I’m not even a huge fan of Taylor Swift, and yet I find myself blogging and defending her for the second time. I should be spending this time gushing over Gaga or squealing over Sia, but no.
Lots of people – almost every Tweet or article I see – is upset with Taylor over her new song “Look What You Made Me Do.”
Yes, as plenty of people have brought up, there are issues with this video. We’ve probably all seen those problems spelled out multiple times, so I won’t rehash them here, but Google or Twitter it if you’re curious.
But here’s the other side of things:
1) Taylor knows what Taylor’s doin
It’s not like she released this video and was shocked by the backlash. Someone somewhere down the line saw this coming and gave the warning cry, but more than that I’d actually bet that it was intentionally planned by Taylor and her PR team to create a controversial song in the first place. Not like “Oops, we didn’t realize this was a problem, how do we fix it?”
Instead of boycotting her, people hear it’s a problematic song and what do they do? They watch it, they talk about it, Tweet about it, blog about it (case in point 🙂 ). And even bad press is good press. There’s more hype about her new CD than if she had released a cutesy song like “You Belong with Me” or even “Blank Space”.
Taylor even alludes to this in her song. That you can do what you want, even talk crap about her, but she’ll only always come out on top. She knows this. She’s calculated this when she created the song. The backlash only delivers more proof that her song is true.
2) Don’t even think this is about Kanye
I mean, it is about Kanye, but he’s only a small small piece of this. She’s talking to all the people who have trashtalked her and will trashtalk her. She’s saying she’s come out on top no matter what reputation we’ve given her. Kanye wasn’t a problem with all of those previous renditions of Taylor. Kanye wasn’t the one who mocked those identities of hers. This song is more big than any one person, it’s an anthem of hers. Like Katy Perry’s “Roar”:
“I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath / Scared to rock the boat and make a mess / So I sat quietly, agreed politely….You held me down, but I got up / Already brushing off the dust.” Sound familiar?
3) I see the lyrics “Look what you made me do” differently
One of the biggest objections to the song is the refrain “Look what you made me do”, a common phrase for victim blaming. Not exactly appropriate for playing the victim or for taking responsibility for your own actions. Kind of manipulative.
I see that side of it. But the side I first saw was this:
I thought Taylor was taking back her voice in the “narrative”, taking back that line so often used against victims. In essence saying, “Look what you made me do” is usually said after doing damage. But I’m choosing to be better than that. “Look what you made me do,” as in I just keep reinventing myself and becoming better and not letting you get to me. That’s why you see in the video all the different Taylors, all the different insults thrown their way, and how she just keeps morphing into a different Taylor and has withstood the mockeries.
We’ve seen lots of songs with that anthem, of not letting what others have done to hurt us get to us. I immediately thought of “Fighter” by Christina Aguilera.
There’s also “Stronger”, and just look at the video similarities.
I saw Taylor’s video as a message of empowerment and agency. Saying “I can handle the backlash. I will grow, I will improve, I will come out stronger no matter what you throw at me.”
She wasn’t physically attacking Kanye or any person in the video – she simply was transforming herself to improve and overcome. For an abuser, “Look what you made me do” usually refers to damage of some sort. But for Taylor’s video, “Look what you made me do” seems to be simply this – become better, become stronger.
Did she deliver that message successfully? Maybe or maybe not, but I think that was what she was going for. I will admit that the vandalism detracts from that message a bit, so I could be wrong.
4) We make Taylor out to be too emotional for doing what others are applauded for
Taylor’s video director Tweeted this in response to the backlash:
If I plan something as a man I'm a "genius." If Taylor as a woman plans something she is "manipulative." Double standards. This is wrong.
— Joseph Kahn (@JosephKahn) August 30, 2017
and I think he’s a little bit right. But it’s more than that, too. Even more than the guy/girl dynamic.
- We applaud Adele for her emotional vulnerability, while accuse Taylor of being a mean girl or jilted lover for her regular songs about exes.
- We applaud messages of female empowerment and speaking up for yourself, but when Taylor releases a response that says “I’m coming out on top of this”, we say “Tone it down, don’t be so bitter, maybe have a little forgiveness and move on.”
- I mean, Carrie Underwood sang about vandalizing the guy’s car and that’s a popular song still, but God forbid Taylor get a little upset.
It’s funny how Taylor is simultaneously the beloved all-American girl and also she can do no right.
So yes, maybe talk about the victim blaming lyric issue or the racial dynamic of the song, but let’s not ask Taylor to be the nice girl every second when emotional depth and nuance is what we love most about songs.
Okay, I’m kind of nervous about responses, because I’m sure I missed something 🙂 but if you have a response I’d love to hear it in the comments. Just remember there’s a human on the other side of the computer screen.