Acid gossip that borrows from better ballads- Taylor Swift: Look What You Stimulated Me Do review

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The pop starrings return is full of visceral disses, but its not clear whether shes playing a role or being herself

In professional wrestling- the dramatics and bluster of which have come to if not define culture in 2017, at least strongly mirror it- the” heel turning” is the moment when the hero turns their gaze to the dark side; when they espouse their worst impulses and plunge into full-on villainy.

It is an opportunity for the former saints to engage in sneaky moves and dedicate scorched-earth speeches. Even more importantly, it is a chance for the audience to indulge in their impulses towards white-hot fury, which at times can seem exponentially more powerful than adulation.

Look What You Made Me Do could mark Taylor Swift’s heel turn. Since her arrival in 2006, she has been positioned as, if not pop’s biggest face, at least its upper echelons. Her change from country to country-pop to full-on pop has been accompanied by albums full of anthems that paint her as a hopeless romantic who bruises easily.

During the campaign for her last album, 2014′ s plush pop blockbuster 1989, she also positioned herself as the queen bee of a “squad” that contained as many females as she could bring into her orbit: reporters who she guided through paparazzi scrum, superfans who she welcomed into her home for a listening party, fellow users of the microblogging platform Tumblr, and, of course, the ever-shifting coterie of boldfaced names who popped up on her Instagram feed and at her annual Fourth of July blowouts. She was the all-American pop superstar, one whose lyrics were relatable and easy to sing along with, who sang of offering shoulders to cry on and being starstruck by New York.

She’s also a savvy businesswoman who knows which way the wind is blowing, and how simply describes narratives can often seem more important than artists’ actual bodies of work- and she’s very aware of how the perception of her has shifted since the calendar flipped to 2016.

The Kanye West-Taylor Swift conflict that has been percolating since West interrupted her Video Music Awards acceptance speech in 2009 took multiple turns last year. West released Famous, which pivots on the line” I stimulated that bitch famous !”, referring to Swift, who is name-checked in the previous line as a potential sexuality partner; Swift retorted during a clipped speech for 1989′ s album of the year victory at the Grammys; Kim Kardashian West “exposed” Swift’s approval of the line via Snapchat and her reality show; Swift asked to be” be exempted from this narrative” via Instagram. There were smaller, more subtle twistings that happened along the way, but that’s the basic story.

It’s ridiculous in a lot of ways, high-school rumor amplified to feed the public’s hunger for drama. It’s also why her next album Reputation, which comes out on 10 November, seems to represent if not a heel turning for Swift, at least a lean towards the dark side.

This week Swift blanked out all her social media, snapping the tints on her past life. She subsequently pestered something via a series of static-filled videos proving a snake glittering in low sunlight. Reputation’s cover shows Swift posing defiantly, her constant press threatening to overtake her, the album title in a font ordinarily set aside for metal bands.

Cover of Reputation, the new album from Taylor Swift due out late 2017 Photo: Universal

Produced by Jack Antonoff, the album’s result single is a skeletal bit of electropop that borrows its beat from the provocateur Peaches‘ 2003 banger Operate and places Swift’s tremulous voice front and centre. That’s a welcome development in the wake of I Don’t Want to Live Forever, the 50 Shades Darker tie-in way from earlier this year that rendered her nearly unrecognisable as she traded sighs with Zayn Malik. It’s also a risky move in a pop market that seems averse to women who possess any sort of unique vocal personality.

Swift’s lyrics are visceral and virtually sloppy, with her rhyming “time” and “time” on the Lorde-channeling pre-chorus, and melodramatically announced today that” the old Taylor” is “dead!”. The chorus borrows its cadence from Right Said Fred’s 1992 body-shaker I’m Too Sexy, a ridiculous touch that at least cuts the acid a bit. There’s also a callback to Britney Spears‘ similarly metatextual 2007 way Piece of Me, which attained oblique references to the tabloid-chronicled problems that had plagued her earlier that year.

The songs Swift is borrowing from are superior to Look What You Attained Me Do, although its potential for pop catharsis is off the following chart. How will this track fit into the album’s greater narrative? Is it a prelude to Taylor releasing a burn-book album, one where each celebrity who’s peeved her- West, Kardashian West, Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, Calvin Harris, whoever came over and was rude to her cats- gets a diss way of their own? Or is this way, which is paired with a lyric video that evokes Saul Bass‘s iconic poster for Alfred Hitchcock‘s Vertigo, her chance to play a character in the album’s greater narrative?

The way she resignedly sighs the song’s final “do” seems to suggest that she’ll be playing multiple characters, at the very least- after all, a heel turning doesn’t work without there being a return to being good somewhere on the horizon.

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