Taylor Swift is known to leave traces of her own history, insights into her music, and sneak peeks into the future of her career through hints hidden in her content. In an interview on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon the week of the Red (Taylor’s Version) release, Swift spoke about the incorporation of these hints, or Easter Eggs, into her music, publicity, and videos. She says that she began to realize that she was not the only one who had fun with picking apart the clues and Easter Eggs left behind in her lyric booklets, but that her fanbase, otherwise known as the “swifties” had fun with it too. This was the moment that she took it to the next level, she began asking herself, “Like how far is too far in advance? Can I hint at something three years in advance? Can I even plan things out that far? I think I’m going to try to do it.” Through her Easter Eggs, Swift has become a mastermind in controlling her own image, information publicized about her, and building excitement for her music, at least within her fan base.
Like clockwork, throughout Taylor Swift’s almost two-decade-long career, she has been known to release albums every two years. Except for Reputation, amidst the Kanye West drama of 2016 (and a site of swiftie theorization) and her sister albums Folklore and Evermore, which were released during the pandemic, Swift has stuck strictly to this timeline. As we come out of the depths of the pandemic, musical artists are beginning to return to what was once classified as the “normal” release schedule, with artists like Harry Styles and Olivia Rodrigo touring their new albums. Back in January, I anticipated that Swift would return to her album release schedule with the announcement and drop of her tenth studio album in 2022, as this upcoming December marks the second anniversary of Evermore. Nearly eight months after my initial pitch and five following our Armour photo shoot, on August 28th, Taylor announced that she would be releasing Midnights when the clock strikes twelve on October 21st.
Being a “swiftie” is a practice in visual, performative, sonic, and historical analysis. By engaging with her Easter Eggs, swifties pick up on and analyze the patterns in Swift’s music, visual content, and public performances. This analysis is engaged throughout multiple channels such as on her own personal social media accounts, her engagement with fans, interviews, styling, and public appearances. For the purposes of this editorial, our prediction focuses mostly on the theme of her album as well the characterization of Swift’s persona throughout the era. This editorial only scratches the surface of an analysis of the elements of Swift’s public performance as well as the multitude of ever-growing theories that exist surrounding Midnights.
Taylor Swift is not just a musician, but a performer. In each of her albums’ eras, she takes on a persona to characterize the thematic strings running through the album. This can be seen both through her styling as well as the content that she puts out during each of the eras. One prime example of this comes from Taylor Swift’s 1989 era. As Swift was transitioning out of the country genre into pop, she also received a reputation in the media as a “psycho ex-girlfriend,” one who only writes about her relationships. The 1989 era, consisted mostly of photos of her friends in New York City and pop hits like “Welcome to New York,” speaking about the newfound freedom and independence Swift felt following her move to the big city. Despite this, the media continues to push the narrative that Swift only creates music about her exes. Through her persona in the 1989 era, specifically in the “Blank Space” music video, Swift embraced this reputation she received as a satirical stab at the gossip magazines that characterized her this way. This thematic performance of her albums has been a constant throughout her discography.
As Swift moved out of the Evermore era at the beginning of 2021, I noticed a shift in the persona she was sharing on social media. Particularly with the start of her Tik Tok account, Swift began posting content taken at her home like videos of her cats, Meredith Grey, Olivia Benson, and Benjamin Button. Still, her Tik Tok features, plenty of videos of her cats. No, mostly videos of her cats. These videos are often taken spur of the moment, such as a clip of her and producer Jack Antonoff on a boat drinking wine. She often takes advantage of trends as well, fantasizing about going back on tour and shouting out her icons like Shania Twain through a common platform and using viral sounds. Through making content that feels uncurated, spontaneous, and accessible, I see the crafting of her new-era persona as one focused on perceived authenticity.
This intimate look into Taylor’s life through her social media presence leads me to believe that authenticity, vulnerability, and ownership will be large themes within the album. Following the initial shutdown of the COVID-19 pandemic, Taylor Swift built her own studio space within her home that allowed her not only to write from home but also record and produce her music from the comfort of her own space. As an artist myself, oftentimes I use my own apartment, my domestic space, as an art studio. The process of creating and making in the same place that you live often results in a melding of these two lives. The private seeps into the public. This blurring of the boundary between workspace and living space allows for elements of one’s personal life, vulnerable raw emotions, and the intimacy of sharing oneself stripped from performance to make its way into the work. Through our photographs, we hoped to illustrate the integration of these “home” and “everyday” objects into the creative process, whether to support it or inhibit it.
While not purposeful, some of the images from our photoshoot were double-exposed.
Through this double exposure, the passage of time becomes present in the images—it becomes a still montage and illustrates the compressing of time. Time suddenly becomes a core principle. When working at home, time is no longer a consideration. A 9-5 doesn’t exist when dinner is in the fridge and the wine is already chilled. A workday doesn’t end until a phrase is completed, a song is finished, and the right word is found. The workday doesn’t end until an artist is satisfied. For an artist, whose craft is their life’s work, this means that the day never ends, and that time feels stuck in a singular moment while the world keeps moving past. Through our images, time illustrates the cycle that keeps one held in place under the collapse of personal life and work.
The idea of the integration of an artist’s personal life into their creative process is beautifully depicted in the cover photographs for Carole King’s 1971 Tapestry album.
The photograph was taken by A&M’s staff photographer, Jim McCrary, at Carole King’s home. The iconic photograph shows the singer sitting in a window frame, holding a tapestry that she hand-stitched herself, with her cat Telemachus at her bare feet. Dressed in jeans and a sweater, the image gives viewers the perception that they have an inside look at a stripped-down and authentic snippet of Carole King’s life. These elements, particularly the feature of a beloved cat, are echoed in the shift in Swift’s social media presence. This set of photos captured the essence at the thematic crux of my prediction for the album.
But Carole King doesn’t only serve as a visual inspiration for our predicted album, but also a stylistic inspiration. At one of Taylor Swift’s recent performances, she gave a tribute to Carole King as King was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on October 30, 2021. Taylor often foreshadows her next album’s styling and genre in the performances leading up to the era shift. In this performance, Taylor Swift references popular styling in the 1970s with her black, one-piece, lace jumpsuit.
With glimpses of gold woven into the lace, Taylor’s styling takes on an understated glam in her performance attire, unlike the “gowns shaped like a pastry” present in the Fearless and Speak Now eras or the bedazzled, edgy bodysuits paired with hooded jackets and leather detailing from her Reputation era. With her hair worn down in soft beachy waves, this perceived authentic image of herself comes through the styling once again. In our own styling for this editorial, this stripped-down, understated 70’s glam meets the casual day-to-day trends present at the time. Our styling captures the collision between sweaters, flare pants, collared shirts, menswear, and jumpsuits.
But in the crafting of a prediction for the era, the most important element of our theory is missing. What will this album sound like? Throughout all her music, Taylor Swift has always come back to a touchstone of pop. Especially as Lover, her pop album about owning and accepting oneself was interrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I could see her returning to the root of pop music but experimenting with the sonic textures of her music. The Folklore and Evermore albums were instrumental in pushing Taylor Swift’s musicality as an artist. She, for the first time in her career, began telling fictional stories in her music, opening a whole new set of narratives to explore in her future discography. In addition, through her collaboration with Aaron Dessner, she began introducing more complicated musical textures and rhythms, as can be heard in the songs “tolerate it” and “peace.” Within her next album, Taylor Swift will continue to embrace the expanses of potential through sonic experimentation.
As Swift moves from era to era, she has also established herself as an artist who cannot and will not be restrained by the conventions of the genre. As she floats between country, pop, hip-hop, indie, and alternative, Swift has demonstrated her interest in taking elements from all areas of music. But once again, Swift always comes back to a touchstone of pop, the musical space that established her place within the music world. In her tenth studio album, I predict that Swift will begin to push and stretch the genre conventions of pop into an experimental dream-pop sound. I believe she will embrace the atmospheric and sonic textures she played with in her recent albums, while also combining a pop melody, synthpop sound, and breathy vocals that allow for her voice to become part of her atmospheric sound. But at the same time, Swift is not just a singer, but a guitar and piano player. Even in her edgy Reputation era, she returned to her musical voice through the incorporation of piano in the song New Year’s Day. Her piano ballads are a staple of her discography. They are often classified as fan favorites and are pulled out frequently during her tours to slow the night down at the end of her concerts. Returning to her influence from 70s artists, I think Swift’s generic exploration will not only remain in the classification of dream pop but will also break into soft rock ballads inspired by icons of the decade, Carole King, the Carpenters, and Fleetwood Mac. These genres and sounds feel very natural as a transition out of the Evermore era, as a thematic return to her Lover era for closure on that pivotal moment in her career, while also pushing her music to a more sonically complex era that emphasizes and showcases both her strength in storytelling lyrically, but also musically.
Where we are now: Following the announcement of Midnights and the slow reveal of what this next era will look like, we can already see visual similarities between our prediction and what Midnights is bringing us thematically, stylistically, and visually.
But here we are the night before the album drops, and we still have not heard a single note. We will be anxiously waiting tonight to see if the dominoes will cascade in a line and if our prediction falls into place within the sound. We are waiting to see what glimpses into the future Swift has left for us, what other Easter Eggs can be found left like breadcrumbs throughout the music. As we wait for the clock to strike midnight, we will breathe in, breathe through, breathe deep, and breathe out knowing that this anticipation will soon come to an end.
Creative Direction Shaelee Comettant
Words Shaelee Comettant
Photographs Becca Tarter, Ben Levine, and Sydney Hou
Stylists Brooke Cowan
Featuring Lambo Perkins
Armour Magazine Season 28 — F/S 2022