Taylor Swift is plotting something again.
This is not a surprise; the pop megastar is always plotting something. At least, that’s what it seems like since she has spent her entire career as a puzzle master. It started when she was a young country singer, filling her album liner notes with coded messages in the lyrics, and has continued until today, as she’s . . . well, doing whatever she’s about to do.
During the weekend, Swift posted a countdown clock on Instagram, where she has 115 million followers — the countdown ends Friday, April 26. The Internet erupted in guessing games about what it all means (a new single? a new album??), egged on by the singer, who has started posting one mysterious photo every day with the caption “4.26.”
Swift, as you might know, has been using not-so-veiled messages for years. (Remember the snakes leading up to the “Reputation” release, alluding to her feud with Kim Kardashian West? Or that Grammy photo next to the “Bad Blood” lyrics, a song rumored to be about Katy Perry, who has never won a Grammy? Or the coy references in her “Look What You Made Me Do” music video, including a dig at her ex, Calvin Harris?) But at this point, Swift is famous enough that she can sell 1.2 million copies of “Reputation” in a week without doing a single promotional interview, so you would think she might stop with the guessing games.
Instead, it’s the opposite, as she seems intent on ratcheting up suspense about her coming project with a mind-blowing level of detail. It makes sense: While her hidden messages may have originally been a savvy ploy to gin up interest around her music, it has now become essential to her brand. When you infuse your work with enough clues that people treat it like “The Da Vinci Code,” as Vice put it, you had better keep raising the stakes every time — because otherwise, what separates you from every other artist who creates hype with cryptic hints?
Swift appears determined to up the intrigue this time; her latest puzzle apparently started a very long time ago. Fans noticed that on Swift’s official 2019 calendar, there was a mysterious butterfly stamp on the date April 13. So they were bracing themselves for something to happen on that day; 13 is widely known as her lucky number, which she used to paint on her hand before every concert. Sure enough, on April 13, the countdown debuted on Instagram and her website. Naturally, it’s leading up to April 26, which is (all together now!) 13 days later.
Billboards have also been sprouting up across the world with the countdown, pointing people to aprilTwentySix.com, which redirects to Swift’s official website. The T and S are both capitalized, because it wouldn’t be Taylor Swift if they weren’t.
Don’t worry, there’s more. Last fall, Swift posted an Instagram photo of herself playing Scrabble with her mother and wrote the caption, “Let the games BEGIN.” Guess what day is National Scrabble Day? As BuzzFeed pointed out, April 13! Then, speculation around Swift’s next album (her seventh) started in earnest in late February, when she posted a seemingly random photo of seven palm trees. Well, nothing is accidental in Swift world. There are also 61 stars in the photo, and guess what is 61 days after February 24, the day the photo was posted? April 26!
We’ll stop there, but just know there are many, many “clues” that fans have spotted. Are they all accurate? Do they mean anything? Who knows! Swift will certainly never tell, but being an Extremely Online person, she’s let it be known that she’s following along with the frenzy of guessing. “She just read all the theories,” Swift posted in February alongside a picture of her cat, who looked shocked.
In other words, Swift knows exactly what she’s doing, and she’s trained her fans to be particularly eagle-eyed. At the iHeartRadio Awards last month, when she accepted the trophy for tour of the year, she signed off with a pointed speech to her supporters.
“I love your passion. I love your attention to detail. I love how much you care. I love seeing all the things you’re posting online,” Swift said. “And I just wanted to let you know when there’s new music, you will be the first to know.”