Our dead reputations can't be resurrected by vengeance.



I know approximately two things about Taylor Swift. First, I think she used to play country music. Second, she sang a song called “Shake It Off” that was a mostly sweet summer beat in the key of “Can’t Stop the Feeling” and “Call Me Maybe.” My limited knowledge notwithstanding, I share an office with some pop aficionados (who all do their best to provide backup vocals to whatever melody happens to be playing). So there was quite a stir of anticipation for Swift’s new single, the likes of which we hadn’t felt since the “Hello” incident of 2015. We cranked the speakers to 11, slid back from our desks, and listened to…revenge techno? Manufactured rage pop? An angry Taylor?

It doesn’t seem like this song (or Swift’s current musical trajectory) could be called original in any sense. However, as I listened, I thought I picked up on a familiar narrative being woven in the lyrics, perhaps unintentionally. A Christ-haunted consciousness can sometimes add a subtext of which even the writer is unaware. The song, which seems replete with a sardonic irony, reflects not only on the fall of Taylor Swift from a place of baby-faced innocence; it also tells a story about the greater fall of man.

I don't like your little games
Don't like your tilted stage
The role you made me play
Of the fool, no, I don't like you
I don't like your perfect crime
How you laugh when you lie
You said the gun was mine
Isn't cool, no, I don't like you


This seems, to me, the bitter voice of Eve to the serpent. The “little games” and the “tilted stage” communicate woundedness, as if she was cruelly tricked by someone she thought was trustworthy, or at the very least, reputable. And what crime could be more perfect than stealing away the unvarnished virtue of Eve? What lie could produce more laughter in the serpent than stealing the hearts of God’s pinnacle of creation?

We feel the sorrow of sin in the fall of Adam and Eve. The foolishness, the marring, the crippling of the created order. But sin’s assault is not merely vertical, between God and man. It also moves horizontally between us, introducing betrayal and brutality, separating brother from brother. The next verse could easily be a burning contemplation of Cain towards Abel.

I don't like your kingdom keys
They once belonged to me
You asked me for a place to sleep
Locked me out and threw a feast
The world moves on, another day, another drama, drama
But not for me, not for me, all I think about is karma
And then the world moves on, but one thing's for sure
Maybe I got mine, but you'll all get yours


Cain, the older brother, would have been keeper of the “kingdom keys.” But when his sacrifice of vegetables was rejected, and Abel brought an offering from his flock—the centerpiece of any feast—he lost the preference and was consumed with rage toward his brother. The rest of the story cries out from the ground as evidence that Cain gave Abel “what was coming to him.”

We hear this familiar story as Swift continues her diatribe against…who? Who is the “you” that she is singing about? The paparazzi? Sycophantic fans? A sleazy DJ? A petty spat with another pop tart? The modern invention of the hit song assembly line? Maybe all of the above? And through it all, maybe, she’s speaking to herself: a younger, more naive, less jaded T. Swift.

The music video is full of creation/fall allusions. It ends with Taylor standing on a pile of her previous incarnations. The scene has the same macabre effect as the Paths of the Dead in Lord of the Rings. You begin to realize that the chorus—“Look what you made me do”—isn’t ultimately about her entrapment nor her retribution. It’s about the murder of her own image. Which is how, as we all know, sin works. Underneath the deception and destruction of our fellow man is the hatred of God, the Holy One, and the holy image intrinsic in his creation.

We love the idea of a celebrity that we can aspire to be like. We want role models for our children. We secretly hope for unstained reputations in our superstars, proof that someone really can “have it all.” Swift’s upcoming album title, Reputation, seeps with irony as she takes on an angry persona and discards her good girl image. It shouldn’t surprise us. We want to believe that she’d be the one to remain pure, to not let us down. We don’t see that God, in his mercy, has hard-wired all idols to collapse under our adoration.

We see that Jesus is the better Taylor Swift. Where Swift’s innocence was feigned and faked, the innocence of Jesus is lamb-white. Where Swift says to her old self and all the machinations that produced it, “Look what you made me do,” Jesus says to the corruption of sin, “Look what I have chosen to do.” Where Swift lashes out with shallow squabbles, Jesus, the Prince of Peace, will soon crush Satan under his feet. And where Swift promises to exact vengeance, Jesus drinks the cup of wrath himself, promising freedom. And that is a reputation worth singing about.