Internet culture moves at a million miles an hour.
Taylor Swift was once the undisputed queen of the top 40 with scant a hater in sight. Swift had the record sales, the sold-out stadium tours and the sympathy of the world. She was the girl next door and a hopeless romantic who consistently got her heart broken.
But Swift’s streak of warm reception burned out, and she has not taken it lightly. Her new album “Reputation,” due for release on Nov. 10, will be her sixth studio release. Two singles from the album, “Look What You Made Me Do” and “…Ready for It?,” have been released and are drastically different from anything she has ever produced before. The rapping on “…Ready For It?” is unrecognizable for an artist whose introduction to the world was opening for Tim McGraw and Brad Paisley.
The album cover for “Reputation” features Swift and her name written in various newspaper fonts, teasing that she is coming for the critics in the media who seemingly never leave her alone. While she has definitely addressed the haters before in songs like “Mean” or “Shake It Off,” this appears different. It is as if the whole album was made in anger.
The past year and a half has contained a series of body blows to the “adorkable” aesthetic Swift has built over the years. These blows led her to her most experimental album to date.
It all started when she committed what seemed to be the most heinous act on the internet, staying silent while nearly every other celebrity under the sun was throwing themselves at the Hillary Clinton campaign. Swift posted a picture on Instagram at her polling place telling people to get out and vote on Election Day, never specifying who she supported. The lack of a formal endorsement fueled baseless speculation that she may have voted for Donald Trump.
Then Kanye West happened. Swift always held the moral high ground in the incident that occurred during the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. Rapper Kanye West snatched the microphone from 18-year-old Swift and told the world that “Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time.” As the years went by, Swift accepted West’s later apology, even going as far as to write the song “Innocent” about the moment of live TV magic.
West’s 2016 album release “The Life of Pablo,” featured a track titled “Famous,” in which he made a pair of disparaging remarks about Swift. The rapper said he was the reason she was famous, and that they “still might have sex.” Swift upholds that she was never okay with West calling her a “bitch” in the song, nor her naked likeness being used in the music video for “Famous.”
West’s wife Kim Kardashian stirred the pot by posting a video of a partial phone call between her husband and Swift. In the video, there was no explicit agreement over the lyrics or her portrayal in West’s music video. However, the call seemed pleasant and Swift endorsed the line “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex,” calling it “tongue-in-cheek.”
Social media quickly deemed West and Kardashian “in the right,” and the negative spotlight continued to shine on Swift. Fans on Twitter reached a fevered pitch and attacked Swift for falsely playing the victim in the situation. Ever since, internet trolls have bombarded Swift with the snake emoji in reference to her “villainous” underside.
Then this summer, Swift went to trial with Colorado radio host David Mueller over a sexual assault incident in 2013. Mueller groped the singer at a backstage meet and greet, and the moment of the incident was actually caught in a picture. Swift sued in civil court for the symbolic figure of just $1. The singer wanted the trial “to serve as an example for other women.” Ironically, Swift sought to keep the incident off the radar and only launched a suit after the radio host sued her for “getting him fired.” The host’s case was thrown out and Swift won her suit.
In response to the events that unfolded, Swift became silent. She then deleted all previous posts on social media, with her first post on Instagram being a video of a slithering snake on a black background. The cryptic posts were followed by the release of her first single off “Reputation.”
The growth and experimentation Swift has taken as an artist cannot be understated. Her first ever single “Tim McGraw,” released all the way back in 2006, was a country song with banjos and fiddles. She has evolved over time, but pop was always beckoning. It usually does for country artists, whose ceiling is much lower than it is in top 40 pop.
Only time will tell how “Reputation” is received publicly and commercially. If “Look What You Made Me Do” is any indicator of what is to come, Swift is likely to keep breaking Billboard records and the haters are likely to keep hating.