The moment has arrived. Taylor Swift's new single and video are here, marking her long-awaited and highly teased comeback. After a week full of cryptic clues that began with a social media blackout and ended with a video of a hissing snake, the pop star has released a single, announced an album, put out a music video, and launched a merch collection, all in a matter of days.
Almost as if on cue, the internet reacted accordingly with plenty of feelings, reactions, and theories. Just hours after “Look What You Made Me Do” hit Spotify, some people decided that the song was definitely a Kanye West diss track, or maybe a clapback to Katy Perry. Listeners pored over lyrics, analyzing phrases such as “tilted stage,” or zeroing in on a beat that sounded reminiscent of the Halloween party from Mean Girls.
But then came Taylor’s music video at the VMAs. If the album Reputation is supposed to signify a “rebirth,” her “LWYMMD” video made it perfectly clear right from the start with images of a zombified Taylor, crawling through the woods. The visuals were heavy-handed, for sure, as the pop star sat on a throne, sipping tea, while snakes slithered all around her feet. Later in the video, she danced amid a chorus line of people in “I <3 T.S.” shirts, calling back to the Hiddleswift ~drama~ of summer 2016. She even went so far as to work in all the insults directed at her over the years, as if to say “For the record, I know exactly what people think of me.” It was so meta and self-aware that it almost seemed like this could possibly redeem her from the constant public outrage that inevitably follows her at every turn.
Almost, but not quite.
Among the lighthearted jokes, the clever tweets, and the memes (so many memes), that same old collective anger and annoyance managed to emerge on top. It seems as though the internet will never, ever get tired of hating Taylor Swift.
It’s the kind of outrage that feels performative, almost as though people feel like they’re simply obligated to be SO bothered by anything Taylor says or does. And in this case, it’s Taylor’s so-called rebranding that seems to be grating on everyone’s last nerve; maybe it’s the fact that she’s hinged her “new” vibe on a tiresome feud with Kanye. Or perhaps it’s simply the sensation that we’ve seen this all before — a musical déjà vu.
And it’s true; this isn’t so much a “new” Taylor as it is yet another regurgitation of the same Taylor we’ve known since she first appeared on the music scene. The Taylor singing “I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time” is also the Taylor who sang “I keep cruising, Can’t stop won’t stop moving,” and the Taylor who crooned “Someday I’ll be living in a big ol’ city and all you’re ever gonna be is mean.” It’s the same sentiment, refurbished and hit with a different beat: I was wronged, but I will prevail. I’ll prove it to you. I’ll show them all. In fact, her “LWYMMD” video completely acknowledged this; the final moments show us “all the Taylors" over the years. They are, in fact, one and the same.
So why, then, are we so angry about this — something we’ve seen before, time and again? Is it because Taylor hasn’t changed at all, and we’re frustrated that she continues to “play the victim” through her music, even while acknowledging that very trope? I suspect it’s more than that, because Taylor seems to draw a special kind of outrage — one that other musicians quite simply don’t invoke.
The fact of the matter is that Taylor Swift is not going to lead the resistance.
Let’s be honest; it’s not just her music that motivates people to take to social media in fury — it’s her image, her persona, her problematic dealings with race, her perpetuation of “girl power” that some might call self-serving. After all, Taylor is the pop star who brought a parade of women onstage with her in the name of feminism, but was radio silent after the 2016 election — something that people still seem unable to shake off. And it’s understandable to a degree; other celebrities have utilized their massive platforms in order to raise awareness about important issues plaguing our country. Some stars marched alongside civilians during the many protests that took place since November, while others made use of their massive followings on social media to call out the actions of the current presidential administration. Taylor did none of those things, and people wanted to see her do more, do anything at all, despite the fact that none of us really know what her politics are, who she voted for in the election, or what she actually thinks of any of these issues.
But it seems as though people have a selective memory when it comes to Taylor, because just days before unleashing her snake videos and “new” brand, she was sitting in a courtroom, face to face with a man who was later found guilty of groping her in 2013. She testified in public, defended herself against ridiculous claims that she “could have” done something different to prevent or alter the events of her assault (a horrible notion that perpetuates victim-blaming), and literally inspired other survivors of sexual assault to come forward with their own experiences. This is not nothing. If it had happened to almost any other female celebrity, it undoubtedly would’ve sparked tons of think-pieces and supportive hashtags. Yet, because it was Taylor — and I truly believe because it was Taylor — the internet collectively forgot about it in literally a matter of days, suddenly turning back to that same old outrage over a pop song, a font choice, or an album release date.
If we take a second to be honest with ourselves, we might realize that this isn’t about Taylor at all, but more about us — as individuals, and as a collective society. It’s arguably easier to get angry at Taylor for not showing up to the Women’s March than it is to confront our Trump-supporting family members at Thanksgiving. It’s much less taxing to tweet at @TaylorSwift13 and call her a fake feminist than it is to inspect our own shortcomings. Could Taylor do better? Sure. But, more importantly, we all could do better, and if we put as much effort into our own activism as we do into insulting Taylor for what we perceive to be self-serving behavior, we’d probably see more progress than one celebrity can do with a single tweet.
The fact of the matter is that Taylor Swift is not going to lead the resistance. She was never going to be our “savior,” and she probably never will. She also may never evolve artistically beyond the trope of “the girl who was wronged and seeking revenge,” even while poking fun at herself in the process. She may continue to re-invent herself over and over, just shedding layers of skin (yes, like a snake) only to reveal what was already there.
So, let her. Let her be Taylor; let her make pop music filled with lyrics perfect for those angsty Instagram captions. Let her take fans on scavenger hunts for hidden “13” clues and possible shade at Kanye and Katy. Let her be who she is — who she always was. It’s time to stop projecting who we want Taylor to be onto Taylor herself. The more we do this, the more we’re going to be let down, feeling justified in this collective anger that is, in actuality, so misplaced. At the end of the day, it’s on us — not Taylor, not any other musician, not any other celebrity — to be the voices we so desperately want to hear.