"I'm so excited, I can't even," she exclaimed, as the audience cheered and screamed upon hearing news that she had a new single. "I want to play it now, will you get up and dance with me?"
Suddenly, Shake It Off, an ode to ignoring the haters, blasted out of the speakers. ABC News and Yahoo live-streamed the spectacle worldwide, which started with Swift standing on top of the Empire State Building. As Swift announced this album would mark a switch from country music to pop, the message became clear. So long Nashville, hello world pop domination - but she was still the superstar who had a dance party with her fans. It was a relatable, everywoman narrative that carry through her massively successful 1989 era.
On Wednesday, Swift sent another missive with the reveal of her sixth studio album, Reputation, which will be released on Nov. 10. (The first single drops Thursday night.) Her previous carefree demeanor was nowhere to be found. The album cover art appeared out of nowhere on Instagram and Twitter - the only warning that something was brewing in Swiftland were videos of a snake posted to her social media through the week, after she wiped all of the accounts clean last Friday. There was no dance party.
Then again, these are different times. Last year, Swift suffered some unusual backlash, as her ex-boyfriend, Calvin Harris, accused her of trying to "bury" him when she spilled that she actually wrote his hit song, This Is What You Came For. Then, Kim Kardashian posted an edited recording of a phone call between Swift and Kanye West, who name-checked Swift in his controversial track Famous. Though Swift previously made it seem like she was caught off guard by the song, Kardashian's footage appeared to show Swift joking with West about some of the lyrics. Even though Swift shot back that she was being "falsely painted as a liar," the internet declared her a "snake."
So, the snake imagery combined with the phrase "Reputation" plus the cover art with her name printed all over a newspaper, symbolizing her status as one of the most famous celebrities on the planet - Swift isn't pretending all of the controversy didn't happen. In fact, it seems like she's directly calling it out. She might have spent the last year out of the spotlight, but she's not hiding. She knows what people are saying about her. She is noting the media's role. And she's ready - oh, she's ready - to respond.
The dead-eyed, black-and-white Swift is a marked difference from when she first started in Nashville, with her signature long, curly blond hair, colorful sundresses and cowboy boots. When her debut album Taylor Swift dropped in 2006, it was a risk, as she turned down a major label to sign with Big Machine, an independent start-up that, as Swift said, "didn't have any furniture" when she started. She depicted herself as an underdog, telling the story of sitting on the floor of the label, stuffing envelopes with her album to send out.
As Swift's star skyrocketed, she took a savvy step back with the launch of her third album, Speak Now, as she declared (in a 2010 livestream) that she had written all of the songs herself. "It just so happened that the songs that made the cut on the album were the ones I wrote myself, so, wish me luck!" she said excitedly to her fans. Translation: To observers who had only heard her commercial hits, she wasn't just the teen singing about high school crushes. She was a serious songwriter.
Red in 2012 was an abrupt turnaround, the start of her very lucrative collaboration with Swedish pop maestros Max Martin and Shellback. She announced it much the same fashion, on a Google Plus hangout for the world to see. The Hollywood Reporter noted she was "wearing a red dress, red earrings and bright red lips" to match the album name. She played the first single, We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, cheekily dedicating it to a "lovely ex-boyfriend."
Now, following the traditional 1989 livestream in 2014, we have Reputation - no fanfare except some creepy snake videos and a no-frills social media announcement. Swift has recently made a concerted effort to stay out of the public eye, but as always, she'll be along soon to make her message very clear.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post
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