an overexcited geeky teenage Swift, a punch at Swift's overly surprised reactions at awards show.
"There she goes, playing the victim again," remarks a Swift clad in black leather.
And lastly: "I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative" (Kanye West vs. Taylor Swift, colorized 2009).
Essentially, Swift knew what we were going to say and said it before we could. She acknowledges the fact that she is a snake and owns it.
Obviously where the controversy arises is if claiming victim status can go hand in hand with embracing a snakey attitude as a white, successful recording artist- especially when this is done with the intention of seeking revenge and not justice. The question arises of whether Swift is taking agency of her criticism or is using it to elevate her status and enhance her career.
By recording this song and making this music video, Swift garners the power needed to claim that she is a victim both to her critics and to the music industry. In fact, she already needed to be in a position of power in order to successfully execute such a controversial act and maintain a following. And in this is where the internal conflict lies that many of us have when trying to admire Swift.
Nonetheless, "Look What You Made Me Do" is catchy. Its music video is clever. And its artist is still making millions and securing her spot in the music industry, whether her critics like it or not.