The video, which Swift premiered during Sunday night’s VMAs, features a bunch of Taylors—but few original ideas
Less than an hour into Sunday night’s MTV Video Music Awards, Taylor Swift premiered the video for “Look What You Made Me Do,” the first single off her forthcoming album, Reputation. The video, which aired before any Game of Thrones–induced viewer exodus could take effect, showcased a supposedly resurrected Swift bludgeoning us with her desire to simultaneously disregard and rehab public opinion of her.
Even before the VMAs, the internet caught wind of the uncanny resemblance between “Look What You Made Me Do” and Beyoncé’s “Formation” video. Stills of the video released before its premiere showed Swift wearing a black crop top, shorts, and fishnets and standing in front of a … it’s hard not to say formation of backup dancers also wearing black crop tops. Director Joseph Kahn claims he drew his inspiration from a music video made in a North Korean prison in 2006. Um, OK.
The full video dashed all chances that the Beyoncé rip-offs were simply unfortunate coincidences. The obvious “Formation” lookalikes were still there, just as bad as we’d feared, but so was much, much more––perhaps most notably, Swift strutting around a bank vault and brandishing a baseball bat. Even if the first few seconds of “Look What You Made Me Do” focus on Taylor as a zombie emerging from the grave, the video still screams “Sorry.”
That’s one thing Swift clearly wasn’t, though. The most striking part of the video (and, for those of you keeping score at home, yet another Beyoncé copycat moment) followed the music itself––the video finishes with a line of Taylor Swifts: curly-haired country Taylor, pajama-pants “You Belong With Me” Taylor, hissing snake-charmer Taylor. It’s not a chummy crowd. Swift’s various iterations bad-mouth each other, tossing out descriptions of her that we’ve all heard before: “There she goes, playing the victim again,” says biker-chick Taylor of wholesome country Taylor, who’s in tears after being called fake. 2009 VMA-interruption Taylor leans into the mic and says, “I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative.”
Swift’s choice to repurpose public criticism has been almost admirable at times, but this video finds her in the catch-22 that’s plagued her for years: Every attempt to seem self-aware comes off as cold and manipulative, especially when the video that’s meant to prove her innocence looks like it was lifted straight from another artist. Spitting back the insults people have flung at her doesn’t make her seem any less fake or any less of a self-made victim. Rehashing the narrative doesn’t seem like the best way to exclude herself from it.