Taylor gets the knife in, but comes off worst herself
Taylor Swift comes out swinging with her new single, but her anger ends up hurting no one but her, writes Sarah Caden
The "old" Taylor Swift is dead, apparently. She has said so herself - so it must be true. At the very end of the video for her single, Look What You Made Me Do, both of which were released last week, Taylor Swift darkly states: "I'm sorry, the old Taylor can't come to the phone right now. Why? Oh, 'cause she's dead."
So which Taylor is dead and gone? To judge by the dark and savage content of Look What You Made Me Do, both song and video, it's the nice TS of old who has departed. The good old country-music girl has been long gone, but the nice girl who surrounded herself with the #squad seems to have been buried too.
And the sweet girl - the girl you wanted your little girls to look up to - has disappeared, along with the girl who used to maintain a little mystery around which ex-friends and boyfriends she was catchily savaging in her songs.
The song Look What You Made Me Do, from her new album "Reputation'" doesn't pull any punches. Kanye West seems to get a kick as it opens, with mention of how Taylor doesn't like an unnamed enemy's "tilting stage". There's a reference to Kim Kardashian in the scene where Taylor bathes in diamonds, and to Katy Perry when she goes short-blonde-crop-and-sunglasses.
While Taylor has never gone easy on her ex-boyfriends, she ditches all obfuscation here and, through the video, seems to have direct pops at her most recent former flames, Calvin Harris and Tom Hiddleston.
In a Thriller-like scene in the video, where she rises from the dead, a tombstone behind Taylor bears the name Nils Sjoberg. This is the name under which she co-wrote Harris's hit song, This is What You Came For. In another scene, one of her backing dancers is wearing a cropped vest with "I Heart TS" on it, much like the one Hiddleston wore at her July 4 squad party in 2016.
Supporters of Taylor Swift see all of this as a delicious declaration of modern-day girl power. She points out that both boys, in her opinion, used her - one for helping his success without properly crediting her and one for publicity, allegedly. Given she has already embarrassed Harris for the co-writing collusion, and that her side has allegedly made mutterings about Hiddleston's career-climbing, it wasn't really necessary for Swift to lash out further.
In fact, doing so makes her look bad rather than them. So long, perhaps, any thoughts that you might have had about encouraging your girls to take inspiration from her. Which might be perhaps, what Swift wants when she says her old self is dead and buried.
Except for the fact, of course, that Taylor Swift still wants little girls to buy into the brand.
What also happened last week in the carefully managed world of Taylor Swift was a marketing move so bold it was positively brass-necked.
The same week as releasing Look What You Made Me Do, Swift announced she was joining Ticketmaster's Verified program, currently available only in the States, which is designed to stop touts and bots from buying concert tickets.
How it works is that a person has to register in advance of trying to buy a ticket. They then get an email saying that they have been approved to buy tickets for their chosen concert. The thing is, though, that not everyone who registers will get approval or, as result, a ticket. The process has been criticised for this, but not half as much as Taylor Swift's add-ons to it have. Taylor Swift, old and new, knows that her fans really, really want to see her.
They are of an age at which they believe that they will die if they don't. So to say to them that no matter what steps they take, they might not get "approval" - ah, such a loaded word - is a crisis.
So, they have been told, you can create "boosts" that will help you to get to her concert. All you have to do is register on her website and buy hard copies of her album - these are 21st Century kids, who do not buy hard copy of anything - or buy merchandise or just watch her video multiple times.
You can only watch a certain number of times a day, though, so keep coming back, kids.
There's no denying that the process smacks of being cynical, but the framing of it is worse. "Taylor Swift is committed to getting tickets into the hands of fans...NOT scalpers or bots," her website says. "So she's collaborating with Ticketmaster #VerifiedFan to create an exclusive program to help YOU get the best access to tickets in North America, in a really fun way."
A really fun way.
So, so cutesy. So, so not in keeping with how hard-nosed this strategy is. So, so sounding contrary to the hard-edged vengeful Taylor Swift she is also playing at.
In essence, there's a sense that Taylor Swift will be whoever she needs to be to get attention. Attention being equated with success, of course.
Attention is the currency of the age and if that means switching up your personality as needs be, then so be it.
But don't call her on it and don't cross her, or she'll cut you.
You could, of course, argue Madonna was the mother of reinvention and she got away with it, so why not Taylor? The difference is that every time Madonna switched image and position, she never deviated from one key message: be yourself and don't care what anyone else thinks.
What Taylor Swift is doing is seeming to say screw the begrudgers, but that's not what she's actually doing. When you need to take revenge on this kind of scale, then you are the person most wounded by it, ultimately.
Because with that heat of hate in their hearts, no matter how many songs they write, how many videos they make, how many "boosts" they sell, they can't shake it off. And it is that inability to just be, to live and let live that will force Taylor Swift to continue trying to be too many people at once - and unconvincingly.
Which isn't very girl power at all.