Taylor Swift is planning something.
The pop megastar has been noticeably out of the spotlight since her pre-Super Bowl concert in early February to promote a new deal with DirecTV. She hinted to the crowd that she was about to take a break: "As far as I know, I'm only doing one show in 2017, and as far as I know, this is that show. By coming to this show tonight, you are attending 100 per cent of this year's tour dates."
Afterward, her radio silence was immediate. No red carpets, no strolls down the streets of New York, no paparazzi photo shoots while leaving the gym. There was even a social media blackout, save for two Instagram posts to plug new singles from her friends Lorde and the band Haim. Swift was far off the grid, unusual for a superstar usually so thoroughly present in the public consciousness.
Then, the gears of the Swift machine started to grind.
It always starts quietly. In early March, close pal Ed Sheeran let it "slip" in an interview that Swift "probably" would release an album at the end of the year. In April, Entertainment Tonight reported Swift was in Nashville working on new music, which reportedly would drop in late 2017. A couple of weeks later, an anonymous source who claimed to be a Nashville sound engineer told a Connecticut country radio station he had heard Swift's new songs, and they had a "country" vibe.
But real alarm bells went off when People magazine published an exclusive story last Thursday titled "Inside Taylor Swift's 'Conscious Choice' to Disappear and Focus on Her New Music". The story appeared to be a reassurance that Swift's break was intentional -- although a nameless "source" slipped in that Swift is excited to give new music to fans later this year. "Taylor made the conscious choice to disappear," the "source" said. "She was feeling overexposed and like things were almost spiralling out of control. She's being low-key and secretive (right now) because it makes her happy."
(The story did not elaborate that feeling "overexposed" likely came from a high-profile relationship with Tom Hiddleston last summer that was frequently mocked for looking so staged, as well as the fallout from Kim Kardashian posting the infamous Snapchat video of Swift's phone call with Kanye West about his song Famous. By January, Swift couldn't even tweet about the Women's March on Washington without sparking backlash.)
A few days later, Us Weekly splashed Swift on its cover, with the headline, "TAYLOR: WHY SHE DISAPPEARED". Beneath it, the text summed things up: "After bad breakups, fan backlash and a feud with Kimye, Swift went into hiding -- but now she's planning a big comeback."
In the story, a Swift "insider" confirmed that "she was trying to stay out of the media" until it was time to gin up excitement for her sixth studio album, which she's been working on under the radar: "She hasn't been in any of the bigger studios in Nashville, New York, L.A., or London," one source said, while another reported that "she's aiming to release an album this fall".
So, OK, we get it: She's definitely releasing new music soon. Thank you, anonymous sources via tabloids. But more antennas were up on Monday, when TMZ published exclusive photos -- the first sighting in months -- of Swift getting on her private jet in Nashville, and visiting her mother's house. As Swift proved with her hiatus, she's perfectly capable of staying out of any spotlight if she wants to. What was with her sudden reappearance?
Then, Tuesday evening, it arrived: "TAYLOR'S BRIT ON THE SLY", trumpeted the Sun, the same tabloid that first published the "kissing on a rock" photos of Swift and Hiddleston last summer. "Taylor Swift has secret Brit actor boyfriend Joe Alwyn and the pair have been dating for months." The tabloid added that Swift's security team "has made it a military-like mission to prevent her from being seen" as she visits Alwyn in the United Kingdom, where he lives with his parents.
Aside from the immediate reaction ("Who?"), the news just raised more questions. Swift made a concerted effort with her last album, 1989, to move on from the narrative that she only writes songs about her boyfriends. With a sudden rush of stories about her new music in the same week that it's revealed she's dating someone, doesn't it seem like that's exactly what's she's doing again?
Swift is a master at image management -- does she know how this looks? Does she care? Is all of this going to tie together for a bigger reason, or is Swift just taking baby steps back into the spotlight because she's a celebrity and that's what they do?
If there's one thing we know, Swift does everything for a reason -- and it looks like we'll only have a few more months to find out what it is.
The Washington Post