“I’m sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now… Why? Oh, ’cause she’s dead.”
It’s not unusual for an artist to undergo a change in style (the ever-changing music scene requires it), but Taylor Swift’s latest evolution is by far the most radical in a long time. The aforementioned song lyric from her latest single, Look What You Made Me Do – taken from upcoming sixth album, Reputation – states bluntly that the Love Story singer has ditched the sweet country and pop in order to pursue a much darker, hip-hop sound. Whilst previous digs by Swift have been masked under cheery, seemingly upbeat tracks such as Shake it Off, I Knew You Were Trouble and We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, the 27-year-old isn’t holding back on this lead single, which is believed to be about the star’s rivalries with fellow musicians Katy Perry and Kanye West.
Haunting piano and strings provide a gothic opening for the track, before Swift’s smooth vocals flow on top of a strict drum rhythm. Despite the rigid tempo, that doesn’t stop Swift fluctuating with varying pace throughout. The first two verses follow the same pattern, with lines such as Of the fool and Locked me out keeping things fresh and moving at speed. There’s no doubt that the song is extremely repetitive (look no further than the chorus, which appears to sample the 2006 hit by Right Said Fred, I’m Too Sexy), but the flow of the pre-chorus makes for some interesting listening. With most of the words being sung on the same note, but with sharp staccato and atmospheric synthesisers, it certainly builds up the tension ahead of the chorus. Granted, when it eventually comes, it can feel underwhelming and basic with monotonous vocals, but when one considers the nature of the track, the sassy, almost sing-song nature is clearly intentional.
After all, the third verse – beginning with the world moves on/another day/another drama drama – is the most telling for both the content of the song and Swift’s evolution. The subject (or indeed subjects) of the singer’s remarks is told that you’ll all get yours [karma] in a series of lines sung in a chanting cheerleader style similar to that of Shake it Off. Yet, underneath the lyrics, warped synths and effects prove that this is much darker than the 1989 track – especially with the vocal distortion on the final line.
The new Taylor is certainly here and she’s certainly out in force.