On Sunday night, Taylor Swift won the prize for female artist of the year at the iHeartRadio Music Awards. She wasn’t there to accept in person, which is no surprise — the pop megastar has been mostly out of the public view for many months.
“Hey, guys, I just wanted to say thank you so much for this award,” Swift said to the audience in a pretaped video, explaining she couldn’t attend because she is in rehearsals for her upcoming world tour. “But in my absence and to show my gratitude, I really wanted to show you my brand-new video for my new single, ‘Delicate.’ ”
“Delicate,” the fourth single from her latest album, “Reputation,” is Swift’s most direct song about her . . . well, reputation, which has suffered over the past 18 months or so, after much-dissected feuds and relationships and people’s frustration with her refusal to speak out about current events. As Swift explained to fans at a private event last fall, “Delicate” — about stressing over a new crush — explores the question: “What happens when you meet somebody that you really want in your life and then you start worrying about what they’ve heard before they met you?” (Sample lyric: “My reputation’s never been worse, so you must like me for me.”)
So it’s fitting that the video may offer a clue as to why Swift has recently shunned the spotlight. Aside from a handful of brief concert appearances around the holidays, Swift has gone underground. She’s avoided the media and gave zero interviews to promote “Reputation” when it dropped in November. While unnamed “sources” assure the tabloids that she’s doing quite well with her boyfriend, actor Joe Alwyn, they’re rarely seen in public together. Her social media used to be filled with pictures of her BFF “squad,” but she wiped all of her accounts clean last year and now uses them only for album promotion.
In that sense, the opening of the “Delicate” video is jarring because it’s an image of Swift no one has seen in awhile: She’s on the red carpet. In the first scene, Swift has a glazed expression as she gazes off in the distance. She quickly snaps out it as reporters shove microphones at her and dozens of camera lights flash in her face. In the chaos, a mysterious figure slips Swift a small piece of paper. This will become important later.
Next, Swift walks into a fancy hotel lobby. Everyone turns and stares as she walks by, surrounded by four bodyguards. Swift stops and tries to take a selfie with fans, except a crazed bellhop tries to grab her. Security intervenes. Rolling her eyes, Swift walks away in the middle of her security team, as they shadow her every move.
She finally gets some privacy in a dressing room. Turning the piece of paper over in her hands, and she starts making fake smiles and goofy faces at herself in the mirror. Suddenly, a group of women walk in, and Swift stops, startled. Then, when she turns around back to the mirror, her reflection is gone. Could it be? She tries yelling at the women, who can’t see or hear a thing she is doing. Yes — she’s invisible! It’s a dream come true.
With her new invisibility cloak, Swift has never looked more thrilled. She tosses her stiletto heels, tears off the bottom part of her long blue gown, and starts dancing. She dances and dances, through the hotel lobby, on the concierge’s desk, in an elevator, through an empty room, and outside in the pouring rain, where she jumps on a car. She truly dances like no one is watching as she jumps on a subway.
In the final scene, soaked from the rain, she arrives at a grungy bar, holding the piece of paper. Everyone turns and looks at her, and she’s visible again.
The message of the video? Even with all the perks, being one of the most powerful celebrities in the world has its drawbacks. See Swift’s miserable expression in the video on the red carpet, and the fact that when she stops to take a selfie with fans, she’s bombarded by a crazy person. Therefore, when she’s magically invisible — or simply out of the public eye — it’s the only time she’s able to be herself. Thus, the dance party.
As for the note, in the lyrics for “Delicate,” Swift receives a text from her crush that says, “Dive bar on the East Side, where you at? Come here, you can meet me in the back.” Presumably, in the video — given that she winds up at a dive bar — the note serves as that message. It’s apparently from someone she really likes, and who doesn’t care about her reputation, and that helps give her power to become invisible and joyful.
And seeing that Swift was coincidentally photographed a couple of days ago with Alwyn, a rare sighting of the couple, it seems like she really wanted to drive this idea home: She may be gone from the spotlight, but she’s doing better than she ever was.