Self-Deprecation Looks Better Than It Sounds: Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” Video

Look What You Made Me Do” is a pile of shit of a song. Worse yet, it’s not even an original pile of shit song, borrowing from Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy” and Peaches’ “Operate” for its backbeat. So at least we can take some comfort in the silver lining of Swift borrowing visuals from less esoteric elements for a pastiche that combines everything from Michael Jackson to Beyonce to Lady Gaga for optic inspiration and name checking. Because, if nothing else, Swift has always been adept at giving what’s expected of all archetypal white female pop stars: eye candy.

“Here Lies Taylor Swift’s Reputation,” the video commences, with the appropriate graveyard backdrop to match the headstone. From it emerges a zombie Swift. Maybe this is an homage to the grandfather of all music videos, “Thriller,” and maybe it’s not. It could simply be that there’s so little left to claim as one’s own material that everything looks somehow vaguely familiar. And yet, don’t we all know by now that Swift is more “calculated” than that?

Directed by Joseph Kahn, who has already addressed the catty rumors that Swift ripped off Beyonce‘s (herself a plagiarist) “Formation” video with memes like “Okay ladies, now let’s gentrification,” the “narrative” of the video takes subtle and overt shots at everyone Swift has tangoed with over the past few years.

From her soaking in a bathtub of jewels with a dollar bill on her shoulder–an allusion to the one dollar she was awarded in the lawsuit against her sexual assaulter, David Mueller, a former radio DJ (and maybe–just maybe–a bit of a dig at Kim K’s Paris robbery), to backup dancers wearing “I ‘Heart’ T.S.” shirts (undoubtedly a swipe at Tom Hiddleston, endlessly ridiculed for himself wearing a tank with the same sentiment back in 2016), no feud is left unturned in Swift’s long pent up addressing of her so-called tormentors. So-called because, really, what harm has been done to Swift?–she’s got a shit ton of money for her “pain” and she’s fucked a lot of attractive people. Among those illustrious bulliers is, of course, Katy Perry, who pissed Swift off back in 2013 when she reclaimed some of her backup dancers for the Prismatic World Tour. Backup dancers that, evidently, Swift really wanted to keep for herself as evidenced by the creation of “Bad Blood.”

Perry, who has claimed to want to put their beef out to pasture during her weekend-long YouTube broadcast in promotion of Witness, claimed, “I forgive [Swift], and I’m sorry for anything I ever did, and I hope the same from her, and I think it’s actually… I think it’s time.” Swift, on the other hand, seems only to just be getting started in her dredging up of the once semi-dormant discord, appearing in one scene of “Look What You Made Me Do” in a blonde hairstyle (the ponytail is discreet) very reminiscent of Perry’s own current coif (one that prompted her to make a very snide comment aimed at Britney Spears this year when she stated of her new look, “It’s the last color in the spectrum that I can do. I’ve done all of them, and the only thing left to do is shave my head, which I’m really saving for a public breakdown. I’m down for that.”). Swift also sports a cat head at one point in the video, undoubtedly throwing shade at Perry’s fans, dubbed KatyCats.

Calvin Harris, Swift’s ex and recent collaborator with Katy Perry on “Feels,” is also drawn upon for shade throwing inspiration, with one tombstone featuring the name Nils Sjoberg on it. This alludes to that time Swift wrote “This Is What You Came For” under said pseudonym, later revealing that this was the case post-breakup, only to have Harris go off on her in a Twitter rant that seethed, “I know you’re off tour and you need someone new to try and bury like Katy ETC but I’m not that guy, sorry. I won’t allow it.” This, too, accounts for Swift doing a lot of burying in the opening scene.

Parodying herself in a way she’s never been known to do, Swift also includes a scene in which, depicted as some sort of dominatrix cult leader at the helm of Squad U, she seems to be directing an army of mindless drones to do her bidding–a nod to her legion of supermodel friendships.

Other familiar moments include a car wrapping around a pole à la the concluding scene in the “What It Feels Like For A Girl” video, those green lasers that channel the ones from J. Lo’s “Waiting For Tonight” video and Beyonce’s “Grown Woman” video, in which, she, too, grapples with past versions of herself. Except, in Taylor’s case, there seems to be nothing but contempt for the naive little girl once so trusting and supportive of everyone. It’s been this sort of pluckiness–coming across as highly disingenuous to most–that has served her the most criticism of late.

At the end of the video, all the old Taylors come together to condemn one another for their various annoying qualities. Zombie Taylor snaps at “You Belong With Me” Taylor, “Stop making that surprise face, it’s so annoying.” The ballerina Taylor adds, “You can’t possibly be that surprised all the time.” The insults get more intense as the exchanges fly, with ringleader Taylor accusing, “Oh, stop acting like you’re so nice, you are so fake.”

Cheetah print Taylor quips while getting photos and video, “Getting receipts! Gonna edit this later,” a two-pronged inference of Kim K posting the Snapchat of Kanye asking Taylor to use her in one of his songs and Perry’s use of the word receipts in “Swish Swish.” The hostility bandied among the Taylor Swifts, however, doesn’t seem to be how Taylor actually feels about herself, so much as what she wants her audience to think she feels about herself–beat down by life enough to be self-hating, to start truly believing what others are saying about her. And when Swift of the 2009 VMAs ends the conversation with her famously mocked tweet regarding Kimye, “I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative,” all the others scream in unison, “SHUT UP!” And so Taylor did, for the past year. But one gets the sense that her inertia was merely spent collecting all the fodder she would need to create this very video.

Yet, like Meat Loaf’s arcane declaration, “I would do anything for love… but I won’t do that,” we still may never know, what, precisely, it was that Swift was made to do–change her image to one befitting a more Hot Topic aesthetic? Lose all sense of hope that everything can go a white girl’s way all the time? It’s at your discretion, Swift is just a pop star made for the lashing of a snake’s tongue, as it were.