From Swift to Stark: Taylor Swift and her Adulation of Game of Thrones
The influence of GoT on Taylor Swift’s songwriting and imagery
Game of Thrones with its sprawling epic and complex characters, has been a phenomenon and source of enthralling discussion for us at Remarkist, so the overlap with the Swift world has been fascinating to explore. Our first venture into these parallel universes is in the character of Taylor’s kindred spirit, Arya Stark.
Finding her inner Arya Stark
A tale of ice 🧊 and fire 🔥 has carved a path through the realm of pop music. Taylor Swift, who is often celebrated for her vivid storytelling and lyrical mastery, draws significant inspiration from HBO’s hit series, Game of Thrones. The globally renowned singer-songwriter has time and again channeled the series’ narrative elements and characters into her music with Arya Stark, played by Maisie Williams, holding a special resonance.
Arya Stark’s journey begins with the execution of her father, Ned Stark, by the ruling Lannister family. This event incites her desire for vengeance against those who harm her family and instigate their downfall.
From this point, Arya starts to create a ‘kill list’, a tally of names of people she holds personally responsible for the tragedy and loss she and her family have endured. This list becomes a mantra that she repeats, a reminder of her goal.
Arya’s Kill List in Taylor’s Lyrics
Perhaps the most prominent example of the Game of Thrones influence in Taylor’s discography is her single “Look What You Made Me Do.” Taylor has described this song as “literally Arya Stark’s kill list,” a reference to Arya’s grim tally of people she intends to exact revenge upon. For Arya, the list is a rallying cry against the injustices inflicted upon her and her family; for Taylor, it’s a response to her detractors, a demonstration of her will to reclaim her narrative and get vengeance on those who have tried to set her up.
In this song, Taylor displays a tenacious determination akin to Arya’s, vowing to stand up against those who have wronged her. Her lyrics echo Arya’s character arc, reflecting the themes of self-assertion, resilience, and importantly, the transformation brought by adversity.
Finding an Echo in Arya Stark
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Taylor joked about her parallel with Arya Stark, a fierce and independent young woman driven by vengeance. She said, “I realize I don’t know how to use a sword and I’ve never had to rise up from near death to go on an epic revenge mission—but I have been in the music industry for over 15 years, so…”. This playful yet profound sentiment underscores how she perceives her journey in the music industry, likening it to Arya’s harrowing but empowering voyage in Game of Thrones.
In “Look What You Made Me Do,” Taylor says: “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 / I got a list of names and yours is in red underlined I check it once, then I check it twice, oh!”
These lyrics seem to resonate with Arya’s determination. Much like Arya’s list, Taylor’s “red underlined names” represent those who have wronged her.
Taylor vs. Kanye and Kim
In a controversial 2016 incident involving Taylor, Kanye West, and Kim Kardashian, Taylor claimed that Kanye never ran the line “I made that b**** famous” by her in his song, but his then-wife Kim Kardashian uploaded edited clips of their conversation, suggesting otherwise.
The now-infamous feud between Taylor and Kanye led to a series of public disputes. Kim added fuel to the fire by posting videos on Snapchat of a phone call between West and Taylor, attempting to show she was giving approval for certain controversial lyrics in West's song, something her team had previously denied.
This led to a social media frenzy, with Taylor being labeled a liar and facing significant backlash. She was even dubbed a “snake” 🐍 by Kim. The incident affected her reputation and led to criticism of her political passivity and feminism and she took a brief hiatus. This is where the “Look What You Made Me Do” video would indicate the old Taylor was dead. The New York Times’ Lindsay Zoladz considered this Taylor's gradual and deliberate decision at 27 years old to abandon her previous youthful and innocent music and image, unlike former teenage female singers who provocatively publicize their sudden “loss of innocence.” But she was not a butterfly 🦋 emerging from a cocoon; she died and was reinvented and reborn like a Phoenix from the ashes… or a snake 🐍 that shed its skin... or perhaps a dragon. 🐉
Almost a year later in late 2017, Taylor Swift released her album reputation. Taylor teased the news with a series of mysterious Instagram videos depicting a serpent. The album was heavily inspired by the TV series Game of Thrones, incorporating cryptic storytelling and foreshadowing. She wanted to be a master of hint-dropping like the show’s creators. She worked with two production teams and explored various genres, including pop, R&B, trap, EDM, and a touch of her country roots. Upon its release, the reception of reputation was met with mixed reactions. Joe Lynch, a writer for Billboard, observed that the album evoked polarized responses from different groups of listeners. Casual fans found themselves perplexed by the new direction; dedicated Taylor Swift fans were presented with a more daring and unconventional work. Critics and detractors found ample material to fuel their negative opinions. Swifties comment on how feral the vibe of tour was, but the new material wasn’t all vengeance.
“Look What You Made Me Do”
The lead single from reputation, “Look What You Made Me Do,” showcased her defiance and transformation. It embraced the public’s portrayal of her as a villain but on her own terms. The song featured memorable lines like “I don't trust nobody and nobody trusts me” and “I’m sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh, because she’s dead.” The accompanying music video depicted Taylor as her past selves, symbolizing her evolution and resilience.
Tilted Stage: A Metaphor for Unfair Play
I don’t like your little games
Don’t like your tilted stage
The role you made me play of the fool…
I don’t like your perfect crime.
Although there was no explicit agreement about the lyric “I made that b**ch famous” in the recordings, the impact on her reputation was substantial. She appears to perceive the Wests as having planned this “perfect crime” from the start. She seemingly alludes to this with “I don’t like your tilted stage,” which potentially draws on West’s 2016 Saint Pablo tour performance on a tilting stage. However, she appears to employ the phrase as a metaphor, suggesting that the stage, a symbol for platforms in the industry or society, is tilted, or manipulated unfairly.
I got a list of names, and yours is in red, underlined
I check it once, then I check it twice, oh!...
How you laugh when you lie
You said the gun was mine
The echoes of Arya Stark’s “kill list” continue to reverberate in Taylor’s music and personal journey, with another name finding a prominent place in red underline: Katy Perry. Like the Stark girl’s list of enemies, Taylor’s is not limited to one.
How You Laugh When You Lie
This connection becomes particularly resonant considering the long-running feud between Taylor and Perry. Perry, in her guest appearance on James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke series, claimed that their discord was instigated by Taylor. The lyrics, “How you laugh when you lie, you said the gun was mine,” are particularly poignant in this context, although West did (falsely) tweet that the offensive lines were her idea. The statement subtly points to the irony and deception that often underlie public narratives, further reinforcing Taylor’s connection to the world of Arya Stark where intrigues and manipulations are rife.
The Tilting Stage: An Echoed Metaphor
Perry’s use of a tilted stage during her Super Bowl and 2017 Grammy performances adds another layer to the metaphor of the “tilted stage” employed by Taylor. This shared staging technique further strengthens the connection between their personal conflicts and the tilted, unfair “stage” of the music industry. Taylor, in turn, had her own tilting stage platform during the reputation Stadium Tour, perhaps a subtle nod to her continuing resilience in face of industry manipulations and personal trials.
Through this lens, Taylor’s battles are not against rogue knights or treacherous lords, but against critics, frenemies, peers, media scrutiny, and the ongoing challenges of maintaining a long-standing music career. Despite these obstacles, like Arya, she has endured and come out stronger, channeling her experiences into her music like a phoenix rising again and again.
Also “Look What You Made Me Do,” with its themes of vengeance and rebirth, mirrors Cersei Lannister’s arc, particularly her evolution after the destruction of the Sept of Baelor. The lyrics “I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me/ I’ll be the actress starring in your bad dreams” parallel Cersei’s isolation and her enemies’ fear of her. They also underscore the fierce determination and resilience that define both Cersei and Daenerys Targaryen.
Homage to the Targaryens
Furthermore, Taylor’s visual and lyrical references to Game of Thrones do not stop at Arya Stark. The music video for “Bejeweled” directed by Taylor herself, contains striking visuals reminiscent of Daenerys Targaryen, another iconic character from Game of Thrones. Fans have pointed out that the closing scenes, featuring dragons soaring around a castle, are an unmistakable nod to Daenerys. Taylor’s lyrics in “mad woman” also seem to echo the trajectory of Daenerys’s character.
“I Did Something Bad”
“I Did Something Bad” is a track from her album reputation. Taylor said she wrote it after Arya and Sansa conspire to kill Littlefinger. The song does explore themes of revenge and cunning, and the lyrics can be interpreted to depict a sense of power and reclaiming control after facing betrayal or manipulation. It showcases a darker side of Taylor Swift’s persona, which aligns with the idea of Cersei’s character from the show.
The lyrics “I never trust a narcissist / But they love me / So I play ‘em like a violin / And I make it look oh-so-easy,” can be seen as embodying Sansa’s experiences with manipulative characters such as Littlefinger. She learns to manipulate the manipulators, much like how she orchestrated Littlefinger’s downfall. Further, “They say I did something bad / Then why’s it feel so good?” resonates with Arya’s darker character development, where she exacts her own form of justice on those who have wronged her and her family.
“King of My Heart”
“King of My Heart” reflects a passionate and intense love ❤️ story between Khal Drogo and Daenerys Targaryen. The lyrics, “And all at once, you are the one I have been waiting for / King of my heart, body and soul,” aligns with Daenerys’ initial feelings for Drogo, who becomes an integral part of her journey towards power and self-discovery. Of the song, Taylor said, “it’s even got these post-hook drums—I wanted them to sound like Dothraki drums.” The post-hook drums 🥁 in the song sound similar to the Dothraki culture portrayed in the series.
Wrapping it all up, the emotions, imagery, and themes captured in the lyrics of her album folklore’s “mad woman” resonate strikingly with the character arc of Daenerys in Game of Thrones. Both women are depicted as rising to power and struggling to maintain it amidst a tumultuous world that often seeks to undermine them. Daenerys faces betrayal, isolation, and the relentless whispers of madness; Taylor, in her own world, deals with the public’s skepticism over her influence and control over her career. Their narratives are interwoven with themes of empowerment, wrath, and ultimately, the fallibility of those who wield power.
Moreover, the poetic language used in “mad woman” is reminiscent of the poetic visuals in Game of Thrones. With the song’s vivid imagery of scorpions 🦂, flames 🔥, and ships, one can easily conjure the world of Westeros where dragons soared and battles raged on the sea. 🌊 With the surprise drop of her album, Taylor revealed, through an Instagram post, that some of her new songs are inspired by diverse characters, one of them being “a misfit widow getting gleeful revenge on the town that cast her out.”
The line, “Does a scorpion sting when fighting back?” is a probable nod to the Scorpions, the deadly weapons used against Daenerys’ dragons in the series. This line serves as a metaphor for both Taylor and Daenerys’ resistance and retaliation against the forces trying to bring them down.
A poignant aspect where both narratives converge is in the critique of society’s perception of women in positions of power.
And there’s nothing like a mad woman
What a shame she went mad
No one likes a mad woman
You made her like that
These lines encapsulate the tragic irony of Daenerys’ fall. As the weight of the crown 👑 and her isolation grew, so did her desperation, which was quickly labeled madness by those around her.
Now I breathe flames each time I talk
My cannons all firin’ at your yacht
These lyrics indeed contain clear dragon imagery, which aligns with Daenerys’ association with dragons 🐉 in Game of Thrones. The mention of cannons firing at a yacht 🛥 could be interpreted as a reference to the scene in which Daenerys attacks Euron Greyjoy’s Iron Fleet, who was sailing on a fleet of ships resembling yachts, lending itself as Taylor’s metaphorical enemies’ lavishness. This moment showcases Daenerys’ power and her willingness to use force against her enemies.
Women like hunting witches too
This line draws a parallel between Daenerys and Cersei, emphasizing that women can also be powerful and ruthless. In Game of Thrones, Daenerys and Cersei are presented as two strong and ambitious women who engage in a battle for power. The mention of burning witches is reminiscent of the line in “Look What You Made Me Do,” which further reinforces the idea of vengeance and retribution.
It’s obvious that wanting me dead
Has really brought you two together
This line implies that the desire to eliminate her has united Jon and Tyrion, who were initially her allies. These lyrics could be seen as a reflection of Daenerys’ growing paranoia and distrust in the final seasons of Game of Thrones. Throughout the last two seasons of Game of Thrones, characters including Tyrion Lannister, Varys, and Jon Snow repeatedly express concern over Daenerys falling prey to the infamous “Targaryen madness.” This development aligns with Daenerys’ increasing isolation and belief that her enemies are conspiring against her, leading to a shift in her behavior and decisions.
Watching you climb
watching you climb
Over people like me
the master of spin has a couple side flings
These lines suggest a reference to Jon Snow’s rise to power and how it poses a threat to Daenerys’ claim to the Iron Throne. Jon, being a key player in the political landscape, ascends and gains support from those around him. The mention of the “master of spin” could be a nod to Varys, the “Master of Whisperers” in Game of Thrones. Varys, known for his manipulation and information gathering, becomes a target of Daenerys’ suspicion and ultimately faces the consequences.
This serves as a reflection on the real-life challenges faced by women in positions of power 💪 and influence. It mirrors how society can be quick to label powerful women as “mad” or “crazy”, often overlooking the factors that might have driven them to certain actions.
So, next time you listen to “mad woman,” picture the dragons 🐉 soaring over Westeros, and think of the tumultuous journey of Daenerys Targaryen; the Khaleesi, the Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons, whose echoes are captured in the haunting melody of Taylor Swift’s song.
Experience the Magic of Taylor’s World
It’s one thing to listen to Taylor’s music in isolation; it’s another to experience it as part of a larger community. Engage with the magic ✨ that weaves through her lyrics as they merge seamlessly with iconic scenes from your favorite shows 📺 and movies. 🎥 The combination of music and storytelling creates a new, richer experience. To listen to Lady Taylor’s music under the moonlight 🌙 is to be swept away to realms unknown. When her lyrics are entwined with the sagas of yore, unprecedented magic 🪄 is woven before your very eyes with each line.
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