Taylor Swift’s latest music video, Look What You Made Me Do, appears self-satirising (or, as her fans say, self-referential). But is she really mocking herself or laughing at her mockers?
At 27, the “old Taylor” is dead, so goes the declaration in Ms Swift’s latest single Look What You Made Me Do. But it isn’t just one of her old selves that died. How many old Taylors were there? Quite a few, apparently—all deserving a grave.
And that’s exactly where she emerges in the MV track that debuted at yesterday’s MTV Video Music Awards, looking like she is auditioning for Night of the Living Dead, or, maybe, paying homage to Michael Jackson’s Thriller (both cemeteries look strikingly similar). Ms Taylor willing to look ghoulish is of course a bit of a surprise. She is, after all, the American Beauty.
But that cartoonish living-dead look lasted for a grand total of 14 seconds. (It is preceded by an aerial view of tombstones that form the letters T and S: her reputation, as it were, may be dead, but not narcissism). For the most part of the video, she is her glamorous self: the white, blond, and blue version of attractiveness that Americans find especially appealing and digestible, in clothes that every prom-goer can identify with. Taylor Swift is the perennial homecoming queen. And she’s offered her viewers, in more than a dozen costume changes in the video, a greatest hits of the dresses she’s worn on stage and screen.
The video of Look What You Made Me Do was screened in lieu of her stage appearance. The media made sure to note her no-show. Of course it was a no-show. Can you imagine the more daringly-dressed host Katy Perry introducing the Shake It Off singer? Who knows if the Bad Blood is diluted?
A music video, even in 4K, is also less a moving target for disgruntled fellow singers to go on stage to upstage the star, proclaiming her undeserving. This is all very harmless and it encourages more on-line viewing and appreciation. Unsurprisingly, it spawns another record for Ms Swift: at the time of this writing, YouTube announced that the MV, directed by Joseph Kahn (aka Ahn Jun-Hee, the Korean-born wunderkind of music videos), broke record for the most-viewed in a 24-hour period. Reportedly, at one point, it was drawing more than 3 million views per hour!
Is it any good? Well, Taylor Swift is not Björk. She’s merely traipsing the path well trodden by Britney Spears, wearing more clothes and affability than the Toxic singer (whose video of that song was also directed by Mr Kahn). It switches from (unconnected) scene to scene, augmenting the fact that, like Donald Trump, Ms Swift needs to live from one drama to the next. Look What You Made Me Do has the bombast needed for today’s MVs to hit the most-viewed spot, but it is as engaging as a cat doing her business in the kitty litter.
Talking about cats, felines make their appearance in the video. Not groundbreaking there. Ms Swift’s love of cats, especially Scottish Folds, is no secret. In Look What You Made Me Do, she dons a white full-head mask of a cat alongside dancers with faces similarly obscured. There’s another cat: the face of a tiger on a black Gucci (but, in a flash, could be Kenzo) pullover. As if to reflect the animal’s fierceness, she swings a baseball bat a la Beyoncé in Hold Up.
Then there’s also the leopard print coat (above), and an actual leopard in a car-crash scene which seems to be taking aim at archenemy Katy Perry, a leopard print-loving pop-singing rival whose fans are known as “Katy Cats”. What seems to confirm our suspicion more is the conspicuously placed Grammy award in that scene. We know Ms Perry has never won one even with multiple nominations. Surely, that’s not a mere hint. Funnily, there’s something old-school about that: taking your grievances to music television rather than social media!
Now, remember Taylor Swift is a vengeful lyricist, and she does not forget. She draws much from her pain, and her resentments are hardly a subtle subtitle in what she writes and sings. “You”, you would have guessed by now, isn’t just one of her lovers (here’s looking at you Calvin Harris and Tom Hiddleston). You is employed in plural form and you are the nosy, noisy multitudes.
Calling out her detractors, Ms Swift seems to be including people in the industry: Kim Kardashian (that bathtub with diamonds and pearls); DJ David Mueller (the one-dollar bill, also in the bathtub, that could symbolize the USD$1 she sought for damages); and people who have allegedly betrayed her, such as Kimye (in one scene of the throne and the snakes, a serpentine couple serves her tea!). In the end, even with a scene (above) that brings together the past Taylors in a mutual verbal attack (only Taylor Swift can criticise Taylor Swift?), she’s really having a go at all of us.
Photos: screen grabs of the music video Look What You made Me Do on YouTube