Well, it’s not just the lipstick that got darker. Taylor Swift sounds like she is never, ever getting back together with her old ingénue image in “Look What You Made Me Do,” the first piece of fresh solo music she’s released since 2014. This is hardly Swift’s first time playing defense in song, but the tone of the tune is intended to get you thinking the bad blood she sang about three years ago has seeped a little deeper into her bone marrow. For these three-and-a-half minutes, at least, she’s an even badder Type A.
This introductory track from her upcoming “reputation” album (due out Nov. 10; the small R is hers) feels like the un-celebratory flip side to the previous album’s leadoff single, “Shake It Off.” The catharsis and playfulness are a little harder to pick out in this one, though they’re there, if you listen hard enough, amid some textures and lyrics that sound a little on the grim side on first listen, and maybe second or third play, too. “I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time,” she sings, in case anyone is still imagining her with that 2006 curl in her hair.
But if you’re au courant enough on all things Taylor to think that maybe those short clips of snakes she started posting the other day represented a desire for some skin-shedding, or that she really intended to send a signal when she wiped all her social media clean, Swift essentially confirms that with a spoken-word aside here: “I’m sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh, because she’s dead!”
Actually, it’s not just that late interlude that’s spoken-word; it’s the entire chorus, which consists of the title phrase, slightly amended, repeated over and over, over a throbbing-bass rhythm, as if she and producer Jack Antonoff had designs on doing an electro-clash update of the boom-car classic “Supersonic.” (It’s the writers of Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy” who get a co-writing credit for a perceived similarity, though.) It’s part of the cleverness of the song that the tune’s pre-chorus seems to be building up to something big, only to drop into something so flatly stated, steely-eyed, and subwoofer-based. Whatever grander hooks she has in store (and based on past experience, you’d have to imagine there will be plenty on “reputation”) will have to wait until after this alluringly scowling teaser trailer of a single.
Who’s it about? Given how little of Swift’s previous work belongs in the fiction category, it’s a reasonable question, and one that’ll probably break certain sections of the Internet for at least the next few days. “How you laugh when you lie / You said the gun was mine” could be about a certain celebrity ex who publicly cast blame on her for a breakup, or about a certain perennial sparrer who leaked her phone calls to the world. Maybe the net should be cast wider, to a whole world of haters, as Swift sings about karma and adds, distressingly: “I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me.” That’s plasma, not tears, on her (MIA) guitar.
But it’s not exactly a victim song. “Honey, I rose up from the dead, I do it all the time” is the ultimate I-eat-feuders-like-you-for-breakfast line. And it’s a sign that, besides undoubtedly being legitimately angry, she’s still having a bit of fun here. “Look What You Made Her Do” makes the superstar sound like a tougher chick than the tougher chick we were already getting to know, but there’s also the undeniable element of Swift being a girl who just wants to have fun… the fun, that is, of playing around with her own fury.