Video Review – Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble”

December 26, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  56 Comments

taylor-swift-i-knew-you-were-troubleYes, yes we all know nothing about this is country, so let’s not waste any time rehashing old arguments. What intrigued me about this video is its boldness and its breadth, and how it perfectly illustrates the greater Taylor Swift paradox.

The video for “I Knew You Were Trouble” is heavy in concept, story, and mood. It starts off with Taylor waking up in a dystopia landscape in the form of the leavings of a drug-infused rave. Quickly characters are introduced that are completely counter-intuitive to the prim and proper Taylor Swift persona we are all familiar with, while Taylor herself is dirtified in a hipster punk getup with disheveled, pink-tipped hair, dark eyes, and her subtle overbite captivating the eye like Jennifer Grey’s pre plastic surgery sniffer.

Bar fights, cheap hotel rooms, Misfits T-shirts, bad tattoos, and the general trappings of a downtrodden, transient life create a backdrop for a tragic story that our sweet Taylor gets so unfortunately wrapped up in. The vision of the “I Knew You Were Trouble” video is beyond ambitious, and through the intelligent and creative use of light, setting, character, and costuming, they accomplish the most craved effect for a 5 to 6-minute piece of film: transporting you to a different place.

The “love as drug” storyline is enthralling, and the moral about losing who you are is both stimulating and well executed, helped along by Taylor’s reflective and contrite dialogue bookending what should really be characterized as a cinematic short as opposed to a simple music video.

Are you feeling the mother of all “but’s” coming on? Because that’s what hits you at the 2:03 mark when the actual “I Knew You Were Trouble” song gets piped into this post-Apocalyptic panoram. The effect is the utter destruction of any fantasy or mood this video conveys. The ultra-sacchrine, clean, ska-esque power pop opening guitar riffs, followed by the hip-hop cadence of Taylor’s bubble-gum dance club lyrics are like pouring a gallon of white paint on a Rembrandt, or serving caviar on a Cheeto.

Taylor Swift, the sweet little curly-haired girl that wrote all her own songs about romance is who America fell in love with. If she wants to become a dance club diva, she will quickly become a small fish in a big sea. Sure, the short term success will be (and has been) grand, but it will be at the expense of the long term acceptance as a substantive artist that Taylor Swift covets.

The video for “I Knew You Were Trouble” is about losing yourself, and ironically, that is exactly what Taylor Swift does with this song. Co-written by the pop hitmaking duo of Max Martin and Shellback, the dubstep-inspired tune is Taylor Swift uncharacteristically losing sight of what made her America’s greatest pop star: being herself.

taylor-swift-i-knew-you-were-trouble-2Taylor has built her persona around being the anti-party girl. By putting out a party song, she’s off message, and out of her element. The song says, “I knew you were trouble when you walked in,” alluding to the antagonist entering somewhere, like a club where you would hear the type of digitally-manufactured dance music that “I Knew You Were Trouble” is synonymous with.

But in the video, Swift encounters the antagonist in an open space, and hangs out with him at a concert with a real band playing real instruments. She is also seen hanging out with him in a run-down diner, and bedding down with him in a dirty room. None of this creates contrast, it creates compromising confusion of mood and setting, in both this video and in the Taylor Swift cult of personality. I understand Taylor Swift is playing a character in the video, not being herself. But when it comes to the song, this is being presented as all Taylor.

No doubt in Taylor Swift’s brain, signing on with Max Martin and Shellback to do a gaggle of songs for her latest album was a stroke of brilliance. She has called them “heroes.” But just like the overall experience with Taylor’s album Red, the Martin/Shellback influence comes at you as completely out-of-step with what is otherwise a pop record filled with a curious amount of depth. We all make mistakes. The alarming part is that in this case, the mistakes are being rewarded with commercial successes and tremendous attention, possibly taking these songs from a trial balloon, to a pattern of behavior to stretch into the foreseeable future.

The most critically-acclaimed song in Taylor Swift’s career happens to also be her most country song ever, that being the double Grammy-winning “Mean” inspired by her critics. Taylor Swift says now that she no longer reads her criticism. She doesn’t want to be part of that negative experience, yet her personal life seems to be a torrid foray into high-profile flings, with the payoff being the inspiration for songs such as “I Knew You Were Trouble.” Now that Taylor is sequestered from the critical world, all she has is Mediabase numbers and YouTube plays to determine the success of her work.

You can’t have wild, short-term dance club success and keep your reputation as an artist of substance at the same time. Taylor Swift must choose. And with “I Knew You Were Trouble”, Taylor chooses poorly. Her “trouble” is not an antagonist cast in the role of a video, or a previous lover who jilted her. It is the denizens of the pop industry who would sell her long-term substance for their short-term success.

There is no morning after pill for that poor decision.

1 gun up for a brilliant video concept.

1 gun down for an awful song.

56 Comments to “Video Review – Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble””

  • I honestly believed that Red was going to be her coming out party as a real country artist. After the song she did with the Civil Wars I thought she had moved past this bubble gum pop garbage. I was hoping she’d kick a couple people in the teeth with this album. But unfortunately it is what it is and if I ever here Never Ever again I will punch someone in the throat.

    • I never had much hope that “Red” would be a real country album, but I did hope she would continue her move towards substance as displayed on “Speak Now”. And in some ways, she did. But these ridiculous Max Martin/Shellback songs stuck in the album like speed bumps hold her album back so much, and give her harshest critics such excellent ammo, she’s probably now one step further from attaining that “artist of substance” stamp she desires.

      • Other country stations need to stand up to the machine (pun slightly intended) and just say no to crap like this. It’s not country. At all. Period. So many mindless morons run the music industry now that just play whatever they’re told to play instead of going after real country music. I know I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, hell the name of your website says it all, but as a PD/MD/Jock, I feel the pain on a daily basis as well. I’m just thankful that I’m not in one of the giant soulless corporations that make me play that junk. I’m able to be more picky with what actually goes over my airwaves.

        • Don’t worry, “I Knew You Were Trouble” was not released to country radio.

          • I know. I’m just saying that labels continue to push non-country songs to country radio. I can’t tell you how pissed I get when I open up mail and it’s a country/hip-hop or country/pop song.

      • Ok yeah, I worded that poorly. I wasn’t expecting a real country album I was more or less just expecting it to be somewhat country. More so than her previous work anyways. Mostly I was just hoping for a step in the right direction.

  • Taylor Swift music rots your brains and teeth. listen to more Bob Log III…Mr.Log’s music has been scientifically proven to make you more pretty/handsome.

    • Well, at least more pretty/handsome in a football helmet.

  • Good read, it even made me watch a Taylor Swift video. I only lasted a few seconds after the song started before I had to cut it off, just awful. As a 23 year old woman, I find it extremely annoying that Taylor Swift can’t find anything else to write about other than boys and relationships. She doesn’t seem to mature…at all. Even commercially successful pop artists mature over time. I know you’ve touched on this subject before, but it drives me crazy. At 23 I have a college degree, husband, child, mortgage, lots of life experience. I can’t imagine creatively being like okay this is what I have, “WeeeEEE are never never never getting back together…like ever.” I can’t fathom how anyone other than a 16 year old girl could get enjoyment from listening to her music.

    • “I can’t fathom how anyone other than a 16 year old girl could get enjoyment from listening to her music.”


    • The vast majority of songs by artists of all ages have always been about relationships. I agree with you that “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” is an immature song, but that song is not even remotely representative of her general body of work. I have stated in the past that it is her worst song ever, and I still believe so.

      Taylor always has about 3 songs in each album that are not about relationships or desire for relationships. Here’s a list from all of her albums:

      Tied Together with a Smile
      A Place in this World
      The Outside
      The Best Day
      Never Grow Up (possibly her best song from all of her 4 albums)
      Long Live
      The Lucky One

      In addition, please listen to the unreleased song that I posted. It would be great if that video went viral.

      • “…but that song is not even remotely representative of her general body of work.”

        The problem with these Max Martin tracks is they’re so bad that they are effusive, meaning their badness bleeds into Taylor’s other songs and her overall public perception. I agree she has some songs of real substance. The problem is, those are not the songs folks are being exposed to. They’re be exposed to this one, and “We Are Never…” and so they don’t even consider buying the album to dig deep for the deeper songs. And honestly, I don’t blame them. You release singles to represent and promote yourself and your album to the public.

        • Amen.

          The problem with Taylor Swift and her label is that since the Fearless Platinum edition, they have not released the best songs to radio. This may be why her singles from Speak Now, for example, underperformed. I understand that “Dear John” may have been too long to release, but what about “Never Grow Up”, “Enchanted”, or even “Long Live” from Speak Now? Or “Come in with the Rain” from the Fearless platinum edition? Those songs could have easily been radio hits while at the same time elevating her long-term status.

          With this album, the single choices have taken a turn for the worse. Taylor and Big Machine chose to release 2 of the 3 Max Martin songs right at the beginning of the album cycle, thus immediately creating an incorrect impression among those who are learning about Taylor for the first time. I really can’t blame those people for branding her as a typical pop artist based on these 2 songs. Explaining that those are her worst songs is becoming somewhat exhausting for me. Of course, the album cycle will last for at least a year more, and she has plenty of time to turn things around. However, first impressions are important and she and her label basically blew it here.

          Why, oh why, can’t I listen to “Brought Up That Way” on my radio instead of “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” or “I Knew You Were Trouble”???

          • and even more horrible is that i read ’22′ is slated to be the next single off RED. (also max martin/shellback song) ugh

          • I agree for the most part except I believe the impression they are creating is absolutely correct. Taylor is and always has been a pop artist.

  • I look at taylor swift the same way I look at any of my ex girlfriends. I had some high hopes for her, but I had to let her go.

  • Wonder which ex she wrote this one about?

    • Probably John Mayer, based on some of the clues in the song and the video.

      • She changes boyfriends like most people change their underwear. Wonder how long the new one with the 18 year old from One Direction will last.

        • As Grace wrote below, she’s has only 2 boyfriends that the tabloids have known about since January 2011.

  • Perfectly stated. Watching the video was quite upsetting for me, both due to how bad the song is and due to the violence depicted in the video (this is by far her most violent video ever).

    Here’s a nice antidote to this madness:

    This is one of her unreleased gems. Even if someone does not want to listen to Taylor Swift songs, I would suggest that he/she at least listen to this one.

    • I listened. I didn’t make it past the second minute. Admittedly I am not much of a Taylor Swift fan. This song just sound like it is trying to hard to be sad.

      • Are you the “rob a” who just posted the same message on the video comments section?

        I posted this song as an example of what Taylor’s true strength when she is at her finest: empathetic storytelling. The way in which she lays out the story of Emily’s life really puts the listener in Emily’s shoes. The song’s illustration of the depth of the father-daughter bond, in particular, is truly beautiful.

        • Yup, one and the same. Is there a limit to posting that I am unaware of or are you just trying to impose on my ability to post whatever I want wherever I want? I see you posting the same message all over the place, so back off, son.

          Yes, I understand that you like the song. I don’t like it and don’t agree that it is a gem. I hope this does not take away from your enjoyment of the song. Like I said in my other post, she just seems to be trying too hard, the song is contrived. I doubt Taylor Swift was ever bullied or knew anyone who was bullied.

          • I was just curious. I didn’t have a problem with any of your comments until you posted this just now:

            “I doubt Taylor Swift was ever bullied or knew anyone who was bullied.”

            Do you know Taylor personally? How in the world would you know that she wasn’t bullied or didn’t have friends that were victims of bullying? Do you have any idea of how prevalent bullying is in middle school?

        • If you are talking Taylor Swift at her best, I like “Back to December.” The vocals, there lyrics, the story. It is an honest song, no teenage drama.

        • Geez dude. It’s a song. Get over it. I have no interesting in debating the finer points of a marginal song with some random dude. Please just move on, ok?

          • Excuse me? I posted this message almost 24 hours ago. Did you not read the comment last night where I said that I had no problems with any of your remarks about the song?

        • Did I stumble across your own personal website / blog? If not than you have no reason to act like an arse to me. This will be my last post to you, and I have put a rule in my e-mail to put all notifications from you into the trash bin. Try to have a nice day.

          • Goodness sakes, it feels like you’re fighting with phantoms!

            This is one of the strangest series of posts I’ve ever seen on SCM.

  • She is/was dating the one member of the boy band One direction. Harry Styles

  • ^^^^ Eric yes that is such a good song and a sad story. Also listen to one of her other unreleased songs called “Sweet Tea and God’s Graces” such a great song. Could have been a hit if she released it to country radio

    • I only like one of her ballads: Back to December. That seems real and honest to me, not like a 15 year old with a grudge.

  • I like the song, said it. Taylor wants to be accepted as a “real” artist by the mainstream. She probably has no desire to be taken serious as a country artist. Look around popular country, most anyone would distance themselves from it for more respect. This article like the other posted today is confused on the target audience. Fans of real music will find it one way or another, people satisfied with corny cookie cutter songs want just that and are fed it the way they consume it, without having to think.

    • As trite as popular country may be, it’s still far better than pop. If there is no classic pop or adult contemporary station where I am at, I spend all of my time on the radio listening to pop country. I just cannot tolerate listening to pop radio for more than 5 minutes.

  • Oh for crying out loud!!!!
    Can we please start the new year with “NEVER EVER “EVER” talking about
    T.Swift Ever again????

    Thanks in Advance

    • Like … ever?

  • I knew this was coming. I’ve been waiting patiently for the last couple years.

    She spent a lot of time becoming a role model for young girls that Mom would love their daughters to emulate.

    Once sucked in, she switches gears and leads them like the pied piper into perdition.

    When finally she does a pole dancing video she’ll be almost as good as Miley Cyrus.

    • Just wait for the next video. I predict it will go in the opposite direction than what you are suggesting.

  • I respectfully disagree Triggerman. In my opinion as much as I disliked Taylor Swift and her music and personality I found this video and song to be much more of a “look at me I have been swept off my feet and then I Knew This Guy Was Trouble. You can only play the innocent victim card so many times Taylor and you have bluffed way too many times.

  • I like Trigger hold the opinion that Taylor holds some real talent. I think what holds her back besides her management who want her to continue releasing this bubble gum bullshit to keep sales up amongst the tween and teenage girls so they can keep their pockets lined, is that fact that she has not had any real tragedy to give her the pain that most artist draw on for their best art.

    She lead a typical sheltered life of a child raised in the suburbs, not a bad thing and I hope my future kids have the same, and all her “relationships” have the shelf life of a high school romance with the same all enveloping infatuation followed by the break up and the he said she said drama. I hate to say it, but for her to release the album we all know she is capable of she needs someone or something that just wrecks her. Something that makes her question everything around her as the world around her crumbles. Some type of drug addiction, death of a loved one, or a real relationship with someone that she has built a life with and have it end with that person just utterly destroying her and her life. When that happens then she will have what it takes to make an album on par with Alanis Morissette Jagged Little Pill, The Dresden Dolls first album on a major label, or any of Tori Amos’s first 4 or 5 albums. I know none of these are country artist, but Taylor hasn’t done a country album since her fist one and that barley qualified. When she does release her great album it will have more of a singer song writer vibe with just her and a small band. Or I will hope.

    The video it’s self reminded me 30 Seconds to Mars’s video for Hurricane, similar cinematography and feel. Except their song fit the atmosphere that they created with their video unlike Taylor who as Trigger mentioned totally jolted you out of the moment when her bubble gum pop sound jolted out of the speakers.

    • “Destruction, Alteration, Renewal” – She needs that Shiva to enter her life.
      That will happen soon if this cycle continues.

    • The thing with Taylor is that she has tremendous capability for empathy in her songs. She can write beautifully about the tragedies and hardships being faced by other people in her life, not just her own. Take a listen to “Tied Together with a Smile”, for example, which she wrote about a friend going through an eating disorder:

      Or “Mary’s Song”, which she wrote about an elderly couple right after meeting them for the first time:

      And then there’s probably the pinnacle of her songwriting, “Ronan”, which she wrote about a boy who died from cancer at the age of 4:

      I really hope that she never falls into a drug addiction and does not have to face the death of a loved one for a long time to come. Frankly, it’s infinitely better to have a complete writer’s block than to go through those experiences.

      As for significant relationships crumbling around her and destroying her, I think she went through that with Joe Jonas, John Mayer, and Jake Gyllenhaal. The breakup with John Mayer inspired “Dear John”, possibly her finest song to date. With Joe Jonas, her emotions went from angry to sad to nostalgic, with the latter two resulting in the great songs “Last Kiss” from Speak Now and “Sad Beautiful Tragic” from Red. As for Jake Gyllenhaal, the clues suggest that the vast majority of songs on Red are about her relationship with him.

  • I was really hoping Taylor would go a more alt-country route after hearing the song she did with the Civil Wars and hearing that she was a Ryan Adams fan. She’s not an amazing singer, but her voice would work perfectly for that kind of thing.

    She should have read the Shania Twain playbook. Shania turned her back on the country audience and they turned their back on her. Pop audiences are the most fickle of any and while TS may be having success right now, it’s doubtful she’s got more than another album or two left that will duplicate that if she keeps turning her back on the folks who’ve put her where she is, radio wise.

    It’s not even GOOD dubstep. As a fan of the genre, why can’t all these pop artists who co-op the sound at least get someone who knows what they’re doing and make it sound GOOD? >_<

    • As disappointed as I am with this as a country fan, I would be even more disappointed with this as a dubstep fan.

      • LOL! Ouch!

    • No lies spotted.
      Burial & Skream are dubstep. Max Martin is not. I was dumb-founded that Taylor failed to say ‘NO’ when Scotty Bee told her to work with MM.

  • Hey guys, Taylor will not forget about her country side, always remember that her genre is Country-pop or she is a crossover artist she can do both pop and country songs. Don’t assume that “I Knew You Were Trouble” damage the Genre Country the song was releases as Pop not country so don’t says that she is not caring her country side because it release in Pop radio and charted in Billboard Pop Songs! Remember that she still makes country music like Begin Again, All Too Well, Treacherous, I Almost Do, Sad Beautiful Tragic, Stay Stay Stay, Red, The Lucky One althought some songs have pop side too at least they are not fully pop!

    • I don’t hear any country in most of the songs you listed……but to me when someone is ‘country pop’, it means that each song is a mix of country & pop, whereas Taylor’s singles with MM are so far into pop it’s an insult to the country genre to have the album on country charts. Also I think that if taylor wants to go pop then she would upset people a bit less if she stopped trying to pass herself off as country. the other day in a short interview she said “as a country music artist I wanted the album to sound…….” grrrrrrrr stopped listening

  • I’m curious about the song Taylor recorded with Keith Urban and Tim McGraw for Tim’s new album. She doesn’t have a songwriting credit on it but she seems to be throwing some crumbs to the country crowd.

    I love “I Knew You Were Trouble” and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”. They’re amazing, shimmering, mammoth pop songs. Pop and Max Martin seem to be dirty words around here but “Since You’ve Been Gone” is one of the best songs of the 2000s, no question. That said, I see Taylor more as a singer-songwriter in the vein of Ani DiFranco and want more songs like “All Too Well” from her. I think her classic album is coming, but it mightn’t be for another decade yet.

    I don’t think this video is stepping out of character. There’s no drugs taken or alcohol consumed by Taylor. In her world, endearingly, a ‘bad boy’ is someone who hangs out in dive bars, has tattoos and plays pool.

    Oh and btw, there’s nothing “negative” about Taylor having lots of flings. In reality, she’s dated two guys since January 2011 – Conor Kennedy and Harry Styles – but even if she were sleeping with a different guy every night, it’s her body and, if it’s pleasing her, it should be of no concern to anyone else.

    • Another thought: I hope Taylor will one day write about the misogynistic moralizing about her love life. DiFranco’s ‘Promiscuity’ springs to mind: “How you gonna know/What you need, what you like/’Til you been around the block/A few times on that bike”

  • Who Is The Guy In This??

  • OK, I listened. How is this a song? It sounds like Taylor swift reading some random stuff off of a 3 x 5 card.

  • geez, you’re really enjoying yourself when writing about taylor swift, arn’t you?

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