First Impressions: Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood”

Go watch it, first, if you haven’t. Then report back.

ALY‘s first impressions are more a rewrite of what “Bad Blood” would’ve been in her perfect world. OPEN ON ARSYN and CATASTROPHE, as they fight through a building. ARSYN kicks CATASTROPHE out a window, same as before, but then:

Wide shot of THE TAYLOR SWIFT SCHOOL FOR GIRLS, a forbidding, ivy-cloaked building, curly iron gates, the whole works. It looks like a fancy college, perhaps a bit run-down, past its glory days, but serviceable. We know, though, that it’s more than that – much more. THE TAYLOR SWIFT SCHOOL FOR GIRLS is nothing less than the top assassin training program in the world, run by HEADMISTRESS, instructors LUNA, JUSTICE, and DOMINO. WELVIN DA GREAT deposits CATASTROPHE’s broken body on the steps and rings the bell. HEADMISTRESS opens the door. They lock eyes. WELVIN scoops CATASTROPHE up and they go inside, the massive doors slamming behind them.

MEANWHILE, ACROSS TOWN: ARSYN enters the office of LUCKY FIORI carrying the briefcase, looking smug. LUCKY takes it from her and snaps it open. They look at the contents – a sheaf of paper that we the audience know to be nuclear launch codes – and then at each other and smile. Suddenly LUCKY’s phone buzzes – a text from her old business partner, WELVIN, who she betrayed when a deal went sour late last year. She looks at it, puzzled, not understanding the picture text she has received, but ARSYN takes one look at it and goes pale. It is CATASTROPHE in the rebirthing chamber, surrounded by THE TRINITY, and there is murder in her eyes. ARSYN and LUCKY begin assembling a task force to protect themselves – and the codes – from the Swift girls, long known for their devotion to justice and the safety of the world. Almost as well as they are known for their incredible, deadly combat skills… and their love of vengeance.

TRAINING MONTAGE featuring the girls from both sides: MOTHER CHUCKER, KNOCKOUT, CUT-THROAT, HOMESLICE and FROSTBYTE are Swift girls, taking CATASTROPHE through the paces to sharpen her skills and hone the weapon that is her newly reconstructed body. There is a sense of camaraderie, of teamwork, of friendship. There is also hella gayness, as CATASTROPHE and KNOCKOUT definitely make out at least three times in various locker rooms, training fields, etc. Also, all of the punching bags/target practice dummies mysteriously bear the likeness of a dark-haired woman with bangs and blue eyes wearing a terrible, racist costume. Across town, SLAY-Z, THE CRIMSON CURSE, DESTRUCTA X, and DILEMMA are berated by a disheveled, nervous-looking ARSYN as LUCKY watches impassively. WELVIN sends her another message: TOMORROW. She crushes her cigar in her fist and stands.

THE FINAL SHOWDOWN, IN THE DESERT OUTSIDE LAS VEGAS, I GUESS, BECAUSE THEY WANTED A DESERT: In this version the city isn’t exploding behind them because that makes no sense, sorry, but imagine a sort of Killjoys-versus-corporate goons standoff here. Imagine, if you will, the croquet kids versus the jocks. They stand, all of them, assembled across from each other – one side focused on domination, destruction, conquering – the other on justice, vengeance, a world kept safe. They lock eyes. The music swells one last time. They start to lunge –

CAROLINE: I know there’s a lot of similar chat going around about this video & while I do think it isn’t all it could be, I also think that there is a lot of good to be found. I guess I’ll start by saying the obvious – the high concept & illusion to plot actually kept the plot from ever unfolding; the video ends where it should’ve began. We all know (WE ALL KNOW) Taylor has a lot of friends & I understand that she wanted to bring them in & create this girl gang, girl army scenario but I do think if you’re going to have that many characters, this should have been a mini movie type video rather than a 4 minute remix. I also hate how many times I had to see shots of Lena Dunham with her mouth open.

Okay, now that the criticism portion is done, I want to take a moment to selfishly celebrate because almost all of my favorite tracks from 1989 have been chosen as singles. I have also been waiting on this song to be remixed & I think it is done so subtlety, I still hear all the nuances of the original song. This remix serves the original, it enhances but it doesn’t alter. Kendrick’s verse do the same thing in that they are relevant to the content, an extension of what is already being said – “I don’t hate you but I hate to critique, overrate you, these beats of a dark heart, use baselines to replace you, take time & erase you / Remember when you tried to write me off, remember when you thought I’d take a loss, don’t you remember you thought that I would need you … it was my season for battle wounds, battle scars.” His lyrics are Taylor-esque in content, both things she would say & concepts we associate with her – criticism, overrated-ness, erasure, replacement, undervalued-ness.

Visually, I’m sold. I hate action films as a general rule but I LOVE stylized violence, fighting that looks like a choreographed dance. I like how clean everything is & I like the unnecessary amount of totally useless displays of strength & skill – why is Taylor walking through a wall in her own underground alien chrome lair? Why is Ellie Goulding firing off a missile inside? But what does Taylor love if not showing us how fucking strong she & all her friends are? There is no unnecessary strength for her. I like the absence of masculine presence – she beats up guys in suits in the first sequence & that’s her only physical contact with a male for the duration of the video. Kendrick is kept separate – he’s in the office alone & then in the car with Taylor but he never interacts with the rest of the cast. He’s present but he’s contained. He’s not a deus ex machina really but I do see him as a Bosley presence?

What I like most about “Bad Blood” is that Taylor writes about losing females almost identically to how she writes about losing males but maybe even more dramatically, more viscerally. “Bad Blood” is a violent song paired with a violent video. It is mildly wistful, mildly reflective but never passive. I know I said the plot was lacking & it is but I do think major plot points are hit even if they aren’t explored. You have the betrayal, the get -tough montage, the rebirth & the revenge, all by women, all because of women. Taylor comes back stronger because of her friends. Selena’s (Arsyn’s) army are masked, she marches front & center, away from them, ahead of them while Taylor, still front & center, is flanked, supported, surrounded. I didn’t think I would be into the Karlie vs. Tay boxing match but it actually looks like Taylor fighting herself which feels like something she would consciously include in this video about getting past what someone else has done to you, blaming the guilty party instead of yourself.

My favorite part of this video is the moment towards the end when Taylor has her red hair & latex bodycon & her face is in close up & she’s looking at the camera from the side singing the “look what you’ve done” adlib & she makes this face – the Taylor face. This knowing, half smirk with her eyes wide. In the midst of this explosion, marching to war, she breaks character to make the Taylor face. 1989 is Taylor’s self-awareness & she refuses to let us forget. Her character’s name is also Catastrophe. Come on.

KENZIE: I told everyone that I wasn’t going to write a response because I didn’t have anything to say but I don’t want to be left out, so like, here we are. This video could never have lived up to its hype, it was doomed before it began, and yet. And yet! I still hoped. And then was disappointed. Not gay enough, not enough Mariska Hargitay. The best parts were Cara Delevingne and the weaponized accessories because that’s essentially the only sort of accessory I fuck with– something that looks like it once was, or could currently double as, a weapon. I love this song, personally, like really fucking love it, but I’m underwhelmed by the video and that makes me sad. I’m all for a remake with about 99% gay girl love in it. Also more destruction. Set the world on fire, girls.

SOPHIA: “Bad Blood” isn’t that good a song, I don’t think anyway, but I love it. It took me a while but I love it, I love it, I do. I love this song because it is about the kind of violence I could only ever feel for another girl. Boys make me angry and boys sometimes make me very sad but ultimately I barely care about them enough to justify this kind of heart-wrenched, bloody, shining rage, this need to tear someone apart. “Baby now we got bad blood,”, the baby just as emphasized as the bad or the blood. Violence is for those who you are most intimate with. Violence is for your closest friends. Taylor Swift made a video for this song and cast everyone in it. Honestly, everyone, every friend she’s ever been tied to in the media, everyone. It is a video filled with two-second shots of beautiful leggy blonde supermodels like strange chromed aliens, snarling and perfect, neo-noir monikers slapped over the frame. It is both the dumbest video and the greatest, most important thing.

My greatest sadness about this video is that it takes the verses out and is less than four minutes long. The verses are where the steely, ecstatic rage of this song rests best of all: Rub it in so deep / salt in the wound. The verses are where we get into the viscera of hate. But the verses get taken out here and therein rests my main gripe with this video: I think there isn’t enough of it. The escalation of the rage of this girl-voice to neo-mythic proportions is desperately, extravagantly important to me and I don’t get it. Such a silly thing to be sad about: It’s not as magic as it could have been. I would watch three hours of Taylor Swift and her beautiful model friends stealing things and destroying the world and destroying each other, faux-blood running in streams.

Still, still. Everyone in this video is so beautiful and everyone in this video is strange and sharp and gleaming, their legs so long it almost hurts to look at them. I am reminded of the way I have hated, hated other girls and I mean—it hasn’t not been like this, all sexy clawing and biting and wanting to rip someone’s throat out with your teeth, in, like, a romantic way. I want to send it to the girl I was in love with in junior high and say “hey remember that time you punched me in the face and I started laughing and I wanted to kiss you so bad?”. It’s not a bad video, all things considered.

TESS: I mean, the thing is, if I never heard “Bad Blood” again I wouldn’t care. that’s why it’s impressive that I was as excited for this video as I was, and why I don’t mind at all that it didn’t really live up to the hype. the hype is the payoff now; it’s 2015 and if you can make people care that you’re releasing a music video you’ve already won. when music videos  mattered, there would maybe be a sneak peak on e! news, and if you missed the official premiere on TRL because you had soccer practice, it would be on television every morning for six months anyway. today, if you are not able to construct a pop culture event around hot music video, then hardly anyone is going to ever see it. Taylor is nothing if not able to command attention, confidently, briskly, like a white wine buzzed PTA president in head to toe Celine. she is very savvy about the sale of her product, very aware that the product is herself more than her work, about the negligible difference between the two in the end, in this cult of personality world we live in, and that’s why every single Instagram post about this music video was more important than the video itself. And why the best part of the “Bad Blood” video was sending and receiving frantic text messages last week when it was announced that Mariska Hargitay was going to be making a cameo. But, I like the video. I like to see sweetly pretty Real Housewives offspring Gigi Hadid, whose mother told her that playing high school volleyball was going to make her mannish, checking out her sleek high ponytail in a compact mirror that’s also a weapon, acertified  member of Taylor’s girl gang even though she was recently photographed at a dog rescue center with Joe Jonas.  I am sure Kendrick Lamar was well compensated for his presence, and I like that. I’m equally sure the bevy of models who spend their off time lounging around the many homes of Taylor Swift wearing coordinating outfits would have appeared for free, but will also gratefully accept the thank you baskets full of cupcakes and expensive skincare products Taylor has already hand packed. I love a world where all the white men are dead and all the women are dangerous and hot. I loved that before I watched the video, but I don’t mind that Taylor Swift wanted me to know she loves it too, as if the steady growth of her tightknit coven of beautiful girls over the last few years weren’t proof enough. “Bandaids don’t fix bullet holes” still makes me cringe, but in the event that for album six Taylor wants me to appear in a second all ladies star studded video event–like, on a hippie commune, like, call me Taylor, we’ll do it up, #acoustic album six– please know that I will expect you to forget I ever said so. I love girls, I’m fake as hell.

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