From time to time I have commented on the career of Taylor Swift  and on the fact that I tend to view myself as being somewhat like her in writing personally and even confessionally as she has throughout her career. For those historians of music who seek to write about the career of Taylor Swift, it is likely that 2017 will be seen as her “heel turn” for those who are familiar with wrestling. Somewhat predictably, critics have been pouring their scorn on the #1 hit “Look What You Made Me Do.” It is not my attempt to discuss the lyrics of this song in detail, or the somewhat joyless nature of its music, but rather an attempt to view its framing in such a way that this song and its reception makes a great deal more sense than it may at present, to at least those few people who care about the sort of drama that the song involves.
A couple years ago, Kanye West, longtime Taylor Swift bete noire, released a song called “Famous” where he joked about wanting to have sex with Taylor Swift because he “made that b**** famous,” to put it somewhat inaccurately and indelicately. At the time they had their first and most fateful run-in, Taylor Swift had enjoyed two successful country albums with wholesome lyrics and general acclaim and had already demonstrated that she was rather sensitive, where Kanye stole the spotlight from her and tried to defend the greatness of a Beyonce song he felt had been robbed. Taylor’s instinctive reply to the lyrics of “Famous” were to take the moral high ground and turn her own irritation into an appeal for others to be strong in the face of others who would try to steal credit for the hard work it takes to be successful in the music industry or any other industry for that matter. Kanye’s wife then released a tape that showed that Taylor Swift had approved of the first part of the lyric and it was assumed that Taylor had been trying to be dishonest, which more or less induced her (in her own mind) to take the heel turn for which she has been roundly condemned, to the point where “Look What You Made Me Do” has been compared to the language of an abuser who engages in victim blaming.
Let us stop for a moment and realize, though, that Taylor Swift had not been lying. She is a worldly enough young woman to think it flattering that Kanye West would want to portray himself as wanting to be with her, but she was never mad about that part of the line anyway. Taylor Swift has been a star since she was a teenager–I suspect she’s pretty used to people wanting to be with her by now. What she was upset about was that Kanye West had tried to steal the credit for her fame, and it was that which she railed about and is still evidently upset about. And nowhere on the tape that was released by Kanye’s wife did Taylor approve of that line. Taylor Swift knows that she put in a great deal of hard work in order to be famous, and she isn’t going to let a braying rapper have any of the credit for it. What Kanye did, and has continued to do through the “Famous” fallout that is at the root of “Look What You Made Me Do,” is to make Taylor Swift a creature of celebrity culture rather than someone who is known for her music. Those of us who greatly preferred Swift’s sound in the beginning are probably not very pleased about the repercussions of that change from a popular country-pop starlet to someone who as decisively started to fight back at that celebrity culture which has made her into a target of ridicule and envy rather than a figure who ought to be respected for having been as successful as she is.
As someone who has listened to a fair amount of music from Ms. Swift, I have seen a fairly consistent desire on her part for love and respect. Throughout her career, she has released a series of albums that have varied widely in genre but have always been written with a deeply personal approach. Her first album, lest we forget, contained a kiss-off of a boy who cheated on her in which the letters of his name were capitalized in the liner notes of the album, and later on she wrote a song called “Dear John” about a famous ex-boyfriend who had also, in her eyes, done her wrong. She even, early in her career, wrote a song called “Mean” about a mean music critic. “Look What You Made Me Do” is not the writing of an abusive person who wants to punish the listening public with a terrible song, but rather the cry of a deeply wounded and sensitive person who mistakenly thought that her efforts at becoming famous and not merely successful would add to the love and respect she received from others and has found out that she was deeply mistaken, and found that her words and actions have been twisted and distorted and misconstrued leaving her unable to do anything about it. Even her songs, which she once viewed as her way to communicate with a world that has likely always misunderstood her at least a little, have been twisted so far that Taylor likely feels unable to explain her side of the story or defend herself to any outside of her loyal fans, and so she lashes out as sensitive people tend to do, leaning in to the criticism directed at her only to be misunderstood as an abuser rather than as a victim of misunderstanding and misinterpretation. She is neither the first nor the last person who is likely to have that problem.
 See, for example: