Taylor Swift isn’t shaking it off anymore.
The singer, no stranger to criticism, released a new song last Thursday that promotes victimhood and revenge over personal responsibility. In “Look What You Made Me Do,” there are no fewer than thirty-two repeats and slight variations of the line “Look what you made me do.” Other lyrics focus on the wrongs done to Swift—“You asked me for a place to sleep/Locked me out and threw a feast (what?)”—and her planned revenge— “I’ve got a list of names and yours is in red, underlined/I check it once, then I check it twice, oh!”
And while pop singers often release songs that aren’t about their personal experiences or feelings, Swift is pushing the idea that this song is about her, thanks to a lyric where she namechecks herself (“I’m sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now./Why?/Oh, ’cause she’s dead!”) and an accompanying music video packed with scenes of her reenacting moments, such as her surprised face after winning an award, that apparently earned public mockery at various points in her career.
To drive home the point even further, Swift deleted all her old social media posts prior to this album, and begins her new music video with an image of a gravestone marked, “Here Lies Taylor Swift’s reputation.”
What happened to ignoring the haters?
I’m not about to pretend I can litigate the flurry of feuds Swift seems to have found herself getting into over the years, or that I even know whether she’s more the perpetrator or the victim in them. I’m not privy to her thoughts—or the thoughts of those now on her “list of names.” But although Swift’s current attitude, as represented by this song, may or may not hurt those she thinks it should—it will certainly hurt her.
Putting aside the inanity of a celebrity gazillionaire pop star appropriating victimhood, Swift’s woe-is-me focus makes her life about the haters—which is a far cry from the attitude of the Taylor Swift we all knew in 2014, who ebulliently sang “Just think while you’ve been getting down and out about the liars and the dirty, dirty cheats of the world/You could’ve been getting down to this sick beat.” In her hit single “Shake It Off.”
She was wiser then.
Instead of ignoring criticism, Swift now seems to be laser-focused on it—and in the process, blaming others for what they “made [her] do.” Instead of recognizing the fact that it’s up to her how she reacts to negative comments, she’s now essentially giving her critics control over her life and actions, forgoing personal responsibility.
And in doing so, she’s showcasing one of the worst consequences of disregarding personal responsibility and embracing revenge: the eradication of self. After all, if someone else—not you—is responsible for your actions and all those actions are focused on others, not yourself, what’s left of you?
Other critics have noticed this as well. “While those past Taylor Swifts that [Swift] symbolically kills off in the video weren’t perfect, at least they were centered around more than just a lust for revenge, which seems to be the only defining characteristic about Swift’s Reputation phase thus far,” writes Maeve McDermott in USA Today. “They played the guitar. They wore costumes in silly music videos. They danced with Tom Hiddleston at the Met Gala.”
In some ways, the current version of Swift may be typical of our times. Thanks to social media, we’re all becoming more and more aware of how people react to us—whether it’s by the number of retweets, likes, or even just the comments (or lack thereof). Think enough about that, and you can start to morph, both in social media and in real life, into someone who courts those likes and retweets. Suddenly it’s not about who you are—it’s about becoming the kind of person who gets the most applause, whether or not you even like that person.
And Swift, who has been under a magnifying glass for years thanks to her celebrity, is a popular target for criticism. In particular, she’s come under fire for her nice-girl persona; with celebrity feuds and her social media-savvy girl squads, Taylor Swift’s fans have often questioned whether that is her authentic personality or merely a fiction.
I have no idea who Swift “really” is. But in destroying her social media past and releasing a new single all about revenge, Swift seems to have erased herself, becoming little more than the caricature her detractors have always claimed she is.
And while listing all of her supposed enemies in her new song, Swift is also making the case against personal responsibility. She would do better to take her own advice and “shake it off”—and become again a celebrity performer who is not just about feuds and petty slights, but who also has her own perspective and personality.