She’s back with a new track, but is it any good? Her last two lead singles were ebullient slices of joyous pop – We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together (Red) and Shake It Off (1989). Look What You Made Me Do only came out last night, so I’m listening to it with fresh ears. I genuinely like Taylor’s stuff, so I’m hoping she hasn’t ‘done a Miley Cyrus‘ and returned with a clanger.
0:00 – Intro
Orchestral samples. Nice! Sounds like we’re in Disney territory.
0:14 – End of the Intro
I spoke too soon. Here’s that ascending strings thing you hear in horror movie trailers. In this context, it’s the orchestral equivalent of a record scratch, signifying the impending subversion of expectations.
0:16 – Verse 1
Consider them subverted! Taylor’s going dark for her new single. The verse is all minor chords, sinister synths, and moody lyrics that channel Britney’s combative Piece Of Me.
0:28 – “No, I don’t like you”
The harshest diss she’s yet delivered on record.
0:30 – Second Half of Verse 1
The percussion adds claps and snares. Standard verse development. The simple melody’s gotten quite repetitive by now.
0:45 – Pre-Chorus
Phew, I was on the verge of getting bored but here’s the pre-chorus to shake things up. Like someone learning to drive a manual car (or ‘stick shift’ for my American reader/s) the pace awkwardly lurches into a higher gear, which isn’t the smoothest of transitions. The stabby piano, propulsive clapping and sinister synth pad all work though.
0:53 – “I got a list of names and yours is in red underlined”
Not to dwell too much on the lyrics, but this nod to Blank Space is worrying. I know that some people love her self-mythologising and autobiographical teasers, but this lazy recycling reeks of having run out of things to say.
0:57 – End of the Pre-Chorus
I wish I had the vocabulary to describe what the orchestral samples are doing here in the short lead-in to the chorus. How about “It’s like the orchestra is going down a big slide“? Yes, that’ll do.
1:00 – Chorus
Oh Taylor, where did it all go wrong? This is the Right Said Fred bit everyone’s talking about. Yep, the phrasing and melody is I’m Too Sexy, only minus any sense of fun. There’s nothing much going on in this minimalist arrangement; I assume there’ll be more happening in the next chorus, but for now it’s just kick, snare and a bass. And not a killer hook in sight.
1:15 – Verse 2
She’s throwing in some backing vocals and fiddly production tricks now, to ornament the same dull melody from verse 1.
1:22 – 16-Bit Sample
Is that a sample of a motorbike revving up from Sega’s Road Rash?
1.27 – “Locked me out”
Ugh. She still hasn’t shaken off that bad songwriting habit of awkwardly cramming longish words into small spaces. In this instance, she’s trying to deliver the word “locked” on a semi-quaver note, which ends up sounding rushed and unnatural.
1:30 – A New Bit
So, Taylor finally acknowledges that the verse is a bore and switches to a brand new section halfway through. And by ‘brand new section’ I mean ‘the bridge from Shake It Off‘.
1:45 – Pre-Chorus 2
Ok, the pre-chorus is definitely the best part of the song…
2:00 – Chorus 2
…which makes the chorus again so crushingly disappointing. This time there’s a hi-hat though. And who doesn’t like hats?
2:15 – The Bridge
Back to the orchestra stuff. Now that I think about it, these aren’t samples at all, are they? If anyone has the cash to hire an orchestra or two, it’s Taylor. And the bit from before that I likened to an orchestra going down a slide? If anyone has the cash to build a giant slide…
2:45 – Pre-Chorus/Chorus Mashup
I always love when elements of a song get mashed together at the end. Here, Taylor puts the chorus topline (low-pass filtered for that underwater effect) over the pre-chorus backing. She also throws on some spoken word rubbish about the old Taylor being “dead”, giving the song some ’90s Goth bonus points.
3:00 – Double Chorus
Yep, we’re in for a final trudge through the chorus, twice. Still though, can I just say how incredibly satisfying it is that the chorus keeps hitting on the minute marks? Chorus 1 hit exactly a minute in, chorus 2 at minute 2 and now this. Glorious.
3:09 – Q*Bert
I take back all earlier criticisms of the chorus. The entire song redeems itself with this brief cameo appearance from ’80s arcade misanthrope Q*Bert (that’s him in the weird-sounding sample, in case you’re wondering). For me, the real song title will forever be ‘Look What You Made Me Do ft. Q*Bert’.
3:15 – Final Chorus
The stabby piano’s back, and is joined by a chime-like lead synth. It’s still not that interesting but it’s better than nothing.
3:26 – The End
It’s the lead synth’s turn on the aforementioned big slide, as the song finally wraps up with Taylor’s a capella vocals.
Lyrically, this is one of the most bitter pop songs I’ve ever heard. For a song that borrows its chorus from “I’m Too Sexy”, it is surprisingly no fun at all. She’s had better lead singles in the past; heck, she’s had better fifth-single-off-an-album releases in the past. Kudos must be given for the Saul Bass-inspired video, but beyond that this was her least enjoyable single yet.
For more from Fergal Stockton, read his live-blog of Miley Cyrus’ Malibu and Ireland’s entry into Eurovision 2017.