On Friday, Taylor Swift released the video for "I Knew You Were Trouble." Though it's probably not the best song on her new album Red—I don't know about you, but I like "22" better—it is definitely the most important song she has ever released. Though Swift has never seemed particularly married to mainstream country as an ethos, core audience or even a particular mandolin tone, "I Knew You Were Trouble" feels like the moment she just straight-up said, "Fuck it" and became an unabashed pop star.
As a bridge-burner, "Trouble" is pretty obvious, especially on an aesthetic level. The thing is essentially an electronic pop song, armed with a tastefully cavernous dubstep drop and all. And with its video, she's offered a slightly more subtle subversion of her image, all the more jarring if you're paying close attention. The video is essentially her version of Rihanna's "We Found Love"—girl meets boy, girl makes out with boy (a lot), boy turns out to be a total psychopath and ultimately does some fucked up shit to her. The "Trouble" video represents something much, much more important than some silly dubstep thing. It symbolizes the death of her obsession with the normal.
Make no bones about it: Taylor Swift fetishizes normalcy. Most of her best songs are about fantastical, perfect romantic love. Take "Ours," a 2011 single of Swift's whose video communicates that the song is basically about someone with a kind of crappy office job whose relationship is the main thing that makes them happy. The key line in the song is, "Any snide remarks from my father about your tattoos will be ignored." Which is a fine and definitely correct sentiment, but the song's video completely ignores it and shows Taylor Swift standing on a bus when the moment to bust out some ink is nigh. Zero tat shots in the entire thing. With "I Knew You Were Trouble," however, the tattoos are pretty much the point.
"Trouble" finds Taylor Swift waking up in the middle of the desert in the midst of some sort of post-apocalyptic rave aftermath scene that would make Andrew W.K. reconsider his staunchly pro-party stance. How did she get there? Well, she went with her borderline-sociopathic boyfriend to a go party her ass off there and then somehow passed out after she found him sucking face with another babe. With the passing out, there's a fairly staunch implication that Swift is taking mind-altering substances. No longer is she gallivanting with corn-fed high school tight ends who drive trucks and go to church; her new dude is heroin-chic to the bone and wears a really dumb hat. Remember how I said he was a borderline-sociopath? Fuck that, that dude is definitely a top-tier sociopath. They go into a pool hall and the dude (let's call him Hatman) fucks up somebody's pool game for literally no reason, then tries to beat like six dudes (one of whom is wearing a Misfits vest) using a pool ball. He gets the shit beaten out of him while he's smiling a crazy-dude smile, then he gets the word "Love" tattooed on his chest. They go to a rock concert during one of the dubstep drops. They are definitely, definitely, DEFINITELY having sex.
There's no moment in "I Knew You Were Trouble" that can match the sheer intensity of "We Found Love," mainly because having Hatman tattoo the word "Mine" on Taylor Swift's butt or if they tried to somehow replicate the, "What's cooler than smoking one cigarette? SMOKING TWENTY CIGARETTES AT ONCE!" moment would be impossible. Swift's core group of fans (weirdo poptimist music writers not withstanding) is now probably around the age of 16, while Rihanna inherently appeals to an slightly older audience and therefore can do slightly crazier stuff on camera. And while Hatman is just sort of a generic bishonen-gone-wild, a stand-in for giving in to the passion that much of Swift's music older music was about actively eschewing, the dude in the "We Found Love" video was pretty universally read as Chris Brown, and the clip's uncomfortable, trashy verisimilitude left you with a weird taste in your mouth even after you watched it for the fifth time and knew all the twists before they hit.
So, it seems that Taylor Swift is never, ever getting back together with mainstream country. That's fine. Probably the most disconcerting thing about the "I Knew You Were Trouble" video is that it kinda-sorta implies that she dies at the end. I mean, she's in the middle of the fucking desert writhing around in really tight black pants. Unless Hatman comes back for her, she's sorta hosed. It's this tossed-off intensity that's indicative of her new direction. Swift's winning right now, and as long as she keeps making videos like "I Knew You Were Trouble," so are we.
Drew Millard once ate an entire large pizza. He's on Twitter - @drewmillard
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