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Is Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” Actually Good?

Music
Photo courtesy of Big Machine Records

Compositionally speaking, of course

Taylor Swift's first solo single in three years, "Look What You Made Me Do," arrived, according to Vulture (and many other outlets), "dead on arrival." Some have argued the song is reductive; Swift's obsession with her victimization and the narratives she wishes to be excluded from is exhausting. She doesn't just reclaim the snake emoji that marred her reputation following Kim Kardashian West exposing her alleged lies in regards to Kanye West's "Famous" lyrics, she exploits it—though it's been said that snake is more of an ouroboros than a viper. 

Anyway, despite the harsh media criticism "LWYMMD" has received, it's broken records, because, like, duh, it's Taylor Swift. With 84.4 million U.S. streams, it's surpassed Adele's record for the most streamed song in a debut week by a female musician, it (finally) knocked Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee's Justin Bieber-assisted "Despacito" off of its four-month-long No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 list, and it's made Swift the first woman to reach No. 1 in 2017. "LWYMMD" also broke Spotify's record for the most streams in one day, with 10,129,087 plays. Oh, and its music video was viewed 43.2 million times on YouTube in its first 24 hours, breaking yet another record. Whether these streams and plays were hate-driven is irrelevant. People are picking up what Swift's laying down, and will continue to do so for the next two years (album release cycle, tour, awards season, etc.).

But is it good? Like, musically good? Jack Antonoff produced the track, which makes it a surefire pop hit from the start. The first listen may make you cringe, but it's a brilliant earworm and, in time, grows on you. (It has, admittedly, grown on me.) 

Credit the song's chorus for that. Steve Milton, a founding partner of creative music agency LISTEN who has a master’s degree in musicology from the New England Conservatory of Music, says the chorus is the first thing that jumps out at him. The similarities to Right Said Fred's "I'm Too Sexy" landed the band a writing credit, but it's the variation on the common practice of repeating a phrase that makes "LWYMMD" so interesting. "Swift chose to mix it up in a different way, whether she knew it or not, by borrowing a technique similar to classical Indian music, specifically rhythmic patterns known as talas," Milton says. "This is something we see jazz musicians tap into, but not so much pop stars. Basically, it involves repeating a sequence of numbers until the phrase lands on the first beat of the measure."

Swift, Milton points out, goes from a six-syllable phrase ("look what you made me do") to a seven-syllable phrase ("look what you just made me do"), which "requires her to repeat it twice before landing on the downbeat," a quirk that keeps the song in motion. Milton also cites the song's bridge, which uses "a very traditional chord progression—Am, G, F, E—known as the Andalusian cadence." It's a chord progression that's been used and popularized by a countless number of songs dating as far back as the Renaissance. The more you know!

Todd McCarty, the former senior vice president of sales at Sony Music and current proprietor of Heat On The Street, considers it, outside of Swift's reputation, to be a "well-crafted and catchy song." The fact that it's nearly a capella makes it stand out among the bombast of current pop. "It's not her catchiest, but it's A-level stuff, and the big hooks are there," he says." BrainStamp Music's Mella Barnes agrees it's not Swift's best song, "but it was designed to get us all talking." And, well, it did. "I do think the song is compositionally strong," she adds, noting its similarity to Meghan Trainor's "No"—another song that garnered a high chart placement.

"Much of her success is contingent upon listeners being unaware of how heavily derivative her music is," John Fahr, a production technician at FerebeeLane and a composer-songwriter, tells us, "which would make an album like 1989 feel more like daring artistry than the safe, calculated move it was." Swift's "LWYMMD" falls under the same umbrella. Fahr notes how Swift "doubles down on algorithmic pop simplicity by stripping down the arrangement to sparse electronic drums and synth, allowing her heavy-handed lyrics to dominate the mix as she briefly flirts with the idea of personal accountability." When you take into account the repetition of the spoken chorus and four notes of the verses, you have a sure pop win. "The unspoken goal of pop music being that you can memorize the chorus by the end of one listen," Fahr adds. 

The whole production of the song seals its successful deal. From a dynamic standpoint, "LWYMMD" gets louder as you listen to it. "Swift and Antonoff take their listeners from a sparse place and build it up in the pre-chorus, generating a nice dynamic shift downward, at the chorus, which is largely a capella other than a percussion accompaniment," David Philp, a pop music professor at William Paterson University, says. "She uses her 'Shake It Off' chops in the verses, shouting her message like cheerleaders, [as opposed to] singing. Then the pre-chorus comes back a second time with a stronger build than the first time." This is a song designed to not only worm its way into your ear but also blast your drums.

So, yes, "Look What You Made Me Do" is a compositionally strong song. It does what it was designed to do: sink deep into your psyche, so that it becomes enjoyable after enough listens—lyrical content be damned. Swift and her team know, deep down, melody, chord progressions, and the lot are what really get the people listening. Look what you made us do, Taylor. 

Photo courtesy of Balenciaga / Photo via @McDonaldsSverige Instagram

I'm cackling

Last year, Balenciaga released bright red square-toed mules which bore a striking resemblance to McDonald's french fry cartons. Now, the chain has fired back at the designer, threatening to release its own version of the shoes.

McDonald's Sweden posted a photo to its Instagram of a person wearing actual McDonald's fry cartons as shoes, and honestly, if there weren't yellow M's printed onto them, I'd have a hard time distinguishing them from the Balenciagas from a distance. Though the post doesn't directly reference the Balenciaga shoes, one can only assume that's who they are trolling.

McDonald's version actually makes for some pretty fly slip-ons, if you ask me. Good thing the Swedish branch of Mickey D's seems to be considering releasing the shoes if the post receives enough attention. The caption of the Instagram post translates to, "If we get 103042 likes we release these for real," though it only has about 17,000 as of publish time. These would likely cost much less than the Balenciaga shoes, which cost $545.

Internet, do your thing. I want a pair.

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Photo by Gareth Cattermole / Getty Images.

It marks her third duet with Nas

Here are some words that I never expected to read or hear again: There is a new song with Amy Winehouse. But here we are in 2019, and Salaam Remi has granted me a wish. On Valentine's Day, the Grammy-nominated producer and frequent Winehouse collaborator (also responsible for hits like Miguel's "Come Through & Chill") released "Find My Love" which features rapper Nas and that powerful and haunting voice that I have come to love and cherish so dearly.

Representatives for Remi said that the Winehouse vocals were from an old jam session the two had. Remi was a producer on both of Winehouse's albums, Frank and Back to Black. "Find My Love" marks the third time Winehouse and Nas have done duets under the direction of Remi. They were previously heard together on "Like Smoke," a single from her 2011 posthumous album Amy Winehouse Lioness: Hidden Treasures, and "Cherry Wine" from Nas' 2012 album Life Is Good. Winehouse died of alcohol poisoning on July 23, 2011, before they could complete production on her third album. My heart is still broken about it as she is by far my favorite artist.

"Find My Love" is set to appear on Remi's Do It for the Culture 2, a collection of songs curated by him. Check it out, below.

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