On Sunday, Taylor Swift attempted to confront and obliterate her former selves with her "Look What You Made Me Do" video. She made fun of her surprise-face award show persona, bathed in a tub of jewels to evoke her "Blank Space" self, and clad her backup dancers in “I [Heart] T.S.” tanks, a nod to the Hiddleswift aesthetic of Summer Sixteen. She also rose from the dead, spoofed Katy Perry, and used her "You Belong With Me" character to show off a t-shirt with #squad names emblazoned on it. Her message was clear: The Old Taylor is dead, and the woman she's become is a product of other people's scrutiny, projections, and hijacked narratives. She no longer gives a fuck, though. She's now a pop-culture villain.
Only she isn't. Because genuine pop-culture villains—whether they're wrongfully villainized (Bieber, who’s clearly burnt out) or using the air of villainy to rebel against systemic and social norms (Madonna)—have perspective, exhibit creative and personal growth, and take ownership of who they are. Taylor's latest video is self-aware in that she knows what people have said about her; but, on the whole, it's proof that Taylor accepts no responsibility for her reputation. She still adheres to a victim narrative that's biased, comfortable, and very tired.
Yes, Kanye West technically started their feud in 2009 (he also issued a near immediate apology), but Taylor played into it. She wrote a patronizing response song, "You’re Still an Innocent." She called Kanye her friend when presenting him with the 2015 VMA Vanguard Award. She lied, at least in some undeniable capacity, about her knowledge of "Famous." She co-performed a romance with Tom Hiddleston. For years, she penned breakup anthems without ever acknowledging the part she played in the rise and fall of her relationships (with the occasional exception). Why not allude to any of this?
We already knew going into the video that Taylor was capable of playing victim and of spoofing herself ("Shake It Off," "We Are Never Getting Back Together"), and of saying everything without saying much of anything at all. "Look What You Made Me Do" could’ve been Taylor's chance to say something new. It could have been her chance to not only acknowledge what we did, but offer real insight into the role she played in defining herself as a snake in the first place. Taylor is a brilliant businesswoman, brilliant songwriter, brilliant media-courter. Should she have chosen to really own that calculated side of her persona she probably would have still been criticized (and rightfully so), but she’d at least be the villain she thinks she is.
Reinvention is a necessary part of maintaining a place in a notoriously competitive industry. We saw Beyoncé eliminate her former selves in a 2013 Pepsi ad (an ad Taylor seemingly referenced in the LWYMMD video); we've seen the 1D boys rebrand themselves in the wake of their singledom; and we’re seeing Miley Cyrus release new music that reflects her toned-down lifestyle. I'm here for Taylor-as-villain should she commit to the trajectory.
But to be a real villain takes a certain amount of self-realization. Don't burn the past, mock the past, or parade former versions of yourself as a means of dismissal. Realize that you are a product and an architect of your past—and then own it.
Taylor Swift is a force. She's not an ingénue or a lost little lamb. She's a woman who came up in a cutthroat industry and managed to maintain so much control over her career and music that she grew from a teen sensation into a woman who challenged (and beat) Apple. If she wants to be a real villain, she could do it: She could say she was complicit in "Famous" if she was, or she could revel in her ability to take down iTunes. She could flaunt her power, say outright that she and Katy Perry hate each other (or are milking the beef for…who knows what at this point), and talk honestly about the media (which, admittedly, can be a massive pain in the ass). She could, ultimately, stop saying she was "made" to do anything, but instead bask in how she's built a dynasty. Then she can cackle, like a real villain would.
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This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.