Earlier last week, Taylor Swift cleared all of her social accounts to make room for snake videos. As you do.
For anyone who found themselves weirdly curious, the posts hinted at a newer, edgier Swift. This was further enforced Wednesday when the pop megastar unveiled the album cover for her November release, Reputation, sporting dark lipstick and a chain choker. Hot Topic fashion sense aside, the cover also superimposes headlines bearing her name, thus pitting her against her own perception in the media.
All of this led to the release of the album’s first single, “Look What You Made Me Do,” in which she officially declares the Old Taylor dead.
Old Taylor, we can assume, refers to the image of Swift as a pure, innocent young girl who rose to prominence circa 2007. It may even refer to everything leading up to her most recent album. But here’s the problem: that Taylor has already been dead for a long time now. And digging her up doesn’t really accomplish anything other than generate noise. In reality, there’s nothing left for her to kill.
To backtrack a little, the signs that Swift was a bonafide pop star came well before she started dipping her toes into mainstream pop music. But the first major leap was Red, her fourth album. Red threw a great deal of her country style out the window, yet retained just enough to give the record a unique identity. It had a certain character that most other artists on the radio just didn’t have at the time.
In other words, Swift’s first big transition to pop music didn’t erase who she was before. It incorporated her former identity and tied it into something that, while forward-looking, still reflected her history. As a result, it felt like an organic transition. Even when she was playing with EDM or big stadium anthems, Swift maintained subtle hints of country that felt appropriate.
Then came 1989. Named her first “true” pop album, any remaining hints of Swift’s former identity vanished. Just listening to Red today makes her latter work feel like a drastic change in comparison. While 1989 was clearly met with wide commercial success, it was hard to find anything artistically unique about it. It erased anything that made Swift a distinct entity in the first place.
Now, it’s one thing to introduce a new style. But what did she replace Old Taylor with? With the release of 1989, there was virtually nothing to separate her from other pop artists. You still had her usual subject matter, true. But it becomes much harder to excuse that subject matter when it’s not presented in a way that’s actually interesting. Songs about dating celebrities, beefing with other celebrities, and complaining about your media portrayal—these are not interesting of themselves.
And maybe it’s silly to expect more from an artist like Swift. But for all intents and purposes, it’s hard to escape the feeling that she transformed herself into a virtual nonentity with her second and final transition to pop. Old Taylor wasn’t killed. Rather, she evaporated into the stratosphere of undefined pop singles, impossible to differentiate from one another.
For her to declare Old Taylor dead, she might at least establish an identity to do away with. And to do so in a song that blatantly apes “I’m Too Sexy” seems all the more ironic. Despite her hopes to present a new Taylor, she has so far only managed to do so in word, not deed.
So why raise all this noise about killing Old Taylor?
It’s not new. It’s not pushing any boundaries. And it’s certainly not changing anyone’s opinion of Swift. In the absence of any concrete identity, the best she can do is to generate controversy to keep people interested. Whoever it was that America fell in love with in the first place has been completely erased.
There’s no Taylor left to kill.