I rarely write about music I don't like on this blog, but Taylor Swift's latest single, "Look What You Made Me Do" troubles me so much I cannot ignore it.
Taylor Swift has long cast herself as a victim in the press and her music. The narrative of Swift as the sweet, delicate princess harmed at the hands of lovers and haters has sold a lot of records. However, the longer she has stretched this passive-aggressive arc, the more problematic it has become. Music journalists have carefully tracked this troubling trend in Swift's career, as well as how it intersects with racism and class-ism. I recommend both of these articles on the topic: "How Taylor Swift Played a Victim for a Decade and Made Her Entire Career" by Ellie Wood, and "If Taylor Swift Wants to Address Her Bad Reputation, She Should Start by Condemning Donald Trump" by Katie Cunningham.
"Look What You Made Me Do" escalates Swift's already toxic perspective on feminism and empowerment. The title and hook for the song take the star's usual victim narrative and further corrupt those waters with emotional abuse. "Look what you made me do" is a cliche in abuse narratives (there are a plethora of Lifetime movies about domestic abuse that use those very words), but those words have become cliche because they are a common tool of emotional manipulation weaponized by abusers. I had an emotionally abusive boyfriend who often used this concept to not only excuse his abuse, but also to make me feel culpable for his misconduct.
To use this phrase as self-defense is not just cringe-worthy; it is dangerous and shows how out of touch Swift is with anyone outside of herself. Perhaps Swift has never denounced Donald Trump because they are cut from the same cloth; he always fails to see himself as culpable for his own missteps and blames his mistakes on other parties, especially liberal politicians and the media. We have seen how dangerous that kind of thinking is on a national scale over the past eight months, and now Swift is selling this same abusive rhetoric to her listeners in an effort to pass the buck.
In an age when we need to empower young people, women, people of color, and the LGTBQIA community to stand up for their rights in the face of adversity, we cannot entertain the harmful ideas in "Look What You Made Me Do." Instead, we need music that lifts us up, pushes us to forgive, and motivates us to be the heroes in our own lives and in the community at large. Because I believe in the power of music to change our thinking, I want to close this post with three brilliant songs from Kesha's new album, Rainbow, that speak to the healing and strength we all need to persevere. Enjoy them, dear reader, and have hope.