Taylor Swift has a complicated history with the media. Once the industry’s darling, a shining star with good manners, country-genre naiveté, and, at the time, high school youthfulness left her defenseless when the tables turned. Now, the renowned “cat lady” has grown claws long enough to defend herself. Swift’s most recent album, “Reputation”, has focused primarily on her relationship with the public, the media, and how it affects her personal relationships. In what has become the signature style of Swift this year, the video for her fourth music video, “Delicate”, uses visual elements like props and dance choreography to confront the labels that society and the media have placed on her and the pressure and constriction of her fame.
It is a stunning addition to the series of music videos from this album and has proven that Swift has matured and will no longer allow the media to tarnish her name and Reputation.
The first visual imagery we see implies how Swift’s life changed irrevocably when she joined the music industry, and while there are fun, enjoyable aspects to her fame, there are obvious drawbacks.
The music video opens with on a red carpet, where Swift has a dazed, lost expression. After a moment, she begins smiling and answering the loud, obnoxious reporters, almost like she is just going through the motions. The chaotic scene calms only when Swift is handed a glowing piece of paper, as she sings, “Dive bar on the East Side, where you at?” (We will see the significance of this later.
) Swift continues into the lobby of a fancy hotel, where she pauses to take a picture with three fans. It is significant that this is the first time in the first forty-five seconds of the video where she looks truly happy.
The serene moment is interrupted by a uniformed bell hop lunging at the star until security quickly intervenes to haul him away. Swift does not look scared, only exasperated, which implies this is not a lone occurrence. She rolls her eyes, and viewers can see that perpetually worrying about her physical safety, let alone her public image, music production, and media reputation, is a constant weight. As she walks away, four more body guards shadow her in a four-cornered box. They seem to be there for her protection, but are intimidating nonetheless. This adds to the image that her life is restricted in multiple ways.
The prop of the glowing note comes into importance here. Swift finally escapes her shadows by ducking into a lady’s vanity area. Her expression returns to the vacant, alone expression from the very first scene. She stares at the note again then begins making goofy, silly faces in the mirror. This is symbolic of how she can only be herself when in private, a theme that continues throughout the video. The note seems to be giving her permission to or the ability to let go of her public face. At the same time, she sings “My reputation has never been worse, you must like me for me,” which further shows her vulnerability and how, after multiple public scandals and feuds in which Taylor Swift was either involved in or dragged into, her reputation has been so tarnished that that no one would like her for her public image.
Her fun ends when a group of girls enters the anteroom. She looks up shyly, but, to her surprise, they do not notice her. Swift discovers that she has wondrously become invisible. It is truly sad how relieved she looks. Swift then kicks off her heels and dances around her body guards, ripping off the bottom half of her flapper dress. This physical removal of part of her clothing is a clear representation of Swift finally feeling free to simply exist, without the pressures of society and the constant watchful eye of the “Big Brother” media. With this weight off her shoulders, she dances in a random, unadulterated fashion around the hotel lobby, the epitome of the phrase, “dance like no one is watching.” Swift dances through the hotel, in a subway station, on the subway, and on the street, literally in the rain. Her carefree disposition in this choreography shines in contrast to how strictly and carefully Swift carried herself before she became invisible.
The glowing note makes another appearance, and Swift again looks longingly into the distance. She dances her way to “The Gopher,” a historically significant bar in Los Angeles and the “dive bar on the east side” that she references earlier in the video. Swift dances even more exuberantly and enthusiastically, only stopping when she enters the establishment. She stands in the doorway, and, finally, everyone seated at the bar can see her again. Her invisibility is gone, but she does not have to put her public mask on again. The people looking at her have expressions of shock, but some are approving. These people represent the general populous, seeing Taylor Swift as herself for the first time.
The progression throughout the “Delicate” music video shows the personal growth of Swift. First, she was in the public eye, trying to fit into the character the media assigned. This period in the beginning of her fame is represented by the scenes in the beginning of the video where she is smiling on the red carpet and taking pictures with adoring fans, with intimidating body guards following her. The glowing note shows that she is starting to realize there is more to life than what Swift is currently doing. Then, Swift becomes invisible, which is symbolic of her disappearance from the public eye in her refusal to allow the media to corrupt the people’s image of her. Finally, Swift enters the establishment and everyone can see her again. This is the final stage, where Swift has matured enough to live her life purely and unobstructed by the media’s malicious opinions and yet has no fear of doing so in public. The video uses different imagery to convey this message. The visual elements collaborate to reveal that Swift will no longer allow the media to control her narrative and has completely taken responsibility for herself.