What is Taylor Swift’s reputation? She’s down to earth. She loves her fans. She has a big heart. She rolls with a crew of famous gal pals. She can’t dance. She’s awkward. She’s controlling. She’s greedy. She’s a mean girl. She runs through Hollywood boyfriends like toilet paper. She’s anti-feminist, reinforcing dated gender norms and “playing the victim” whenever it suits her agenda. She embodies white womanhood in all its convoluted phases. Or, as The Read’s Kid Fury puts it, “a physical embodiment of white lies… walking around in beautiful gowns.”

Since Thursday, I have been treated to numerous recaps on all the messy arcs that bring us to the above, Taylor Swift’s reputation here in the year 2017. For Taylor, the 1989 era was a great or rough year for her narrative, depending on who you ask: the album and corresponding tour were record-breaking, sold-out, successes, an indisputable high even for an artist with multiple platinum-selling, Grammy-awarded albums. On the other side, public disputes with Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, ex-boyfriend Calvin Harris, and Kanye and Kim eroded good faith in Taylor’s nice girl image. While Taylor has never been a true pariah as far as press is concerned, each subsequent incident mars the anti-diva rep she brandished once upon a time. For many, undoing that damage would take some sort of exorcism.

Enter Reputation, and its lead single “Look What You Made Me Do.” The track and lyric video were released late Thursday night and the music video not long after, debuting on Sunday during the MTV Video Music Awards. From a cover that, to me, looks like an exercise in teen angst, to the single itself, Reputation thus far teases the advent of a new Taylor. The question is, exactly how new is new?

The music video for “Look What You Made Me Do” is a recap in its own right, an assembly of her reputation’s greatest hits, amplified and glamorized through the lens of veteran music video director Joseph Kahn. Taylor rises from the dead, a pale, blue-eyed corpse in a blue gown. She bathes in a tub of diamonds and flourishes her serpent jewelry. She sits on a throne of lies snakes and takes tea. She crashes and burns a car with a Grammy firmly in hand. She speechifies for a vast white girl audience, 1984-style (also slightly reminiscent of Eminem’s performance at the 2000 VMAs), and languishes over their immobile, used up likenesses. She swings on silk ropes in a giant gilded cage. She


dances and drops it low with a troop of compulsory boyfriends. She reanimates all her former and reputed selves in front of a jet plane with the word REPUTATION scrawled in pinkish red paint. They take turns reciting her most egregious offenses—“You can’t possibly be that surprised all the time,” “You are so fake,” “There she goes playing the victim, again.”

The video should feel stale. The #squad takes are over. The Life of Pablo was released last last February and it's been well over a year since Kim Kardashian’s #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty. “Single Ladies” lost Best Female Video almost seven years ago. Why would Taylor Swift literally resurrect old news? If it's to unveil a new Taylor, critics—so far—aren’t buying it. (Meanwhile, sales and views are breaking every record the song comes up against). Swift “continues to shift the blame,” says The Daily Beast’s Amy Zimmerman on the single. Despite the social media cleanse, snake metaphors, and lyrics (“I'm sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh, ‘cause she's dead”) that suggest schlepping off her old selves, “Look What You Made Me Do” “double[s] down on her victimhood narrative, further portraying herself as maligned and misunderstood.” Carrie Battan for The New Yorker agrees: “‘Look What You Made Me Do’” would like us to believe that we are experiencing an entirely new Swift… And yet ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ is more of the same.” On the video, Vulture’s Craig Jenkins calls it a “colorful stream of winks and nods,” “too-soft” and “too-late” in its display of villainy. At Slate, Forrest Wickman notes that while Swift’s “meta-pop” will keep stans occupied “the video seems less likely to win over the uninitiated.” And stans don’t need a new Taylor; by definition, they’re already in love with the old one(s).

While her upcoming album announces its subject matter in bold serif font, 1989, Swift’s first properly pop album, constitutes her first artistic brawl with her own reputation. Instead of just funneling rumored relationships into pseudo-anonymous songs, as she did on previous albums Fearless, Speak Now, and Red (“Forever & Always,” “Dear John,” “I Knew You Were Trouble.,” “Begin Again”), 1989 at least claims to contend with Taylor Swift, The Persona, from the inside out. The lead singles “Shake It Off,” “Blank Space,” and their accompanying videos (also directed by Kahn) aim to implode the memes and gossip through self-parody. Taylor is awkward and can’t dance? Taylor placed herself in a dance video and left-footed her way across every dance genre known to man. Taylor discards men? Taylor became a femme fatale, crazy ex extraordinaire (in the lyrics of another Kahn collaborator, “You say I’m crazy/I got ‘cho crazy”). The album and videos are fun and earned their accolades, but are a far cry from reinvention. In the end, it’s just Taylor vs. Taylor (you’ll never guess who wins!).

1989 feels like forever ago and in “Look What You Made Me Do,” Swift has, as the video makes clear, a lot of ground to cover. Taylor the Serial Dater Who Writes Songs About Boys Without Their Consent is so passe (though her nerdy “You Belong With Me” alter ego does make an appearance). “Look What You Made Me Do” is a gorgeous display of Taylor the White Woman, though it only seems marginally aware that this is what all her egos add up to. And out of all the criticisms Swift ventriloquizes at the video’s close—her country act, her nice-girl act, her bitchiness, her victimhood—it’s curious that none hint at the many, many critiques from black women she’s received over the years. The video is obsessed with Swift-centered backlashes, but neatly omits the controversy surrounding the colonial fantasy she dredged up for “Wildest Dreams.” There is no character to directly address how, across her career, Taylor has leveraged her identity as a white woman to hoard innocence, sympathy, and feminist points. But whether pouting in a reenactment of her innocent country girl debut or spinning snake emojis into precious baubles, Taylor’s most villainous selves are her whitest. “Look What You Made Me Do” is Taylor vs. Taylor vs. Taylor vs. Taylor vs. Taylor, but the one identity she would need to purge in order to really be reborn anew is the one she will never confront.

There is no narrative here, only repetition. Though her past personas go tumbling down, it’s clear no Taylors were harmed in the making of this video. “Honey, I rose up from the dead/I do it all the time,” Taylor chants. She’s right. Taylor has told us who she is again and again and again and again. Perhaps the folly lies with her “haters” or even fans and critics who expect a “new” Taylor when she’s never explicitly promised one. She is the Taylor we know, the Taylor who sells, reenergized but not remade, merely ready to return to what she knows best: her reputation.