Weekly Billboard Theory — Look What You Made Me Do
Welp, it happened. Taylor Swift put out a new song, people felt a lot of ways about it, and I’m here to try and make ends meet about it. I’m not even going to bother looking up reviews to link to because I’m sure you’ve seen em all by now. The chorus sounds like Right Said Fred. Now that we’re past that I have some conflicting feelings about this song. What do I mean? Wull….
Key: A minor
Tempo: 128 BPM
I have mixed feelings about Taylor Swift. If you know me, you’ll know that I grew up going to church with her. If you really know me, you’ll know that I don’t remember her at all. I really enjoyed Red and I thought it was kind of perfect crossover between pop and country. I loathed 1989 because I felt that all of it sounded dated as soon as it came out and I think that top 40 music should always be pushing forward. But thats all in the past because the ~old Taylor is dead~ or something.
I also have mixed feelings about this song. The first time I listened to it, I trashed it (and I’ll go into why) but I gotta admit that it has grown on me a little as I’ve listened deeper to it. We’ll start at the very beginning since there’s a lot of different aspects to this song to discuss and I don’t want to ramble all too much.
The beginning of the song has a very ~spooky~ sound to it. Some of this is due to the instrumentation of chimes, bells, and stringed instruments (both bowed and pizzicato). However, the chords here are what really give us that Halloween-y vibe. This is caused by the descending chord progression of i-VII-VI-V. If you’ve been doing your homework, you’ll know that the major V chord in a minor key this signifies that we’re in harmonic minor. Here’s the thing, it sounds pretty corny like this. Like, I’ve already used “spooky” and “Halloween-y” to describe the sound. Now, it’s very possible to use a harmonic minor progression and create something that is actually chilling. Remember season 2 of True Detective? Me too, unfortunately. But this song is an example of something sincere and dark and harmonic minor. Also, it’s a country song. Hmmmm. Okay, so the intro is corny but not bad per se, let’s move to the verse.
I don’t want to say the first verse is bad but it’s not particularly…good. Those orchestral instruments are completely abandoned for a really muddy drum machine and some descending synth bass tones. This is matched with a rudimentary vocal melody and pretty garbage lyrics (opinion, I know but I’ll get back to this later). The reason why I don’t think this verse is actually bad is because it’s a first verse. It’s bare bones and it allows us to go somewhere with the second verse. However, this in itself is also a problem but we’ll discuss this in a second.
The prechorus is probably one of my favorite parts of the song. We get the same progression as the opening but with repeated piano chords, a held synth bass (if you listen real carefully) plus the most energetic singing of the song so far. The melody here is sung in octaves, which is something I’ve discussed before, plus the extra effort in Taylor’s voice makes it seem we are heading for a climactic section. Toward’s the end of the prechorus, Taylor goes into speak mode which is something she’s been doing forever. We get that big “OH” and here comes the chorus, how excited are you!?
Except we don’t get a big chorus. We get the opposite of that. We get a SPOKEN CHORUS? And the beat from the verse? Here’s the problem. This subdued chorus now puts that first verse into perspective. The first verse had more energy than the chorus because there’s an actual melody and that falling bass. Sure, it’s a first chorus so things could change later but the dynamic energy of this song is kind of weird to go from medium-low-big-lowest. Also, the second half of the chorus is super clunky to me but I’m probably just bad at speaking out loud. The “Look what you just made me do look what you just made me do” is a tongue twister and kinda hard to repeat. But let’s keep going.
Okay second verse and there’s definitely more going on. Same melody as before but if you listen to the downbeat closely you can hear vocal hits matching the lyrics to the fifth of the tonic chord. All you really need to know is that it sounds fuller. Okay? Okay. Oh yeah, there’s a weird bitcrushed synth noise thing. Cool, I guess? Then we get another talk section within this verse. This verse is certainly more involved than the first one, which is nice that we’re not getting a copy and paste, but we already have had two talking sections between the end of the prechorus and the entirty of the chorus. Some classical music nerds will notice parallels between this and Sprechgesang but I think that’s kinda making something out of nothing. I understand the irony of me typing that and writing over 1000 words about this song. Oh well. It just feels like too much speaking so far and not enough singing. I understand that this is a new direction and her team clearly knows what they’re doing, but it’s a weird direction for a first single.
The second prechorus has little vocal responses to the melody which is kind of cool. Other than that it’s the same. Second chorus? Same. Whatever.
The bridge utilizes the introduction of the song with a newly introduced melody. This is smart songwriting. My problem lies in the repeats of the melody and how they cut off the ending of the initial melody as they enter. This sounds out of place and lazy. Also, the lyrics aren’t particularly poignent to be repeated verbatim 4 times in a row. Yes, there’s some development but it seems like somewhat of a missed opportunity.
Okay, so the second half of the bridge is simultaneously the best and the worst part of the song. We can roughly hear the chorus being spoken while the pianos and synths perform the descending i-VII-VI-V progression. It’s as if everything in the song has led us to the point. There was a musical journey this whole time, we just needed to pay attention very closely to notice it. But wait. What’s that? Something about the old Taylor? More talking? It’s just. Too. Much. Spoken. Word. I think this phone gimmick would have been clever if the rest of the song wasn’t spoken but it’s lost it’s effect now. Here’s the thing though. The old Taylor is still around. Why? Because the lyrical content of this song is super petty just like the majority of her other songs.
The last thing I’m going to talk about is the lyrical content and I’ll be brief I promise. I haaaate that this song is sort of a revenge tale. I don’t believe in revenge (or justice for that matter) and I honestly think that it’s an incredibly dangerous narrative to push forward. Yes, it’s entertaining. I love Oldboy too. But it’s never a way to actually live. This is why I think Kesha’s “Praying” is so important and probably one of the most mature Top 40 songs that has ever been written. But nope, Taylor Swift takes the low unfulfilling road. Tight. So yeah, there’s some good stuff to this song but there’s some garbage stuff. We’ll see how it stands the test of time.
This song is number one still, no surprise there. What IS surprising is that that Bodak Yellow passed Despacito! Pretty exciting stuff for Cardi B. Also, still assume for the whole Despacito crew since that song has been up there forever and I believe it’s broken some records by now. So we gotta go to number 4 for a new song and its…oh. More Taylor. Welp, I guess this is the life I lead now. Writing about Taylor and her new song “…Ready For It?” One last thing. Taylor Swift’s album art is definitely supposed to be ~edgy~ but how sick would it be if she used the text from actual negative articles about her instead of just repeating her name over and over. Huge missed opportunity. Hire me. See ya next week.