Three days later, on August 18 — one week ago today — she wiped her social media accounts clean, setting the plan into motion. Predictably, the Internet went aflutter, speculating wildly about What It All Means.
What a difference a week can make.
Seven days ago, there was no confirmation that a single, let alone an album, was even coming. Now, we’re in full Taylor overdrive mode, at the beginning of what is likely to be a two-year cycle: There’s a single out, a video and an album and a tour coming, and a sprawling marketing plan so elaborate that the number of non-disclosure agreements involved may well rival that of Beyonce’s last two albums. While it could be argued that this album’s cycle really began when Swift returned her music to all major streaming services on June 9 — which was both a refresh on her back catalog and a dig at longtime rival Katy Perry, who dropped her new album, “Witness,” at the same moment — things began in earnest last Friday. Below, we take a look at the week that was.
*Aug. 18: Swift wiped clean her Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and Facebook accounts, which combined have approximately 250 million followers, setting the Internet alight with speculation about whether a new album is imminent. Not insignificantly, the date is also the three-year anniversary of the release of “Shake It Off” and the announcement of “1989,” the album is preceded. In retrospect, it was a symbolic gesture on any number of levels, both clearing the decks for new material to come, and — as she says in “Look What You Made Me Do” — a way of saying the old Taylor is dead.
*Aug. 21: Swift posts cryptic videos of a snake moving its tail on her social-media platforms. Later, she posts one of a snake striking. The Internet went aflutter (etc. etc.), with some observers noting that both Kim Kardashian West — whose husband, Kanye West, is another longtime Swift bete noire with whom she’s publicly sparred for years — and former beau Calvin Harris’ fans had called Swift a “snake” in the past. From there, the math isn’t hard: The snake is striking back!
*Aug: 22: Sources confirm to Variety that Swift will release new music on Friday.
*Aug. 23: Swift throws a wrench into the predictions by announcing the album, “Reputation,” its Nov. 10 release date, and posting the cover on Instagram (many had expected the announcement Friday, along with the single premiere, as she had previously). The cover, which features a mock-New York Times font and newspaper copy superimposed over Swift’s face, had at least one observer saying on Twitter, “How many Taylor Swift fans do you think have no idea that this is a newspaper?”
*Aug. 24: At 11:30 p.m. ET, “Look What You Made Me Do” drops on all major streaming services and iTunes. The song, an unexpectedly dark and threatening song of revenge and finger-pointing, is widely perceived as a slam at Kanye West (It also appears to include a dig at Kanye West: “I don’t like your little games / I don’t like your tilted stage” — possibly a reference to West’s “floating stage” from his 2016 “Saint Pablo” tour). Co-written with Bleachers frontman and Lorde collaborator Jack Antonoff (and featuring an interpolation of Right Said Fred’s 1992 novelty hit “I’m Too Sexy”; unsurprisingly the group was quick to signal their approval of Swift’s song), the unconventional and definitely un-single-like song meets with a harsh reaction online and faces uncertain prospects at radio. Regardless, the song quickly shoots to No. 1 on iTunes, being downloaded nearly 100,000 times in the initial hours of availability.
Also in the press release announcing the song are details about pre-ordering the album (via deals with Target, Walmart, iTunes and Swift’s website) as well as “Taylor Swift Tix,” a promotion with Ticketmaster whereby fans set up a Ticketmaster account to get on a wait list for tickets — and can then pre-order the album, buy a T-shirt, and/or two magazines exclusively available at Target in order to accumulate points that increase their chances of getting good seats. While ostensibly a way to defeat ticket bots and ensure that actual fans get the best seats, it’s also an elaborate strategy by which fans are essentially paying — via purchases — for a better shot at prime tickets.
*Aug. 25: Swift drops a teaser for the “Look What You Made Me Do” video on “Good Morning America” and Instagram, and confirms that the video will premiere on MTV’s Video Music Awards on Sunday (which, ironically, will be hosted by Perry, which spawns even more chatter about potential awk-ward water-cooler moments on the show).
As if Swift weren’t already ubiquitous enough, UPS announces that it is “Excited to be the Official Delivery Partner of Taylor Swift’s new album! Look for #TaylorSwiftDelivery trucks” that bear the album cover artwork on the side (in a way reminiscent of the ads for Jay-Z’s “4:44” album plastered onto New York City buses all summer).
What’s next? As it says in the video teaser, “Brace for impact” …