The old Taylor Swift can’t come to the phone because she’s dead - or so she said.
Her latest single and upcoming Reputation album supposedly heralds the dawn of a new Taylor Swift era - one where the saccharine, hurt puppy, maligned lover persona makes way for a badass rising above all the drama.
Yet, a close viewing of her “Look What You Made Me Do” music video suggests that talk of the old Taylor’s demise has been greatly exaggerated.
For sure, it is an aesthetic extravaganza, thanks to the brilliance of director Joseph Kahn, who also helmed the music videos for Swift’s Bad Blood, Blank Space and other iconic songs like Britney Spears’ Toxic and Eminem and Rihanna’s Love The Way You Lie.
The attention to detail is also a treasure trove for trivia hunters.
One of the graveyard tombs, for instance, belongs to Nils Sjoberg - Swift’s secret pen name on ex-lover Calvin Harris’ hit This Is What You Came For. Meanwhile, the lone dollar bill in the bathtub of jewels is a simultaneous reference to Kim Kardashian’s robbery in Paris and Swift’s symbolic $1 award in the groping case against DJ David Mueller.
But even the prettiest and wittiest imagery in the world can be tainted by venom.
Swift uses just about every chance she gets to lash out at those who have dared to cross her.
In one scene, her dancers wear I <3 TS tees, not unlike what ex-beau Tom Hiddleston once wore to the beach.
Contrary to what these pictures suggest, TS does not stand for t-shirt.
During the first chorus, a Katy Perry doppelganger crashes her car into a lamppost before writhing around with a Grammy (Swift has 10 Grammys; Perry has none).
Taylor Swift as Katy Perry pouting in an expensive car she just crashed and posing with her non-existent Grammy. I pity the poor cheetah beside her who had to deal with all this drama.
In yet another setting, Swift sips tea on a throne etched with the words “Et tu, Brute?” (a Shakespearean allusion to betrayal) as snakes hiss and glide around her.
Her serpentine friends, of course, are a not-so-subtle nod to her beef with Kim Kardashian, and how the latter’s fans spammed Swift with snake emojis.
She also wears glittery snake rings, and the camera lingers on them just to make sure you register the reference (and perhaps for you to consider buying one of these serpentine rings from her online store).
Swift getting spammed by snake emojis, before she figured they would make snazzy fashion accessories.
Many have argued that this is Swift demonstrating unprecedented levels of self-awareness, in which she mocks herself and thereby reclaims all of the criticisms that have been hurled against her.
Yes she knows she has been called a snake, a publicity whore, a celebrity girl squad dictator, a music streaming robber and all that jazz, and she’s here to shove it back in your faces like a boss.
But these claims seem to confuse self-deprecation with self-approbation.
While it’s laudable to be self-aware, it’s another to do it while exuding bitterness and stomping all over your enemies, one of whom almost lost her life in a jewellery heist.
It doesn’t take a Kardashian fan to see that even for a seasoned shade-thrower like Swift, her bathtub jewellery scene was below the belt, not to mention unoriginal:
As Charlotte Goddu observes on The Ringer: “Spitting back the insults people have flung at her doesn’t make her seem any less fake or any less of a self-made victim. Rehashing the narrative doesn’t seem like the best way to exclude herself from it.”
In other words, while Swift really fancies herself a Gryffindor, the Sorting Hat would still plonk her firmly in Slytherin.
Ironically, the harder Swift tries to bury her old reputation, the more she resurrects her former spiteful self with calculated potshots against her ever-expanding list of personae non gratae.
It makes you wonder if the grotesque zombie we see in the graveyard scene is actually a reflection of her innermost thoughts.
And as Sam Wolfson points out for Noisey, how can the “Old Taylor” be dead if she’s still bearing a grudge?
Clearly, this is someone who is hung up on the past and not ready to bury the beef, even though she is already 27 and continues to set an example for children and teenagers all over the world.
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the meanest of them all?
By the time multiple Swift incarnations squabble among themselves in the last scene, it dawns on me that despite all her efforts to Shake It Off, transform and appear nonchalant, the starlet still cares a whole lot about what her naysayers think about her.
While the bevy rehashes some of the harshest lines from her critics (“Stop acting like you’re all nice. You are so fake”), I find myself missing the original Taylor Swift - the curly-haired blonde who had teardrops on her guitar and sang about love, not hate; the talented musician who cared more for the music and less about curating her public image and getting revenge.
We know you’re all shady but will the real slim Swiftie please stand up?
Just seven years ago, Swift crooned about rising above the “swords and weapons” of those who have been Mean to her.
Today she may not be the Queen of Pop, but she sure has turned that song around and crowned herself the Queen of Mean.
Oh TayTay, I really wanted to like your new video and the new you, but ooh, look what you made me do.