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Acid gossip that borrows from better songs Taylor Swift: Look What You Made Me Do review

The pop stars 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 turn is the moment when the hero turns their gaze to the dark side; when they embrace their worst impulses and plunge into full-on villainy.

It is an opportunity for the former saints to engage in sneaky moves and give 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 Swifts heel turn. Since her arrival in 2006, she has been positioned as, if not pops biggest face, at least its upper echelons. Her shift from country to country-pop to full-on pop has been accompanied by albums full of songs that paint her as a hopeless romantic who bruises easily.

During the campaign for her last album, 2014s plush pop blockbuster 1989, she also positioned herself as the queen bee of a squad that contained as many women 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 star, 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.

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

The Kanye West-Taylor Swift feud 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 made that bitch famous!, referring to Swift, who is name-checked in the previous line as a potential sex partner; Swift retorted during a clipped speech for 1989s album of the year victory at the Grammys; Kim Kardashian West exposed Swifts approval of the line via Snapchat and her reality show; Swift asked to be excluded from this narrative via Instagram. There were smaller, more subtle twists that happened along the way, but thats the basic story.

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

This week Swift blanked out all her social media, snapping the shades on her past life. She later teased something via a series of static-filled videos showing a snake glittering in low light. Reputations cover shows Swift posing defiantly, her constant press threatening to overtake her, the album title in a font normally reserved for metal bands.

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

Produced by Jack Antonoff, the albums lead single is a skeletal bit of electropop that borrows its beat from the provocateur Peaches 2003 banger Operate and places Swifts tremulous voice front and centre. Thats a welcome development in the wake of I Dont Want to Live Forever, the 50 Shades Darker tie-in track from earlier this year that rendered her nearly unrecognisable as she traded sighs with Zayn Malik. Its also a risky move in a pop market that seems averse to women who possess any sort of unique vocal personality.

Swifts lyrics are visceral and almost sloppy, with her rhyming time and time on the Lorde-channeling pre-chorus, and melodramatically declaring that the old Taylor is dead!. The chorus borrows its cadence from Right Said Freds 1992 body-shaker Im Too Sexy, a ridiculous touch that at least cuts the acid a bit. Theres also a callback to Britney Spears similarly metatextual 2007 track Piece of Me, which made 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 Made Me Do, although its potential for pop catharsis is off the charts. How will this track fit into the albums greater narrative? Is it a prelude to Taylor releasing a burn-book album, one where each celebrity whos peeved her West, Kardashian West, Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, Calvin Harris, whoever came over and was rude to her cats gets a diss track of their own? Or is this track, which is paired with a lyric video that evokes Saul Basss iconic poster for Alfred Hitchcocks Vertigo, her chance to play a character in the albums greater narrative?

The way she resignedly sighs the songs final do seems to suggest that shell be playing multiple characters, at the very least after all, a heel turn doesnt work without there being a return to being good somewhere on the horizon.

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