First Impressions: Taylor Swift’s “Style”

Aly: First of all I just need to say, unequivocally, that I love Taylor Swift with all of my big dumb heart. I would watch her read a phonebook and I would watch a music video where she rode a horse for five straight minutes. I would watch one that was like that Lorde video where she just stares at the camera, are you kidding, I would kill for that one. I don’t care. Let me watch her do her nails. Let me watch her try on shoes. I don’t care. I love her.

That being said: my first and so far only reaction to the Style video was “Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.” It made me feel the way that One Direction’s You and I video made me feel, which is to say, kind of bored. I feel like the director was like, “Let’s do this cool thing with a broken mirror and projections and stuff,” and I feel like it was probably really cool in theory, but in actuality I’m just bored. I feel like it didn’t fit the song; Style isn’t about brokenness, to me, or about fixing something. It’s accepting that things move in cycles, and people come and go throughout your life, and that sometimes, maybe, they circle back to you. I feel like there was so much potential there with what they did to say something, and I feel like they just didn’t. Like, look at Marina and the Diamonds’ video for Immortal. Same basic concept – the past is projected on the present; the future is unclear, but we will have the memory of us. Like, literally that could be the synopsis for Style. And yet Marina’s video makes me want to curl up in a ball and weep, and Taylor’s… doesn’t. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, I’m not saying I want to weep. But I am saying that I want to feel something about it, and I didn’t.

I’m gonna watch it again, obviously, probably a million more times. And maybe I will get more out of it at that point. But my initial reaction is that this is not a Taylor video that is gonna go in my top 5, or even my top 10. I will give points for the excellently over-the-top Harry Styles necklace shots, and for the throwback walking-in-the-woods dress shots. But I look at that Polaroid, at the single art, and I wonder where that went, that fire. That good girl faith and a tight little skirt. That was the video I wanted.

Aria: I can’t drive. This is a thing that’s become very #about me, and defines my relationships with people as someone who’s a perpetual passenger. This means whoever I’m dating is always the one driving, so I’ve come to romanticize rides in cars. When I first heard “Style” I immediately recalled the movie “Drive,” just the Kavinsky-like pulsing electro beat, before any of the lyrics about driving, it felt like a driving song, like some kind of Escape From New York jangly pop version of a John Carpenter soundtrack. I loved it, it was my initial favorite on the album, and I’ve had my moments to it that probably shaped my expectations of the video. Driving through downtown with an ex I had one tornado of a relationship with, still do, blasting that song through open windows in December and kissing at every red light. I was wearing red lipstick, too, I mean, it was perfect. Just the other night my crush kissed me as I was bouncing in his passenger seat, singing along to this song. Always in cars. This song was made for car stereos and teenage-throwback makeouts. For the video I expected some similar visual adaptation to the movies it recalled in my mind, I wanted our proverbial Ryan Gosling possibly updated with a 20’s undercut to be taking us for a ride through a world that was all cool tones of blue and grey and red. And the driving sequences delivered in every aspect, honestly, but the rest of it confused me. Why are we at the ocean looking through a warm sepia instagram filter? Why is everything so soft and ethereal when this song is so sharp, I mean, galvanizing, even? It’s such a big song and the video is so wishy-washy. Why isn’t our James Dean daydream dressed like Snake Plissken touring Taylor through a dystopian future-world where everything has crumbled around them but they’ll still never go out of style? I guess I’ll never know. Instead I’m following around some melancholy lovers who frankly don’t exhibit even a fraction of the of chemistry I have with whoever I’m thinking about when I hear this song. I’m sorry, Taylor, but you can’t go all Stevie on a song that is way more Cyndi. You gotta go weirder, bigger. Maybe I’m being greedy, but I just wanted more.

Elisabeth: Tbh the Taylor Swift news I was way more excited about today was the announcement of her Vogue cover with Karlie Kloss. Um anyway idk this video is about images and about images as things that are seen and remembering as a particular kind of fractured sight which are all themes familiar to Taylor Swift and it’s nice to see those ideas expressed not just lyrically but also via her like, visual existence. The 1989 era has been very characterized so far not just by cohesiveness, but by interconnectedness and I actually think this video alludes really heavily to the thoughts and images posed in “Out of the Woods,” just as much as it takes images from “Style,” not just the paper airplane necklace and the literal woods but also the sort of looking at it now quality. Anyway Taylor Swift is a pop star about narrative and memory and image and this is a video about narrative and memory and image.

Kenzie: I keep trying to put the way I feel about this video into words, but it’s harder than I expected it to be. I don’t dislike it. Not by any means. It’s indulgent and hazy and all ethereal foggy gloom spook in a way that appeals to me (and which, for the record, I think would’ve suited “Wildest Dreams” perfectly). I’m just not convinced that these are the images that fit “Style,” by which I mean to say, this isn’t any one of the many videos I would’ve dream up for it. But then again, I’m not Taylor Swift, and if there’s one thing that she’s made abundantly clear, it’s that a lot of thought and effort goes into the presentation and artistic reality that is Taylor Swift, so who am I to question it really? I’m sure I’ll watch the video a million more times; maybe this time next week I’ll love it. Mostly I think it should’ve been Kristen Stewart playing opposite Taylor Swift. There’s a James Dean daydream I can get behind.

Sophia: “Style” opens and its pure heatwave, hazy glare the way you can see the summer sun as it flickers through your lowered eyelashes. “Style” opens and it is summer inside of Taylor Swift’s eyes and she’s gazing at the camera and laughing and close-up of her face, sharp and bright. Taylor and a beach and the boy inside of her head, Taylor tilting her head back, her profile beautiful, Taylor behind a pane of shattered glass. I have watched this video seven times and I still can’t parse how I feel about this, Taylor Swift encompassing forests and Taylor Swift captured in fragments of glass with her red red lips.

“Style” is about visual iconography but also about emotional iconography, right—you and me and the dress and the road and the nighttime, us as two separate bodies on a collision course, what it means to look that way and what it means to feel that way. The thing about iconography is that it’s most interesting when it breaks down. “You can’t keep your wild eyes on the road” and then the boy’s silhouette fading into the road itself, your bodies fading into one another and then into lightning, the lightning inside of you. They get closer to one another and what was silhouetted separation becomes Taylor Swift eating up the distance between them, “I said I’ve been there too a few times”. It’s not “all we are is skin and bone / trained to get along” and it knows that it’s not. Look, the boy becomes the road. The road becomes the boy, the boy has two different-colored eyes and you see those eyes immense and projected and silhouetted behind her. What that does is destabilize the iconography, you have to pay attention.  On Red, in “State of Grace” (which is my favorite song on Red) Taylor sings “just twin fire signs / four blue eyes” and I don’t care if that’s about Jake Gyllenhaal, honestly I don’t, I care that Taylor Swift vested so much energy into tension and symmetry then and purposefully invests it in asymmetry now.

This is a video about Taylor Swift, a bright sharp silhouette against the outside world, an icon—icon in the way that Taylor Swift is the most iconic version of herself in red lipstick, “that red lip classic thing that you like”. Taylor Swift’s eyes, immense, Taylor Swift’s red lips in a single shard of glass projected over and over on top of this boy and his face that we will all forget about. Taylor Swift. This is also a video, though, about the immense multiplicity of being a person, about the way sketching out an image of a self in sharp black lines doesn’t preclude you from containing multitudes. “I should just tell you to leave / cause I know exactly where it leads but—” as a statement not just about a boy but about navigating the inward iconography of personhood. I know exactly where it leads, but.

Tess: What I find endearing about the video for “Style” is that it has very little of it. This is like a ninth grader’s vision of dark glamour, only probably not, probably it’s worse than that, because I think ninth graders have gotten a lot more sophisticated and aesthetically aware than they were when I was hanging sparkly purple spiderweb from the halloween store across my ceiling in 2005 while listening to The Cure. It isn’t great. Taylor looks very beautiful. I don’t know why this man isn’t wearing a shirt. I watched it once before coffee and twice after two and texted my friend saying, “A lot of the video feels like the concept was “Twilight” but, like, “Twilight” if you misunderstood and hated Twilight.” I love Twilight. When he checks the rearview mirror and sees red-lipped good girl Taylor staring back it looks like she’s in the backseat, which is weird unless what we’re meant to understand that she’s a dead girl and he has no choice but to “take me home” because she’s haunting him forever and watching him take off his coat. That’s rad, but could have been made a little more textually clear, I think. Not all viewers can be as perceptive as I am. Really, though, the overblown goofiness of this whole thing, the way it colossally misses on being either cool or fun, by way of being weirdly self-serious in its performance of failed cool, is a relief to me. Taylor’s video track record consists almost exclusively of self-conscious dweebage. I love that! Taylor Swift’s entire vibe, the whole brand is just being loudly, actively, intently Taylor Swift (Best Best Friend Taylor Swift. Everybody’s Big Sister Taylor Swift. Bad Dancer Taylor Swift. Loves Cats Taylor Swift. And I Could Go On And On On And On And I Will Taylor Swift.) but it’s hard to translate that into a compelling visual work. Remember when she hired Stephen Colletti to be the dude in “White Horse”? Can you honestly tell me you have even once gotten through “I Knew You Were Trouble” without laughing that back of throat laugh where you’re embarrassed and you can’t tell if you should be hiding it or not, as if you’re watching this video sitting beside Taylor in her personal, best friends only home theater and not alone in your bedroom, because in your head that is sort of always the case? When the most iconic music video of your career is an adorable knockoff of the superior “Girlfriend” by Avril Lavinge that Kanye didn’t want you to get a VMA for, the chances that you’re destined to be a great auteur of the post TRL world are sort of slim. “Blank Space” was a glittering outlier, but I’m kind of glad we’re back to knock-kneed PTA mom Taylor producing a white wine spritzer video for a dry martini song. She’s got bell sleeves on here. There are weird close ups. It’s kinda “Stevie Nicks” in passing. “Stevie Nicks” like when you try on something with fringe or some kind of witchy mesh overlay at Forever 21 and you look at yourself in the finger-smudged mirror and go “wow, so Stevie Nicks,” to your best friend. That’s fine with me. I think that is nice and good like a mall pretzel shared by hands with glitter nails. I don’t mind any of this, but, I’ve seen the March cover of Vogue magazine so when I watch Taylor have her most explicitly sexy video moments with this topless character amid some Fifty Shades type lighting and just before a truly mortifying literal lightning strike, I keep finding that my heart is desperate to yell, “Nobody cares about this! Do you ever kiss Karlie?” What happened here? Did his repeatedly mentioned terrible driving send them to a bloody roadside demise? Do they live on now as well-groomed ghosts just as long as there are broken mirrors and fuzzy synth beats to hold their spirits to the Earth? Is that what ghoul girl Taylor in the white shorts is putting down here? Chill, me too.

About Kenzie

Kenzie was born in Ohio and never left. She is really bad at not crying but thankfully really good at applying (and re-applying) eyeliner.

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