How The ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ Video Fits Into The Taylor Swift Universe
We’ll admit it: Junkee hasn’t been particularly kind to Taylor Swift over the past week. We’ve asked why she won’t renounce Donald Trump. We’ve theorised that the bathtub scene in the ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ clip is a swipe at Kim K. We’ve laughed at those ‘Formation’ memes. So to balance the scales (…a little bit), we’ve enlisted KAITLYN PLYLEY to give us a superfan’s read of 2017’s most conversation-starting video clip.
Taylor Swift is dead. Long live Taylor Swift.
Yesterday the pop megastar dropped the music video for her latest single, ‘Look What You Made Me Do’, and it’s setting the tone for the new Swift era.
Swift has a history of being almost exclusively self-referential in her art. It’s part of how she communicates with her fans, whom she has prioritised highly throughout her career. (When she emptied her social media accounts of content and unfollowed everyone on Instagram and Twitter, she notably kept following loyal fans on Tumblr, where she communes with the Swiftie queendom.)
The Swift mythology has been cultivated for over a decade and across five albums, and the ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ video shows the woman herself literally standing on a mountain of her public selves, flourishing in front of an illuminated ‘T’.
So, let’s break down this video’s references to the Taylor Swift universe, scene-by-scene.
The track has a cartoonish, string-pluckingly spooky opening, matched by the video opening with a wide shot of a graveyard spelling out “TS” in tombstones. A gravestone reads “Here lies Taylor Swift’s reputation”. Okay. We can see where this is going.
Zombie Taylor Swift crawls out of the ground and begins shovelling dirt onto her sleeping, squeaky-clean self. Okay. THIS SCENE IS IMPORTANT.
The zombie is an undead version of the Taylor from her 2015 music video for ‘Out Of The Woods’. The blue gown is the same one from the beginning of the video, which sparked rumours at the time that she was referencing the famed “sad Taylor on a boat” paparazzi photos of the day she allegedly broke up with Harry Styles (whom ‘OOTW’ was allegedly about).
Whew. There’s a lot of Taylor mythology in this one dress.
At the end of the ‘OOTW’ video, there were two Taylors: the pristine long-gowned one, and the muddy mini-skirted one who found her. I guess what we didn’t see after that scene cut was the two Taylors battling it out for the right to survive. I guess the long-gowned one lost, was buried, and has now come back from the dead to bury other Taylors? I’m getting lost in the narrative now.
The zombie sings “No I don’t like you” as we see a smiling Taylor put to rest.
Taylor In A Bathtub Of Jewels
This is the scene that has upset Kim Kardashian fans.
Taylor Swift reclines in a green bathtub filled with diamonds and pearls (the perfect bath for the Heir of Slytherin?) amid a golden, mirror-lined bathroom. Many think the bathroom is a reference to Kim’s horrifying ordeal in Paris, when the reality TV star was held hostage for her jewels.
Huge if true, however I believe that Swift’s relentlessly inward-facing gaze might actually be her saving grace in this instance. It’s incredibly rare for Taylor to comment on anything that didn’t happen directly to Taylor. Eagle-eyed fans noticed that, atop the jewels in the tub, there was a single dollar bill resting next to Taylor.
One dollar — the exact amount that Taylor won only two weeks ago, in her countersuit against the DJ who sexually assaulted her.
2. ‘Perfect Crime’ the radio DJ thought sueing her for millions & claiming she got him fired was the ‘Perfect Crime’
— Gabs ❣️ (@Gxbriellemxry) August 28, 2017
On the green tiled floor around her, gold chandeliers lie smashed. With the red lipstick and Joseph Kahn’s visual colour palette, this looks like the character from Swift’s ‘Blank Space’ video (another Kahn credit) is losing grip on her perfect fairytale image. She’s ditched the white horses and is being served cups of tea by snake minions.
Taking Her Grammys To A Car Crash
In perhaps the most obvious nod to the role of the media in shaping her public perception, Swift casts herself as a pop diva crashing an expensive car, Starbucks in hand (a famous accessory of Swift’s), and posing in the flaming wreckage for a media pack. She even holds up a Grammy for the photos.
In the passenger seat: a tame leopard wearing ‘13’ (Swift’s lucky number) on a golden chain. This could be a not-so-subtle throwback to Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’ video, in which KP’s pet tiger wears a name chain saying ‘Kitty Purry’. The Perry reference is reinforced pretty solidly later, with Taylor rocking a sweatshirt with a glittering tiger face on it. What was Katy’s basketball team called in her latest video? I forget.
Oh and that oversized sweatshirt? Yeah, it’s Gucci. Every inch of Taylor’s fuck-you video is a reminder that while she can laugh at herself, she’s still making more money than you’ll ever see.
The End Of Taylor’s Squad Goals
Whether she’s glam Taylor swinging carefree and eating lobster in a literal gilded cage, or making her dancing lackies wear “I Heart TS” crop tops, this Taylor’s existence is lonely … and not in the best way. Dominatrix Taylor lords over an army of uniform-bodied babes in bikinis, who are led by giant screens flashing pictures of Taylor’s cats and reminding them that they are “SQUAD”.
This parody of the media’s portrayal of Taylor’s female friendships — the incessant fretting that they are all for show, that they all obey her in some military Mean Girls scenario — is the most perfect thing in this video. The women stand in rows, looking like they just marched out of the Bad Blood video, wearing plastic, expressionless faces.
Even in the days between the single dropping and the video’s premiere, multiple media outlets have fretted about the absence of public support for Taylor by some of her famous friends. However, others noticed that, in the ‘LWYMMD’ video’s coda, one of the Taylors is wearing a shirt almost identical to the one she wore in her 2009 ‘You Belong With Me’ video, except the name are signatures of her 2017 friends: you can see “Lena” (Dunham), “Selena” (Gomez) and “Blake” (Lively), to name a few.
Her friends put their names in fabric marker instead of Instagram posts, perhaps signalling that their friendships don’t exist solely for public consumption.
What You Made Her Do
There can only be one Taylor. That is what the ‘LWYMMD’ video is positing, and lampooning.
A dark, sociopathic, amoral version of Taylor Swift has risen to the top of all her other images, which struggle and scream beneath her. I noted with interest that none of the previous Taylors wriggling in the mountain of human bodies comes from any of the music videos that Swift and Joseph Kahn have made together. You can see Red tour Swift, ‘Shake It Off’ video Swift, Fearless cowboy boots Swift, but no one from ‘Blank Space’ or any of the other Kahn credits. This furthers my belief that Kahn and Swift are creating a universe together, inhabited by media-driven portrayals of Taylor Swift characters.
We’re now in the Darkest Taylor timeline.
Kaitlyn Plyley is a freelance writer and the host of conversation podcast Just A Spoonful. She tweets from @kplyley.