The lead up to Taylor Swift’s speculated new single, due out April 26, is marked by a fresh aesthetic for the artist. Featuring everything from rainbow and heart filters bedazzling her Instagram, to a cotton-candy photoshoot on the cover of Time Magazine, she is positioning herself as a new woman since her vampy, hoodie-wearing, snake emoji-reclaiming days of Reputation.
It’s far from Swift’s first metamorphosis. An artist who has been in the public eye for 15 years, Taylor’s album covers and promotional materials have always been a visual expression both of her music, life stages, and strategic positioning of her image. Here, we trace the evolution of Swift’s aesthetic from her debut at 14, to her new look at 29.
Taylor’s debut album is by far the most earnest of all 6, and tonally fitting for the then relatively unknown 14-year-old country songstress. The design — combining baroque swirls, butterflies (the same that came to define the early aughts) as well as art-deco inspired elements — could be described as an Early Adobe Clip-Art Pastiche, or neo-Lisa Frank. Her expression is to-camera and seems to suggest both innocence and preternatural wisdom.
The Beige Period
A cleaner, more minimalist look for her second album, this time co-writing each one of her tracks. Now 16, She’s traded a hard drop shadow for a softer one, and has dropped the bright gradient colors.
Instead, we see more subdued beige tones. Her untamed hair dominates the composition and her face is turned to profile. Is she stuck in a wind tunnel? Descending from a parachuting excursion? We do not know. We know only that she is Fearless.
The Gilded Age
This album, written entirely by Swift, brings the first glimpses of her flair for theatricality. She still keeps her signature logo the same as previous albums, this time opting for a gold approach. The typeface chosen for “Speak Now” is an ornate handwritten script, and her dress and hair reflect the fairytale themes found in her music.
Six years since her debut, Swift is now 20 and no longer in her teens. If girlish maximalism was her aesthetic before, we now see a much more polished, mature Taylor — in everything from her subdued hair styling to the font choice on the cover. Dropping her signature logo, she adopts a compact, confident sans-serif font (Tungsten) and applies this throughout all her marketing materials. The photograph is dark, moody, and stylistically harkens back to the early days of Instagram. Could she perhaps be using Hefe? Or is that Valencia?
1989 marked Swift’s transition from country to pop. This album art is the first to be fully conceptually driven — featuring Swift in an off-beat sweatshirt captured in a Polaroid that could have been taken at someone’s basement house party. Her full name no longer appears on the cover — the initials T.S. are all that we need to identify the now-iconic artist. This art feels intimate, quirky, authentic, and is the beginning of her showcasing her personality and personal style to the public eye.
Fake News Noir
This album art was her most ambitious and conceptual to date. Emerging from the drama of the Kardashian public scandal, Swift addresses the drama and perhaps alludes to larger societal commentary by superimposing herself in the middle of newspaper layout—the columns of which read “Taylor Swift.” With slicked back hair, black lipstick, and a confrontational expression, this is a major departure from the joie de vivre seen in previous covers. To put it in her own words: “The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now.”
Though we don’t know exactly what is going to drop on April 26, based on the teaser on her website we can already see a radical shift in her visuals since Reputation. She’s embracing pastels, drop shadow, and a lo-fi Tumblr aesthetic. Reminiscent of her first album, Swift seems to be enjoying the early aughts renaissance in design.
This youthful approach can be seen simultaneously on her instagram, where she has taken to altering red-carpet photos with rainbows and heart filters, as well as pastels and early 2000’s motifs.
Has Swift wrestled her demons and emerged ready to embrace the lighter side of life into her 30s? Only time—and the music—will tell.
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