It’s no secret that Taylor Swift’s new single, “Look What You Made Me Do,” is a directly vindictive callout on her enemies.
But if there were any doubt at all who Swift was talking about in the new hit released late last week, all that has been erased with the music video that dropped last night during the MTV Video Music Awards.
As of Monday afternoon, the video was the top trending item on YouTube, and had already garnered nearly 25 million views.
The pop star isn’t exactly beating around the bush in who she’s referring to in the song. Here’s a look at the subtle — and not-so-subtle — imagery in Swift’s new video and what it means.
During the opening segment, just after zombie-Taylor rises from the grave, one of the tombstones behind her reads “Nils Sjoberg.” Those who kept up with the messy breakup she had with Calvin Harris will know that’s the pseudonym Swift used to co-write “This is What You Came For” with Harris — a revelation that led Harris to go on a Twitter rant last summer.
In the next sequence, Swift can be seen bathing in a tub full of pearls — and a $1 bill. The significance of the bill harkens back to her court win earlier this month, in which a jury decided that a radio host, David Mueller, groped her during a concert photo op four years ago. After Mueller sued Swift for his ruined career, the singer-songwriter sued back, saying in her countersuit that she wanted a symbolic $1 and the chance to stand up for other women.
In the days leading up to Swift’s new single, the singer wasn’t shy about using snakes to tease her fans on social media. And yes, there was plenty of snake imagery in the video as well — from the rings on Swift’s hand to the creatures crawling around her on a gilded throne (one even went so far as to pour her a cup of tea.) This seems to be a pretty clear reference to Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, who had exposed that Swift had approved lyrics for West’s track “Famous” — after Swift had denounced them in the press. The snake imagery is a callback to the emoji Kardashian used to describe Swift amid the “Famous” furor.
West and Kardashian aren’t the only A-listers Swift has beef with. The falling out between Swift and her former friend, Katy Perry, is one of the most famous celeb friendship breakups, and has been well documented in Swift’s music before (“Bad Blood” immediately comes to mind, as well as Perry’s new “Swish Swish.”) In Swift’s new video, there are several scenes that could be construed as “screw-you” moments to the other pop star, including a sequence where Swift, dressed like Perry, crashes her car into a pole before holding up a Grammy— signaling that she has won several of the music awards and that Perry has won, well, none.
In another scene, Swift seems to evoke imagery of animals that have been central to Perry’s music, including a tiger — Perry famously sings, “I’ve got the eye of a tiger” in her hit “Roar” — and the cat masks that are similar to those seen in Perry’s “Dark Horse” video.
In another scene, as Swift sits on a throne, the phrase “Et tu Brute” can be seen engraved on some of the furniture and columns. The famous line is from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” referring to when Caesar’s friend Brutus betrayed him — and could likely be Swift throwing shade at Perry and their lost friendship.
Swift has also received some flak over her girl-squad of models and actors — a wide cast of which could be seen in her “Bad Blood” video — and she made some references to those friends; in one scene, she seemed to command an army of plastic-looking women.
Later on, a Swift dressed like the simpering teen she played in the “You Belong With Me” music video, has all the names of her A-list friends written on her shirt, referencing celebs like Lena Dunham, Blake Lively, Ryan Reynolds, Gigi Hadid, and Selena Gomez, among others.
There are also scenes where Swift throws shade at the media for seizing on her love life: She wears a shirt proclaiming “Blind in love” in one sequence, and then is joined by male backup dancers wearing “I (heart) TS” shirts — a reference to last summer when Tom Hiddleston, then Swift’s beau, was widely mocked for wearing a similar shirt while frolicking on a beach.
(A Buzzfeed writer also pointed out that the number of backup dancers correlates to the number of Swift’s famous exes, from Joe Jonas to Hiddleston.)
Of course, the symbolism of Swift’s reputation as a sweet, naive, and lovelorn country singer dying amid the media spats and high-profile feuds is pretty obvious — from the song’s lyrics to Swift being surrounded by the roles she played in former videos.
At one point, Swift stands on top of a tower of her old selves — who are desperately reaching out for her before they end up dispersing and falling as Swift utters her line, “I’m sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh — because she’s dead.”
The video ends with more than a dozen Taylor Swift clones taking a bow before they all start bickering amongst themselves. The “You Belong With Me” Swift is mocked for her surprised expression, while the romantic country role she played in “Mean” is told: “Stop acting all nice, you are so fake.”
Then, as the Swift-as-Perry character seems to record a video with her phone, another asks what she’s doing. The Perry character responds: “Getting receipts. Going to edit this later,” a reference that could be taken by the line in Perry’s new single “Swish Swish” in which she croons, “Karma’s not a liar/She keeps receipts.” It could also be a callout to West and Kardashian for releasing tapes of Swift approving the lyrics for “Famous.” A Grammy-toting Swift then deadpans, “I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative,” a quote from Swift herself amid the West/Kardashian drama.
Although Swift’s song itself seemed to get a lukewarm reception when it dropped last week, many fans seem to agree on one thing: The music video is a vengeance masterpiece.
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