Taylor Swift fans spent the days leading up to the 2022 VMA’s in intense speculation on social media, and the later hours of the 29th of August brought the red carpet that they were waiting for. Their excitement was spurred on by a post by fashion brand Oscar De La Renta on instagram, a glimpse of diamonds with a caption quoting Swift’s track ‘Mirrorball’.
Swift arrived a few hours after the post, her arrival causing frenzy throughout her fanbase as the excited screams of the nearby spectators of the event increased at her sudden appearance, signalling their delight at an appearance the rest of them waited to witness through a camera lens. The press shouted in protest at an employee holding up a sign announcing who Swift was, yelling that they already knew who Swift was. Her dress consisted of draped strands of diamonds with a nude slip underneath, and was a sharp cry from the muted colour palette of ‘Folklore’ and ‘Evermore’ and the more business oriented style of ‘Red (Taylor’s Version)’. It led to speculation from both her fans and the wider media, as they attempted to decode what the change of aesthetics indicated when it came to Swift’s next career move.
It is worth highlighting that the speculation stems from the fact that Swift is currently in the process of rerecording her first six albums. This endeavour stems from a desire to own the copywork to her life’s work after the sale of Big Machine Records left them in the hands of Scooter Braun. These albums are to be released with the label of ‘Taylor’s Version’ and her re-releases of ‘Fearless’ and ‘Red’ have been well received within her fanbase, supporting Swift’s endeavour to own the songs that she wrote about her own life, and enjoying the previously unreleased ‘vault tracks’ that Swift has added to both rerecordings. ‘Red (Taylor’s Version) received significant commercial success, with the 10 minute version of ‘All Too Well’ reaching number one on the Billboard Hot 100. She has also released two re-recorded tracks from 2014’s ‘1989’ after they were featured in trailers. (‘This Love’ appeared in a trailer for ‘The Summer I Turned Pretty.’ ‘Wildest Dreams’ appeared in a trailer for ‘Spirit Untamed’ A version of ‘Bad Blood’ confirmed to be Taylor’s Version was used in a trailer for ‘DC League of Super-Pets’ but has yet to be released.)
Swift’s fans have spent the past two years arguing about whether ‘1989’ or ‘Speak Now’ were next to be re-released, analysing the colour scheme of marketing emails and merch items to figure out the release order (a discussion that only got more complicated when Swift dropped merch referencing both albums in the beginning of May), but the discussion turned sharply to a more united viewpoint the moment Swift stepped onto the red carpet. Fans turned towards the idea of ‘Reputation (Taylor’s Version)’ being the next re-recording to be released, even though the public understanding is that she could not re-record any of the non-singles from the album until November 2022.
The Swifties quickly pointed out similarities between Swift’s dress to that of imagery that she utilised during ‘Reputation’. The album was written in the aftermath of both 2016’s public fallout with Kanye West and her blossoming relationship with British actor Joe Alwyn. The relationship, which both Swift and Alwyn have kept mostly private, served as the inspiration for several songs on ‘Reputation’, a theme which has continued onwards to her albums released after. The conversation therefore, turned to the idea of a rerecording of ‘Reputation’, with eager fans suggesting that Swift may announce the release of her version of the album’s lead single ‘Look What You Made Me Do’, citing the fact that the song’s original video was premiered at the 2017 VMA’s. Fans were quick to highlight the video’s feature of Swift in a bathtub filled with diamonds, as well as the connection between Swift’s 2022 outfit and the outfit she wore to the 2008 VMA’s, which arguably kicked off the chain of events that caused ‘Reputation’ to be written in the first place, and used this as solid proof that Taylor was either about to release a new video for the track, or perform it live before releasing the track on streaming services.
So they settled down to watch the award show. Social media accounts that are dedicated to various parts of her life all shared links to streaming sites. Some even started their own livestreams, citing the goal of helping those who don’t have access to American TV channels. They followed accounts to seeif she would leave her seat to head backstage, while also celebrating as she took home the awards for Best Long-Form Video and Best Direction, both for ‘All Too Well (10 Minute Version)’. They shared videos of her dancing along to Video Vanguard recipient Nicki Minaj’s performance, as well as freaking out over the fact she had posted a TikTok to Black Pink’s single ‘Pink Venom’, theorising that she may collaborate with the K-Pop Group.
The final award of the night, ‘Video of The Year’ came after several hours and while hopes of the Swifties only increased when Taylor was noted to have left her seat according to her multiple live update accounts, Minaj and LL Cool J stepped onto the stage to read out the nominations. As Minaj went to announce the winner, the livestream picked up the audience chanting Swift’s name.
Swift was in fact, the recipient of the award, to the delight of the cheering crowd and the livestream chats alike, celebrating not only Swift being awarded for her work on ‘All Too Well’ but also the fact she had now made history as the first artist to win the award three times, having previously won for ‘Bad Blood’, and ‘You Need to Calm Down’. Swift thanked her fans for their support of her re-recordings, and then uttered the words that made headlines and had her trending instantly.
“I had made up my mind that you were going to be this generous, and give us this. I thought it might be a fun moment to tell you that my brand new album comes out October 21st.” The live audience reacted as you would expect, and through the screaming of excitement, Swift promised that she would tell them more at midnight. Her website was updated immediately, all information about previous releases wiped, leaving nothing but a message asking the world to meet her at midnight.
It came as a shock, not only to die hard Swifties who have spent much of the past two years trying to figure out her re-recording schedule, but the general public, as both groups had assumed that most of Swift’s time would be taken up by the process of the re-recordings, and therefore most weren’t expecting a brand new album until late 2024 at the earliest.
She’s taken the internet off-guard before, with ‘Folklore’ and ‘Evermore’ both being surprise album drops, with no rollout other than a video for a single that dropped at the same time as their respective albums. She had then moved back to a more traditional rollout with ‘Fearless’, releasing her version of ‘Love Story’ on the 12th of February, just in time for Valentine’s Day, complete with a lyric video of photos of her with her fans. The second re-recording ‘Red (Taylor’s Version)’ took a slightly different approach, being announced several months in advance of it’s November 2021 release, but yet had no single released prior to its release. It did however, have more press than ‘Fearless’ with Swift appearing on late-night shows, as well as performing on Saturday Live Night the day after the album’s release.
She’s also switched genres three times, her first four albums being listed as country, the final of these being ‘Red’ which had a lot of underlying pop influences, which set the tone for her shift to pop that she introduced with ‘1989’ and stuck with for both ‘Reputation’ and ‘Lover’, before shifting to a more indie sound with ‘Folklore’ and ‘Evermore’.
The unpredictability of Swift is, in many fans’ eyes, part of the appeal. The speculation surrounding the album grew as Swift took to Tiktok and revealed the tracklist one song at a time in a series dubbed ‘Midnight’s Mayhem with Me.’ The fans shared these titles widely, and all thirteen tracks trended as fans attempted to piece together what the songs may be about. Swift announced the final tracks on the 6th and 7th of October, the latter of which brought four announcements all spaced an hour apart. One track, ‘Karma’ caused particular excitement due to a long-standing fan theory that she had scrapped an album of the same name in 2016.
In the case of Anti-Hero, which is the 3rd track on the album, Swift posted a video explaining the meaning behind the song. She spoke about how she struggles with not feeling a person, and the general reaction from fans expressed a deep feeling of relatability to her description, as well as excitement to hear more of Swift’s trademark emotional devastation. CD’s with signed inserts went on sale at the exact same time as the announcement. Her UK store crashed within minutes, and only went back online hours later. The CD’s sold out in minutes.
It’s hard to imagine many other celebrities being able to pull off the same accomplishments.
There’s been a lot written about internet fanbases, and while the impact of these is certainly worth exploring (recently Minaj’s fan base utilised the fact her latest release ‘Super Freaky Girl’ was trending on Tiktok pre-release, and promoted the song heavily there. Upon release, it became Minaj’s first solo number one hit), these fanbases that they are a niche portion of the internet, and the success or failure of their favourite artists relies more on the general public’s reaction to their music.
Swift doesn’t often promote singles these days, and the songs of hers that trend on Tiktok tend to be older, non-singles (‘Enchanted’ from ‘Speak Now’ comes to mind), and yet she continues to reach new career heights every day. Swift’s fans are there at every turn and celebrate her wins together, from number ones to receiving an honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from New York University.
Swift is, in essence, one of the world’s last traditional superstars. The world has watched as artists have shot into fame overnight, and later watched as social media platforms have skyrocketed people from small success stories to household names within days. (Notably, Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘Driver’s License’ blew up on TikTok upon release and debuted at number one.) Swift’s success has been more steady in its increase, her first US number one not being achieved until six years into her career. Her story-telling and deeply personal songwriting has turned her into one of the most famous women in the world, and with every album release it becomes clear that she still has more to give the world, and the world is more than happy to hear it.
Sixteen years after her first album released, it’s also important to note that Swift grew up in front of the public eye, and a lot of her fan base either grew up with her, or were able to find pieces of themselves in her songs, dealing with not only relationships, but the personal issues most sensitive to Swift. (2019’s ‘Lover’ notably featured ‘Soon You’ll Get Better’ received an outpouring of love from fans. The song, about her mother’s health struggles, has only been performed once in a pre-recorded performance. It will likely never be performed again.)
There’s a lot that can be said about Swift, but there’s one thing that stands out.
Swift’s work is successful because it feels authentic.
It feels authentic because it is.