Taylor Swift has been a global phenomenon for years. After her popularity hit its peak in 2014 with the release of 1989, her fifth album, many fans wondered what direction the starlet would take next. The album marked a distinct break from her country roots and the beginning of a new pop era for Swift. It was an international success, receiving rave reviews from the majority of critics, including The New York Times, and nabbing Swift numerous awards, including a Grammy for Album of the year at the 58th Grammy Awards.
So when Taylor’s first single from her sixth album, Reputation, was released it had been a long time coming. ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ caused immediate and spectacular controversy. It also brought Swift unprecedented success, breaking records on Spotify with 10.1 million people streaming the single on its first day of release. When the video dropped, it had over 43.2 million views in the first 24 hours, breaking YouTube’s streaming record.
Despite this, critics were…ahem…swift to slate the single, branding it ‘petty’. Even fans of the song agreed it was ‘scathing’. The world became obsessed with decoding T-Swizzle’s first single in three years, and catalogued all the references and in-jokes contained in the lyrics and video.
The general consensus is that the song contains numerous digs aimed at Swift’s critics, rivals, and former love interests, as well as a few pointed jabs at herself. But despite the extensive media coverage and debates, a lot of people completely missed the point Tay was so eloquently making.
Here are 10 things everyone got wrong about Look What You Made Me Do…
#1 Taylor’s Referencing Headlines, Not Haters
LWYMMD supposedly takes cracks at various celebrities, from Kanye West to Calvin Harris, but it’s not a litany of haters and exes. It’s a list of all the headlines Swifty had to contend with after 1989 propelled her to the pinnacle of her popularity. A rise which, inevitably, resulted in a rapid fall from grace.
And she’s not just making the point about herself.
The video for LWYMMD features Taylor in a bath filled with diamonds, widely considered to be a reference to Kim Kardashian.
Swift has an infamous feud with Kim and her husband, Kanye West, which started when Kanye stormed the stage while Taylor was receiving an award, and escalated when he released his own single, ‘Famous’, in which he references Swift. Following the song’s release, West claimed Taylor had given him permission to use the lyrics, a claim eventually backed up when Kim released a video of a phone call between Taylor and Kanye.
The incident put a severe dent in Swift’s reputation, despite her claims she had given permission for some of the lyrics, but that he’d neglected to tell her all of them – a fact that isn’t evident in the video released by Kim.
It’s undeniable that there’s history between them, and Kim underwent a horrendous ordeal when her diamonds were stolen at gunpoint, and she was forced into a bathtub.
But is Taylor really mocking her rival, or is she pointing out that one of the (many) trappings of fame is that the more wealth you have, the more people want to take it from you?
No matter how horrendous life gets, nothing is off-limits to the paparazzi.
Kim made headlines after the robbery and was forced into the spotlight despite what must have been a traumatic experience.
Similar points can be made about the other examples of shade Tay Tay is supposedly throwing around in this song. Yes, she’s clearly making reference to feuds, relationships, and criticism she’s received, but rather than doing it to take yet another swipe at those who’ve wronged her, she’s making a broader point.
Taylor isn’t alone in suffering at the hands of the media. For all the times she’s made headlines for breakups and feuds, she’s been forced to deal with the fall out, and so have the other celebs involved.
Nobody came out of the Kanye/Kim/Taylor video scandal well. Kanye’s song was derided as misogynistic trash, speculation was rife that Kim had doctored the video, and Taylor was inundated with a social media storm of snakes.
Swift chose snakes as the core image in the LWYMMD video and marketing campaign.
#2 It’s Not Bad, It’s Satire
The song is based on ‘I’m Too Sexy’ for a reason. Taylor is making a point (isn’t she always?): eloquent lyrics and music have nothing to do with making a hit song.
Right Said Fred’s 1991 hit isn’t a epic work of musical genius, but it was catchy, controversial, and made people ask, “WTF?”.
It was a hit because of the WTF quality, and the fact it was an instant ear worm – you just can’t get it out of your head.
Every time that chorus starts Swift’s winking at the camera, “I’m a phenomenally talented singer, but ‘you’ don’t care. All ‘you’ care about is who I’m dating and fighting with. I can sing anything and it will still be a #1 hit, because ‘you’ care about the headlines, not the music.”
And naturally, the second the song dropped, it made headlines.
Even though a lot of people thought it was a terrible song, it became a record breaking smash.
But that rather painful chorus belies Taylor’s true talent, evident in the rest of the song, which features the kind of clever lyrics and vocals we’ve come to expect from the songstress.
#3 The Deeper Meaning Of Death
We can probably all agree that the sight of zombie Taylor, crawling out of her own grave, resplendent in a mouldering version of that infamous blue dress from ‘Out of the Woods’, is a great visual. But there’s a deeper meaning to the zombie/death motif in the song than simply pointing out Swift is revamping her image.
It’s a warning.
How many stars and beloved celebrities have we seen go to an early grave because the scrutiny surrounding their personal lives superseded their talents and mission?
They all have one thing in common: they were incredibly talented and had a great deal to offer, but the world cared more about the scandalous headlines they created than the substance of their gifts.
#4 You’re Listening To The Wrong Narrative
People are taking LWYMMD the wrong way for one simple reason: it’s intentionally misleading.
There is a clear meta-narrative to the song, meaning it appears to be telling one story (that of the many times people have done Taylor wrong), but it’s actually saying something completely different.
It’s not the first time Taylor has dropped a superb meta-narrative. ‘Blank Space’, released on 1989, was an exquisite meta-narrative from start to finish. At face value, the song tells the tale of a slightly psychotic maneater, but it’s actually a commentary on the manner in which Swift is portrayed by the media, and just how wrong they get it!
LWYMMD is another meta-narrative.
We’re all so distracted by the obvious story of Taylor blaming everyone who’s crossed her for the mysterious thing she’s been forced to do, we’re ignoring the other narrative.
#5 She’s Talking To US
Just as Blank Space took a shot at the media for its portrayal of her, LWYMMD has a deeper narrative at work, which takes a subtle shot at the ‘fans’ who aren’t interested in Swift’s music, only her headlines, and will buy anything – even stuff they profess to hate – if enough headlines are written about it.
The titular ‘you’ of the song is not Kanye West, Katy Perry, Kim Kardashian, Tom Hiddleston, or any of the others Taylor’s been accused of trashing with the song. Like the version of Taylor portrayed in Blank Space, the references to people in the song are characters involved in the narrative surrounding Swift.
They’re not the ‘you’ to whom Taylor is directing her message.
It’s all of us.
The song is directed at the teaming consumerist market that demands ever-more from singers like Swift and is never, ever satiated.
#6 The Old Taylor Was Never Alive To Begin With
‘I’m sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now / Why? / Oh, ’cause she’s dead!’
An image created by the media for the consumption of the public, which Swift has cast aside in this single in favour of telling the truth.
They created her, and they killed her (metaphorically speaking) when they replaced her with a new narrative: the snake, the harpy, girl who invented a relationship with Tom Hiddleston because she’s fame-hungry.
#7 Swifty Isn’t Reinventing Herself, She’s Playing A Role
The highly articulate Swift didn’t employ the double negative ‘I don’t trust nobody and nobody trust me’ without being completely aware of the connotations.
Yes, it’s a subtle nod to her country roots, but at the same time Taylor’s demonstrated enough sophistication in her lyrics over the years that we really can’t take this at face value. There’s the obvious: nobody trusts her. But despite this, Taylor’s not saying she doesn’t trust anyone.
In fact, she literally says the opposite.
She does in fact trust people, but for reasons that are predominantly out of her control the world has chosen to stop trusting her.
Because their view of her is not as a person, but an actress.
As Taylor sings this refrain, she stands atop a mountain of her former selves, who are scrabbling to get to the top of the pile, climbing over each other, pushing each other down, and fighting. The multiple versions of Taylor seen throughout the video are all roles she has played over the years. Public perception of her is a mix of these characters and the stories appearing in the media. The result is a fragmented view of a real person made up of different characters, not an actual flesh and blood girl.
Tay doesn’t blame people for not trusting her, but she’s also fully aware that the ‘her’ they don’t trust isn’t the real Taylor.
It’s just an image people have, based on the various roles she’s played for them over the years.
It’s no coincidence that of all the Taylor alter egoes seen in the LWYMMD video, many of whom are from previous videos, but none of them are from Blank Space, a video that itself included no less than nineteen different versions of Taylor’s psychotic man-eating persona.
As in Blank Space, the mata-narrative at work in LWYMMD isn’t the punch line; it’s the point.
#8 Taylor Isn’t Avoiding Responsibility
LWYMMD has been simultaneously criticised and applauded as Taylor calling attention to her faults while at the same time avoiding taking responsibility for any of them. It’s right there in the title, ‘Look What You MADE ME Do’.
Nothing mentioned is Taylor’s fault, it’s all on the ubiquitous ‘you’.
While it’s impossible to deny there are elements throughout the song of Taylor putting the blame on the media, rather than herself, contrary to popular perception she isn’t side stepping responsibility completely.
When Kanye first dropped ‘Famous’, the media went into a frenzy over the lyrics: ‘I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? I made that b**ch famous’.
In the wake of the controversy Taylor released a statement asking to be ‘excluded from this narrative’. The skit at the end of the LWYMMD video sees a version of Taylor from the 2009 VMA awards, when Kanye stormed the stage during her acceptance speech, quote herself by saying ‘I would really like to be excluded from this narrative’, as the other Taylors respond by chorusing ‘Shut up!’.
The point Swift was making in the original statement was that the truth of the situation with Kanye was irrelevant to the media. What was important was continuing the narrative the media had concocted surrounding it.
That was a narrative Taylor had no wish to be a part of, but by calling attention to this and asking to be excluded from it, she only brought more criticism and drama onto herself. LWYMMD once again calls attention to the fact there is a narrative playing out, of which Taylor is the star.
She has no desire to be a part of it, but since she’s been made a part of it, she’s going to use it to her advantage.
The other Taylors telling VMA Taylor to shut up indicates she’s aware the comment made her seem a little ridiculous, but that this is, in itself, now a part of the same narrative Swift was referencing.
And while Taylor wants to be excluded from that narrative, at the end of the day, if she ever was, her career would be over.
As much as she hates it, the epic narrative surrounding Taylor Swift is the (tilted) stage on which the singer stands every time she performs. Her talent would not be diminished if she was robbed of that stage, but her popularity would certainly take a hit.
She’d still be an amazing singer, but she’d no longer be in the headlines.
And the headlines are what sell her records.
The pinnacle of Swift’s meta-narrative in LWYMMD is an admission: she hates the media attention and the way it warps reality, but she wouldn’t be where she is without it.
Taylor’s fame is standing on the back of every version of herself ever created, every story about her ever told, and as much as she criticises that fact, she’s not going to stop taking advantage of it.
She is, indeed, a hypocrite.
Not for constantly playing the victim when she’s truly the villain, but for deriding a system she simultaneously plays flawlessly for her own gains.
#9 That Tilted Stage Is Hers
Another part of the song that’s riddled with double meaning is the line, ‘Don’t like your titled stage’. Kanye West sang on a literally tilted stage during his Saint Pablo tour. On the surface it seems the song’s lyrics are TayTay having another blatant dig at Kanye, but does she really have a problem with Kanye’s set piece, or is she using a double entendre to reference both the headlines fueled by her feud with Kanye, and the stage upon which she (and all celebrities) perform?
A stage that is forever tilted to work in the media’s favour, exploiting the artists they use to make their headlines.
In the LWYMMD video while singing this lyric, Taylor grabs a tilted statue and physically straightens it, along with all the other gravestones surrounding her zombie persona, while lamenting the fact that she doesn’t like the role ‘you’ made her play.
This is a further indication that the ‘you’ is to be taken literally; it’s whoever is watching the video.
Because it is for the sake of the millions of people watching that the media writes the headlines.
The media only writes what people want to read.
The public have forced Taylor to play a particular role, by responding with such fervour to certain types of headlines about her, and endlessly clamouring for more of the same.
The song is levelling the playing field, putting Swift back on an even footing with the media by telling the unapologetic truth.
Swift makes this point explicit in the lyrics, ‘The world moves on, another day, another drama’.
The media is constantly churning out drama after drama, at the expense of the celebrities, artists, actors and singers at the heart of their stories.
Blank Space already made the point: the media created an image of Taylor that the public desperately wanted. LWYMMD is furthering that point: as soon as public opinion started to turn against her the media tore down the image they themselves created, and replaced it with a different one.
One that was in line with the public’s new desire to watch a falling star.
#10 We All Got Ours
One reason the song received such criticism was the notion that Swift is ‘consumed by resentment’. This seems to be reinforced by the lyric ‘all I think about is karma’. But, rather than expressing Tay Tay’s belief that everyone who wronged her has payback coming, Swift is making LWYMMD the karma that is due.
‘Maybe I got mine, but you’ll all get yours’, sings Swift.
The ‘you’ in question is still ‘us’.
Taylor delivered a phenomenal record in 1989 with some absolute bangers. Her reward? The world delighted in almost immediately tearing her down from the pedestal they had place her upon. And all the while, the demand for more music from the artist never ceased.
Taylor’s new album, Reputation, isn’t about what she wants to create so much as what the world has demanded she create.
She’s given us exactly what we wanted.
We predictably hated her for it, but we wanted that too!
We wanted the controversy, the headlines, the gleeful dissection of every lyric to understand exactly who the song is about.
We might complain about her playing the victim and hitting out at her rivals with scathing lyrics, but really, we love it.
We demand it.
LWYMMD is Taylor giving us our karmic reward: we got exactly what we asked for, and exactly what we deserved.
A multi-record breaking, number one smash hit.
Look what we made her do.