Taylor Swift's Music Videos: A Race to the Bottom
A visual medium is not her forte
Out of more than 50 music videos, Taylor Swift has only ever made two that are, in my estimation, exceptional. Were you to rank Swift’s videography, “Blank Space” would take the top spot, then “You Belong With Me,” and it wouldn’t really matter after that. Maybe “Love Story” would be third, I don’t know. I can’t rank a bunch of Taylor Swift content again, it almost killed me the last time. The point is that Swift has a horrible batting average when it comes to music videos, and it’s not likely to improve with tonight’s release of the long-anticipated video for “Lavender Haze,” which she has teased on social media:
It looks like there will be, as is suggested in the song title, a lot of purplish smoke. One of the hallmarks of Swift’s music videos is that she loves to be incredibly on the nose when it comes to pairing lyrics with visuals. Sometimes, though, she’ll swing the other way and the lyrical content of the song will have absolutely nothing to do with what we’re looking at. It’s really a toss-up.
With the arrival of a new video mere hours away, I thought it would be fun to look back at some of her previous work. Every Swift era has its own truly horrible music video, and sometimes it has two! Take an aesthetically unpleasant walk down Swiftie memory lane with me.
2007: “Our Song”
This, I have to imagine, is not her fault. She is 17 in this video, and it seems that the powers that be couldn’t decide if they wanted her to look like Paris Hilton or Cinderella. Another odd choice here is the lack of a love interest. It’s less “our” song and more “her” song, in that regard. But, again, she was just doing as she was told at this point, and I’m sure if she could redo this one, she would. Side note: There is a weird amount of bare feet in this video. The opening shot is a close-up of her toes, then five seconds later there’s another shot of them. Don’t love that.
More shots of Swift’s bare feet, this time in some kind of memory palace devoted to her freshman year of high school. Here we get a peek at what will eventually become a staple for Swift: a heavy reliance on green screen and CGI. It starts to look better once director Joseph Kahn enters the picture five years later, but I would not be so bold as to say it ever looks good. It’s reminiscent of The Chicks’ “Landslide” video, but less interesting to look at.
2012: “I Knew You Were Trouble”
We’re skipping the Speak Now era because those videos, while middling, are not so bad when viewed against Swift’s videography as a whole. This one, on the other hand? It’s the Kidz Bop version of Lana Del Rey’s Ride,” which just so happened to have come out two months earlier. The abrupt shift from Swift’s moody, two-minute monologue to the upbeat melody of “IKYWT” never fails to make me laugh.
2015: “Bad Blood”
Maybe you thought I’d pick “Wildest Dreams,” as that is kind of the go-to example of a “bad” Swift video. I think the outrage surrounding that one — that it depicts colonialism, cultural appropriation, and outright racism — was kind of overblown, and you can find better examples of Swift being worse elsewhere. But that is a topic for another day.
What I want to talk now about is the “Bad Blood” music video, the premise of which is that Swift knows a lot of famous women. This was the peak of her #squad era, and all members reported for duty. Cara Delevigne has nunchucks, Lena Dunham is smoking a cigar, Ellen Pompeo and Mariska Hargitay are there because Swift’s cats are named after their famous TV characters. Everyone is teaming up to fight Selena Gomez, who is wearing a really bad wig. The whole thing is stupid, and it has the signature Kahn sheen that makes everyone look like they’re made of rubber. Also? There’s feet in this one, too.
2017: “...Ready For It?”
This is what I mean when I say that Swift’s videos occasionally divorce the meaning of the song from the visual. This is a song about deciding to pursue a love interest, and the video is about one Taylor Swift robot meeting another Taylor Swift robot in a postapocalyptic mall. The second Swiftbot eventually defeats the first, who is maybe her creator? Again, this song is about the start of a romantic relationship.
Listen, I am something of a “ME!” defender. I don’t think the song is as bad as everyone says it is, but the video does not help things. In fact, I think releasing the song and video at the same time ruined any chance this song had of not being seen as one of her worst. The French melodrama at the beginning, the pastels, the childlike dream version of Paris(?) — all of it is hideous. And on a technical level, there are several shots in which either Swift or Brendan Urie seem to be lit incorrectly.
Why have they lit the back of her head? It can’t be for naturalism’s sake.
More! Feet! Put some shoes on, girl!
2021: All Too Well: The Short Film
I’m doing Swift a lot of favors by italicizing the title here. Her insistence on this being a short film and not a music video was always a little laughable, especially when she started seriously campaigning for an Oscar nomination. (She got laughed out of the room, not even making the short list.) As a director, Swift tends towards the obvious. Is the lyric “Tossing me the car keys”? Time for him to toss the car keys. “Dancing ‘round the kitchen in the refrigerator light”? Enter a shot in which the fridge is open, even though it wasn’t a second ago. As a music video, this one is actually pretty good for her, thanks in no small part to cinematographer Rina Yang. As a short film, well, the Academy can add this to the short list of things they’ve gotten right in the last ten years.
This one video has every Swift staple in it, how exciting! There are celebrity cameos, glossy graphics, a fairytale motif, soft choreo, a dialogue scene that you can tell she thinks is really funny, and, of course, bare feet. I really do like Swift’s music, but I think that even the most devoted Swiftie, looking inward, would concede that the woman has no taste, aesthetically speaking. Nevertheless, I’m wishing her luck on her cinematic endeavors.