If you know anything about Taylor Swift beyond the fact that she was once interrupted by Kanye West at the VMAs, it’s probably that she’s had a lot of boyfriends (or only writes songs about her boyfriends, or can’t hold onto them, or only dates them to write vicious songs about them afterwards—depending on which of her detractors you ask). You’ve probably heard jokes about it at awards shows, or at the water cooler, and you may have even read articles that take it so far as to call her a “psycho.”
Swift knows all this, and 1989’s best song, which is now the follow-up single to the still No. 1 “Shake It Off,” confronts it head on. On Monday she unveiled the Gone Girl of music videos: She takes the caricature that she’s a psycho bitch, tries it on, and turns it back against her enemies.
It’s worth thinking for a minute about how Swift got tarred with this brush in the first place. As Swift herself has noted, she hasn’t actually dated more than most people do in their late teens and early 20s. “If you want some big revelation, since 2010 I have dated exactly two people,” she told Vanity Fair last year. Swift’s love life gets more attention than most celebrities’ because she takes her feelings about it and turns them into hit songs—but mining personal experiences for lyrics is hardly unusual for a songwriter. She’s right that dismissing her as someone who “just writes songs about her ex-boyfriends” is “very sexist.” “No one says that about Ed Sheeran,” she recently told Australian radio station 2DayFM. “No one says it about Bruno Mars. They’re all writing songs about their exes, their current girlfriends, their love life, and no one raises a red flag there.”
“Blank Space,” both the song and now the video, addresses all this with a sense of humor. She plays to type, sending up her own supposed naïveté (“I can make the bad guys good for a weekend”), “Cool Girl”–like shape-shifting (“Find out what you want/ Be that girl for a month”), and femme fatale-like menace (“Darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream”), and then, on the bridge, wielding the caricature like a dominatrix brandishes her whip (“Boys only want love if it’s torture/ Don’t say I didn’t say I didn’t warn ya”). The nearly audible wink in the lyrics is made visible in the funny, Joseph Kahn-directed video, with Swift giving one to the camera before smashing her lover’s car with a golf club. Ultimately, the point isn’t whether Swift’s a good girlfriend or not; the point is that she’s a witty, self-aware songwriter.