This piece will not contain a single spoiler for Avengers: Endgame, but it will contain a lukewarm defense of Taylor Swift’s newest single “ME!” feat Brendon Urie of Panic! at the Disco. Consider yourself warned.
Since it’s heavily anticipated drop on 4.26 (last Friday), “ME!” has faced mixed criticism, to say the least. The always-ready-to-hate internet hoards got most of their memes out of the way immediately. On the other side of the Taylor haters, Swiftie’s have been generally excited for this new era of Taylor.
The release of the single came with a music video that most would affectionately describe as Willy Wonka meets Target commercial meets really bad acid. The Hollywood hot pink cotton candy aesthetic was teased for a while via Taylor’s Instagram, and has left fans waiting/theorizing about what Taylor’s seventh studio album (TS7) will be like. Even the people (myself) that aren’t super satisfied with the song are more than willing to write “ME!” off as just another one her pop-centric radio hits that is meant to please the masses.
As a born-again Swiftie, my fandom is deeply connected to Taylor’s talents as a songwriter. Personally, I’ve never been a fifteen year-old girl that has had to learn that there are things bigger than dating a boy on the football team, but Taylor’s writing nearly convinces me that I have been.
Her lyrical worlds can be so detailed that they’re almost cinematic. I think of a landmark song like “All Too Well” and lines like:
Photo album on the counter, your cheeks were turning red.
You used to be a little kid with glasses in a twin-size bed
And your mother's telling stories about you on a tee ball team
You tell me 'bout your past, thinking your future was me.
Perhaps knowing that Taylor can build such rich worlds with her lyrics is what ultimately contributes to the fact that “ME!” fell short of a lot of critical expectations.
If you listen to “ME!” in a vacuum, it’s a fairly forgettable pop song. But you shouldn’t listen to it in a vacuum. If you spend enough time trying to rationalize its existence—like I have—you’ll inevitably start to think about the place that “ME!” occupies in the broader Taylor Cinematic Universe™.
Her most recent album (TS6), reputation, is a fiery, more mature, and “savage” departure from her sweet and nostalgic 1989 (TS5). reputation was made in response to a time when Taylor was facing a lot of public scrutiny for feuds with Katy Perry, Kanye, Kim Kardashian, etc. Reputation is distinctly defiant, with songs like “Look What You Made Me Do” and “I Did Something Bad”, Taylor decided to go on the offensive against the “snakes” that surrounded her.
Most casual Taylor connoisseurs—and Taylor haters—would describe the majority of her discography as love songs. But I’d challenge anyone who assumes her “love songs” are straightforward to try to consider that the “subject” of those love songs might not be a person, but rather an abstract concept, like fame.
“Delicate” is a dark horse hit off of reputation and it is universally accepted as a love ballad about her new boo, Actor Joe Alwyn. But with everything we know about the circumstances and drama surrounding that album, what if the song was instead talking about public opinion and the state of her fame at that time?
This ain't for the best.
My reputation's never been worse, so
You must like me for me.
She’s well-aware of the drama that has surrounded her, but she finds comfort in the fact that there are still people out there willing to give her a chance and put aside all the feuds and pettiness.
But even in this comfortability, and even in an album that marked an evolution of power with reputation, “Delicate” still found a moment to ask permission to behave that way.
Is it cool that I said all that?
Is it chill that you're in my head?
'Cause I know that it's delicate.
Taylor was still ever-so-slightly trepidatious about embracing the scrutiny, or accepting anyone else’s praise. She still wanted to know if it was, “too soon to do this yet?”
In contrast to “Delicate” and its chorus of self-doubt, “ME!” contains a chorus line that Taylor has defined as intentionally positive, and it refuses to undermine that positivity at any point.
I'm the only one of me.
Baby, that's the fun of me.
Sure, her first verse doesn’t shy away from some of her classic flaws. She mentions that drama tends to follow her around, and that she has gone, “crazy on the phone,” once or twice, but she never lets that detract from the conviction of her message. She toes the line between self-awareness and self-doubt, and she finally allows herself to embrace herself without hesitation.
Before I make my final point, I should mention that have absolutely nothing to say in defense of the bridge in “ME!”. The fact that the song devolves into a Sesame Street jingle that unironically declares, “hey kids, spelling is fun,” confounds me to no end. But I’ve decided to actively turn my brain off during that part of the song for the rest of my life. I suggest you do the same since it will probably improve your quality of life tenfold.
The “ME!” music video opens with a snake (an icon connected to reputation) bursting into a hundred butterflies (the assumed icon of her upcoming album). Even if this imagery is a bit heavy-handed, it’s clear that “ME!” is meant to be Taylor’s not-so-subtle declaration of her post-reputation rebirth. It is an unwavering ballad of positivity, and it isn’t immune to criticism by any means, but it’s a sign of the next evolution, and I’m all in for it.
I’ll end with the last couplet from a poem Taylor wrote to accompany reputation. The poem is called “Why She Disappeared” and it was a fitting acknowledgment of what that album meant, and what it would lead to.
And in the death of her reputation,
She felt truly alive.