Make no mistake about it — Taylor Swift has plenty of feelings about what you think of her and the headlines she’s made in recent years, something that she reiterates relentlessly in her first single “Look What You Made Me Do” off her upcoming album Reputation.
If the track and album title (and all those creepy snake GIFs) weren’t obvious enough clues, Swift’s music video certainly drives home that fact that she feels keenly about being critiqued as a public figure and she’s back with a vengeance to call out her detractors. The video, which debuted on Sunday night at the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards — the setting for many a dramatic narrative in Swift’s life — shows the pop princess character viciously confronting past personas that she’s adopted in her life as well as the dramas that have surrounded her, from her highly-scrutinized romantic relationships to her years-long feud with Kanye West that flared up explosively last year when Kim Kardashian West “exposed” Swift on social media.
While the overall theme of the music video is pretty overt, there are plenty of hidden references to Swift’s controversies both past and present that you might have missed — read on to discover them below.
She’s here to bury her past personas — including her pseudonym Nils Sjoberg: Swift once helped pen a little song called “This Is What You Came For” with ex Calvin Harris. However, once the pair broke up, it was revealed that Swift co-wrote the song and provided some vocals under the pseudonym Nils Sjoberg, something that spurred a series of passionate tweets from Harris that accused the singer of stirring up drama and referenced her longtime feud with fellow pop princess Katy Perry. As the video opens, the undead version of Taylor Swift (which some fans see as a continuation of her persona from the “Out of the Woods” music video) digs a grave as the tombstone of Nils Sjoberg hovers in the background. On a more oblique note, the main tombstone from which zombie Swift emerges, reads “Here Lies Taylor Swift’s Reputation.”
She even goes so far as to reference where she feels that her reputation began getting attacked: Lying in the grave that zombie Swift is filling with dirt is Swift clad in the dress that she wore to the 2014 Met Gala, which marks the start of the 1989 era — a time that was marked with plenty of headlines about Swift’s personal and professional life. A few months after she attended the ball, her music video for the single “Shake It Off” was released, which drew criticism for its stereotypes about black women.
She wants you to remember her most recent lawsuit win: The shot of Taylor reclining in a bathtub of jewels shows a lone dollar bill amid the sparkling baubles, which could possibly symbolize the $1 she sought in damages during her recent case against David Mueller a former radio DJ in Colorado who she alleged groped her. Swift’s lawyer notably stated in his closing argument that the reason why the singer asked for only $1 was because it was a “single value of which is immeasurable to all women in this situation,” meaning that it affects all women, in all financial situations and that every woman should be able to say that it’s wrong.
The throne scene took on trust issues: Taylor, who’s recently appropriated the snake imagery she was pelted with on social media following her controversy with Kimye, sits on a golden throne while being served tea by slithering reptiles. Look closely though and you’ll see that the arms of the throne read “Et Tu Brute,” a reference to the betrayal that Julius Caesar suffered at the hands of his bestie Brutus, which might mean that this new Taylor isn’t feeling quite so comfortable with all of the high-profile connections she’s so famously collected over the years.
The phrase is also inscribed in gold on the columns of her snake-filled palace.
She’s sipping tea in the same manner as another famous celebrity: Sipping (and spilling tea) is no new feat, but Taylor’s manner and appearance while doing it parallels an Instagram from Kendall Jenner a little too closely. Kendall, who’s the half-sister of Kim Kardashian West, posted an Instagram of herself just days after Kardashian West revealed the phone conversation heard ’round the world between Taylor and Kanye via Snapchat. In the Instagram, Kendall is shown with her legs crossed, drinking a bottle of water, but she captioned it “tea time,” possibly referring to the colloquialism of sharing gossip by “spilling tea.” Taylor’s tea time in the video has more than a few similarities to Kendall, in both her stance (crossed legs) and style (sleek hair and a gown with a large slit). It’s also worth noting that Taylor specifically wears a Balmain gown, a brand that’s long championed the Kardashian/Jenner family. And then of course, there’s the fact that Taylor is literally sipping tea in the shot — tea time, indeed.
She’s probably, definitely mocking Katy Perry in this process: When Swift gets into a car crash in the music video, she’s driving a gold luxury sports car down a dead-end street, which is a lyric off the title song of her album Red, which failed to nab the Album of the Year at the 2014 Grammys. When the car door opens to flashing lights from the paparazzi, Swift’s angular bangs hairstyle and flashy style of dress bear a striking resemblance to her longtime foe Katy Perry. It’s also worth noting that she’s wearing a leopard print coat and has a leopard in the front seat of the car, as Perry’s fans are called “Katy Cats.” The fact that Swift is clutching a Grammy award after the crash holds dual meaning — it can suggest that she’s still thinking about her AOTY loss in 2014, but it may also be a dig at Perry, who has never won a Grammy despite multiple nominations.
She appears to acknowledge her fraught past with streaming companies: Swift famously (and dramatically) pulled her music from streaming services like Spotify because they offered her music for free. While Swift did bring back her back catalogue to streaming services (same time her rival Katy Perry’s new album Witness came out,) her actions have influenced streaming companies, which it looks like she’s referencing by committing a “robbery” in a bank that literally says “streaming company” on an LED sign in the background.
She also leans into the stereotypes that she’s been teased for: Her henchwomen’s disguises are cat masks, a not-so-subtle-reference to Swift’s well-documented obsession with her Scottish Fold felines, Dr. Meredith Grey and Detective Olivia Benson. In the past, Swift has joked about possibly becoming a “crazy cat lady,” a stereotype that’s compounded by her much-publicized heartaches. She also references that with a sweatshirt that she sports during the heist that reads “Blind for Love.”
She knows that her squad perpetuates a certain kind of stereotype: Swift’s “squad” has been critiqued for having an exlusionary friendship group full of supermodels or Victoria’s Secret Angels like likes Karlie Kloss, Gigi Hadid, Martha Hunt, Cara Delevingne, Lily Aldridge, and Blake Lively.
Swift aimed for peak squad saturation with her music video for “Bad Blood,” which featured a bevy of models and actors that she then teamed up with in appearances at her concerts and on awards show red carpets. The criticisms of who she chooses to very publicly befriend is not lost on Swift, however — she references it on more than one occasion in the music video. In one shot, she leads a biker gang of photogenic and leggy girls on motorcycles, an obvious homage to the 1991 Vogue editorial shoot “Wild at Heart” by fashion photographer Peter Lindbergh which featured supermodels Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, and more as a biker gang.
Later in the music video, Swift posits herself as the dominatrix-esque leader of a factory of expendable robotic model types who are attending “Squad U,” a wry look at her own vast friendships with the world’s top models.
If you look closely, one of the girls at Squad U might bear a striking resemblance to supermodel Lily Donaldson, a prominent member of the Swift squad.
She knows that her love life has become the stuff of pop culture folklore: Swift’s built a career, nay, an empire on writing songs about love and about being lovelorn. So it should come as no surprise that she’s addressing her love life with this music video. In a scene some criticized as an misfired homage to Beyoncé’s “Formation,” Swift stands in the center of a row of men who dance behind her while wearing black “I [heart] T.S.” crop tops that mimic the notorious tank top with the same phrase that Tom Hiddleston sported at one of Swift’s famous 4th of July parties. The Internet also resourcefully pointed out that there are eight men in Swift’s lineup, which if we’re getting very deep, could coincide with the eight high-profile ex-boyfriends Swift has had (Hiddleston, Calvin Harris, Harry Styles, Conor Kennedy, John Mayer, Jake Gyllenhaal, Taylor Lautner, and Joe Jonas).
She wants you to know that she’s keeping count of her albums…and that she knows that you know that she flies private: Taylor Swift’s two private jets have become the stuff of pop culture folklore, often used to help ferry friends and flames to locales like her Rhode Island vacation home. However, in her music video, Swift uses her jet to remind her fans that Reputation will be her 6th studio album by emblazoning it with the phrase “TS6.”
She’s actively trying shed her past personas: The message is loud and clear when Swift appears on top of a mountain of her former selves struggling to reach her at the top: her geeky, bespectacled “You Belong With Me” Taylor, the top hat-wearing “Red” Taylor, the ringlet-adorned, glitter-dress-loving, and guitar-strumming country music Taylor are all overshadowed by Reputation Taylor who’s clad in all black and out for revenge.
She’s also includes a nod to her reputation for having so many famous friends: Her “You Belong With Me” Taylor persona looks nearly identical to the one that debuted in 2008 except that the “Junior Jewels” t-shirt she wears now is covered in the signatures of her various celebrity pals including but not limited to Selena Gomez, Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds, Lena Dunham, Gigi Hadid, Todrick Hall (who also appears in the music video), Martha Hunt, and Ed Sheeran.
Her various iterations might point to her song list for Reputation: At the video’s close, 15 different Taylor Swift personas (ranging from her silver dress-clad, 2009 VMAs-“Taylor, I’mm let you finish” Taylor to her current angry, wearing-all-black Reputation Taylor) stand in a line-up, which one Tumblr user pointed out corresponds to a theory that there are 15 songs on her new album (for what it’s worth, fans say Swift herself liked the theory on Tumblr.)
However, Taylor takes her biggest shots with the conversation that her multiple selves have with one another: Swift uses the 15 different personas she’s created to voice the critiques that others have made of her, with some extremely pointed shots.
“You Belong With Me” Taylor is criticized by “Into the Woods” zombie Taylor and the other Taylors for her “surprised” face, something that Swift has been criticized for on multiple occasions, especially at awards shows. “Reputation” Taylor then calls “Into the Woods” zombie Taylor a “b-tch,” who promptly rebukes her by saying, “Don’t call me that!” It’s a pointed reference to the very public disagreement that Swift and Kanye West had over his reference to her (“I made that b-tch famous”) in his song “Famous.”
“Teardrops on My Guitar Taylor” is then accused of being fake by “Red” Taylor which causes her to burst into tears, while another Taylor from the “Reputation” era promptly says that Swift is “playing the victim…again.”
However, the most biting reference might be what the fur-clad “Reputation” Taylor says to 2014 Met Gala Taylor; as she snaps a storm of selfies, she tells the other Taylors that she’s “getting receipts” so that she can “edit them later,” a potential jab at Kim Kardashian West who is known for elevating the selfie to an art form (she has the Rizzoli book to prove it.) By talking about editing it, this Taylor character could be suggesting that Kardashian West edited the phone call that she shared of Swift and Kanye talking about “Famous.” In the end, 2009 VMAs Taylor reiterates what Swift said in a now-infamous (and-deleted) Instagram — that she would “very much like to be excluded from this narrative,” which elicits a collective “shut up!” from the other Taylors.
Correction: The original version of this story misstated the make of the car. It is a Bugatti, not a Maserati.
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