In the wake of its 2017 release, and the snake video that shook the world, Look What You Made Me Do seemed to have an obvious message. In the years before, Taylor Swift had been officially cancelled by social media with the world calling her a snake and launching a #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty.
The single seemed to be a clap back at all of her rivals, critics, etc. for the hate that she had endured over the years for a social media scandal that was eventually proved to be false. But the internet is nothing if not a story telling medium, and so the world focused on the drama involved in Taylors life rather than the actual lyrics of the song. Combing for clues as to the identity the song was about and what feud might have inspired the hit.
Later, white, republican conservatives tried to claim the song as their anthem and then Taylor dropped the mic announcing her support for the democratic party. In the years since, she has endorsed democratic candidates, actively supported a petition for the equality act to help support LGBTQ rights, tried to educate herself on matters like Juneteenth and Black Lives Matter, and actively clapped back at the President of the United States essentially telling him his time is up come November 5th in the tweet read around the world.
During the release of her seventh studio album, Lover, Swift was also simultaneously advertising a netflix documentary called Miss Americana. The documentary examines Taylors country music years, during which she was actively coached by management and her record label not to get political. Country music has been notoriously unkind to people who speak out about social justice issues, due to its largely conservative fan base. When the band formally known as The Dixie Chicks (recently changed to The Chicks) spoke out about George W. Bush and the war in Iraq back in the early 2000s, it seemed to have blacklisted them from the music world effectively ending their careers for a time.
But this was before the age of social media, before the world wanted transparency from its stars on everything from what toothbrush they used to if the clothes they wore were organic. In an age where a response from a celebrity is a tweet away, and knowledge on world affairs is a click, people demand more from their favorite celebrity.
With this in mind, Miss Americana exposed the reasons the star kept quiet before. Including the #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty which effectively kept her from being too vocal in the 2016 election for fear of backlash. Now, as an adult, fully in power of not only her career but also her choices, Swift chooses to use her celebrity to direct her audience to things that matter to her. Social justice.
In the documentary, Swift discusses the issue that caused her to “speak now” as it were. Her sexual assault trial. The incident occurred on a red carpet where a radio DJ tried grabbing her ass. There were pictures, and witnesses, and the man got fired. He then turned around to sue Swift for millions of dollars in damages. Swift then countersued for one dollar.
After a brutal trial, in which everything about Taylor was laid bare by the opposing lawyers, Taylor had a horrible realization. That was what she had to go through with several witnesses, a photo, and a team of really good lawyers. What would happen if no one believed you?
How does any of this have to do with Look What You Made Me Do? In an article from Independent, ”Currently victims of sexual abuse face the possibility of being humiliated and their credibility undermined by defense lawyers asking questions about their sexual partners, clothing and appearance.” (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/rape-sexual-history-assault-cross-examine-trial-court-voices4victims-plaid-cymru-mp-liz-savile-a7570286.html)
Victims of sexual assault are put on trial just as much as the actual assaulter. By the time the trial is over, they are so demoralized, even winning seems like a terrible thing because of the horrible things they’ve had to endure. The argument that somehow because a woman is dressing proactively or drinking or partying has been used against victims for years. As if the idea that somehow wanting to look pretty, or have a good time makes it okay to rape.
In the song, “Look What You Made Me Do” the narrator says:
I don’t like your little games
Don’t like your tilted stage
The role you made me play
Of the fool, no, I don’t like you
I don’t like your perfect crime
How you laugh when you lie
You said the gun was mine
Isn’t cool, no, I don’t like you (oh!)
But I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time
Honey, I rose up from the dead, I do it all the time
I’ve got a list of names and yours is in red, underlined
I check it once, then I check it twice, oh!
In this case, the role Swift was made to play is that of someone who was ‘asking for it’. The stage is the court room. And the perfect crime is the DJ trying to sue Swift for damages when he’s the one that sexually assaulted her.
Now there is no way to know what, exactly, a song is about. Songs have many layers and only the artist will ever really know the real meaning. But with the Miss Americana release, it made me revisit the song a few times. With this knowledge in mind, and knowing how often women are blamed for their own attacks because they “wanted it” “Look What You Made Me Do”took on a whole new context.
The anger some how seems more raw, more pointed, and more deserved than just a song about celebrity beefs.
That said, Swift also experienced sexual harassments from the man the song is rumored to be about, Kanye West. West not only called her a bitch in one of his songs and talked about him possibly sleeping with her, but launched the original Snake campaign that started the whole Reputation era. He then used a doctored video filmed by his wife, Kim Kardashian-West, to try disprove Taylor’s word that she never gave the okay to be called that. And proceeded to make a video with a naked, Taylor Swift wax figure.
Because of all of the drama around the song, most only watched the video because of said drama. It was panned as being too repeating, criticized for sampling Right Said Fred’s song “I’m Too Sexy” (which the artist was actually compensated for) and no one said anything about the actual lyrics themselves.
Taylor also made a point of not speaking about the album during that era. “There will be no further explanation. There will just be reputation.” So, the history of the song has never been directly talked about other than celebrity media websites and speculating fans. And we may never get an answer.
Recently, people have realized that there is a lot more to Taylor Swift than meets the eye with her finally vocalizing her beliefs and taking her sound in a completely new direction with her eighth studio album, Folklore. But maybe this turn around will cause people to take a second look at the pop song, and “Look What You Made Me Do” will rise up from the dead in a time when we might need it the most.