In February 2016, Taylor Swift dropped the mic on the Grammys stage (metaphorically). After winning the award for Album of the Year, Swift responded to Kanye West's "Famous" diss by addressing the young women in the audience, urging them not to be distracted by people who "undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame." She finished by saying that one day, if they stayed focused and kept working hard, then they would be successful and, best of all, they would then know that it was "you and the people who love you" who got them there. That moment took on a bitter slant after Kim Kardashian West exposed Swift in July as having known about "Famous" before it was released — but it takes on an even worse slant after the release of "Look What You Made Me Do," Swift's first single in three years.
Her first single in three years, her return to the public eye after the Snapchat exposure, her launch of a new era after the "death" of the Old Taylor Swift... is resting on her feud with Kanye. Sorry to be the one to say this, but her future success is officially undercut, and this time it's entirely her fault.
After the song dropped on Thursday night, it didn't take fans long to notice that, from the "tilted stage" to the "said the gun was mine" to the "can't come to the phone right now," the lyrics seemed to be in response to Swift's feud with Kimye. They even took it a step further and noticed that her album cover, her Reputation lettering, and even her magazine covers are all remarkably similar to Kanye and Life of Pablo. Basically, people are talking as much about Kanye as they are about Swift right now — and that seems to be intentional on the part of the pop star. Which is a really disappointing start to a new era in her career, because, instead of re-inventing herself, Swift is doing the same thing she's always done: building her career on feuds rather than her own talent.
Swift's debut album launched her country music career, debuting at number 19 on the Billboard 200 chart. Her singles from the album, from "Tim McGraw" to "Should've Said No," were all subtweets to her high school boyfriends, as she freely admitted in interviews. But it wasn't until 2008's Fearless that Swift hit number one on the Billboard chart and enjoyed the kind of crossover success with one of the bestselling singles internationally of all time ("Love Story"). Prior to the 2009 VMAs, Swift was promoting Fearless with interviews in 2008 about how Joe Jonas dumped her in a 27-second phone call, telling Ryan Seacrest in November, "I've written about [the split], and I like to write about my life... that's just how I deal with things."
Then came the 2009 VMAs and Kanye snatching the microphone out of Swift's hands to declare that Beyoncé should have won Best Female Video because she had one of the "best videos of all time." (Which, in hindsight, we all kind of agree was true in theory, though wrong in delivery, right?) This career-defining moment painted Kanye as a villain, but launched Swift to darling status — and, like the rest of her personal life, became part of her promotional career. Her 2009 Saturday Night Live monologue song mentioned Taylor Lautner ("Back To December"), Joe Jonas (allegedly "Forever and Always"), and, of course, Kanye. In 2010, she released "Innocent," a song she said was "to" Kanye rather than about him, featuring lines like, "Life is a tough crowd / 32 and still growing up now." (The rapper was 32 when the VMAs incident occurred.) In 2015, she presented Kanye with MTV's Video Vanguard Award, joking that he had "one of the greatest careers of all time!" In 2016, after the release of "Famous" and the Snapchat exposure, Swift disappeared from the public eye almost entirely.
Now she's back, claiming that the "Old Taylor Swift" is dead... but she's not. She's really, really not.
The Old Taylor Swift couldn't stop talking about Kanye. The New Taylor Swift released a song, an album cover, a magazine cover that all seem to be referencing him. The Old Taylor Swift used her feuds for musical inspiration and album promotion. The New Taylor Swift is using her Kimye feud for musical inspiration and album promotion. The Old Taylor Swift played the victim in every situation and painted everyone who was against her as the enemy. The New Taylor Swift's song is literally about getting revenge on the enemies who "made her" do it. The only thing that seems to be new about the New Taylor Swift is that she's discovered that she looks more dramatic in black and white on an album cover.
Whereas her initial association with Kanye wasn't her fault, Swift is making a choice to have the next era of her career defined by her feud with the rapper. She is making the choice to open the next chapter of her life as the victim of other people's perceptions, who have forced her to clap back. This time, she is back after three years to choose to let Kanye be the reason for her Reputation fame and success — because "Look What You Made Me Do" from the title alone admits that Swift is not responsible for where her career goes after this.
If that was the message that the New Taylor Swift wanted to send to her fans, then she's doing a great job of sending it. But if she was trying to debut a harder, smarter, more independent Swift, then I'mma let her finish, but this is one of the greatest PR blunders of all time.