Everyone hated Taylor Swift in 2016 — allegedly.
If you were on Twitter during this time, you probably witnessed the so-called downfall of the pop princess over another mishap with Kanye West. Despite what the media and Kim Kardashian may have made you believe, Swift was no villain. But she sure as hell capitalized on her presumed “reputation.”
Let’s take it back to 2016 when West released his song “Famous” featuring this lyric: “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? I made that bitch famous.” Swift denied ever approving the lyric. Months later, though, Kardashian released a Snapchat video of a secretly recorded phone call between West and Swift, showing Swift’s alleged approval. The video was later proved to be edited in West’s favor. To add fuel to the already burning-hot flames, the “Famous” music video depicted a wax sculpture of Swift lying naked in bed with various celebrities.
For years, tabloids and late-night shows took jabs at Swift’s love life, and the media painted Swift as an overly emotional serial dater — a villainization never assigned to men. But after her feud with West and Kardashian took the internet by storm, she became a different kind of villain: a lying, fake one. This personification came as a surprise to many; until 2016, Swift had been America’s sweetheart. She embodied the innocent, good-girl persona to a T. Sure, she liked writing about her ex-boyfriends, but her songs weren’t explicit or overtly sexual, and she was politically neutral. When she appeared to lie about the “Famous” situation, she was quickly and excitedly canceled, hence #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty.
So what was up with the snake comparison? Well, snakes are calculating, cunning and deceitful — everything that Swift was made out to be.
The snake affiliation started after Calvin Harris criticized Swift and her team for claiming writing credits on his hit song “This Is What You Came For.” #TaylorSwiftIsASnake went viral and people flooded Swift’s social media accounts with the snake emoji. The intense public shaming continued after Kardashian released the phone call video and shaded Swift in a tweet about National Snake Day.
But Swift reclaimed the snake as her own. After a year-long hiatus and anticipating the release of her upcoming album reputation, Swift deleted all of her Instagram posts. A few days later, she posted short, glitchy videos of slithering snakes with no context. This was all in preparation for the album’s first single, “Look What You Made Me Do,” and its music video.
The music video begins in a graveyard, zooming in on a headstone that reads, “Here Lies Taylor Swift’s Reputation.” Swift emerges from the ground as a zombie and buries her former self in a grave. Later, Swift sits on a throne, adorned with snake jewelry and surrounded by snakes who serve her tea. As different versions of Swift signifying her different “eras” (e.g. “You Belong With Me” Taylor) collapse under themselves, a red-lipped Swift says into a phone, “The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh, ‘cause she’s dead.” At the end of the video, the other Taylors surround her, making snide remarks like “There she goes, playing the victim again” and “I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative.”
“Look What You Made Me Do” was just a preview of what reputation represented for Swift. Unlike her five previous albums, Swift did no press interviews for the release of reputation. After all, she kind of disappeared for a year after everything that went down during the summer of 2016. It is hard to imagine Swift’s state of mind after people launched massive internet bullying campaigns against her and questioned her authenticity left and right. And yet she rose above it all to take control of her narrative. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Swift said that reputation was a metaphor: She wrote the album from the perspective of a character that others perceived her to be, much like that of her emotional ex-lover persona in “Blank Space.”
reputation is incredibly self-aware, but the album isn’t consumed by Swift’s vengeance or anger. “Look What You Made Me Do” and “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” are tame “revenge” songs compared to the ones that already existed: “Picture to Burn,” “Better Than Revenge” and “Bad Blood.” Instead, the album is filled with vulnerability and love. The last two tracks on the album — “Call It What You Want” (the lyrics “I want to wear his initial / On a chain ‘round my neck, chain ‘round my neck / Not because he owns me / But ‘cause he really knows me” kill me every time I hear them) and “New Year’s Day” — signify Swift’s acceptance of herself after struggle and settling into her new relationship at the time.
My friends and I grew up listening to Swift’s music, and during this era, we still enjoyed listening despite the social media hate campaign. Some people are probably tired of “in defense of Taylor Swift” sentiments, but I’m not. For Swift to take so much hate, backlash and misogyny and turn it into art — that’s something to admire.
Books Beat Editor Ava Seaman can be reached at email@example.com.