I know for a fact that Taylor Swift lives for the drama, because she let that loud, dry, accusatory “Look What You Made Me Do” single hang in the public consciousness for over a week when the real kill shot was still waiting to be delivered.
“…Ready for It?” is the better single in almost every way. It doesn’t sacrifice melody for teen dramz or drag our precious time and attention back to snubs we’re honestly too close to nuclear war to give a fuck about anymore. The “new Taylor” pageantry is more impactful when implied than stated out loud. She’s giving you trop house! She’s giving you accents! She’s giving you … bars! (The flow is borrowed… again. Run these verses back-to-back with Nicki Minaj’s lines about weaves from Beyoncé’s “Flawless” remix: “Lookin’ Trinidadian, Japanese, and Indian / Got Malaysian, got that yaki, that wavy Brazilian.” Spot on.)
For better or worse, it seems as if Taylor has come round to secure her market share by swiping the other girls’ powers one by one, like a pop game Pickle Rick. The synthesis is still choppy, though, so absent a leveling pre-chorus to smooth the ride between the bratty confidence of the verses and the coy sweetness of the chorus, “…Ready for It?” comes off like a sleek, swaggy girl-group dance number with a killer Katy hook hot-glued onto the end. Take a year off, and you run the risk of ceding ground to your runners-up. “…Ready for It?” doesn’t reinvent pop or Taylor, but it does get her name out on a product built to keep pace with current trends. If this is the one that’s destined to come blurting out of supermarkets and flashy sports television promos all year, I can live with it.
That said, two weeks into the rapidly escalating Reputation launch campaign, I’m gripped by a cynical thought. If I had a dollar for every fetching, well-to-do white girl who underwent a dramatic, empowering makeover by assuming the style, substance, and attitude of hip-hop, I could easily snap up my pick of the luxury high-rise apartments overlooking Central Park in Manhattan. Cue Miley Cyrus muting her brunette roots and suburban Nashville affectations to resurface as a twerk-positive Three 6 Mafia affiliate.
Taylor Swift made it almost a decade without falling prey to the hammy, edgy coming-of-age theatrics that women in pop are pushed toward in their 20s. As a songwriting wunderkind, she was allowed to contain multitudes that performers who don’t have as much of a hand in writing their own material are not afforded. She skipped the phase where they dramatically break out of teenybopper contrivances, the “Oops … I Did It Again” maneuver, because she was sold to us as a fount of singer-songwriter realness from the jump. (I think this is why so many rock critics latched onto Red and 1989. It was machine-shop radio pop that could still be sold as auteurist.) I’m not sure why she thirsts for ego death in 2017 or why her reinvention is centered in rap flows and flashy eight-counts, her two worst skill sets.
I’m especially suspicious of Taylor siphoning rap and R&B vibes after public spats with rappers she has time and again presented as mean-spirited. I don’t think anyone as mindful of optics as Taylor Swift ventures into hip-hop with nefarious intent, but it sure is funny that the same Taylor who jumped the gun, chiding Nicki Minaj for “pitting women against each other” and wrongfully accused Kanye of attacking her on record at last year’s Grammys is back making loud use of all the same moves. Life comes at you fast.