The world has changed since Taylor Swift's last album release - Swift needs to change with it.
In America on Monday night an event so huge and momentous occurred that it threatened to block out the sun completely: Taylor Swift launched her musical comeback. Few stars can confidently time their re-entry into the spotlight with a once-in-a-lifetime solar eclipse, but Swift appears to be one of them.
The singer has been in the public eye for more serious reasons in the past month, appearing in court to fight and win a sexual assault case against former radio DJ David Mueller, which included her brilliantly acerbic turn on the stand (when attorney Gabriel McFarland said Swift’s skirt did not appear to have been moved at the front when the groping took place, she replied without a beat, ‘That’s because my ass is located at the back of my body’).
The case symbolically earned her just $1 of damages (the massive legal costs she covered herself) and has encouraged hundreds of other victims to come forward with a reported surge of calls to sexual assault hotlines. Swift clearly deserves nothing but praise for this.
But now a full musical comeback appears to be in the offing. Last week the singer performed a social media baptismal cleanse by deleting her Instagram and Twitter accounts. In a neat little pre-eclipse reference, her Facebook page, Tumblr and official website also all went dark.
Then on Monday night, just as Americans were fixing on their solar goggles, Swift released this cryptic 10-second Twitter video:
Swift has a history with snakes. It started in July last year, a month after she broke up with the DJ Calvin Harris, when her team released a statement revealing Harris’s single with Rihanna, ‘This Is What You Came For’, had been co-written by Swift under the pseudonym Nils Sjöberg.
The move prompted an extraordinary Twitter rant from Harris. ‘I wrote the music, produced the song, arranged it and cut the vocals though. And initially she wanted it kept secret, hence the pseudonym’ he tweeted, ‘And she sings on a little bit of it too. Amazing lyric writer and she smashed it as usual.’
Then, presumably as Harris sat in his huge Hollywood Hills home picking over Swift’s choice of timing, he began to feel less generous. ‘Hurtful to me at this point that her and her team would go so far out of their way to try and make me look bad at this stage though’, Harris added, ‘I figure if you’re happy in your new relationship [at the time Swift was dating Tom Hiddleston] you should focus on that instead of trying to tear your ex bf down for something to do. I know you’re off tour and you need someone new to try and bury like Katy ETC but I’m not that guy, sorry. I won’t allow it.’
It was after this rant that fans of Harris began posting rows of snake emojis underneath Swift’s Twitter and Instagram posts.
Things got worse after a fresh row with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian emerged just a week later. In his song ‘Famous’, West had rapped, ‘For all my Southside n***as that know me best/ I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/ I made that bitch famous.’ Swift’s friends, family and team quickly denounced the lyrics, claiming Swift had discouraged West from using misogynistic language.
‘Kanye did not call for approval, but to ask Taylor to release his single “Famous” on her twitter account’ a statement from her spokesperson read. ‘She declined and cautioned him about releasing a song with such a strong misogynistic message. Taylor was never made aware of the actual lyric, “I made that bitch famous.”‘
West was furious, claiming the song had been approved by Swift before release. West’s wife Kim Kardashian even released a Snapchat video showing the singer on speakerphone approving the ‘sex’ lyric (though not the line about West making her famous).
The day Kardashian chose to release the Snapchat post? 18th July, which also happens to be… National Snake Day.
With Kardashian’s encouragement, the trickle of snake emojis under Swift’s posts turned into a pour, prompting Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom to give her a trial run on an Instagram filter that allowed her to delete specific words or emojis from their feeds.
Now the snake theme is back, but this time it’s under Swift’s direction. The clip released last night suggests she’s planning to reclaim the bad vibes in a lemons-into-lemonade move, delivering an answering blow to the ‘character assassination’ she claimed to have suffered at the hands of Kardashian and West last year.
Swift has built a phenomenally successful career on this hooky-pop-with-not-so-hidden-meaning formula. Her past records have famously taken aim at her exes (John Mayer, Harry Styles, Jake Gyllenhaal), while the big hitter of her last album 1989, ‘Bad Blood’, was reserved not for an old flame but her former friend Katy Perry.
She might be about to do this all over again, and it’ll probably sell her some albums, but the question is: do we really need another T.S. burn book? Wouldn’t Swift be wiser to find a fresher and more meaningful direction if she wants to reinvent herself?
Since her last album campaign the world has become a noisier and more volatile place than it was before; a Twitter spat between popstars feels almost quaint now America has a President engaged in weekly Twitter outbursts that threaten world stability and embolden the country’s far-right groups.
Trump’s inauguration has prompted a wellspring of celebrity activism in the last year, with the march on Washington and campaigns to protect everything from the environment to an embattled Planned Parenthood. Swift has an enormous platform (85 million followers on Twitter, 102 million on Instagram) but until now has been notoriously opaque about her political leanings, allowing far-right groups to triumphantly claim she voted for Trump and white supremacists to praise her as the ‘ideal woman.’
For the record, there is absolutely no proof that Swift voted for Trump or possesses any far-right political views. But even so, her lack of transparency now feels out of step. At a time when even the apolitical talk show host Jimmy Fallon (who famously invited Trump on his show and lovingly ruffled his hair) has publicly denounced the President, it might be time for Swift to find a more worthy target than Katy Perry.
Bravely and publicly fighting a sexual assault trial showed Taylor Swift at her most powerful and brilliant. Far better than picking another fight with Kim Kardashian over an emoji.