Look what we just stayed up for, Taylor Swift.
Just before midnight, Eastern Standard Time, the pop star dropped her first single from forthcoming album, “Reputation.” It’s a slickly produced track pulsing with synth snares and faux piano cadences that underlay the singer’s most bitter set of break-up lyrics yet. T. Swift raps as she references herself (“the actress starring in your bad dreams”), thwarted Shakespearean lovers (“The role you made me play, the fool”) and … Santa Claus.
And many of us stayed up for it. The song is an easy, immediate number one download on iTunes.
So maybe it doesn’t matter if “Look What You Made Me” is a far cry from the tuneful, clever pop of “1989.”
Swift got us all to pay attention, to forget that a category 3 hurricane is on its way to Texas and that Trump may be about to make good on his promise to ban transgender people from serving in the military.
There’s no other singer who can pull off a mass public distraction like this (except maybe Kanye West).
The latest coup began a week ago, when Swift suddenly wiped her social media accounts clean. No more photos of her frolicking on the Fourth of July or running through New York City with Karlie Kloss and the glam posse.
Her Instagram was taken over by quick-clip videos of a hissing snake, another part of its slithering body arriving each day, until finally, on Thursday came a glimpse of the cover art for her new album, a title and a release date of Nov. 10.
The title, “Reputation,” and the accompanying image are more genuinely nuanced and intriguing than the over-hyped song. Swift’s black and white photo is a mashup of every look she’s projected in the past, with a confident gaze that says she’s also up to something new. Her once-bobbed hair is back to shoulder length, but slicked back and wet.
Add a pullover sweatshirt and choker to the look, and Swift appears to be just another pretty, working-class girl from her central Pennsylvania hometown.
Swift and her marketing team are smart.
The layered text to the right of her face spells out her name in every old-school newspaper font that was ever cast in lead type. Make no mistake: It’s a cheeky assentation of Swift’s ability to manipulate the headlines.
Swift’s girl-next-door appeal may have intentionally morphed into something less innocent over the years, but with “Look What You Made Me Do,” she may have gone too far in her attempt to get venomous. The grittiness is simply too co-opted, and too inane.
Then she cuts to the title chorus, and then a rap breakdown. And then that thing she does when she samples what sounds like her own voicemail:
Who turned the gun on who? And is this a game of “Clue”?
“I rose up from the dead, I do it all the time,” she sings, delivering a line that is probably supposed to be intriguing but really comes off as contradictory.
Along with the song, Swift also dropped social media clues to what’s next: 13-seconds of a video debuting in full at the VMAs Sunday night, and a partnership to deliver a good old-fashioned CD or vinyl album this holiday season via UPS.
What’s Swift reputation at this point? She may be heading towards mercurial mediocrity but she got us to play her “crooked little games.”
Let’s hope the full album treats us better than her latest vilified ex.