By RACHEL FINSTON
Few celebrities are as image conscious as Taylor Swift. At twenty-seven years old, she is a multi-millionaire and internationally known celebrity. One might even call Swift infamous due to the polarizing public opinions surrounding her music and her personal life. Swift is known for playing the victim, or, is alternatively, America’s sweetheart.
With the release of Swift’s new single “Look What You Made Me Do” from her upcoming album “Reputation” and the accompanying video, it is interesting to observe how her public image has evolved over the last decade.
It’s fair to call Taylor out on her privilege. She was born a rich white woman and works in an industry that rewards her. However, it seems as though she has been badmouthed more than her male peers have and the intricacies of intersectional feminism are not something one is born understanding, so I’ll give her that.
Initially, Swift’s public persona was less complicated. She played up her country roots, wrote her own songs, played guitar on stage and wore her hair naturally. She projected a facade of approachability and likeability, whether genuine or otherwise, which made her relatable to teen girls.
Swift’s producers were clearly gunning for the appeal of pre-teen and teen female market for her first two albums. She had the same essential brand, sweet, genuine and innocent. “Fearless” brought Swift national recognition and began her transition from niche country singer-songwriter to foraying into pop music and international superstardom.
“Speak Now” was another step towards pop and away from Swift’s beginnings in country. It yielded more success but the big change for Swift came years later. When Swift cut her hair much shorter before the release of “1989” in 2014, she was taking on a more adult look as a natural part of that progression from her Nashville persona.
“1989” was Swift’s first real pop album and she changed her clothes, moving away from the long dresses she was previously known for to wearing sheer separates, shorts, and skirts. This carries significance as well, and Swift shows more skin in her new video for “Look What You Made Me Do” than she ever previously had.
While both her music and fashion have slowly evolved, “Reputation” marks a huge departure from the wholesome nature of her previous public image. The answer lies in the underlying message of her new song. She has had to change her public image and even parody herself in order to control the media’s narrative of her.
The video for “Look What You Made Me Do” contains more references than can be listed, but some lyrics and images particularly stand out. Swift crawls out of a grave, is later shown surrounded by snakes and even shown standing atop previous versions of herself. When Swift speaks of “rising from the dead,” she is talking about having been condemned by the media and public. She sings “I’ll be the actress starring in your bad dreams,” meaning she’ll take on the mantle others have created for her, as a backstabbing, money-hungry, man-eating cat lady with a fake exterior. She’s willing to play the villain if that’s what it takes to get ahead.
In the video, Swift condemns the unfair portrayal of her in media but not without a few missteps. The clear similarities to Beyoncé’s “Formation” video cannot be ignored and if treated as an homage to the intersectional feminism Beyoncé has embraced, it would have been fine. However, Joseph Kahn, who has directed other videos for Swift denied these claims. The video is reminiscent of other iconic music videos too, like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Britney Spears’ “Circus,” but the similarity of outfits and dancers in the video to that of “Formation” is undeniable.
How Taylor Swift’s image will continue to change in the coming years is impossible to predict. There have been some gaffs in the last year, but it seems likely Swift will be keeping her eyes on the prize for the foreseeable future. Her album comes out in November, and then we’ll see what her new “Reputation” is like.