THE PALM TREES ARRIVED IN February, seven in all, set against a pastel blue backdrop with superimposed stars. It appeared that a new Taylor Swift era was upon us—that the old happy-go-lucky Taylor was not, in fact, dead. Or did it? It was only an Instagram photo, just one more picture in an infinite content scroll. But it also came from a pop star known for prodigious hint-dropping, whose fans turn every piece of info into an online archaeological dig.
As expected, the summary post sent Swifties sifting through each detail with a pastel-colored fine-tooth comb. What did the trees symbolize? An overdue vacation? A recently purchased beach house? A secret palm-frond collection? Or maybe, as many surmised, it was new music. One Twitter user predicted that the number of stars in the background of the photo hinted at a single drop: “There’s about 60/61 [stars]. There are 61 days until April 26, FRIDAY, a SINGLE RELEASE day!” Another said it was the unofficial announcement of her next LP: “Okay so in this picture there are 4 palm trees on the left (4 country albums). There are two palm trees on the right (2 pop albums). There is one large palm tree in the middle. This represents her new album.” These may sound like ludicrous conspiracy theories —for the record, they were mostly correct—but they fit firmly within the Taylor Swift Musical Universe (it’s like the Marvel Cinematic Universe but with more guitars and fewer S