Decoding Taylor Swift's Loaded References in 'Look What You Made Me Do'
    • MONDAY, AUGUST 28, 2017

    • Posted by: Olivia Lewis


    Taylor Swift unveiled her new video for "Look What You Made Me Do" yesterday at the VMAs, and boy, is that video loaded. She makes reference after reference to her various beefs and past media criticisms, telling everyone loud and clear that the old Taylor is dead. Although the message is clear - Taylor is (supposedly) shedding all of her old reputations - the video still begs the question: who is the new Taylor? What did you, or maybe we, make her do? Well, we can at least narrow it down to what the new Taylor is not, by taking a deeper look at the symbolism and references in her new video.

    1. Nils Sjoberg


    While the video begins with the pretty obvious metaphor of Taylor Swift as a zombie, escaping the grave labeled "Here Lies Taylor Swift's Reputation" - a kind of undead rebirth - a more subtle reference is hidden in the background. Around 30 seconds into the video, if you look closely you can see that the gravestone next to her has the name "Nils Sjoberg." This is a reference to the pseudonym Taylor used when she ghost-wrote Calvin Harris' "This Is What You Came For" while they were still dating. Drama ensued when Swift revealed that she actually wrote the song shortly after they broke up.

    It seems like this could mean that the Calvin Harris-dating, ghostwriting Taylor is dead. I'd say this means that the calling-out-people-who-wrong-her Taylor is dead, but…

    2. The dollar bill in the bathtub


    While this reference is visibly subtle, the implication is pretty obvious. Recently, Taylor Swift won her case against the radio DJ who originally tried to sue her for defamation after she made it known that he had groped her during a photo op. Instead of making the case about money, Taylor countersued for only $1. Out of all the stands and statements Taylor has ever made, I think this was the most important. She made her point by standing unflinchingly against the questioning and doubt that victims of sexual assault face every time they take a case to court. She refused to be blamed for the DJ losing his job - which, after all, was a result of the decision he made.

    3. Queen of the snakes


    Taylor Swift has a pretty lengthy backstory when it comes to snakes. It all started with Taylor's breakup with Calvin Harris. After the drama she started by revealing her ghostwriting pseudonym, fans on Harris' side took to Twitter, using the snake emoji. Equating Taylor Swift with the snake emoji became even more widespread when the whole Kanye/Kim Kardashian incident happened. Swift was upset with Kanye West when he released his song "Famous" with the infamous line, "I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/Why? I made that bitch famous." However, Swift was soon exposed in a 2016 episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians in a Snapchat video meant to show Swift talking on the phone with Kanye and approving the lyric. The video did show them discussing the song, but not specifically the "that bitch" reference. Again, this incident prompted comparisons between Swift and snakes.

    An even more subtle reference in this particular scene is the "Et tu, Brute" engraved on Taylor's throne, a classic expression of betrayal. Obviously, in this scene, Taylor sheds her reputation as a snake as she calls out the people who betrayed her and painted her in that light.

    4. Robbing Streaming Co.


    One of Taylor Swift's very public complaints has been her criticism of how streaming services like Spotify compensate artists unfairly. Until a few days ago, Taylor Swift refused to let Spotify stream her songs in protest of the service. Although she claimed to be fighting for fair compensation for artists across the board, people criticized her for doing it for the money. Swift addresses the criticism head-on in the video, showing her old reputation literally grabbing money from "Streaming Co.," which might as well just be Spotify.

    5. Squad headquarters


    Another criticism the media has made about Swift over the years is about her "squad," which consists almost entirely of models. People across social media have questioned Taylor's motive with her "squad," some assuming that they're not really friends and that it's entirely superficial, or that Taylor's whole feminist, uplifting women thing is more marketing strategy than genuine belief. Taylor Swift, the fake feminist, is yet another dead Taylor reputation.

    6. "I <3 T.S." shirts


    While people kind of jumped to conclusions before the release of the video, taking Taylor's scene with a horde of backup dancers as a reference to Beyonce's "Formation," the actual reference in that scene is about the "I <3 T.S." shirts. The reference is a throwback to when everyone made fun of her then-boyfriend Tom Hiddleston for wearing an "I <3 T.S." tank in the ocean while hanging out with her and the squad. The relationship was highly publicized but somewhat short-lived, lasting from May to September of 2016.

    7. "Junior Jewels" T-shirt


    As one last reference to her beloved squad, the "You Belong With Me"-era Taylor wears a T-shirt signed with the names of all her famous friends, including Selena (Gomez), Ryan (Reynolds), and Ed (Sheeran).

    8. "Dead" Taylors skit


    Taylor finishes the video by lining up all of her past reputations and pitting them against each other. Snake-Taylor, "Shake It Off" Taylor, "You Belong With Me" Taylor, and a bunch of other iterations, through quips at each other, echoing the media's various criticisms they've had for Swift over the years. She's fake, she's playing the victim, she "would very much like to be excluded from this narrative." Tired of each other, her old reputations eventually scream in unison, "Shut up!" This ending skit paints the clearest picture of everything Taylor is supposedly not anymore. She's not the sweet, innocent nice girl, she's not the social media obsessed girl finding receipts, she's not playing the victim. But still, she doesn't seem to answer the question of who she is now. She may want to leave all of those reputations behind, but can she actually do it? Can she actually convince everyone that she's not anything like what people have assumed she's like all this time?
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