“I rose up from the dead, I do it all the time.” “I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me.” “I got mine, but you’ll all get yours.” These phrases read like lyrical samples from a particularly pissed-off hard rock song — not from the new single of the pop romantic behind the sunny “Shake It Off.”
Taylor Swift has flashed her fangs on occasion before, but she’s never released anything as venomous as “Look What You Made Me Do”; the anger, the dead-eyed way she repeats the titular phrase, is almost unrecognizable from her previous singles. The title and artwork of Swift’s forthcoming Reputation album suggested a clapback at her perceived wrongdoers from last year, but the coldness on display here is a far cry from the tongue-in-cheek self-satire of “Blank Space.” Swift could have once again joined the chorus of those laughing at her; instead, she’s “got a list of names” and plans to go full Terminator on them.
A sea change like this demands ambition, and indeed, “Do” — produced by Swift and her “Out Of The Woods” cohort Jack Antonoff — slams a ton of different sonic ideas on the table. A combustible hook that interpolates Right Said Fred! A second verse that sounds like a group of sneering cheerleaders over evaporating synths! A bridge that’s essentially the haunted-house mirror version of the breakdown of “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”! There are traces of Lorde in the melody (Antonoff just helmed Melodrama, after all), but “Do” would sound at home on a CSS or Ladytron album from the mid-00s. More than anything, it’s utterly weird, from an artist who’s taken several risks throughout a sterling career but never approached this level of idiosyncrasy.
“Look What You Made Me Do” is imperfect — the transitions between its movements are sometimes too jarring, and some of its lyrics (“The world goes on, another day, another drama, DRAMA!”) express a curt cynicism that doesn’t feel inclusive enough. Yet it’s hard to imagine a song this raw and personal being preoccupied with universality. Swift surely knew this would polarize, but cared more about capturing this fury on tape than playing safe and topping the charts. The old Taylor already did that. The old Taylor, she points out, is dead.
Where does Swift go from here, with the rest of Reputation? We’ll find out in November if the rest of her sixth album is as caustic as its lead single. “Look What You Made Me Do” is fascinating as a gloriously spiteful opening statement, and sets up what will likely be Swift’s most challenging project to date. Look what we made her do — something she never has before.