I don't like your little games
Don't like your tilted stage

In 2016, Kanye West performed on a tilting stage during his Saint Pablo tour. Taylor may be alluding to Kanye and Kim’s version of the story behind his controversial line, “I made that bitch famous.”

Swift also has a long-running beef with fellow pop star Katy Perry. During her Super Bowl and 2017 Grammy performances, Perry’s stage also tilted.

“Tilted stage” may also be a metaphor referring to the crooked and corrupt way that people use their platforms (media, fame, social media, etc). The words “tilted stage” brings to mind the opposite phrase “a level playing field”. By stating that the stage (a musician’s “playing field”) is tilted, therefore not level, she implies that this “game” was rigged against her from the start. The following line – “the role you made me play / Of the fool” – supports this: The media has painted Swift for years as foolish, self-victimizing, calculating, and devious, thus trapping her into that narrative.

The role you made me play
Of the fool, no, I don't like you
I don't like your perfect crime

On February 14, 2016, Kanye West released “Famous” as the lead single for The Life of Pablo. He rapped these controversial lyrics:

“I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex
Why? I made that bitch famous”

This led to a back and forth between the West and Swift camps. Kim posted a series of videos on Snapchat of Kanye calling Taylor to ask for approval to include the lyrics in the song. Swift’s team had previously denied this ever took place. While there was no specific discussion about the “I made that bitch famous” lyric in the recordings, the damage to Swift’s reputation had already been done.

Swift seems to feel like the Wests had this “perfect crime” planned from the beginning. Her “role” in the controversy may refer to her public perception as a “snake,” since snakes are traditionally portrayed as scheming, untrustworthy creatures and she posted video clips of snakes to her social media leading up to this song’s release.

How you laugh when you lie
You said the gun was mine
Isn't cool, no, I don't like you (oh)

In her guest appearance on James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke series, Katy Perry claimed that Swift started their long running feud. Kanye West also claimed that Swift was responsible for his controversial line.

Additionally, in 2014, Taylor said on the Ellen show that her biggest fear was being framed. “You said the gun was mine” seems to illustrate that she feels like she’s being blamed for someone else’s “perfect crime.”

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

A phoenix resurrecting from ashes is the most common metaphor for reinvention, but Taylor “rising from the dead” coincides more closely with the Ouroboros, since it’s featured in the lyric video for the song. The Ouroboros is an Ancient Egyptian symbol of a snake eating its own tail that represents eternity, cyclicality, and the infinite cycle of life and death.

Fans once criticized Taylor on social media using the hashtag “#TaylorSwiftIsASnake,” and leading up to this song’s release, she posted video clips of a snake to social media. In the wake of Swift’s phone call with Kanye and Kim, there was also a controversy where fans believed Kim called out Taylor using snake emojis. Taylor is reclaiming the negative symbol and flipping it as a means of self-empowerment; on her website, Swift now sells jeweled snake rings that she wore in reputation promo photos and in this song’s music video.

This may also be a response to Katy Perry’s lyric about death on “Swish Swish”:

“Can’t touch this
Another one in the casket”

Katy also refers to the subject of the song, thought to be Taylor, as “honey” in the pre-chorus. The “Swish Swish” music video dropped the day before this song was released.

I've got a list of names and yours is in red, underlined
I check it once, then I check it twice, oh!

In 2014, Katy Perry tweeted “Watch out for the Regina George in sheep’s clothing…,” which is a reference to the 2004 film Mean Girls. During the film, there’s a scene where Regina writes in the “Burn Book” using red pen and underline it.

The cadence of “I check it once, then I check it twice” is similar to the Christmas song, “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”:

“He’s making a list, he’s checking it twice
Gonna find out who’s naughty or nice”

This could be a play on how Taylor has written songs about both Kanye and Katy in the past — she wrote 2010’s “Innocent” after Kanye interrupted her speech at the 2009 Video Music Awards, and wrote her 2014 hit “Bad Blood” after her friendship with Katy came to an end.

This isn’t the first list Taylor has mentioned in a song — on “Blank Space,” she bragged about “her long list of ex-lovers,” although it was referring to the media’s false representation of her relationships.

Ooh, look what you made me do
Look what you made me do
Look what you just made me do
Look what you just made me—
Ooh, look what you made me do
Look what you made me do
Look what you just made me do
Look what you just made me do

The chorus interpolates Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy,” while the instrumental in this section is reminiscent of the Peaches song “Operate.” “Operate” is the same song playing in the Mean Girls Halloween ‘Slut’ scene—Taylor alluded to Mean Girls in the pre-chorus, too.

After the single was released, Taylor liked a fan’s post on Tumblr that explained what it is that she was forced to do:

“She always was a very open person and always showed her true self but it always got twisted around on her so now she’s saying ‘look what you made me do: I have to play into your character of me now so no one can turn anything against me again.’”

I don't like your kingdom keys
They once belonged to me

Taylor may be playing on Katy’s medieval-themed lyrics from “Swish Swish,” a song full of shots aimed at Taylor, where Katy sang:

“Cause you’re a joker
And I’m a courtside killer queen
And you will kiss the ring”

Here, the “kingdom” likely represents the music charts. In 2015, Taylor felt she “should take some time off” and focus on hanging out with friends and possibly write new music. During that time period, Katy Perry produced a new album, started to tour it, and performed at the Super Bowl. After Witness dropped in June 2017, it took the number one debut album slot on the Billboard 200 chart.
Taylor Swift removed all her music from Spotify in November of 2014. But the day that Witness dropped, Swift re-released her music on Spotify, and fans started to speculate the coincidental timing. “Swish Swish” was charting at number 55 at the time, while Taylor’s music had left the charts. However, fans realized that, even though Katy was on top for the moment, Taylor’s 1989 album was still on top overall with 1.68 million streams compared to Perry’s 1.10 million.

Fairytale imagery has been a common thread throughout Taylor’s discography, being included in songs like 2008’s “White Horse” and “Love Story,”2010’s “Long Live,” and 2014’s “New Romantics.” The K alliteration in “kingdom keys” could also be a reference to Kim / Kanye and the Kardashians' love of K words / names.

You asked me for a place to sleep
Locked me out and threw a feast (what?)

In the music video for Katy Perry’s hit “Bon Appétit,” released in April 2017, Perry is turned into a feast for the men in the video.

Taylor and Katy used to be best friends; they’d even direct adoring tweets at each other.

However, after a dispute about dancers in 2014, their friendship started to go downhill, which Taylor described on her 2014 track “Bad Blood.”

This could also be a reference to her feud with Kanye West, where she told him it was okay to use her name in a song over a phone call, thinking she was doing him a favor, not realizing the context it would be used in or that her phone call was being recorded i.e. she did Kanye a favor when she gave him permission to use her name (“asked for a place to sleep”) and he and Kim turned around and betrayed her by releasing tapes of their conversation (“locked me out and threw a feast”).

The world moves on, another day, another drama, drama
But not for me, not for me, all I think about is karma

Taylor seems to be nodding to a Britney Spears lyric from “Piece of Me,” a song that appeared on her 2007 album Blackout:

“I’m Miss Bad Media Karma
Another day, another drama”

In February 2017, Katy Perry caught flack for making fun of Britney Spears' public breakdown during the Blackout era, specifically when she shaved her head in rehab—at the 2017 Grammys, Katy said:

“It’s called taking care of your mental health. I haven’t shaved my head yet.”

In the song art for “Swish Swish,” the words “karma coffee & tea” were written on a receipt. Katy also sang about karma in the song:

“Karma’s not a liar”

Even before “Swish Swish” was released, Taylor had always been a believer in karma—in her “73 Questions” interview with Vogue, she said “karma is real.”

And then the world moves on, but one thing's for sure
Maybe I got mine, but you'll all get yours

The “all” in “You’ll all get yours” seems to reveal this song is directed at both Katy Perry and Kanye West.

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've got a list of names and yours is in red, underlined
I check it once, then I check it twice, oh!

Ooh, look what you made me do
Look what you made me do
Look what you just made me do
Look what you just made me—
Ooh, look what you made me do
Look what you made me do
Look what you just made me do
Look what you just made me do

I don't trust nobody and nobody trusts me
I'll be the actress starring in your bad dreams
I don't trust nobody and nobody trusts me
I'll be the actress starring in your bad dreams
I don't trust nobody and nobody trusts me
I'll be the actress starring in your bad dreams
I don't trust nobody and nobody trusts me
I'll be the actress starring in your bad dreams

The media portrayed Taylor as a liar following her feud with Kanye in 2016. Kanye claimed he had called her about the lyric ahead of time, but Taylor’s team denied the exchange had ever happened. Kim then released videos of their call on Snapchat.

Embodying a nightmare is a concept Taylor also sang about on 2014’s “Blank Space”:

“Cause, darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream”

(Ooh, look what you made me do
Look what you made me do
Look what you just made me do
Look what you just made me—
Ooh, look what you made me do
Look what you made me do
Look what you just made me—)
"I'm sorry, the old Taylor can't come to the phone right now
"Why? Oh, 'cause she's dead!" (Oh)

This spoken interlude reflects the changes Taylor made to her creative image in anticipation of her sixth studio album Reputation. The “old Taylor” is her softer personality and expression prior to this song. This “old Taylor” has also included spoken interludes on the lead singles from her last two albums: “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” on which she speaks on the phone, and “Shake It Off.”

On August 18, 2017, Taylor’s social media accounts and website were completely wiped of all content. Five days later, Reputation was announced, and her social media statuses changed to “The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now,” signifying the broader context of her shift in persona.

Her transformation came to life in the official music video, where she dresses up in some of her most memorable outfits, and the reputation-era Taylor kills most of them.

Taylor’s sentiments about the “old Taylor” may also mirror Kanye West’s “I miss the old Kanye” lyric from 2016’s “I Love Kanye,” a similarly self-aware meta-commentary on public image.

Ooh, look what you made me do
Look what you made me do
Look what you just made me do
Look what you just made me—
Ooh, look what you made me do
Look what you made me do
Look what you just made me do
Look what you just made me do
Ooh, look what you made me do
Look what you made me do
Look what you just made me do
Look what you just made me—
Ooh, look what you made me do
Look what you made me do
Look what you just made me do
Look what you just made me do