By Alex Suskind for Entertainment Weekly
Snakes begone. The 29-year-old superstar is back with a new album and a new outlook on life. We go inside the pop monarch's latest chapter.
The palm trees arrived in February, seven in all, set against a pastel blue backdrop with superimposed stars. It appeared that a new Taylor Swift era was upon us — that the old
happy-go-lucky Taylor was not, in fact, dead. Or did it? It wasonly an Instagram photo, just one more picture in an infinite content scroll. But it also came from a pop star known for
prodigious hint-dropping, whose fans turn every piece of info into an online archaeological dig.
As expected, the summery post sent Swifties sifting through each detail with a fine-tooth comb. What did the trees symbolize? An overdue vacation? A recently purchased beach house? A secret
palm-frond collection? Or maybe, as many surmised, it was new music. One Twitter user predicted that the number of stars in the background of the photo hinted at a single drop: “There’s about
60/61 [stars]️. There’s 61 days until April 26, FRIDAY, a SINGLE RELEASE day!” Another said it was the unofficial announcement of her next LP: “Okay so in this picture there are 4 palm trees on
the left (4 country albums). There are two palm trees on the right (2 pop albums). There is one large palm tree in the middle. This represents her new album.” These may sound like ludicrous
conspiracy theories — for the record, they were mostly correct — but they fit firmly within the Taylor Swift Musical Universe (it’s like the Marvel Cinematic Universe but with more guitars and
fewer Stan Lee cameos).
“I posted that the day that I finished the seventh album,” says Swift about the photo. “I couldn’t expect [my fans] to know that. I figured they’d figure it out later, but a lot of their theories
were actually correct. Those Easter eggs were just trying to establish that tone, which I foreshadowed ages ago in a Spotify vertical video for ‘Delicate’ by painting my nails those [pastel]
It’s now April, and the 29-year-old pop star is in a Los Angeles photo studio, giving her first sit-down magazine interview in three years. She wants to discuss the art of placing hints inside
her work, as well as the upcoming record, which she recorded as soon as she finished the Reputation Tour. She’s also keen on detailing her own obsessions, talking up the TV shows, books, and
songs that help shape her outlook on life.
Over the past 13 years, Swift has perfected the pop culture feedback loop: She shares updates about her life and drops hints about new music, which fans then gobble up and re-promote with their
own theories, which Swift then re-shares on her Tumblr or incorporates into future clues. It’s like a T-Swift-built Escher staircase of personal memories and moments that tease what’s next. “I’ve
trained them to be that way,” she says of her fans’ astute detective work. Swift is a pop culture fanatic herself (see: the jean jacket she’s wearing on the EW cover) and has an innate
understanding of the lengths her audience will go to be a part of the original creation. “I love that they like the cryptic hint-dropping. Because as long as they like it, I’ll keep doing it.
It’s fun. It feels mischievous and playful.”