Taylor Swift lives in miniature eras, each spanning the length of the tried–and–true album–to–tour–to–award–season cycle. There was Speak Now, with its sparkly pink guitar and the drawings on Swift’s hand at every performance. And there was Red, with its liner notes about maple lattes and girls' nights out. And while many Swifties are still reeling from the lack of cohesion that dominated the Reputation years, some are already trying to label Swift’s next phase, especially in the wake of a cryptic countdown that appeared on her website last week. It races towards April 26, the day when, according to at least one Buzzfeed writer, Swift will “invent music for the seventh time.”
Speculation began in late February when Swift cataclysmically shifted her Instagram theme, which showed that big things are soon to come. Gone were the dark hues, performance photos, and moody selfies associated with Reputation. They were replaced with vibrant shots of the things Swift loves most, like her cats and California, with a dream–like filter. Immediately theories flew, with some speculating this somehow meant TS7 would be a country–pop crossover about eternal happiness and palm tree iconography.
Naturally, the countdown only fueled speculation. Appearing on Swift’s official social media and on billboards in metropolises ranging from New York City to Tokyo, the clock advertises AprilTwentySix.com, a link to Swift’s official website. Super fans weren’t surprised. Many claimed to have predicted the date on News Year Day, when Taylor Nation, Swift’s official fan–moderated Twitter, tweeted 115 rainbow emojis. There are 115 days between January 1 and April 26. Logically, this means that Swift has been brewing a surprise for fans since the doldrums of winter and while it may seem silly, it validates the FBI–level detective work Swifties do to figure out release dates, tour cities, and the contours of her love life.
In the wake of the countdown, Swift has only upped her social media curation, posting one Instagram photo per day. None of them bear her face, focusing in on the details that tint Swift’s life with girlish wonder. There’s the photo of her pastel manicure resting on her yellow blazer, camera just close enough to make out the individual sparkles on each finger. There’s a litany of posts centered on hyper–zoomed images of Swift’s wardrobe, which are littered with the same hearts that decorate most costume jewelry. Read through this lens, any Swiftie can hypothesize that TS7 may depart from the Swiftian canon to reflect an experience outside of the first person. Instead of writing about her heartbreaks and growing pains, Swift could theoretically have found a new muse in her surroundings.
That said, is this kind of speculation even worth much? As proven in the past, Swift's albums are what she wants them to be, planned with the precision of a military operative. Known even for coordinating album packaging to unveil secrets about songs Swifties replay obsessively, the clues to understanding her lie hidden in plain sight, buried under marketing ploys and artistry the same way we hide our house keys under a rock in our front yard.
The point: Swift has become predictable, losing the mystery that coated her early career. Before it was fun to guess, to map out which ex inspired which ballad or which friends floated in out of the girl squad like wayward hot balloons. Now, it just feels tedious, especially in an age where every artist attempts to the same. There are college classes dedicated to meta–level analyses of Beyonce’s Lemonade and websites that exist solely to catalogue Harry Styles's extensive and very floral wardrobe.
Pop culture isn’t just pop culture anymore. It’s a metaphor for how complicated the world has become, where even the things that bring us joy are heavy with myth. A song is not a song, a three–minute long bundle of noise that relaxes or excites us. It’s commentary. A television show isn’t a distraction. It’s a world rife with its own conflicts and loose ends, where characters get killed and people write angry tweets to showrunners demanding they be resurrected. Taylor Swift's Instagram isn’t an Instagram, a collection of merry memories. It’s a map of where she’s going tomorrow, and the day after, and five years from now.
With this in mind, we need to stop theorizing and sometimes let the things we love just be things. So on April 26, when Taylor will allegedly reinvent music, I’ll be listening—but I won’t be overanalyzing.