Is there a message to be found in the video for Taylor Swift’s “…Ready for It?” As our first responders aptly noted, the video, directed by Joseph Kahn, makes a hash out of the visual designs of various sci-fi franchises: the orb thing from Prometheus, Blade Runner’s kanji-pockmarked claustrophobic nightlife, other … stuff. It’s not really important what’s a reference to what. What counts is whether the video has anything coherent to say on its own, and how that narrative, if it exists, functions in the larger process of Revamping Taylor Swift’s Image for a New Album.
There are two Taylor Swifts in the video. Witchy Dark Taylor is dressed like Little Black Riding Hood; Pale Taylor’s default setting is a (white) nude-flesh-toned cyborg. Angelic Light Taylor is trapped in a cube where she displays a variety of body transformations: first encased in a black, futuristic Catwoman-soldier outfit, then all-white atop a white cyberhorse, then all-white atop a white cyberhorse-dragon hybrid. Dark Taylor, alone outside the cube, watches with all the lust that she can convey in a gaze, which isn’t much, but also isn’t nothing. As Pale Taylor’s attempts to break out of the cube intensify, Dark Taylor attempts to shut her down. It doesn’t work: After some binary fireworks, Pale Taylor shatters the cube and Dark Taylor’s cyborg body with it. (Turns out Dark Taylor was a cyborg too.) Pale Taylor ascends some kind of staircase into the light, where she transforms, it looks like, into Dark Taylor. The end.
The point seems to be that Taylor Swift is doomed to be a robot. You can kind of figure out the cycle: Upon transforming into the new Dark Taylor, Pale Taylor will access the Orb, a glossy CGI metaphor for creativity; the Orb generates the Cube and the new Pale Taylor; Dark Taylor walks through a kanji-littered hallway, opens a security gate to the hangar where the Cube is, and observes the new Pale Taylor, and so the story repeats, forever. The concept is very clever, the execution very expensive, and the emotional stakes very low. It’s a music video, after all, and the lyrics have virtually nothing to do with the visuals: There’s nothing even remotely related to the “island breeze” of the pre-chorus and whatever relation the video has to the song’s depiction of a romance with some guy (Joe Alwyn, we suppose, but Swift’s boyfriends are interchangeable, beardless parts) is reduced to the level of an Easter egg.
It’s nice to see Swift come out and embrace plasticity, but to care much about the transformation either way seems to be beside the point. The days when she mastered the emotional dynamics of country music like Deep Blue mastered chess are gone for good; fans and listeners will have to deal with her as she is, which is to say nakedly (but worry not, suburban parents, still sexlessly) unreal. She’s discovered the ideal vehicle for her content-free, synthetic, and extremely capital-intensive statement of identity. Forget the doubters and the haters! Taylor Swift can be anything she wants, so long as it’s computer-generated.