Who killed Taylor Swift? Her new single, “Look What You Made Me Do,” has her bragging of coming back from the dead, and the sound of her song does, in fact, feel like the work of a hell creature possessing someone once capable of charm.
The most drastic sign of Swift’s semi-fun new malevolence is the chant-and-dance chorus, which channels both Peaches and—this is not a joke but rather something literally acknowledged in the credits to the song—Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy.” Elsewhere, skewed string instruments are even more obvious in their spookiness than the soundtrack cues from American Horror Story. Underneath it all are churning electronic bass and snappy drum machines, aligning with recent radio trends save for whatever trend explained Swift’s previous success. The song is a monster: catchy but cringeworthy.
Swift, an expert manager of public narratives, trusts that anyone listening has been paying enough attention to the past few years of headlines to guess who the dirty no-good “you” of the title is. The most obvious target: her perpetual tormenter Kanye West, who last year performed on a tilted stage like the one Swift sings about here and trapped her with a phone call like the one she stages in a skit late in the song. Other high-profile rivals, like Katy Perry or the radio host David Mueller, who she just testified against for sexual harassment, slot in just fine. So do the listener’s own villains thanks to the rather vague writing. Who can’t find use for such delicious taunts as, “No, I don’t like you”?