What cringeworthy thing are Taylor Swift and Tom Hiddleston going to do next? Over the last three weeks, the question has struck fear and fascination into the hearts of Swift and Hiddleston fans and celebrity onlookers as the stars have embarked on a very photographed international tour of love. It might be real, it might be a publicity stunt, it might be performance art. It’s definitely hard to watch, and even more difficult to look away.
Every time you think #Hiddleswift (now the world’s most talked-about couple) can’t get any more eye-rolling, they outdo themselves. “Caught” cuddling on a rock in Rhode Island or hanging out with Hiddleston’s mom in small-town England? That’s nothing compared with Hiddleston’s dad-like dancing at a Selena Gomez concert in Nashville. All that PDA in Italy? We’ll raise you Hiddleston’s already-infamous, very embarrassing “I Heart T.S.” tank top as they frolicked in the ocean over their star-studded July 4 weekend.
On Thursday, the tour continued when they casually strolled through the Los Angeles airport wearing color-coordinated outfits, ignoring the paparazzi shouting questions like “Are you guys really dating for publicity?” before jetting off to Australia, where Hiddleston is filming the next “Thor” movie. As their plane touched down in Sydney on Friday, the Australian morning shows reportedly covered their arrival in near hysterics. True to form, the couple was snapped in Australia on Sunday holding hands on a “date night” on the Gold Coast.
At some point you have to wonder: What exactly is Swift doing? While Hiddleston is clearly a willing participant in the worldwide parade of love, her A-list level of fame is what’s driving this massive coverage. But doesn’t she know how much this relationship is being mocked for looking so fake?
It’s especially strange, as she’s usually image-conscious to the extreme. As she’s become more famous, she’s carefully cultivated an unbelievably loyal fanbase while staying an everygirl: inviting fans to her house, sending them Christmas presents and opening up to them about her life. Does she not realize how quickly that goodwill can fade if, in addition to becoming the most famous pop star in the world, you’re also one of the most overexposed? Especially if you start dating a fan-favorite star (two weeks after breaking up with your boyfriend of 15 months) and showing off every moment.
Of course she realizes this, because she’s an incredibly savvy performer and businesswoman. And it’s not like she needs the publicity. So that leaves only one conclusion: She just can’t help herself.
After all, let’s not forget Swift’s entire empire is built on the fact that she’s an outsider. She catapulted to stardom singing as the girl on the bleachers in “You Belong With Me” and watching her crush walk by without a glance in “Teardrops on My Guitar.” Even with huge stardom, she continued this theme with the smash “Shake It Off,” an anthem about ignoring the haters. (As The Washington Post’s music critic Chris Richards pointed out, “One of the most powerful entertainers on the planet shouldn’t have to sing in a defensive crouch.”) In nearly every profile, she talks about how being bullied in middle school was a defining point in her life.
Now? Swift is, to say the least, the most popular girl in school. Everyone wants to be her friend. There’s no way that any crush could ignore her. She’s literally dating the Internet’s boyfriend. As everyone knows, tough times as a teenager leave a mark. Deep down, no matter how much fame and success you achieve, it’s easy to revert to the same insecure, scared kid you were growing up. Swift certainly means no ill will as she shares her extravagant life with the cameras and appears in apparently staged paparazzi shots. From the outside, it seems like she just can’t resist basking in that kind of #blessed life.
Take the Fourth of July weekend, when Swift threw her annual blowout at her $17 million beach house in Watch Hill, R.I. The first year she invited her backup singers and dancers from her tour, but it’s morphed into a giant celebrity celebration. The guest list this year included stars such as Blake Lively, Ryan Reynolds, Ruby Rose, Uzo Aduba and Halston Sage; supermodels Karlie Kloss, Gigi Hadid, Martha Hunt and Cara Delevingne; singers Kesha, Ed Sheeran and the Haim sisters; and many more.
Sure, when you invite those people to your mansion, you want to show them a good time, which Swift did — there was a giant waterslide, a trip to the beach, karaoke and apparently a very competitive game night. How do we know all of this? Because it was all captured in slick, beautiful, picture-perfect photos (allegedly captured by a professional photographer) in which everyone looked like they were having the Greatest Time of Their Entire Lives. As if on a strict embargo, the photos were all posted on attendees’ Instagram accounts within hours of one another on Tuesday afternoon.
Suddenly, Swift was like that irritating Facebook friend who shares a slew of pictures from an awesome event you weren’t invited to, the type of photos (with couples cuddling next to one another in chairs, lots of poses, matching outfits) that are generally mocked because they appear so forced. See: Ryan Reynolds’s grim expression in the aforementioned couples photo. (Sample headline: “Why Taylor Swift’s parties look like utter hell.”) On some level, Swift must realize how this all comes across. So why did she brand the weekend #Taymerica and have her friends wear matching patriotic onesies and display it all for the public?
Again, she only has good intentions: But at this moment, she just can’t help herself. And there’s no telling whether she ever will.