This Week in Music: "ME!" and "Drugs & the Internet"

For the past two months, Taylor Swift has been updating her Instagram feed, swapping out the dark, snaky aesthetic of her sixth album Reputation for pastels, hearts, and flowers, hinting at a new era to come on April 26. In early April, Lauv began his own pastel transformation, his bright teal hair standing out even more with each of his photos posted against a bubblegum backdrop, announcing his newest single, “Drugs & The Internet” to be released on April 25.

The week for both of these artists’ reveals has just come and gone, and I have a lot of say about Swift’s “ME!” and Lauv’s “Drugs & the Internet,” as well as their respective music videos that dropped the same day.

Music matures with the artist, especially when they write their own songs, and that is evident in both artists’ releases. I’ve been a fan of Swift’s music since middle school, and have appreciated every era and transformation, although Reputation was probably my least favorite. Lauv hasn’t been on the music scene for long, but I was an immediate fan since “I Like Me Better” came out in 2017 (and I met you when I was 18. (the playlist) was one of my favorite albums last year), so I was super excited to hear he was releasing new music. I don’t think I need to go into detail about all the criticisms Swift has faced about her genre switches and public persona, but I wouldn’t have realized Lauv faced the same issues until he posted on his Instagram story the day of the song’s release.

He essentially told his fans that it’s all fine and good if they like the “old Lauv,” but that’s not who or where he is anymore. He has grown as a person and an artist, so if they’re going to complain about how they don’t like his new stuff as much, they should just listen to the old stuff and leave him be. He was definitely not as harsh as I’m probably making him sound, but he just wanted the creative freedom to be able to grow as an artist, and he felt his fans were stifling him.

I honestly feel like they’re not real fans if they don’t support him through his journey. Then again, I’m probably being hypocritical. I’ve had my fair share of artists I love that I temporarily stopped listening to because I hated the direction they took (such as Imagine Dragons’ Smoke and Mirrors), only to realize later how wrong I’d been for being dissuaded by a few changes. (Ironically, Smoke and Mirrors is now one of my favorite of their albums.) It’s the same way I feel about iPhone updates, particularly when they make drastic design changes, like way back in 2013 with the major iOS 7 revamp. I refused to update for months, then finally cave and realize I was being silly the whole time. Fortunately, it doesn’t typically take me months to warm up to new music, probably because if I like an artist enough, I’ll listen to their songs on repeat, nonstop, for weeks at a time.

It’s strange because I don’t think there is a single artist or band out there that has continuously produced the exact same type of music. Sure, artists may stick to the same genre (or may not, like Swift’s transition from “country” to pop), but there are so many creative directions that you can take with it, and experimentation with what works and what doesn’t is part of the process. It’s what makes music so great. It’s constantly evolving, unlike other industries like film that rely on the same tropes over and over. (See my co-Pillbox Editor Sujay Utkarsh’s many rants for more on the issues with Hollywood though.)

I’m guessing discussing the new music itself is what you came here for though. So let’s start with Taylor Swift. Her newest song, “ME!” features Panic! At the Disco’s Brendon Urie, and is a fun, upbeat, bubblegum-y pop song. It’s simultaneously catchy and cringey. The whole “Hey kids / Spelling is fun” part was a mess. Especially when Urie and Swift sing, “You can't spell awesome without me.” This isn’t Sesame Street. Just no. Please stop the cringe.

Ultimately though, the song’s message is good. While Swift recognizes her flaws, she also believes that she’s one of a kind and worth it to be with. So many contexts have made me worry about a line like you’re “not like the others” (i.e., I like you because you’re not like other girls), but Swift doesn’t make it a negative thing. She constantly goes back to the line “there's a lot of cool chicks out there,” seeming to build herself up while not tearing other girls down in the process. To be honest, as much as I love Panic! At the Disco and Urie’s songwriting, I wasn’t really sure the point of Urie co-writing and singing the song. A lot of his lines could have been sung by Swift and the meaning wouldn’t have changed, and the whole “there’s a lot of lame guys out there” part just seemed unnecessary. I love a good parallel structure, but it was a bit off-putting, especially with the good-natured vibes of Swift’s similar lyric.

It’s a nice change of pace from the more aggressive Reputation, and you can immediately see the shift when watching the music video, before the song even starts. It opens with a pastel-chalked street and a pale pink snake slithering across, only to burst into millions of butterflies. Interestingly, both animals are representative of change (although the snake was originally her embracing a negative label she received from the public), with snakes shedding their skins and caterpillars’ metamorphosis to become butterflies. The scene is oddly set in France, with Swift and Urie yelling at each other in French in front of Swift’s famous cats before she storms off, past the wall of paintings of “cool chicks” (of the baby chickens in sunglasses variety), and bursts into song as she leaves. The cinematography and special effects are whimsical and fun, and there are clear nods to well-known classic musicals like Mary Poppins and Singing in the Rain, but something about Swift and Urie’s execution throughout seemed off-putting. I still don’t know how to feel about it, but I’d still say it’s worth a watch.

With Lauv’s “Drugs & The Internet,” we continue to see a trend against the love songs he used to write (starting us off in that new direction with “I’m so tired…”, his collaboration with Troye Sivan). While it’s definitely a change from his usual music, I don’t think that it is that drastic a change that fans should be rioting over. He sings that “I traded all my friends for drugs and the internet” and then contemplates whether it was worth it, asking “am I a winner yet?” He also realizes that he does not want to be a person who is affected by others’ opinions, yet he “sold his soul” and “all [he] got [was] likes from strangers, love on the internet.” It’s definitely a relevant song for this day and age, and I appreciate that it is introspective while also being a bop.

While Swift’s video was all pastel, Lauv’s consisted of neon pinks and stark whites. It’s a trippy, Alice in Wonderland-esque alternate universe filled with smashed, blocky 90s-style computers and motionless, blank-expression people around a table with bowls of various rainbow-colored pills and jellos. In between these scenes is Lauv alone in the dark, with various Snapchat-style filters exaggerating his emotions and distorting his face. When he tries one of the jellos, he starts to gag, realizing that this environment isn’t where he wants to be. It’s quite the music video, and I definitely feel like it enhances the listening experience.

It’s hard for me to say exactly what direction Taylor Swift and Lauv are taking with their music, but both releases were decent and I look forward to what they have in store next.