The weird world of Taylor Swift is as fascinating as any science fiction universe. In fact, possessing her level of money and fame and unwillingness to self-edit is not even precisely imaginable to people who are not Taylor Swift, and so her lived reality, for our purposes, might as well be science fiction.
Never has that been more clear than in the Joseph Kahn-directed video for “End Game,” released this week. The fifth single from Reputation, it’s a baffling and addictive song featuring rap verses from Future (a rapper from Atlanta) and Ed Sheeran (a guy). Money really can concoct any situation. In it, Taylor Swift gets utterly trashed on what looks to be a grotesque mix of whiskey, tequila, champagne, and beer, blows bubbles at a famous rapper, drives a motorcycle in a snakeskin bodysuit, plays Snake on an old Gameboy, hip thrusts on a yacht, and tells secrets on a public bus.
It is understandable if, while watching this frenetically edited Gap-catalogue of a rap video, you asked yourself “What all is... going on?”
Lucky for you, I have something to say about (almost) every single frame.
Taylor Swift. It’s her world and we’re about to be living in it for four minutes and ten seconds.
Technically this is just a window with a good view of of the London Eye, but when you think about it it’s more like a reminder that all the world’s a stage. More specifically, all the world is stage setting — for Taylor Swift.
Ed Sheeran. He is one of Taylor Swift’s best friends, and in this song he says, “Even when we argue we don’t do it for long.” Do you think the argument he’s referencing has anything to do with the year he wrote a gorgeous love song for Harry Styles to perform? A much better song than the one he wrote for Taylor Swift that year?
Same window, different city. Taylor Swift is a sorceress, and she’ll spend part of this night in Tokyo.
Future. On November 6th, four days before the release of Reputation, Spin’s Jordan Sargent wrote the headline “Do You Believe That Future Is on the New Taylor Swift Album?” Four days later, it was clear that it doesn’t matter what anyone believes, except Taylor Swift.
Taylor, never the type of woman to pull a magic trick only once, opens the blinds again to reveal that she is also in Miami.
Joseph Kahn also directed the videos for “Blank Space,” “Bad Blood,” “Wildest Dreams,” “Out of the Woods,” “Look What You Made Me Do,” and “...Ready for It?” He loves sci-fi and blockbuster aesthetics, and has previously cast Taylor as a Stepford Wives robot, a Mad Max gunslinger, a magical ice witch, a zombie princess, a cyborg, and a hologram.
In this video, Kahn’s idea of a sci-fi monster is, simply, Taylor Swift herself.
The phrase “end game” primarily refers to the last few minutes of chess, when there are only a few pieces left. But it’s also a common term in TV fandom, one that devoted shippers use to describe a couple of characters who are destined to be together when the series ends. I’d argue that Taylor — who is both a romantic and a strategist — is using both definitions in this song.
The theme of the Miami segment of this video will be boats.
Not only can Taylor Swift afford a yacht, Taylor Swift can afford post-production repositioning of the moon, placing it within the frame of a music video instead of somewhere else — like the sky. The Miami portion of this video was filmed on December 20th, 2017, at which point there was actually a new moon. But celestial bodies don’t do what they want in this universe. They do what Taylor Swift wants.
Taylor Swift and Future hang out for the first time in their lives, in a vehicle that The Verge transportation reporter Andy Hawkins identified as “uhhh, this kind of doesn’t look like a real car.” Well, of course not, Andy.
Though I would have believed that this car was conceived of and built exclusively for Taylor Swift, The Verge luxury expert Micah Singleton later identified it as a Lamborghini Aventador. Okay! One of those costs $400,000. In it, Taylor informs Future “Ooh, you and me we got big reputations.” This is true, and certainly the main thing they have in common, other than a proclivity for public beefs with prominent colleagues.
Beautiful background dancers are trained to dip when Taylor Swift says “AHHH,” which she does with fantastic drama nerd aplomb.
If you have a yacht, you can host yacht parties in a choker and an architecturally improbable sports bra. You don’t even have to actually interact with any of your guests!
It’s hard to say what sort of cocktail Taylor is stirring with this diamond-encrusted swizzle stick, but in “Gorgeous,” the third single from Reputation, she does mention liking “whiskey on ice.” That was the first time she had ever referenced alcohol of any kind in a song. She’s been above the legal drinking age since 2010!
After Taylor raises a glass to toast her “big enemies,” Future says “yeah!” He also has big enemies. His include his ex-wife Ciara — who is more gifted than him — and Jay-Z.
This yacht has the same branding as Taylor Swift’s Reputation merch, which is over-priced, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t think about buying some. In the “End Game” universe, there’s not really any such thing as branding, because there is only one brand and here she is:
She’s a little bored but informs Future again, “You and me would be a big conversation.” He’s driving and doesn’t respond.
On Taylor Swift’s yacht, a trophy case full of previously undiscovered minerals.
On Taylor Swift’s yacht, some absolutely bonkers faux leather joggers and a choreographed dance I am going to learn.
To the eagle-eyed, constantly suspicious, and easily entertained, this choice of pant might read as a small dig at Swift nemesis Kanye West. He claimed in 2013 that he had invented the idea of a leather jogging pant back in 2006, but it was rejected by Fendi. You might call this far-fetched, but I would remind you that we’re talking about a world totally alien to our own. Expand your mind.
According to Taylor Swift Style, a popular Tumblr and one of the most impressive works of journalism in the last 100 years, the boots Taylor is wearing in this shot are Giuseppe Zanotti platform peep-toe booties, and they go for about $1,600.
Future points at one of Taylor Swift’s groundbreaking scientific discoveries and says “You’re so dope.”
Future tells Taylor “We do the most / I’m in the Ghost,” referring to a Rolls-Royce Ghost. He’s not. He’s in a Lamborghini that costs about $100,000 more than that car.
This cute couple is having a nice time in the world of Taylor Swift.
Taylor shows Future everything she owns.
Here’s something we’re going to have to be frank about: Taylor Swift’s sci-fi universe has a lot of outdated technology, even as it has modern cars and boats and eye makeup styles. You might think this woman is taking a selfie with a phone but she is not.
It’s an Instax camera. Coincidentally, you can suddenly buy oodles of Instax accessories at Urban Outfitters.
Future tells Taylor, “I got a reputation, girl, that don’t precede me,” a lyric that makes her smile because it’s a reference to the name of her album.
Taylor makes this swoon face when Future says “I’ve got a bad boy persona, that’s what they like.” It’s a good callback to almost every song she’s ever written, including the 2014 banger “Blank Space,” in which she delivers the vocal wink “I can make the bad guys good for a weekend.”
The cat in the background of this shot doesn’t move, but its eyes glow with a chilling fluorescent light. It is presumably a stand-in for Taylor Swift’s cats Olivia (Benson) and Meredith (Grey), as well as Taylor’s current boyfriend Joe Alwyn, whose eyes are described on the song “Delicate” as “Oh damn, if I’ve seen that color blue.”
The Christian Louboutin boots Swift is wearing in this shot retail for $1,895.
Taylor hangs out in the part of a fancy hotel that is part bathroom lobby, part waiting space for an over-crowded steakhouse. It looks a lot like the video for “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever,” which takes place in a fancy hotel with an over-crowded steakhouse. Obviously, we’ll discuss this in an “extended universe” dissection at a later date.
I honestly love that Future agreed to do this song, as I think the drama of the fact of his presence gives Swift an excuse to do what she does best — turn the theatrics up to 11 and act like a total ham. Musical theater villains are way more fun than ingenues. And she is way more fun when she’s drawling and spitting and winking and shouting.
Or, for example, wearing a $2,600 jacket to the ocean alone and cooing to the open air, “I don’t wanna hurt you, I just wanna be / Drinking on a beach with you all over me.”
There were no fireworks in Miami on December 20th, but I hardly see how that would matter to Taylor Swift.
Joseph Kahn was accused of copying Beyoncé’s “Partition” when he made “Blank Space” back in 2014, and he was accused of ripping off “Formation” when “Look What You Made Me Do” was released last fall. I’m not going to say that Beyoncé invented drunk stumbling on the beach, neon lighting, or feet, but I am going to say that in the world of “End Game,” it’s unlikely that anyone cares.
The theme of the Tokyo portion of this video will be “getting very drunk.”
Given the opening segment in which Taylor is able to open and close her curtains and instantly swap the city outside of them, we can assume that this is all part of the same evening, and that all of the alcohol she ingested in Miami is still in her body.
Shots with squiggly straws!
Ah, the classic flirting move of removing a boy’s glasses without asking. When Reputation was released, there were rumors that the NC-17 song “Dress” was about Swift’s crush on Ed Sheeran, but he dismissed them.
But here’s the second classic flirting move of plastic maracas.
Thankfully, Taylor takes a break from drinking to play some DDR.
Taylor Swift has leaned into snake imagery during this album promotion cycle, a convoluted and ultimately pretty dumb response to an incident nearly two years ago in which Kim Kardashian fans littered her Instagram with snake emoji. This particular snakeskin-patterned bodysuit, however, is something she has chosen to wear because musician and makeup artist Jeffree Starr tweeted a picture of himself in it back in September, with the caption “I’m wearing Taylor Swift’s skin.”
...A very normal and understandable choice by Taylor to remember that and do this later!
“The A Team” was Ed Sheeran’s break-out radio hit, back in 2011. It’s referenced on Taylor’s shirt and in the chorus of “End Game.”
[Fell out of my chair.]
The London portion of this video was filmed in October 2017, before the world had any idea that Future and Taylor Swift would meet. The theme of this part is “toasting to Taylor Swift.”
A toast to Taylor Swift, who is wearing a slightly different version of the rainbow striped dress that she wore in the bonkers supplementary magazines that came with every Target purchase of Reputation.
There’s a brief break from the toasting-Taylor party so everyone can have some kind of Singin’ in the Rain inspired séance in the back alley. This is my favorite part of the video because it makes no sense at all and is totally unrelated to the song!
In case you were wondering — no there were not any fireworks in London last October.
It is hilarious to me that the camera pulled back from what already seemed like a bizarre outfit and revealed what Swift is actually wearing — a letterman jacket over fishnet tights and a... men’s XL Disney World’s Animal Kingdom t-shirt from 1992?
Top hat! Cane!
Very crazy video camera!
I agree that Taylor should sleep it off.
Instead, there will be another toast to Taylor, led by Taylor, who is shouting “BIG REPUTATION. BIG REPUTATION,” in a crowded bar.
A piece of writing that I think about all the time is Christina Colizza’s “Ladies Who Lotion,” published on The Hairpin last May.
While the people around her seem to be toasting her, yet again, Taylor Swift is sitting on the bar playing a handheld video game.
Specifically, Snake. Because of her snake thing. This is clever!
Taylor loves Snake so much she needs someone else to feed her more alcohol, which they should absolutely not be doing.
Taylor Swift is blowing bubbles all over Future? And he thinks it’s fun? Hm. Taylor Swift has collaborated with only one other rapper — Kendrick Lamar on the “Bad Blood” remix back in 2014 — and he got to just show up and sit in a wild, translucent space vehicle for a few minutes.
You might wonder whether Swift actually counts Future as a friend or if she is lightly embarrassing him as a service to... her friend Ciara, whom she brought out as a special guest at a 1989 World Tour concert in Seattle back in the summer of 2015? Alongside Ciara’s new husband Russell Wilson? You might wonder.
Another toast to Taylor, this time while she is saying “I bury hatchets but I keep maps of where I put ‘em.”
These people are going to murder literally anyone on behalf of Taylor Swift.
No offense, but if we’re going to pick out things that Joseph Kahn may or may not have seen Beyoncé do first, we might as well be thorough.
There’s nobody else on this public bus.
Have you seen the 2014 One Direction music video “Midnight Memories” starring Harry Styles? Just a question.
This is the expression that Taylor Swift’s face was created to make.
This scene was already giving me “on the way to murder Gucci Mane in Spring Breakers” vibes and then she threw open her jacket to reveal a snake made of glitter. I love her.
Those are cat-shaped Gucci earrings. They’re clip-ons.
The jacket is Diane von Furstenberg and it is not real fur.
Another thing I would like to say about Taylor Swift’s “End Game” is that she says “here’s the truth from my red lips,” while she is not wearing red lipstick. She recently liked a Tumblr post that pointed this out, but did not explain herself. Here are some other Taylor Swift lyrics about red lips:
Her red lips also make an appearance in the not-so-subtle Harry Styles song “Two Ghosts.”
I’m happy that she had a good time. I’m happy that Ed had a good time, and I’m relieved that we’ve reached the point in the video at which Future was free to go home.
This was worth it, for me.