As we’ve known ever since she unveiled the title of her current album, Taylor Swift’s latest era is all about dealing with any damage done to her reputation. Thought she was the secretly evil cheerleader-type who played the victim in public? Oh, actually, she’ll fess up to being a little bit of a mean girl, and, yes, she will directly acknowledge her enemies. Did she seem perhaps a little too innocent, naive, and sheltered, or at least tried to make us think she was? Well, now she drinks, occasionally curses, and literally told her old self to shut up. Was her never-ending stream of way-too-public relationships starting to grate on you? Well, now she has an uncharacteristically low-key relationship with actor Joe Alwyn, and the only thing anyone seems to really know for sure about it is that it’s serious.
With a few years away from the spotlight and a single album rollout, Swift had seemed to counteract all the criticism of her public persona she had assuredly read on Tumblr in one fell swoop. What else was there left to even gossip about? She’d addressed it all, if in a roundabout way.
Well, almost everything. There’s still that pesky matter of the state of her squad, and it seems her way of dealing with criticism of the way she portrayed her exclusive friendship circle on social media may have unintentionally created another PR crisis for the music star. Because now the gossip and social media focus have a laserlike focus on, if not an obsession with, which friends are currently in and out of her good graces.
As we all know, Swift’s girl squad was once the thing of legend. There were nights out, mutually adoring quotes in interviews, surprise concert appearances, joint selfies, and red carpet appearances, and most infamously those legendary Fourth of July parties that involved coordinating swimwear and inflatable waterslides. The list of members included a veritable who’s who of modern It girls: Cara Delevingne, Gigi Hadid, Blake Lively, Lily Aldridge, Selena Gomez, Lena Dunham, Ellie Goulding, Serayah, the sisters Haim, Lorde, and Karlie Kloss to name just a few. Reminders of the friendships were everywhere, until, one day, it suddenly stopped. Surprisingly sad paparazzi photos of Swift’s Hamptons estate sitting empty and unpopulated by VIP shenanigans emerged over the last Fourth of July, seeming to signal an end to an era we didn’t even realize we had been living in.
Ever since, speculation about the state of the squad has been rampant. The group is like Project Runway contestants, and we are all Heidi Klum, forever wondering who is in and who is out. If she tried to downplay the squad, it seems it has only backfired.
The U.K. edition of the Spanish tabloid Grazia brought that notion home today by running an article that may be a journalistic scoop, or, perhaps more probably, a semi-informed fan fiction (though, we can’t rule out the possibility of an intentional plant, can we?). The magazine quoted two unnamed members of Swift’s squad who conveniently illustrated competing theories about what has become of the squad.
“Taylor’s been keeping a low profile, but there hasn’t been a big fallout,” said one unnamed supposed friend. “She was stung by claims her squad was elitist, and prefers to spend time with close friends one-on-one at the moment.” The source also added that it is somewhat understandable that her social situation has changed since Alwyn entered the picture.
The other possible friend sounded a little bit more pressed.
“Celebrity friendships are weird. You don’t see each other for forever, and you accept that—but Taylor’s gone off-grid in a big way since meeting Joe,” said the other. “I even heard about people getting requests not to mention her in interviews. It’s hard when that’s all you’re asked about, but Taylor is hypersensitive. I guess you have to be high-maintenance to become the biggest pop star in the world.”
Questionable sourcing aside, the fact that the current situation may be dicey for all involved rings true. Online superfans have busied themselves with keeping their eyes out for any clues about the status of various friendships, and gossipy media is always quick to broadcast their findings to a larger audience. More than a few squad members have been asked about their status in interviews, and some have deemed their answers unsatisfactory. Take Lorde, for example, who while promoting her own album got into a few minor-controversies over the summer when asked about Swift. During one interview she seemed to say she was no longer part of the squad, but quickly walked them back.
After squaring away so many PR issues with Reputation, how does Swift confront this one? There’s no easy answer. Even a Fourth of July reunion would cause drama. The Internet would comb over the guest list and then create backstories of blood feuds involving anyone who wasn’t there...even if, say, that person had merely promised their mom they'd spend time with the family over the holiday.
And, likely, there are at least some natural shifts in relationships, the kind we’ve all experienced. How often do you go on Facebook now and the website reminds you of the anniversary of some party, or friends gather and you’ve realized you’ve lost touch with or grown apart from half the people involved? It happens to us all, but the rest of us don’t have to worry about how to handle the ensuing tabloid and Twitter fallout.