Taylor Swift has stayed in her lane for the most part. Until now. She had been writing nice songs that comfortably fit in their genre, whether it be country or pop. She has been winning awards, playing concerts, and maintaining an acceptable social media presence. Until recently, she has been a celebrity who wasn’t particularly controversial: sure, people cared about her music or her love life, but she did not seem emblematic of any bigger debates. Most likely, this was on purpose — it is very clear that Swift is an intelligent artist capable of gaining a lot of popularity and maintaining a clean image, as evidenced by her frequent image adjustments in response to people’s criticism about her. She has always been a target of misogyny as a young woman in the music industry, from the media’s obsession with her dating life to Kanye West interrupting her at the 2009 MTV awards. But with the release of her newest album “Reputation” she demonstrates that she is no longer challenging criticism maturely, but rather she fought back with new songs and a problematic persona.The name of her comeback song itself reveals the problem: failing to take responsibility for her actions. The song, “Look What You Made Me Do,” is about the new and edgy persona her enemies made her create — not something she chose to make. She avoids responsibility, instead childishly placing the full burden of the blame on other people. In addition to the pettiness of these actions, the accusations in some of her songs also cause her to fall back into some of the bad habits of “Fearless” era Taylor Swift, such as defining her self-worth around men. In her previous album “1989” it had appeared that Swift had progressed from singing about how she wanted to be with a certain guy to giving commentary about herself in an ultimately positive way. In “Shake it Off” the message is that although people might dislike her, she would focus on her own life and be the best she could be. With “Reputation”, the inspirational message shifts. Her new song “Call it What You Want” presents people as “liars” calling her out rather than people merely criticizing her. Most problematically, in response to these people she decides to ignore their criticism not to focus on herself, but rather because she has an attractive boyfriend. She is “doing better than [she] ever was ‘cause [her] baby’s fit like a daydream,” and not because she chooses to ignore the negative in life. In focusing so much on playing the victim, Swift fell back into old and problematic ways to justify it.
The release of “Reputation” was not the first time Swift has been called problematic though. There media, for instance, rightly called her out after the twerking controversy in the “Shake It Off” music video, where she was criticized for cultural appropriation. Another example is the phone call with Kanye about his song “Famous” that proved Taylor had lied about not knowing he would use her name.
There are certainly elements of Swift’s reputation that are out of her control. When she dated four men over the course of six years — a number society deemed unacceptable — she was denounced and insulted. However, just because her reputation is out of her control does not mean that an acceptable way to deal with her past is to destroy it and simply pretend as though it never existed. Swift recently deleted all her Twitter posts, and in the “Look What You Made Me Do” music video, she is pictured killing the other past iterations of herself. Doing this absolves her of any and all responsibility over her actions, even though most of the things she is criticized for are within her control. Becoming the “new Taylor” was not a way to stand up to the people that put her down — it was just another way to try and assert control over her image. They tried to kill the old Taylor, so the new Taylor came along and did the job for them.