Ever since 2006, when I first heard “Picture to Burn” on my local country radio station, I have been a “Swiftie.” Taylor Swift’s songs always resonated with me. However, I recently started feeling a dissonance between how I saw life and how Taylor saw hers. This dissonance was most profound when I listened to her latest single “Look What You Made Me Do” and watched the music video that debuted on Sunday night. To me, it didn’t sound like Taylor at all aside from a few lines here and there. I know that Taylor has been through a lot in the past few years, but I wondered why she chose to portray herself the way she did in her music video.
“Look What You Made Me Do” starts out with Taylor crawling out of her grave, looking like a zombified version of how she looked in “Out of the Woods,” which was my favorite music video from her thus far. But her face reminded me of Anya Jenkins, who started out as a vengeance demon on Buffy:
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The prechorus of the song goes: “I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time. Honey, I rose up from the dead. I do it all the time.” Why did she show herself coming back from the dead as a zombie? I see it as a distorted version of the Resurrection. Zombies, vampires, and other versions of the undead are all dark, perverted types of “resurrections.” To quote Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, she came back wrong.
Taylor has written songs about revenge in the past. But at the same time, she also wrote songs about forgiveness as well. So why does she choose to use revenge now?
A few telling lines from the second verse give the answer: “The world moves on, another day, another drama drama. But not for me, not for me. All I think about is karma.”
I recently read an article from Bishop Robert Barron about the difference between karma and grace. In the most simplistic terms, karma is about retribution. “Do good things and you get good in return. Do bad things and you will suffer.” Taylor is driven by revenge in the hopes that everyone who did her wrong will get what they deserve.
The last significant line in the song is this spoken line and it’s the one that Taylor puts on all her social media: “I’m sorry. The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh. ‘Cause she’s dead.” In the video, this is shown by all of her past selves falling down into a dark chasm, with the new Taylor standing on top of a hill with a giant T behind her.
The old Taylor is definitely dead. But instead of embracing grace and forgiveness, Taylor chose to be the bad guy, bent on revenge and retribution.
Now flip the script and take a look at my life recently. In the past few years, I went through my share of bad dating experiences. I was one guy’s rebound date. I went speed dating, but never really connected with anyone. I even dated someone who turned out to be a narcissist!
But at the same time, I kept writing. I worked on my novel and got to share it with other writers at a couple of conferences. I went to Chicago on my own! My first real grown-up adventure! I have been finding my writing voice, this clear, resonating bell that people can hear and listen to. I learned what forgiveness actually feels like and how to persevere in the face of adversity. In other words, I became stronger.
What gave me my strength? Grace. By rooting myself with God, He gave me strength I never knew I had. Even now, as Hurricane Harvey flees Texas, I have found the strength to overcome the anxiety that was building up within me since the storm hit. Grace is not something that I deserved because I was good. God’s strength was given to me because I needed it. Grace is a gift, one that we need to share with others. Through grace, we find the strength to forgive and renew ourselves. We find the strength to persevere. We die to ourselves and live again through Christ.
“It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20
And grace is the difference between having a personal resurrection and being fueled by the revenge from the death of your reputation.