From the very beginning, Taylor Swift‘s songs were all about us. Her self-titled debut album, released in 2006, was bolstered by a pair of warm-blooded singles—the sprightly “Our Song” and the love-worn “Tim McGraw”—that instantly established Swift as both confessor and confidante; she let listeners in on all of her secrets, while also giving them permission to sing along. In the decade that followed, even as her audience got bigger, Swift’s smashes became more inclusive, pulling everyone into her hectic twentysomething life: “You Belong With Me,” “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” “Blank Space.” Even 2014’s “Shake it Off,” a hate-on-the-haters response to years of tabloid attacks and public tiffs, took on the form of a comforting, communal pep-rally chant. In Swift’s world, you always knew that, no matter what, you belong with T.
Which is what makes “Look What You Made Me Do,” Swift’s first non-soundtrack song in more than three years—and the debut single from her forthcoming Reputation album—such a bummer. It’s perhaps the chilliest, aloof song of Swift’s career, a brittle piano-plinker that reduces one of the best pop artists of the 21st century to a Descendants villain. And even the track’s effective hooks are undone by the song’s self-aware-turned-self-aggrandizing lyrics. “I don’t like your little games/Don’t like your tilted stage,” Swift sings, a clear reference to Kanye West. Or maybe Kim Kardashian West. (Or perhaps Katy Perry? Or Nicki Minaj?) In the end, it doesn’t matter who prompted Swift to make “Made Me Do”; all that matters is that, for the next two weeks, the internet will become consumed with the debate over its intended target(s).
Of course, that may have been Swift’s intent all along. Much like West, her perfectly matched foil, she’s hyper-aware of how the internet drama-continuum works, and “Made Me Do” is the kind of song intended to stoke social media chatter—a song made more for DMing than for dancing. Which would be fine, of course, if Swift hadn’t already managed that with “Bad Blood,” the oooooooh-inducing 1989 hit that, like “Made Me Do,” took aim at unspecified targets. “Blood” allowed Swift to once again dominate the pop-cultural conversation, and its chorus was so bombastically good you overlooked the fact that she wasn’t actually saying anything. Yet even that song didn’t come off as calculated as “Made Me Do,” which feels lab-perfected in a way Swift’s emotive, richly detailed earlier material never did. That goofily delivered “Taylor can’t come to the phone right now” line? It scans as completely insincere—as if Swift knows that the joke’s sheer hokiness will, in itself, become a mini-meme, one that will keep the song in your head and in the zeitgeist far longer than it deserves to be.
Mostly, though, “Made Me Do” makes it clear Swift has the same problem facing so many of us: Namely, she spends too much time on the internet, reading and thinking about…Taylor Swift. The whole thing is a drag—a tune that’s more performative than personal, and a dull rejoinder to a series of inscrutable squabbles that seem all the more insignificant every day. Hopefully, she gets out of the woods—and out of her head—soon.