As I drove the kids through the countryside the other day a voice piped up from the backseat. "Who's heard the new Taylor Swift single?" We all had, of course. "What do you think of it?" I asked. "It's terrible!" they all chorused. The consensus was that Look What You Made Me Do is a bad song, a bitter snark-fest that would surely bomb. I completely agreed. Taylor's comeback, three years in the making, looked at that stage like being an unmitigated disaster.
And then came the VMAs and the release of the actual video for the song. Followed by the avalanche of publicity, with mainstream newspapers devoting far too much space to pointing out all of the petty little scores being settled, from Kimye to Katy, Calvin to Hiddleswift, to Spotify and iTunes. Suddenly what seemed snarky became witty and clever and breathtakingly over-the-top. And the hype has brought results: 28 million views of the video in a day, and 50 million so far. Taylor's comeback is well underway.
But let's be honest: this is still a poor song, Avril Lavigne on a bad day. The video is a sumptuous, million dollar, feast for the eyes, but if you think about it even for a second it is scarily obsessive and leaves you wondering why she can't just rise above those spats with Kim and Katy and all the others: Taylor is, after all, a bigger star by far. Yet this release has still had a huge impact; it will no doubt be the biggest music 'event' this year. And that is because, yet again, she and her team have shown they are masters of PR.
That mastery has been demonstrated in the perfect management of the release of content, with teasers beforehand and off-the-record briefing afterwards. Everything has been timed to build momentum and interest not only in the song and the video, but in Taylor herself. And the final shot of the video, with various Taylors from different moments of her life all appearing alongside one another, is a knowing moment that pulls things back from melodrama to soap opera, and purports to reveal a human side we can all root for once again.
In the past I've commended Taylor Swift as a master of publicity and PR, and said that organisations looking to engage with their employees, customers and others have a lot to learn from her and her team. More recently I've worried that she has lost her touch, sparking my first ever bout of trolling from a Swiftie or two. But with this video (forget the song) Taylor has shown she is back on track. She may be a little less nicey-nice than we were once led to believe, but she has proved again that she is glamorous-yet-relatable, and that she is unrivaled when it comes to securing coverage and engaging with her fan base.