‘Blank Space,’ Rebel Boys, and the Evolution of Taylor Swift

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Taylor Swift released her newest single, “Blank Space,” earlier today. It’s a release I’ve been hoping for since I first heard the song, not just because it’s catchy as hell, but because it shows exceptionally well how much Taylor has changed even since her last album.

Before we get to Taylor’s latest release, let’s rewind to December 2012, when “I Knew You Were Trouble” came out. (Yes, it’s also the goat song.) The video follows the lyrics fairly closely: Taylor falls for, and gets her heart broken by, a bad boy. He’s every girl’s rebel dream, a tattooed rock-star type, who takes her on drives in his convertible so that she can watch the wind blow through her fringed sleeves. They kiss on train tracks and eat greasy food at grungy diners. He wears denim vests and plays the guitar while she jumps on his bed. At the beginning, Taylor narrates from a post-Coachella wasteland: “His world moved too fast and burned too bright.” He’s the male equivalent of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

Of course, when the relationship goes south—when he gets into bar fights and kisses other girls under the strobe lights—Taylor blames herself for not seeing it coming. Like the typical MPDG, though, Taylor’s bad boy teaches her a life lesson: “I don’t know if you really know who you are until you lose who you are.”

All of that is gone in “Blank Space.” Taylor is the MPDG now, albeit a wealthier version than we usually see. She lives a life of champagne picnics, beach cruisers in the dining room, and horses in the bedroom. “I could show you incredible things,” she tells her lover-to-be. But when Taylor gets upset, watch out: She’s a “rose garden filled with thorns.”

The video for “Blank Space” might suggest that Taylor is the one who’s really damaged by the end of this relationship, her makeup running down her cheeks as she writhes by her fireplace, dressed in leopard print. The whole video, though, is an exaggeration and mockery of what the public thinks about Taylor Swift: extravagant life, extravagant meltdowns. Watch Taylor’s face right before the three-minute mark. She’s not mad with grief, she’s cold and calculating—which, to be fair, often translates as insanity in a world where women are expected to be emotional and pliant.

That hint of a smile at the very end of the video? She knows exactly how this is going to go down. That’s the real shift from where she was two years ago. “Don’t say I didn’t, say I didn’t warn ya,” she sings in the bridge. She doesn’t deny her exes’ assertions that she’s insane; instead, she recognizes it. “Ain’t it funny, rumors fly, and I know you heard about me”—Taylor knows all about what people are saying.

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It’s a reversal of the scenario in “I Knew You Were Trouble.” Taylor’s beau will be left with scars, and he knows what he’s getting into. Taylor is the bad one now. In the introduction to “I Knew You Were Trouble,” Taylor asks, “How could the Devil be pulling you toward someone who looks so much like an angel when he smiles at you?” There are echoes of that when, in “Blank Space,” she tells her bewildered lover, “You’ll come back each time you leave, ‘cause darling I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream.”

If this is a departure from Taylor’s last album, it’s even further removed from where she was at the start of her rise to fame. Gone is the innocent girl next door of “You Belong With Me” and the princess of “Love Story,” waiting passively for her Romeo. This Taylor isn’t waiting for anyone to come ask her daddy for her hand in marriage any more than she’s being hurt by bad boys. However much property damage she may cause, Taylor is the one in control now.

All images via YouTube.

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