The Business of Being Taylor Swift

Her new single and livestream showcase her honest-yet-savvy image.
Eric Thayer/Reuters

Ever since Taylor Swift posted an Instagram video two weeks ago of herself repeatedly pushing the “18” button on an elevator, savvy fans knew exactly how this was going to play out. On August 18, she would announce the date of her new album release, just as she did in the summers of 2012 (Red) and 2010 (Speak Now). The album would come out sometime in October, as it always does. And there’d probably be a new song before then.

Indeed, all of that has now come to pass. On Monday, Swift announced in a Yahoo livestream that she has a new single (“Shake it Off”), complete with music video, and her new album, called 1989, will come out on October 27.

“Shake It Off” is about haters, what they will do (“hate hate hate hate hate”) and what you should do in response to them (“shake shake shake shake shake… shake it off”). It has some good grumpy trombones in the background. It has a horrible break in which Swift… talks? I can’t in good conscience say “raps.” The video is a montage of Swift dancing poorly in different styles, from ballet to twerking, in front of some background dancers who are dancing well in those different styles. It is fine. I have already listened to it 15 times.

“I like to make a new album every two years,” Swift explains during the livestream to her fans who have not already figured out her pattern, noting that two years is enough time to change your hairstyle, where you live, everything about your life. Two years has also probably exactly how long the people can go without a new T-Swift album, just enough time to leave them aquiver with anticipation, but not so long as to incite a rebellion.

Two years is also the perfect amount of time for a reinvention. She calls her new album a “rebirth,” which is why it’s called 1989, after the year of her first birth. During the Q&A portion of the livestream, the first question she takes (from Instagram, of course) is from a fan who notices that her look tends to change with every album she makes (The Speak Now era was spiral curls and floral dresses, Red was all hot pants and bangs.) Swift does not deny this. She can divide her life into perfectly demarcated two-year increments in which she purposefully arranges her whole aesthetic to reflect whatever image best encompasses her latest album. Her fans don’t mind. It’s a helpful visual cue.

The thing about Taylor Swift is that all of her moves are calculated, but she is completely transparent about it. A fan during the livestream asks if she’s going to keep putting secret messages in the album’s liner notes. This is a tradition in which she capitalizes random letters in the song lyrics to spell out cryptic messages. They typically seem to hint at which of her myriad ex-boyfriends the song is about. It’s great fun. (She’s well aware that people love to analyze her relationships. One of the lyrics from “Shake it Off” is: “I go on too many dates, but I can’t make ‘em stay, that’s what people say.”)

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Julie Beck is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Health Channel.

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