A snake explodes into a swarm of rainbow butterflies. Taylor Swift screams Je suis calme! at the frontman from Panic! At the Disco. Cats? Yeah. We got cats. The first 40 seconds of the video are, indeed, a real treat. Time for another T-Swift album cycle. We hope you enjoyed your time off. We suspect that she spent her time off strategically regressing.
Yes, after weeks of pastel psychedelia and numerology stunts and cryptic Karlie Kloss references (?!) and one climactic giant-ass butterfly mural, Swift’s new single, “ME!,” debuted at midnight Friday morning. “The song is called ‘ME!,’ like, in all caps, ‘ME!,’ with an exclamation point,” she helpfully clarified to Robin Roberts during her multimedia attempt Thursday evening to upstage the NFL draft. It is a duet, of sorts, with PATD mastermind Brendon Urie, who is now an improbable minor pop star with an emo kid’s flashy erudition and a theater kid’s corny zeal. Swift appears to be pivoting back to the ultra-poppy rainbow maximalism of her 2014 smash 1989, having discarded, for the moment, the even cornier pixie-noir heel turn that was 2017’s relatively successful but far less triumphant Reputation. This song isn’t terribly good, but it will likely bulldoze its way into your head regardless. You know the drill.
As theoretical lead singles go, “ME!,” which informally launched the campaign for Swift’s as-yet-unannounced seventh album (a.k.a. #TS7), is if nothing else a cautious improvement on Reputation’s lethally stiff “Look What You Made Me Do,” a grim reminder that there are few things funnier than Taylor Swift trying to be serious. As for when she’s trying to be funny … well. This video’s got paintings of baby chicks wearing sunglasses surrounding a portrait of the Dixie Chicks, and CGI clouds with pink telephones on them, and some Austin Powers shoulder-shimmy choreography, and climactic squalls of super-pastel paint. Overall, there is a relentless sleepover exuberance you would not normally expect from a human who released a song about turning 22 six years ago, but Swift is very much in nearly-30-going-on-13 character. I’m glad she’s in a good mood.
Urie, meanwhile, does much sub–Mary Poppins mugging, as is his wont and to his fans’ delight; his thinking-emoji flamboyance is best absorbed in small doses and of course is available in only humongous doses. “Hey kids!” he shouts. “Spelling is fun!” she shouts back. This is how the bridge starts. The bridge, in what is growing to be a pop-era Swift trademark, is a problem. “Girl there ain’t no ‘I’ in team / But you know there is a ‘me.’” This is how the bridge continues. I like the crisp marching-band snare rolls. I would like to isolate them and remove much of the other recorded sound (the trumpet especially), and hand them over to Just Blaze.
“ME!” was produced by Joel Little, best known for his work on Lorde’s luxuriously stark 2013 debut, Pure Heroine, and evil teenage genius Billie Eilish is lately doing a much better impression of that record than he is here. But skeletal noir, as we have learned, is not Swift’s ideal mode. Whatever you think of her as a public figure or sociopolitical flashpoint, the Reputation era was a commercial disappointment (singles-wise, anyway) that nonetheless allowed her to tour stadiums and productively get all that Kim and Kanye angst out of her system. It worked. It sufficed. We’re a few years off, at least, from the triumphant Return to Country album that will likely represent Swift’s next legitimate shot at doing her best work. In the meantime, “ME!” is a cloyingly goofy Disney-pop confection with an earworm chorus and a certain try-hard insidiousness to it that America has come to love, or at least tolerate. It will likely not endure, relative to her many other fine jams. But you will likely hum the chorus to yourself at some point and not hate yourself for it.