***WARNING: this piece contains spoilers through the most recent season of Game of Thrones***
Given the ceaseless flood of reviews, critiques, commentaries and anguished think-pieces that have emerged in its wake, it feels like Taylor Swift‘s new single “Look What You Made Me Do” has been with us for far longer than a mere five days. Its stunning performance on streaming and video charts and its stunningly-brutal critical reception were perhaps only eclipsed in the pop culture blogosphere this weekend by the season finale of Game of Thrones, an event every bit as anticipated and monoculturally-in tune as a TSwift music video.
With the two overlapping in such a profound way, it got this author thinking; maybe there is more in common between a song of ice and fire and a song interpolating Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy” than we once thought. Maybe, just maybe, this happenstance of scheduling has allowed us to see with a clearer eye what Taylor Swift is up to with her latest album cycle: namely, that she has now become the Cersei Lannister of pop music.
And while it may seem unfair to compare Swift to a monarch who murdered hundreds of innocent people by detonating a cache of explosives under a cathedral, the pop star’s current reinvention in support of her upcoming album Reputation carries many of the same personal traits that have allowed Cersei to usurp herself to the Iron Throne of Westeros. And not just because both of them are blonde, caucasian women enjoying more extremes of wealth and privilege than we are capable of imagining.
The lead-up to Taylor unveiling her latest radio-juggernaut was one that played on the now-widespread public opinion of the pop star being a ‘snake.’ While there are numerous plot points in that story (for a detailed overview, head here), the most integral is the moment last year when she was outed as a liar by Kim Kardashian West. The world saw for themselves that the Taylor Swift PR-factory had completely fabricated the notion that Kanye West acted without her knowledge or consent when honoring her with the lyrical compliment that they “might still have sex.” The catastrophic blow to her clean-cut image led Swift to decamp out of the public eye for the better part of a year, only emerging now with “Look What You Made Me Do,” a long-overdue – and some would argue, unnecessary – response.
Cersei found herself in a very similar PR disaster during Game of Thrones‘ fifth season. After cultivating an image of being a woman of high moral character worthy of a seat on the King’s Small Council, she had this narrative irrevocably destroyed by the High Sparrow (the Westerosi-equivalent of the Pope) who promptly had her imprisoned for adultery, treason and conspiracy for murder. Like Taylor, her cover was blown with cold, hard proof, and she was marched naked through the sea of jeering common-folk to atone for her sins. In Taylor’s case this naked march was metaphorical, yet the sentiment remains much the same.
Now, returned to positions of power after well-earned respites to lick their wounds, both women are employing a simple, one-point strategy: enact violent revenge on all those that have wronged them, regardless of any and all other factors. For Cersei, this meant that aforementioned cathedral explosion in order to cast aside her enemies and seize limitless power. For Taylor, it meant “Look What You Made Me Do,” a heavy-handed earworm written in order to cast aside her previous public perceptions and seize limitless pop music power.
The key to the psychology of both of these women at this new stage of their career is that they are performing a balancing act. Taylor and Cersei have demonstrably proven they are at the peak of their powers. They tell us with frequent, repetitive kiss-offs to their enemies, and they show us with their newfound affinity for black clothing and garments with pointed shoulders. But this heightened ‘do not fuck with me’ power lies in us accepting two, at-times conflicting narratives – that they are both victim and merciless badass.
This is not to say that a victim can never become a badass or vice versa, but in the case of both Taylor and Cersei, their personas now implore us to stand in awe of a mightiness earned not from good works but from being victimized by their detractors. Detractors who, for the record, were not necessarily wrong in their attempts to bring these women down a peg. Would we not have wanted Kim Kardashian to expose Taylor’s innocence for the self-serving marketing ploy it really is? Would we not have wanted the High Sparrow to point out that Cersei shouldn’t be a figurehead of the monarchy after conspiring with her cousin/lover to assassinate the previous king, her ex-husband?
And as Taylor begins to smash records left and right with her latest single and as Cersei continues to scheme her way into screwing over everyone at the cost of the innocent bystanders of her kingdom, it becomes clear to see that their new respective characters are, ultimately, a weak choice. Where before both women were reacting to high-stakes situations in ways that were questionable but grounded by a real-world motivation, they have now been reduced to one-dimensional figureheads of ‘who cares look at how mean I am’ untrustworthiness, bereft of all the rich character development they have built over the past decade.
There are endless ways to get even, but not all of them involve sacrificing every last trace of your character in the name of revenge, let alone a revenge that no one really cares about anymore.
For more of our opinion pieces, take a look at our analysis of Rihanna’s recent photo-stir right here.
- Cover Image: Kevin Winter / Getty Images / HBO