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If you think Taylor Swift will stumble in ascent to megastardom, you are wrong

Taylor Swift’s new single was released late Thursday.
Taylor Swift’s new single was released late Thursday.

A typhoon roared through the internet and social media Thursday night and Friday morning, and it was because of Taylor Swift’s new single, “Look What You Made Me Do.”

The song will be on her “Reputation” album, which comes out in November. It was released at midnight Eastern time, and a maelstrom of reactions quickly ensued — reactions to the song and reactions to those reactions.

The hyperbolic headline at Jezebel.com, posted at 1:30 a.m. Friday: “Taylor Swift’s new song explodes all over everything like an exploding snake, killing everyone.”

The “snake” in the headline refers to a few snake videos Swift posted earlier in the week to hype release of the song and its video, as if she needs the hype. The song is middling, musically — familiar and derivative. The chorus so strongly resembles the hook to the 1990s novelty hit “I’m Too Sexy” that the writers of that song, Right Said Fred, share songwriting credits.

The music isn’t the point of “Look What You Made Me Do”; the lyrics are. The song is a platform from which Swift addresses (ersatz?) feuds with other celebrities, from Kanye West and Kim Kardashian to Katy Perry.

It also gives Swift a chance to declare that the old Taylor has been embalmed and buried; long live the new one.

Late in the track, as if in a phone conversation, Swift declares: “I’m sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh, ‘cause she’s dead.’ ” This sort of reinvention isn’t new either. We’ve seen it before, most notably with Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus.

The amount of deep, meticulous analysis “Look” has inspired seems inordinate for a song of such little musical import and self-indulgent lyrics. Unlike her most popular hits, which express inclusive and universal feelings about love, relationships and romance, “Look” is all about Taylor; the listener is left on the outside looking in.

So why all the hype and diagnoses? Because Swift is arguably the biggest pop star in the world, a status she’s had her eyes on for more than a decade, back to the days when she was a teenager singing lovelorn songs and opening arena shows for some of the biggest stars in country music.

I went back and looked at reviews of every Taylor Swift performance The Star reviewed, starting with a March 2007 show at Kemper Arena, when Swift opened for George Strait. She was 17. She sang five songs.

From our reviewer Bill Brownlee: “Swift comes across as the musical offspring of Garth Brooks and Shania Twain. She’s perfect — maybe a little too perfect for fans who like their country music gritty and organic. Nonetheless, it’s possible — even likely — that Swift will dominate country music charts over the next decade.”

She fulfilled that prophesy, but her popularity would spread to the pop charts, too.

Two months later, Swift returned to the area, opening for another country star, Brad Paisley, at the amphitheater in Bonner Springs. She sang seven songs, including a cover of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.”

Again, Brownlee reviewed: “The teen sensation remains a force to be reckoned with, although a hint of spontaneity at her next Kansas City appearance would be refreshing.”

That next appearance was at the Sprint Center in August 2009. She was the opener, for megastar Keith Urban, but it didn’t feel like it. From my review:

“Saturday’s show was sold out because it featured two of the biggest and best-selling stars in country music: Keith Urban and Taylor Swift. The show wasn’t billed as a co-headlining show, but it sure felt like one. It looked like one, too. …

“She is young (she’ll turn 20 in December), but she writes her own songs, plays a few instruments and is poised to become huge, as big as boys like Chesney and McGraw. Her act needs some polish. When she spoke to the crowd she seemed too programmed, scripted and choreographed.”

That programming and polish would pay off, though. She returned to Kansas City eight months later, in April 2010, to headline a show at the Sprint Center. The show was a couple months after her Grammy incident.

From my review: “She did not change any perceptions about her voice. It never came close to sounding like it did during her duet at the Grammys — so bad it made Stevie Nicks wince. But even with whatever outside fortifications or corrections she may have been getting, it is her weakest trait: reedy, one-dimensional and without a fleck of heart or soul. …

“In the face of all that, you ask: How does she sell 6 million records and sell out arenas? And the answer is in the songs: in her keen pop craft-work; and in the lyrics, which speak to girls just old enough to understand puppy love, to teenagers in the throes of adolescence and even to 20- and 30-something women or moms in their 40s.”

She had endeared herself to more than one generation of fans and became as huge as the big boys like McGraw and Chesney. Her next Kansas City appearance was in September 2011, when she drew more than 50,000 fans to Arrowhead Stadium.

From my review: “The football stadium is where rock megastars go to show off their muscle and might. It’s no place for the small, the slight or the meek. So when Taylor Swift announced that some of the dates in her Speak Now Tour would be at football stadiums, including our own Arrowhead, some of us wondered how her pop anthems, her stage personae and her somewhat infamous voice would translate.

Saturday night, we got our answer: Just fine. For more than two hours, she rained spectacle and hit songs on nearly 50,000 fans, most of them fawning teen and pre-teen girls with mothers in tow.”

She has returned to Kansas City twice since the Arrowhead show. Both times she sold out two shows in two days: Aug. 2 and 3 in 2013, when Ed Sheeran opened; and Sept. 21 and Sept. 22, 2015, when country star Dierks Bentley made an appearance.

All four shows sold out, and each only reaffirmed her megastar status and showed how her fan base had grown. At one of her 2015 performances, several Kansas City Royals were in attendance with wives or girlfriends.

From my review of the second of those shows: “Both (shows) drew crowds that demonstrated that Swift’s popularity has spread far beyond the target of her music: pre-teen and adolescent girls enduring the tribulations of pubescence. A significant minority of the crowds were adults … many without children in tow.”

Swift is a full-fledged adult now and has moved well beyond adolescent musings. Her trajectory has been steep and constant, all of it powered by her wily management and the deft choreography of her own career.

In her new song, she sounds like the conqueror feigning victimhood: “But I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time / Honey, I rose up from the dead; I do it all the time.”

That’s a scoff-worthy line. If anything explains the ever-expanding interest in every move Taylor Swift makes, it’s that she hasn’t stumbled, she hasn’t slipped, she hasn’t been buried for dead. So people watch, awaiting some fall from grace that isn’t coming or marveling at her steep, unfettered 10-year ascent into pop stardom.

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain

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