A Christian perspective on Taylor Swift’s song, on her career, and hoping she will replace her lost innocence with virtue.
By Mark D. Harris
I rarely comment on trends and events in the entertainment world, mostly because I don’t follow it. I do follow my daughter’s life, however, and she asked me to comment on Taylor Swift’s latest music video, Look What You Made Me Do. So here I write, as a fool rushing in where wise men never go.
Until now, my only exposure to Taylor Swift’s music occurred when our youth choir director included her song Shake it Off (2014) in the choir’s repertoire for our missions trip to Montreal (2015). He wanted to use the familiar music to gather crowds for our Christian concerts. Taylor Swift (1989-) was born in Pennsylvania and moved to Nashville in 2004 for a career in country music. She was successful, transitioned to pop music, and now is one of the best-selling musical artists of all time.
Taylor’s first big hit, Our Song (2007), was about her and a boyfriend. It seems fairly traditional for country music, including a guitar, a fiddle, a porch, a mention of God, and a little naughtiness that “mom don’t know.” You Belong With Me (2009) is about a high school girl who wants a certain boy to realize that she is the right girl for him. Its genre is pop, but it still has a positive tone and a happy ending. Unfortunately, rapper Kanye West interrupted her acceptance speech for the MTV music video award that she won for that song, thus beginning a feud that continues today.
As fame grows, so does trouble. Bad Blood (2014) has none of the sweetness of her earlier songs, focusing on destruction, and revenge. Taylor Swift typically writes songs from her personal life, and some say that Bad Blood was inspired when she was betrayed by a friend. Swift has been criticized for her personal relationships, has been the victim of sexual assault, and has been attacked for her earlier clean image.
Her latest hit, Look What You Made Me Do, from the album Reputation, is dark. It is not clear from the video who made her do what, but one wonders if the title could be Look What You Made Me Become. The theme is the death of her reputation, with her post-mortem self rising as a zombie from the grave, and her current self cutting the wings off an airplane called “Reputation”.
The phrase “Look What You Made Me Do” is passive, with the speaker trying to give up responsibility for what he or she has done. This hope is vain, because in the final reckoning, everyone pays for his or her own sins (Deuteronomy 24:16, Jeremiah 31:30), or lets Jesus take them instead (Isaiah 53:4-6). The album focuses on reputation, how Taylor Swift perceives that she appears in the eyes of people, but says nothing about character, how she perceives that she looks in the eyes of God. The fear of man is a snare (Proverbs 29:25), and she, like most of us, seems to be trapped in it.
Gone is her image of sweetness and innocence, a fact that she recognizes when she sings “But I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time” and “I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me.” Swift summarizes her change with “I’m sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now”, “Why?”, “Oh, ’cause she’s dead!” The song ends with Taylor Swift standing with her alter egos accusing each other of “being a fake”, “playing the victim”, and asking to be “excluded from this narrative.”
Forbes estimated Swift’s net worth at $280 million in 2017, and she has 86 million followers on Twitter. If ever a woman had everything that this world can offer – money, beauty, power, and fame – she has it. Billions of people around the world would probably say that they would love to trade places with her.
But would they? More importantly, would Taylor Swift now trade places with her younger self? She has gained much since her move to Nashville 13 years ago, but she seems to have also lost much. Does getting “harder” make you “smarter?” Is it good to “trust no one” and have “no one trust you?” Taylor’s face is colder in her more recent photographs, and her vocal tone has more edge. Swift once said that her relationship with her fans is the “longest and best relationship she ever had.” If that is true, is that what she wants, or what is best for her? After all, it is not good for man (or woman) to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Has her success been a Faustian bargain? Like Linda Mason in Holiday Inn, has she given up what she really loved for what is phony? If she has, does she realize it?
I do not know her personally, so the only window that I have into her life is through the media; a cloudy glass at best. I am not trying to criticize or demean her at all, for she has faced struggles and temptations that I will never know. Faced with the same, I probably would not have done as well. I have only taken a small sample of her songs – perhaps she has new ones that with the same freshness and playfulness of her earlier work. Perhaps not. We must appreciate her talents, her philanthropy, and acknowledge that her music has influenced millions. We must also understand that everything she has, from her talents to her success, is a gift from God. The same is true for everyone.
Look What You Made Me Do is a sad and angry rap-style song that seems to come from a betrayed and bitter heart. Did the pressures of fame and fortune make her that way? Was it inevitable? Does she want out, as she implies when she asks to be “excluded from this narrative?” Is there a way out? Is she trapped by her prior life, as in Hotel California’s “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave?” Or is this just dark satire, making her happy as more and more millions of dollars roll in?
The Bible tells us that we are all fake – the only completely real person is Jesus Christ. We are all betrayed and betrayers. We are all sad and angry. And yet those who truly follow Jesus have His Spirit living in them. We grow in the fruits of His Spirit every day. Those who truly know Christ continually increase in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This is a guarantee from the Almighty. Is God’s promise worth $270 million, and 86 million Twitter followers? That is a question for each of us, including Taylor Swift, to decide.