Taylor Swift has indicated that her upcoming seventh album will in some ways feel like the opposite of her sixth, “Reputation.” It already does, just from the media blitz already underway, which couldn’t be unlike her Beyonce-like disappearing act when it came to doing any interviews for the last record. She talks about the new album in a cover story for Entertainment Weekly, recently spoke with Beats 1’s Zane Lowe and UK radio personality Roman Kemp, and will appear on “Ellen” this coming Wednesday … all months before the album is expected to come out. To riff on her catchphrase from last time around: There will be explanation… in dribs and drabs.
So what do we know about it, so far? Almost nothing, concretely — which is just the way she likes it, as she plans to relentlessly torture … sorry, tease … her fans with clues for weeks to come, without ever confirming anything so much as an album name, song titles (beyond the already released “ME!”) or producers, co-writers or other collaborators, any of which would count as deep spoilers. But here’s what we do know, or can reasonably assume, from outside pop’s most hermetically sealed cone of secrecy.
Think “Red,” not “Rep.” Many of her most hardcore fans will tell you 2012’s “Red” is her best album, even though it wasn’t the biggest. That’s the one that seemed closest to a traditional singer-songwriter record, basically bridging her country and pop periods and including quiet songs that didn’t quite seem of either genre. On her last tour, she played that album’s “All Too Well” a handful of times and acknowledged it was her most requested deep track. “ME!” wasn’t exactly an indicator that she was headed back that direction, but imagine those fans’ delight when Swift actually used the telling term “singer-songwriter” in the new EW cover story. “This time around I feel more comfortable being brave enough to be vulnerable, because my fans are brave enough to be vulnerable with me,” she said. “Once people delve into the album, it’ll become pretty clear that that’s more of the fingerprint of this — that it’s much more of a singer-songwriter, personal journey than the last one.”
But if it is at all like “Red,” it’s going to be a happy “Red.” It may be largely a “singer-songwriter” album, but it’s not going to be a rueful one… at least not predominantly. Not that anyone was expecting a bummer, given the diaristic aspects of albums and her seemingly stable personal life these last few years. She told Lowe the album would be “more playful,” but emphasized a variety of moods in talking with EW. “I’m trying to convey an emotional spectrum,” she told EW. “I definitely don’t wanna have too much of one thing. You get some joyful songs and you get the bops, as they say… [and also] “really, really, really, really sad songs. [But] not enough to where you need to worry about me.” The “bops” part has already been covered by “ME!,” so fans who were praying for just one “All Too Well”-style downer are really, really, really, really relieved she’ll at least entertain being briefly morose on the album.
It went down fast. Swift said in the new cover story that it was recorded in less than three months, a much shorter time frame than any of her previous albums. No doubt several factors influenced her speed: Her new label, Republic, would naturally like to start seeing returns on their investment sooner than in a decade far, far away. And she always used to release albums every other year; the three years that preceded “Reputation” was a lengthy anomaly, of the kind that even superstars may find ill-considered in an era when Ariana Grande releases a new album less than six months after the last. But never discount an actual creative spurt borne out of a good mood.
It was finished February 24. Swift said she put up her famous Instagram post that prophesied the new album and single via palm trees and numerology on “the day I finished the seventh album.” She wrapped up the “Reputation” world tour on Nov. 21, so if she’s being anything close to literal with that three-month time frame, she really did not pass go after that final gig in Japan on her way to the recording studio.
It will have at least 15 tracks, probably more. “I started to write so much that I knew immediately it would probably be bigger” than any previous album, she said.
It’ll probably be out in August. This is where the guessing comes in. Some fans have guessed the release date will be Friday, August 30, because there’s a clock in the “ME!” video that shows of a time of… well, it looks more like 8:29, but close enough. But there are other reasons to predict an August release. The length of time between the release of the single “Look What You Made Me Do” and the “Reputation” album was three and a half months, so if she follows that clock after the April 26 “ME!” release (and, of course, puts out a couple of promotional singles in the meantime), that would set it in mid-August. On the couple of releases prior to that, the window was shorter — just a little over two months between first single and album — but we consider the most recent past precedent the best indicator of future results.
How do we know she won’t just hurry and put it out a couple of months after “ME!”? Because she has too many damn Easter eggs to plant to let it arrive that soon! (Sorry for the swearing.) In her chat Tuesday with the UK’s “Capitol Breakfast With Roman Kemp,” she insisted there are “dozens” more references embedded in the “ME!” video that fans haven’t discovered yet… and presumably hundreds more to come, the way she makes it sound. Swift said that the “kind of first round is stuff they can see that predicts what will happens in a couple months.” Which could be the album release, right? No. “There’s also, like, second-tier Easter eggs, which will be revealed upon the album.” Ah… so more like three months (or more). “Then there’s third-tier Easter eggs, which are the most deeply embedded Easter eggs, which will be, like, shown on the tour.”
We already know the album title. We just don’t know we know it. On Twitter Swift said that “the new album title is actually revealed somewhere in the video AND so is the title of the second single.” And she indicated to Lowe that people were picking up on the former more than the latter, although that was as far as she’d go. “A lot of them know it,” she told the Apple Music host. “They’re really smart. [But] there are fewer people who know the next single title.” Among the guesses: “Heart,” or the symbol for heart, which could hardly be more omnipresent in her social media posts or the “ME!” video. The word “Lover” appears in neon script in the video more prominently than any other visual language, but she wouldn’t be that obvious… unless her plan is to hoodwink everyone by making the answer too glaring to be true.
One button from the EW cover shoot may mean something. Hey, we’re grasping for anything here, right? But maybe not grasping as much as the fans who are reading something into every button she’s wearing on the cover. Because EW admits in a sidebar that they chose nearly every button she’s wearing in those photos, which they picked to riff on more than a few of Swift’s favorite things, past and present (cats, “Cats,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Friends,” “Law & Order,” Drake, Troye Sivan, Selena Gomez, Track 5, Faith Hill, Mr. Rogers, “Game of Thrones,” pastels). Even “Calm” — a reference to one of her French-language lines in the video (“Je suis calme!”) — was an EW pick. Fans were almost certain that the Dixie Chicks button meant that the Chicks definitely appear as guests on the new album, following the appearance of a Chicks painting in the “ME!” video. And maybe they will cameo, but the button doesn’t confirm it; that’s one of the ones chosen for her by EW, too. (Sources who would be in the know say they think Swift is just a Chicks super-fan.) The magazine does say, though, that Swift added buttons of her own that are Easter-egg mysteries even to them. One odd one is what looks to be a tombstone with the words “I Tried” on it. That seems a little dour for the title to a “more playful” album, but it could signify one of the minority “really, really, really, really sad songs” she’s promising.
Be sure to look to upcoming videos for clues about “TS8”! Swift said the pastels-rich tone of “ME!” was “foreshadowed ages ago in a Spotify vertical video for ‘Delicate’ [one of the singles from “Reputation”] by painting my nails those colors.” So why shouldn’t she start laying eggs about whatever might be coming in 2021 right now?