Why Taylor Swift's New Music Video Perfectly Describes My Battle With Anxiety
The last three years have been three very long years for me, but a few days ago, the hard part of the three years came to a suitably world-shaking end for me. It feels like it’s been a lot longer than a few days, but it hasn’t — and that can only be a great thing.
So what happened a few days ago, you ask?
Well, the short answer is that Taylor Swift premiered her latest music video.
But I’ve been a “Swiftie” since late 2009. Since then, she’s helped me to understand my true identity, and to feel comfortable with this true identity being my public identity. She also sang me through the heartbreak I went through in 2013 when I lived my “wildest dream” — an ambition I’d had my heart set on since 2004, which was over all too quickly. Because of this, I refuse to settle for just the short answer of what happened a few days ago. That would be an injustice and a half for me.
The long answer can be summarized like this: Taylor Swift, my greatest hero, premiered a music video in which she condenses eight years worth of enduring round after round of vitriolic bullying into a four-minute audiovisual masterpiece. In doing so, she perfectly personified the anxiety I’ve struggled with for much of my life, and gave me a bigger mental lift than I’ve ever had from listening to everyone else’s motivational speeches.
Unsurprisingly, the internet has gone into meltdown in the past few days, as it has attempted to make sense of all the subtle clues and metaphors in the “Look What You Made Me Do” video. In a nutshell, Taylor calls out the malicious critics who have selectively and willfully misinterpreted her character with respect to songwriting credits, friendships, relationships, streaming services, career ambitions and edited phone calls, among other things.
One scene features dozens of “old” Taylors fighting with each other as a “new” Taylor stands tall over them. A minute later, in the final scene, some of these “old Taylors” and a few of the “new Taylors” line up and throw hateful insults at each other, taking the words out of the mouths of all her haters in the process.
I’d like, if I may, to focus on these two scenes.
For all the detective work that’s been taking place on the Internet since the release of the music video, I’ve seen almost no discussion of how these scenes are a perfect metaphor for mental health, especially anxiety. Is that telling? Maybe. But that’s my interpretation of the Taylors’ physical and verbal battles in these scenes, and as an anxiety sufferer, I cannot help but take my hat off to her for that.
I question myself, my plans, and my actions 24/7. If I do something wrong, or not well enough, I tend to punish myself for it, as if I’m trying to say, “I’ll bring myself down for it before anyone else can do so.” (This happens if anyone criticizes me for it or not). If someone says something critical or disrespectful to me, I play it back in my head for a long time afterwards. I still cringe painfully from things that were said 10 years ago. It hurts to say that because, in the past, I’ve faced accusations of holding petty grudges and refusing to let them go — the net result being that I often feel bad for feeling hurt. I can think of at least two occasions — one from when I was 13 years old and another from when I was 21 — when my ill feelings about my own talents and capabilities boiled over into floods of tears.
Which brings me back to the warring Taylors in “Look What You Made Me Do.”
“Stop making that surprised face — it’s so annoying,” the Zombified “Out of the Woods” Taylor snaps at the “You Belong With Me” Taylor.
“You can’t possibly be all nice — you are so fake,” “Red” tour Taylor snipes at “Fearless” tour Taylor, causing the latter to cry. (A minute earlier, these two Taylors are seen to be fighting each other aggressively).
“Shut up!” they all shout, after 2009 VMA Taylor asks to “be excluded from this narrative.”
And then Zombified “Out of the Woods” Taylor’s arm falls off.
And, all the while, Pilot Taylor spray paints her album title “Reputation” over the exterior of an airplane whose wings she’s just sawn off. She stays quiet in the background while new “Reputation” Taylor, the one who’s standing at the top of the pile during the physical fight scene, is standing in the foreground for the verbal mud-slinging.
It’s all a massive internal monologue.
The insults the Taylors fling at each other are the malicious words of the critics, but now she’s symbolically saying them to herself. They’re metaphorically (“Fearless” tour Taylor crying) and literally (Zombified “Out of the Woods” Taylor’s arm falling off) destroying her.
The Taylors physically fight each other, scrabbling to reach the heights of new “Reputation” Taylor, as if to say the critics will never be remotely satisfied with anything that she does — and so she turns on herself.
New “Reputation” Taylor is in the line up for the verbal mud-slinging. She’s the one standing on top for the physical fight; she’s the one all the others want to be. But she can’t get away from the bullying either.
Several of the verbal insults date back to at least 2009.
One of the new Taylors even laments, “There she is, playing the victim, again.” Regardless of the fact that she has been, In my opinion, almost completely blameless for all of the “crimes” referenced in the video, she’s evocatively blaming herself here. Just like the killjoy critics always do.
And the final cry of “shut up!” comes along like a final gut-punch — nobody wants to hear my/your “self-pity” anymore. Not Taylor, and not the wider world.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is what anxiety looks and feels like.
But — above all else — I see the video as an extremely positive way of thinking.
By taking the critics’ words out of their mouths, Taylor is throwing them back at them. She’s reasserting her control. This is what you’ve done to me, she’s saying. What you’ve done is wrong, and I’m allowed to feel hurt by it all.
And don’t forget pilot Taylor, hiding away in the background during the verbal mud-slinging. I believe that’s the real Taylor — the one her family, friends and fans know and love, and that the wider world only sees when it wants to. The verbal mud-slinging Taylors are fragments. They’re the fragments the world knows and puts in the spotlight 24/7, but they are just fragments. By separating pilot Taylor from all the fragments, she’s saying, “They’re not me. The insults and the bad labels are not me.”
Thank you, Taylor. Thank you for personifying my — and many others’ — regular battles against ourselves, and for doing so in a wittier, more empowering way than I’ve ever seen anywhere else. Thank you for reminding us the narrative is always ours to own and write, regardless of how much everyone else might try to rewrite it.
You’ve been my hero since 2009, and my love and respect for you has only grown since then, and I’d even say it’s now at an all-time high.
Author’s note: I’d like to give a quick shoutout to the wider Swiftie fandom for working so diligently to spot all these little details in the video. I cannot, and do not, claim sole credit for noticing all of the elements referenced in this article. Special, representative thanks to Tumblr users @urbannoizeremixes @likeanytruelove13 @tshifty and @fallingdownz, for spearheading our awareness of some of the elements, and for compiling inclusive lists of them.
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Screenshot via Taylor Swift YouTube channel.
Image via Wikimedia Commons/Eva Rinaldi