Taylor Swift forgets nothing.
That’s one lesson from her music video – which debuted Sunday during the MTV VMA show – for her new single, “Look What You Made Me Do.” The fiery song, in which Swift declares her former self “dead,” dropped Thursday night, and quickly shattered streaming records.
Swift has not explained the meaning behind the tune (Is it a parody? Is she very serious?) and according to Instagram, she has no plans to do so: “There will be no further explanation. There will just be reputation,” she wrote, name-checking the title of her sixth studio album that will be released in November.
So allow us – and the rest of the internet – to translate. Swift is aware that her reputation took a hit last year after well-publicized feuds with her ex-boyfriend DJ Calvin Harris and her nemeses, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, along with a much-mocked relationship with actor Tom Hiddleston. Even her tweet about the Women’s March earned backlash.
This year, she withdrew from the spotlight almost completely. And it looks like she has been taking careful notes about every single insult hurled her way and is using her new video to respond – par for the course, given her love of vengeance and defending herself against critics. She even says as much in the song, as she’s consumed with how to get back at her enemies.
“The world moves on, another day, another drama, drama/But not for me, not for me, all I think about is karma.” – TAYLOR SWIFT
Here are all of the criticisms she calls out in the video:
1) Her reputation.
The video kicks off with this not-so-subtle visual gem, a tombstone that reads “Here lies Taylor Swift’s reputation.” Yeah, she knows what you’ve been saying about her.
Then, zombie Swift erupts from the ground. “I don’t like your little games, don’t like your tilted stage/The role you made me play of the fool, no, I don’t like you,” she sings – this may or may not be a reference to West’s tilted stage on his latest tour.
2) “Nils Sjoberg.”
Before last year, it was unusual to see a fellow celebrity call out Swift – then in June 2016, her ex-boyfriend Calvin Harris went on a tweetstorm that accused her of trying to “bury” him. Why was he so angry? Because Swift’s team publicly confirmed that Swift wrote his hit “This Is What You Came For,” under the pseudonym Nils Sjoberg. And Harris didn’t seem thrilled that it suddenly looked like Swift was the brains behind the operation.
Anyway, Swift made sure to throw “Nils Sjoberg” on a tombstone in the opening moments of the video. So now he’s really buried.
3) The snake references.
Last summer on Snapchat, Kardashian released a phone call recording of Swift and West discussing West’s controversial song “Famous,” and the internet branded Swift a “snake” – because earlier, Swift implied she was caught off guard when she was mentioned in the track. So, Swift included snakes in her video, from a snake necklace to a snake serving her tea.
4) Katy Perry.
Katy Perry, who hosted the VMAs, spent a lot of time this summer discussing her years-long feud with Swift. It’s a tired subject, so Swift didn’t even bother to go there – except possibly with a shot of her in the video dressed as a Perry look-alike, holding a Grammy. The important background here is that Swift has 10 Grammys. Perry has zero.
5) Her squad.
Swift helped popularize the idea of #squadgoals with her army of famous friends, bolstered by events like her celebrity-packed July 4 party with perfectly curated Instagram photos. In the video, Swift assumes the role of some kind of cult leader in front of lots of mindless drone mannequins as the word “SQUAD” is displayed on video screens.
6) That “I Heart T.S.” tank top
This feels like it happened 1,000 years ago, but last summer, Swift embarked on a much-photographed relationship with Tom Hiddleston. This included an incident where Hiddleston wore an “I Heart T.S.” tank top in the ocean and became a social media laughingstock. According to a GQ profile, the mockery still haunts him. (He said he wore it as a joke.) Of course, in the video, Swift’s dancers rip off their jackets to reveal . . . well, the heart tank tops.
7) Her “surprise” face.
Wow, she’s been holding this one in for a while. Even back in her country music days, people made fun of Swift for looking shocked when she won awards . . . because she won all the awards. In the video, as Swift declares that the “old Taylor” is “dead,” she dresses up as several of her former music video characters. After the song finishes, more than a dozen Taylor clones gather together and take a bow.
“You guys!” exclaims the bookish nerd Taylor from the “You Belong With Me” video.
“Stop making that surprise face, it’s so annoying,” says zombie Taylor.
“You can’t possibly be that surprised all the time,” sighs ballerina Taylor from the “Shake It Off” video.
8) The fact that West called her a “b—-” in “Famous.”
Swift’s main defense over the West-“Famous” incident is that yes, West may have told her about the song, but he never said he was going to refer to her as a “b—-.” (The full lyric: “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/Why? I made that b—- famous.”) Anyway, the conversation between Swift characters in the video continues.
“What’s with that b—-?” new Taylor scoffs about ballerina Taylor.
“Don’t call me that!” zombie Taylor snaps.
9) Swift isn’t actually that nice.
Though Swift skyrocketed to fame as the friendly, down-to-earth former country star, she knows that not everyone believes that.
“Y’all!” cries out sparkly-dress-and-guitar Taylor, with a 13 painted on her hand, just as she did during her Nashville days.
“Oh, stop acting like you’re so nice, you are so fake,” snaps ringleader Taylor, dressed up from the “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” performance costume.
10) Swift loves to play the victim.
Again, a common criticism of Swift – and she knows it. When sparkly dress Taylor starts to cry, new Taylor rolls her eyes. “There she goes, playing the victim, again,” she sighs, as snake Taylor hisses.
11) Kim Kardashian.
As the Taylor clones argue, one of them is dressed in a long cheetah-print coat, obsessively snapping selfies. Obviously, Swift can’t let this video go with a dig at Kardashian, who released the infamous Snapchat recording, or “receipts,” as the internet dubbed them – a recording that was clearly edited.
“Getting receipts! Gonna edit this later,” the Kardashian-Taylor clone says, not even bothering to veil that one.
12) Her famous phrase.
When Swift fired back at Kardashian and West after the Snapchat recording last year, people immediately pounced on the phrase that she used in her statement: “I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative, one that I never asked to be a part of.” It even became a meme.
The final Taylor clone speaks up – it’s Taylor dressed like she was at the 2009 VMAs, when West stole her spotlight and started their whole rocky relationship. “I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative,” Swift starts to say.
“Shut UP!” all the Taylor clones yell. End scene.
AUTHOR: (c) 2017, The Washington Post · Emily Yahr