All the Fan Theories From Taylor Swift's Surprise Nashville Appearance
We spoke to fans after the shrieking died down, and they're really onto something.
In a city of murals designed to get double-tapped on Instagram, a new one in downtown Nashville could almost go unnoticed — unless you’re a Taylor Swift superfan. Swift had already been teasing something on Instagram since at least February, replacing her Reputation-era black-and-red Instagram color scheme with light pastels. “4.26” also started appearing, a countdown clock to what many assume is a new album or single. Eagle-eyed fans noticed last week many overlaps with the new mural, which included seven flowers (it’s her seventh album), two cats (Swift herself has two), 13 hearts (for her lucky number), and butterflies (butterfly emojis are figuring heavily into the breadcrumbs she’s trailing on Instagram).
The speculation reached a fever pitch this morning when news spread of a potential Swift appearance at the mural, with Nashville outlets first on the scene live-streaming the event as the crowd grew. According to the Tennessean, artists touching up the mural (and adding the word "ME!") told the gathering crowd it was for the NFL Draft, which takes place in Nashville this weekend. It didn’t take the detective skills of a Swift superfan, however, to be skeptical of that explanation After all, butterflies, cats, flowers, and pastels don’t exactly scream professional football. They scream Taylor Swift.
There were plenty of skeptics, but Swifties weren't going to risk missing out — dozens of fans gathered; one told me she had an eyelash-extensions appointment, and she and the aesthetician mutually agreed to cancel so they could get a glimpse of Tay. No one on the ground was surprised when, shortly before noon local time, Swift herself showed up to pose at the mural. As soon as she departed, and the shrieking died down, fans lined up to do so as well.
While Swift left confirming little, beside the fact that something is, indeed, coming on April 26, and that she is, indeed, behind the mural, many fans from the mostly college-aged crowd reported they've already developed theories about what the mural — and its location — can mean for her seventh album, which has been shorthanded to “TS7.”
The location in Nashville certainly speaks to a potential return to Swift’s country roots. Skylar Lee Gutman, who was studying with friends at Belmont University when she heard about the crowd gathering, says she hopes for a sound similar to Kacey Musgraves: “'80s pop mixed with country.” She cited the use of color scheme and rainbows to back up this theory.
But many fans are looking at Swift’s own discography for clues. Ashely McNeil also hopes for a return to country, and sees a lot of allusions to past Swift eras in the mural. The butterflies, she thinks, could reference her self-titled debut album, which featured the insect on the cover. Another fan, Makenzie Culver, predicts a sound closer to 1989, Swift's fifth album, also seen as the musician's final departure from country to pop.
Several fans referenced Speak Now as a potential link to the yet-unannounced album, telling me they’ve noticed clues like a recent Instagram post of Swift’s resembling the album cover. There’s also another clue they believe they’ve uncovered, and it has to do with Swift’s love life.
VIDEO: Taylor Swift Surprises Fans At New Butterfly Mural in Nashville
Speak Now is from an era of “happy love songs,” says Gabrielle Brunner, a Swiftie since third grade. And she’s “really happy with Joe,” Brunner says. Brunner is an active follower of several Taylor Swift Instagram groups, and it becomes clear after talking to her, and several other fans on the scene, that, when talking about Swift, her boyfriend, Joe Alwyn, is a permanent enough fixture that he requires no last name.
Allison Asarch was standing with Brunner after recognizing her from the online Taylor Swift fan community (only one example of this type of fan-reunion that was going on at the mural). She was one of the few people I spoke with who looked to Reputation for what TS7 holds. The album will be linked with the vibes of “Call It What You Want,” “Delicate,” and “Getaway Car,” all songs reportedly written about Alwyn, she says. But while most fans were excited for a more country-inspired album, all stopped short of actually speaking ill of Reputation, simply that it was “its own entity,” as one delicately put it.
The desire for a return to country, however, was palpable. A group in line speculated as I left that Swift might even perform with Tim McGraw as part of the NFL Draft weekend, which would be a true callback to one of her oldest songs, “Tim McGraw.” I laughed, but then considered this: In her Instagram post, Swift says she’ll reveal more in an interview with Robin Roberts on ABC live from Nashville. First-round coverage of the NFL Draft starts at 7 p.m. after World News Tonight, with an unaccounted hour in the ABC schedule. The mural’s artist has even said she initially thought the art update was related to the draft, and commissioned by ABC.
Perhaps Gracie Aufderbeck best summed up the hopes of many fans: “I like how she said, ‘the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now,’” referencing a line from Reputation’s “Look What You Made Me Do.” Of course, the follow-up to that lyric is “‘Cause she’s dead!” But for an artist who is no stranger to rebirth, perhaps the return of Old Taylor is inevitable.