When Taylor Swift released "Look What You Made Me Do," her first new music in three years, EVERYONE was shocked at how self-victimizing, how petty, and how self-serving it was.
Everybody but me.
I've been a Taylor Swift fan since 2008, because I like boppy music that speaks to the 15-year-old girl inside of me.
But I'm *also* a petty bitch who holds on to grudges, and THAT is where Taylor's music has always truly spoken to me. Because for every song about dancing in the rain in her best dress ("Fearless"), there are MULTIPLE songs where Taylor rips into people for the wrongs they've done her — real or imagined.
"Look What You Made Me Do" isn't an outlier in the T.Swift shade songbook. It's not even the nastiest song she's ever written — it's just the most recent.
Let's take a look back at the last 12 years of Taylor Swift's messiness, and her professional victim behavior.
Taylor Swift's debut album dropped in 2006, and straight out of the gate, she told the world exactly who she was and what she was here for: PROBLEMATIC VENGEANCE.
"Picture to Burn" is literally the second song on this album, and has lyrics like...
"So go and tell your friends that I'm obsessive and crazy / I'll tell mine you're gay / By the way… / There's no time for tears / I'm just sitting here planning my revenge / There's nothing stopping me / From going out with all of your best friends."
And I mean, who *didn't* want to write a song like that at 16, though hopefully without the homophobia? You never lash out the way you do when you're too young to know better.
2006 Taylor also brought us "Cold as You," her first professional attempt at playing the victim card.
"Countin' all the scars you've made / Now that I'm sittin' here thinkin' it through / I've never been anywhere cold as you."
"Cold As You" was really the first evidence I could find of Taylor's much-discussed "love" of self-victimization — everything is bad, everything is someone else's fault, she pays the price.
Looking back, this was probably a marketing decision. T. Swift wanted to be a country star, and in country music, you're breaking hearts or you're getting your heart broke — and it *kinda* only really makes sense for a literal teenager to do ONE of those things.
Additionally, after being bullied in school, it made sense that Tay-Tay identified as someone who was hurt and victimized by others.
Then, of course, there was "Should've Said No," her first public flaying of a very real person.
Getting cheated on fucking SUCKS, and Taylor turned all of that hurt and anger into a song in the way only a teenager willing to go nuclear can.
"You should've said no, you should've gone home / You should've thought twice before you let it all go / You should've known that word 'bout what you did with her / Would get back to me... / You should've said no, baby and you might still have me."
Expressions of anger and heartbreak are healthy and great, and more young women need to feel free to say, "HEY, THE WAY YOU TREATED ME WAS WRONG."
That said, this song was written about Taylor's high school boyfriend. I have a dim memory of actually FINDING his name spelled out in code in the liner notes of this album, and it is very, very easy to find his first and last names to this day.
This dude was a teenager. So was Taylor. But she had a public platform, and she used it to get public revenge.
Over and over, in live performances and interviews, Taylor would remind the world that this song is based on a REAL PERSON who SCREWED HER OVER, but he shouldn't have, because SHE WILL PUT YOUR SHIT ON BLAST.
I think we have all, at one point or another, dreamed of performing a karaoke song that expresses all of our hurt and regret at our most painful ex, which they see, and they realize how terribly they have treated us.
Taylor did this in real life. While that is in many ways commendable, I would be freaked the hell out if one of MY exes publicly shamed me like this, and made it very very clear that I, Alle Connell, was the person the song was about.
In 2008, Taylor released her album "Fearless." In addition to the themes of victimhood and vengeance, she also introduced a new note to her revenge-keyboard: Internalized misogyny.
On this album we have all the Taylor Swift personas we've seen on previous records: Poor Me Taylor ("Never a clean break, no one here to save me" — "Breathe"), Angry Taylor ("I'm sick and tired of your attitude / I'm feeling like I don't know you" — "Tell Me Why") and Why You Lying Taylor ("And you got your share of secrets / And I'm tired of being last to know" — "You’re Not Sorry").
But "Fearless" also heralded the birth of Mean Girl Taylor. Because when you can't write about dudes doing you wrong anymore, you start writing about the women that they left you for. Dolly Parton did it with "Jolene," right?
But Dolly wasn't 17 and pissed off. So Taylor's take on this was way less nuanced.
That's how we get "You Belong With Me," the 2008 iteration of Mean Girl Taylor.
The boy of her dreams is so broken! And who broke him? THE EVIL, SEXY OTHER WOMAN.
"And you've got a smile that could light up this whole town / I haven't seen it in a while since she brought you down
/ You say you're fine
, I know you better then that
/ What you doing with a girl like that?"
Humans have free will, Taylor. I know high school is a morass of fuckery, but he could leave his girlfriend for you if he wanted to. MAYBE HE JUST DOESN'T WANT TO. MAYBE HE LIKES HER AND NOT YOU.
Taylor also makes it really clear that she's "better" than her unnamed rival with some good ol' sexism and shaming. "But she wears short skirts, I wear T-shirts... She wears high heels, I wear sneakers." Heels and skirts? What a hussy! OF COURSE she's bad, and you're good!
There's also "Fifteen," where Taylor outright slut-shames her best friend.
Just gonna drop these lyrics here, because holy shit if my best friend wrote this about me, I'd have Moondoor-ed the hell out of her:
"And Abigail gave everything she had / To a boy who changed his mind / And we both cried."
"Everything she had" is her virginity, btw. Her best friend banged a dude, and then the relationship was over. Not only is Taylor turning this into a cautionary tale FOR GIRLS instead of for boys (hey dudes, don't be jerks), she's also making it all about TAYLOR, and TAYLOR'S sad feelings.
This still fills me with a dark rage. Girls aren't ruined the first time they encounter a dick, Tay.
But through all of this, there's this idea that other girls are evil, slutty hurdles to jump over — and boys are essentially interchangeable trophies.
"And it's a sad picture, the final blow hits you / Somebody else gets what you wanted again and / You know it's all the same, another time and place / Repeating history and you're getting sick of it" — "Change."
Someone else didn't get WHO Taylor wanted, they got WHAT she wanted. Her wanting is the most important thing, way more important than the other person or their agency. Rejection of that leaves T. Swift victimized — again.
2010 brought us "Speak Now," and the absolute NASTIEST song Taylor Swift has ever written.
Literally. I'm skipping over the bride's "snotty little family" in the title track and going straight to "Better Than Revenge," because HOLY CHRIST.
Taylor does not take this well, and writes the following song.
"She's not a saint, and she's not what you think / She's an actress / But she's better known for the things that she does / On the mattress."
"Soon she's gonna find stealing other people's toys / On the playground won't make you many friends / She should keep in mind / There is nothing I do better than revenge... / You might have him but I always get the last word."
ME RIGHT NOW, RELIVING THAT SONG SEVEN YEARS LATER.
I MEAN. This is a *blisteringly* nasty song, and one very difficult to square with Swift's current anti-bullying, pro-girl power stance.
And again, back when she was doing the publicity rounds for this album, Taylor told the press again and again that this song was about a girl who stole her boyfriend "And probably thought I forgot about it. I didn't."
This wasn't a fresh wound — she sat on this resentment for two solid years, then brought it up over and over to promote an album, while STILL painting herself as the victim in the situation.
Additionally, Taylor allegedly told Kanye in 2015 that she wouldn't release one of his songs on her Twitter because of the misogynistic lyrics. MAYBE don't throw those stones when your back catalogue has this stuff in it.
Additionally, let's all take a moment to remember that Taylor has ALREADY written a revenge song about Kanye — it's called "Innocent," and it's the most passive-aggressive thing ever.
"It's OK, life is a tough crowd / 32, and still growin' up now / Who you are is not what you did / You're still an innocent."
Way to infantilize a grown man, Tay.
After that came 2012 album "Red," in which Taylor fine-tuned her public shaming weapons of choice.
This album is all about Jake Gyllenhaal, and "Red" went easy on the fiery revenge songs. But there was a new element to Swift's vengeance here that had previously been lacking.
Taylor seemed to realize that you don't have to hit hard to do a lot of (emotional) damage. If "Fearless" was a revenge sledgehammer, "Red" was a stiletto knife — she was still stabbing at her former loves, but those digs became sharper and way more pointed.
On "22," a song about the joys of being ~young and carefree,~ Taylor sings, "It feels like the perfect night to dress up like hipsters / And make fun of our exes."
Through the course of this album, we learn a LOT about this "hipster ex" who deserves all the mocking (Jake Gyllenhaal).
We know that he would also pick fights with Taylor, then "hide away and find your peace of mind / With some indie record that's *much* cooler than mine," per "We are Never Ever Getting Back Together." He also "never liked it when [she] wore high heels" and never thought she was funny, either (per "Begin Again.")
But hey, they're also never, ever, ever, getting back together.
I know more about the very intimate failings of Jake Gyllenhaal than I do about MY OWN ex-boyfriends.
All of these burns are extremely specific references that put ALL the fault on one person. And hey, maybe Taylor is right! Maybe this person sucks!
But it's still so strange that Swift is portraying herself (again) as the victimized ingenue, while she's also dragging another person down to hell in her bloodied claws.
Throughout "Red," Swift seems less like someone working through her emotions through songs, and more like someone out to get massive amounts of revenge. Screw her over, and like Jake, you'll have your demons "and darling, they all look like me" ("Sad Beautiful Tragic").
2014 brought the world "1989." This record coincided with Taylor's feminist-lite rebirth, and she spent a lot of time telling the media that this album was really about "starting over in a new city" and "the power of female friendships."
But it wasn't.
"1989" was very much about all the same things as the rest of her albums, but pop instead of country: liars, haters, cheaters, and the skanks they leave angels like Taylor for.
Players gonna play and the haters gonna hate, but Taylor's just gonna shake it off — at least according to the first single of "1989." But a deeper look at "Shake it Off" shows that Taylor is letting NOTHING go.
"Shake It Off" is a deceptively happy song that is seething with rage. That rage is aimed at everyone — the media, for "falsely" portraying her as an always-dumped maneating loser (even though her own lyrics did that), at jerk dudes who try to bring her down, and ALL the women who are rolling their eyes at her.
But that doesn't bother "1989" Taylor! In fact, she's *so* unbothered, she wrote an entire song telling the world EXACTLY what isn't bothering her.
"While you've been getting down and out about the liars / And the dirty, dirty cheats of the world / You could've been getting down to this sick beat."
And "My ex-man brought his new girlfriend / She's like, “oh my God," but I'm just gonna shake."
Yep. Perfectly normal and not upset at all.
Additionally normal: making an album celebrating female friendships, then starting a high-profile feud with another female musician. Enter "Bad Blood."
"Did you have to hit me where I'm weak? / Baby, I couldn't breathe / And rub it in so deep / Salt in the wound like you're laughing right at me" — "Bad Blood."
Taylor wrote "Bad Blood" about an unnamed female friend who, according to Rolling Stone, "did something so horrible... And it wasn't even about a guy! It had to do with business. She basically tried to sabotage an entire arena tour. She tried to hire a bunch of people out from under me."
This was transparently Katy Perry, who hired three of Swift's backup dancers, and who ALSO dated Taylor's ex-boyfriend, John Mayer. We've already seen how well Tay-Tay handles that.
"1989" was supposedly all about being confident, and no longer being a victim to other people. But Taylor's entire public persona is based on victimization — so how could she continue that? By blaming the Taylor Swift PR machine that she had personally created.
"The rumors are terrible and cruel / But honey, most of them are true / 'Cause baby, I could build a castle / Out of all the bricks they threw at me" — "New Romantics."
T. Swift built her entire career out of confessional songs. Her own lyrics painted her as an always-in-love, slightly unhinged romantic. Much of her previous album promotion revolved around Taylor publicly naming the people who hurt her, while encouraging media speculation about the identities of the other "liars and the dirty, dirty cheats of the world."
That was Taylor's PR play, and it worked for eight years. With "1989," that stopped being cute. Swift stopped looking like the innocent victim of heartbreak, and started looking petty.
But even then, Swift had to be the victim of SOMETHING, so she decided to blame all of this on the media cycle that she herself had created. Taylor Swift is the real victim of Taylor Swift.
Additionally, it's funny that Taylor only got mad about sexism in the media when it works against her personally — she seemed cool with it when misogyny was helping "You Belong With Me" climb the charts.
Now, in 2017, we have "Reputation" Taylor — a harder, edgier Swift who is here to burn the world down and wear more black.
"All I think about is karma / And then the world moves on, but one thing's for sure / Maybe I got mine, but you'll all get yours" — "Look What You Made Me Do."
So far, we've only heard two songs off "Reputation" — and "Look What You Made Me Do" takes all the repetitive themes from Taylor's work and distills them to their purest, pettiest form ("...Ready For It" is a more stereotypical Taylor Swift love song). She is INDIGNANT at Kim Kardashian, at Kanye, at the media, at the WORLD... and of course, even though it was her own behavior that prompted this entire situation, she remains the victim.
In the video, Taylor starts burning all her enemies with the same pointed, specific nastiness first deployed in "Red."
Taylor has long said that she writes songs about her exes, and would be FINE if they wrote songs about her. It has always seemed to me that Tay would be EXTREMELY NOT FINE with exes commodifying a relationship with her in the way she does to them.
Tom Hiddleston proved me right.
Swift and Hiddleston dated for about three months. GQ speculated that the relationship ended because "Taylor did not like how public he was with his affection, like, say, confirming their relationship to The Hollywood Reporter and generally walking around with a smile on his face like a man in love."
Essentially: Tom used his sizable public platform to talk about his feelings for Taylor, a move straight from Swift's own playbook. She dumped him for it.
Not only that, she's continued to mock Hiddleston long after their relationship is over — including in the "Look What You Made Me Do" video.
If you've forgotten, Tom Hiddleston wore an "I heart TS" shirt over a holiday weekend, which turned him — not her — into an internet laughingstock.
Tay Tay made sure to put her dancers in that same shirt in her video, just to really make sure the world has remembered to laugh at him some more.
I think that Taylor imagined that this would show the world that she's in on the jokes. She's funny! She's self-referential! She doesn't care!
But it's pretty obvious that she DOES care, and that she's ready to be pointedly nasty about it. When is it going to be enough, Taylor? When will you have enough public revenge?