Taylor Swift’s Weirdly Mercenary Album Release Continues with “… Ready for It?”

The new single echoes hollow, boring expressions of lust, feeling like a collapse of imagination and honesty.

Photograph by Christopher Polk / Getty for TAS

On Saturday, Taylor Swift teased her new single, “… Ready for It?,” in a
short video for ESPN. The idea, I
think, was to boost morale in advance of a college-football game between
the University of Alabama and Florida State. In the video, a man riding
a horse and wearing a hat with a feather sticking out of it dramatically
stabbed the field with a decorative spear. The words “Mercedes-Benz
Stadium” were flashed, twice. Women cheered; men pounded their muscled
chests with their fists. The same day, the sixty-second snippet of music
was used again, in a promo for ABC’s new fall lineup of sitcoms, dramas,
and high-intrigue reality competitions. The soundtrack occasionally
broke for dialogue: “You’ll do whatever you want in your heart!” a voice
pronounced, earnestly.

I suppose this is what “synergy” means—choreographed promotion across
platforms, in which everyone commands attention and makes a bunch of
money. Swift does not abjure corporate meddling. She recently signed a
deal with UPS, declaring it the official “delivery partner” for her new
record; selected trucks are now decorated with her likeness. (In a press
release, UPS referred to this as a meeting of “two cultural icons.”) She
is also involved in a strange racket with Ticketmaster, requiring her
devotees to enroll in something called the “Verified Fan” program, which
ostensibly discourages scalpers but ultimately means that the more
money and time a person invests in Swift or Swift-adjacent activities
and products, the further he or she can jump the line for concert
tickets.

It’s surely old-fashioned to find any of this offensive. Yet it’s left
me feeling like a balloon that has been wrested free of its bunch only
to get entangled in some power lines and slowly deflate. What a cynical
way to offer new art to your fans.

Swift did eventually release all of “… Ready for It?,” disentangled from
commercials. Like the single “Look What You Made Me Do”—which appeared at the end of August, after Swift posted a video of a hissing
snake to her social-media accounts, thus setting a tone of lethal
retribution—the song is very much of its moment, musically. Little about
its throbbing, electro-pop production or performance feels at odds with
the Zeitgeist, which makes it curiously anonymous, as if it could have
been sung by almost any contemporary pop ingénue.

That’s a drag, because Swift’s best songs, like “Blank Space,” from her
last album, “1989,” feel distinctly her own: meticulous, cheeky, and
heavy with want. Swift does a bob-and-weave vocal on “… Ready for It?,”
maneuvering sharply around the melody. She is an astoundingly precise
singer—this is why she’s been such a good foil and partner for Max
Martin, the rigorous Swedish songwriter and producer who worked on
“1989” and co-wrote “… Ready for It?”—even when she’s falling into a
purposefully lackadaisical drawl. But affectations don’t suit her. I
scoffed instinctively when I first heard her half-rap the words “I see
how this is gon’ go,” and again each time she failed to deliver a
convincingly desirous “Mmm.” Swift obviously hungers for things: her
entire career is built upon articulations of love gone wrong, giving
voice to the particular ache of romantic rejection. To hear her now
resort to weird mimesis, echoing hollow, boring expressions of
lust—“Mmm”—feels like a collapse of imagination, and of honesty.

“… Ready for It?” is the second single from “Reputation,” Swift’s sixth
album, which will be released on November 10th. It is easy to opine about what
appears to be the absurd narcissism of the record’s conceit: that the
world continues colluding against Swift, thwarting and victimizing a
beleaguered (and faultless) young woman. Look, I don’t know—maybe we did
all spend a little too much time japing about Swift and her band of
lovers, back when the world felt steadier. Maybe, for a while, it truly
did feel as if every headline in the newspaper was a variation of
“Taylor Swift,” per the unsubtle cover art for “Reputation.” Maybe we
exaggerated her importance, and now we have to answer for it. Certainly,
pop stars shouldn’t suddenly be expected to produce overtly or
explicitly “political” art; I’m not sure what that would look like for
Swift, even. But I do think there’s a mandate now to make work that
feels meaningful in some capacity—not mercenary.

Sourse: newyorker.com