The 2017 MTV Video Music Awards arrived in divided political times with a promise of many intense moments on its roster, but perhaps the most anticipated moment for many was the premiere of Taylor Swift’s new video, for the vengeful single “Look What You Made Me Do,” a purported ode to her many detractors and enemies.
Swift’s video caused a swirl of controversy before it even aired in full: A snippet tease that was released prior to the show drew heated comparisons to Beyoncé’s 2016 video “Formation,” apparently due to its use of a line of dancers standing at attention wearing all-black outfits.
Fortunately, that gossip was laid to rest with the very first seconds of Swift’s premiere, which made it clear from the start that the “Formation”-ish moment was probably the least interesting of the video’s four-minute, 15-second run.
Swift channeled another iconic video — Michael Jackson’s ’80s hit “Thriller” — by crawling out of a grave in full corpselike makeup. From there, she raced through a dizzying array of visuals, many of them highlighting a much more noir side than fans might be used to — including snakes serving her tea on a velvet throne, a scene of her swinging in a giant birdcage, and a writhing group of female dancers all clad in bondage gear (with Swift herself wielding a whip).
While the video itself was an undeniable whirlwind, the song portion of it didn’t live up to the final moments. After the song ended, a string of Swifts appeared onscreen, each one representing one of her various images over the years — including such unforgettable looks as the curly-haired “Teardrops on My Guitar” ingenue, the bespectacled nerd from “You Belong to Me,” the ballerina from “Shake It Off,” and the silver-sequin-clad VMA recipient who had her award ruined by Kanye West in 2009. (Clearly, Swift’s lyric “The old Taylor can’t come to the phone … because she’s dead,” wasn’t quite accurate here.)
The end result was a face-off between the “good” Taylors and the “bad” ones, with her darker personas sneering such slurs as “Stop acting like you are so nice” and “There she goes, playing the victim again” while the more angelic ones sobbed and looked horrified.
Interestingly, Swift did not address her two biggest rivals — Katy Perry and West — at least not directly. The closest she came? “I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative,” noted the 2009 VMAs Swift.
To which her “sisters” all screamed, “Shut up!”
The 2017 MTV Video Music Awards were aired live from Los Angeles on Aug. 27.