“I’ve got a list of names and yours is in red, underlined. I check it once, then I check it twice, oh!” snarls Taylor Swift in her latest single, Look What You Made Me Do.
The music video, which was the most viewed video on Youtube within 24 hours of its release – a position previously occupied by Adele’s Hello – has a grave message: The old Taylor Swift is dead.
But we know one thing never truly died: Her thirst for vengeance.
We should have seen it coming. From Picture to Burn (2006) to Better Than Revenge (2010) to Look What You Made Me Do (2017), a thread of animosity runs through her songs.
Time and time again, her songs have been targeted at individuals in her life and the wrongs that he/she/they have done to her.
High school bully? Check. Celebrity frenemy? Check. Ex-boyfriend? Many, many checks. Names may not be mentioned but we all know full well who she’s aiming at each time.
Her latest single? Let’s just say it points in a certain direction: West.
While the tunes are fun to sing along to, the pattern of vengeance in her songwriting is so constant and apparent that we have to stop and ask ourselves: Has Taylor gone overboard?
Because she seems so obsessed with revenge that she glorifies it.
Take Bad Blood, for example. While on the surface it’s a music video about female empowerment – or so claims her PR team – it is laced with snarky undertones with shots fired at Katy Perry. And she recruits an army of celebrity friends to back her up in the video.
Shaming another woman while masked behind a feel-good message about female empowerment is not empowerment.
It’s bullying. It’s hypocrisy.
The sad thing is that not only do people fail to see the bad in Bad Blood, the world lauded the unity – in ganging up on someone – as friendship goals, or in Internet terms, #squad.
Everyone lapped it up.
And that’s the problem. Like it or not, Taylor is a culture dictator. She sets trends, reinvents words and popularises sayings. I mean, I’m guilty of having her songs on repeat.
But even as we latch on to her catchy tunes and quotable lyrics, have we really thought about the recurring spiteful messages that she’s perpetuating?
VENGEANCE: A POISONED CHALICE
Seeking revenge is not cool. It only breeds hatred and bitterness in our hearts.
I know. When you’re angry, the last thing you want to hear is, “Chill lah” or “What’s the big deal?” That feels like a dismissal of your feelings. Nothing validates your sense of injustice like a good dose of anger.
Anger is not a crime; it’s part of the spectrum of human emotions. But while we all get angry from time to time, we can’t allow it to rule over us.
Taylor seems so obsessed with revenge that she glorifies it.
And we especially can’t take our frustration out on another person. The immediate gratification of wrath may console us in the initial phase, but it will soon fester into a gaping hole of resentment that may never be satisfied.
Someone once told me that unforgiveness is like drinking poison, but hoping the other person dies. The harm is on us.
THE BLAME GAME
Another reason why Taylor’s new single chills me is how she justifies her hostility – by pushing the blame to those who had hurt her. I mean, the song title says it all.
With lyrics like “I don’t like the role you made me play” and “Look what you made me do”, it is obviously a victim narrative she’s crafting. It’s as though she was forced – by circumstances and/or people – into retaliation. Hey, she started it.
But we have a choice, we always do. We may not always have control over our situations, and we may not always have control over how others treat us, but we always have control over the way we react.
When we play the victim game, we are focusing on the wrongs the other party has committed, and allowing that to overshadow our own faults. It gives us an excuse to relinquish the responsibility for our own responses, pushing the blame to a secondary party.
But as soon as we choose to lash back, we are no longer the victims. We become the antagonists, perpetrating a vicious cycle of faulting and shaming.
Blame-shifting doesn’t get anyone anywhere. We need to own up for whatever we’re responsible for – namely, our reactions.
And as much as the subjects of Taylor’s every other songs have wronged her, she isn’t all that innocent either. Especially not when she escalates her carousel of personal feuds into full-blown circus shows, parading her enemies, with the entire world as spectators.
RISING FROM THE DEAD
From titling her latest album Reputation to wiping clean her social media accounts to releasing Look What You Made Me Do as her lead single, Taylor is bent on revamping her image.
If she can’t save her American Sweetheart image, she might as well kill it and rebirth herself as the snake that writhes through the lyric video for the song.
But my heart aches when I see the person she’s chosen to become.
She’s a lyrical genius. Her songs were the soundtrack for my adolescence.
My heart aches when I see the person Taylor Swift has chosen to become.
I know every word of Teardrops On My Guitar by heart. I’ve blasted You Belong With Me in KTVs. I danced to 22… on my 22nd birthday.
But I can no longer take comfort in her lyrics, not when I know that the solace I gain is built on the assassination of someone’s character.
I guess I’ll be in mourning for the Taylor Swift of my teenage years for now.