Taylor Swift's 'Delicate' Video Dances Away Her Regrets: Critic's Take
“Delicate," the fourth visual released from sixth Taylor Swift LP Reputation, premiered during last night’s iHeartRadio Music Awards – and though Swift wasn’t there to accept her female artist of the year award in person, the “Delicate” video might already be the most beloved release of the Reputation era.
The deliberately paced, heavily vocodored “Delicate” could be the most sensual song Swift’s ever written, where she narrates a new relationship that’s as thrilling as it is uncertain. But the video drops that love story for a fairytale about self-discovery.
We open on Swift’s face, zoned out, standing on a red carpet. She goes through the usual motions – posing for photos, interviews – until she’s handed a mysterious sparkling note by a faceless figure. Onlookers gawk, a bellhop gets too close, her bodyguards keep everyone at a distance. It’s another ordinary day. So Swift pulls silly faces in a mirror, entertaining herself -- until the note sparkles, and her reflection disappears.
Invisible to everyone but us, freed from the expectations of fame, she prances joyfully (and awkwardly) from a bustling hotel lobby to the New York subway. She dances onto a street in a downpour, as if she’s reenacting Singin’ in the Rain -- and she’s never looked happier. The note leads her to a bar, and dripping wet, the patrons see her. She’s back in the real world.
Taylor's “Shake It Off” video from 2014 ended with the pop star attempting a ballet curtsy and falling over. In “Delicate”, its spiritual sequel, she redeems herself, pulling off a surprisingly elegant split on the hood of a car. Just like Lorde in her wordless “Homemade Dynamite“ performance from last year’s VMAs, Swift is no trained dancer, but she’s more charming because she’s completely herself.
In what feels like a milestone, this is the first music video where Taylor Swift doesn’t lip sync. She’s not performing the way you’d expect -- as if she’s gone off-script, stumbling into a parallel storyline that only syncs up with the lyrics at the end. “Dive bar on the East Side, where you at?”, she sings in the first verse – only arriving in the song’s last chorus.
Acting in music videos is its own art form, one that hearkens back to silent films and musicals. Swift’s a singer and guitarist by trade, but through her dancing and facial expressions, she’s learned to tell stories with her whole body. “Delicate” takes us on a physical, spiritual journey. By the end, Taylor’s danced away her troubles and found a new inner peace – and hopefully, so have we.
Reputation was relatively well-received by most fans and critics, but there lingers a certain narrative that Taylor’s not acknowledged her public stumbles. That couldn’t be further from the truth: After pride comes a fall; after 1989 came the darker, moodier Reputation. Much of the latter set wrestles with one question: Can you find true intimacy in the chaos of modern life? Fame is fickle; popularity is fleeting. What happens when the rich and famous stop paying attention to Taylor, as if she’s invisible? How can someone see past your superficial reputation, to the person you really are?
The lyrics to "Delicate" may be inspired by Swift’s current boyfriend, actor Joe Alwyn. But the video represents her relationship with us, her audience. “My reputation’s never been worse, so/ You must like me for me”, she sings, to anyone who’s willing to hear her.
The video frees Taylor from our expectations. She casts off the burden of her name and face, and dances for the pure joy of music -- the reason she began writing songs in the first place. Her message: We are not defined by our lowest moments. We are how we choose to define ourselves, and Taylor chooses to humble herself through awkward, honest, cathartic dance. “Delicate” finally allows her to hit reset.
The joy of Taylor dancing in the rain is real. In the freezing cold, she loved doing that. #DelicateMusicVideo— Joseph Kahn (@JosephKahn) March 12, 2018
After her controversial last few years, Swift no longer aspires to be a flawless role model. But now that the dust’s settled, she’s ready to lead by example again, through her songs. She’s older and wiser, but still the same girl who sang to her younger self ten years ago on “Fifteen," anticipating all the lessons she’d yet to learn.
If 1989 marked the peak of Swift’s imperial phase, the comedown has been more polarizing -- but every bit as fascinating. Twelve years after her self-titled debut album, Taylor Swift’s still searching for herself. She’s no longer singing about past romantic regrets or fairytale endings, but about living in the moment, and the uncertain, endless possibilities of the future. “Delicate” ends, joyful but unresolved, on a chorus of questions: “Is it cool that I said all that?/ Is it too soon to do this yet?/ ‘Cause I know that it’s delicate/ Isn’t it? Isn’t it? Isn’t it? Isn’t it?...”