Rumors abound right now that Taylor Swift is releasing a new album on October 23. And to all of them, I say: You are wrong, and I’m sorry, and I am right (about everything, but especially this).
Look, I get it. Taylor Swift and October go together like the scarf she left at Maggie Gyllenhaal’s many years ago and the jokes I can’t stop making about it. They are destiny. They are tradition. And while Taylor has habitually released new music in the wake of September nights, this October will be different. Why? Because it has to be.
A lot has gone down since Swift dropped 1989 in October 2014: Her tour was a success, she was critically applauded, and the album sold well over 5 million copies. But at some point in the next two years, as live #squad appearances (“Please, welcome to the stage!”) morphed into the Hiddleswift publicity tour, we reached peak Tay. And if she and Tom were the real deal, that’s great. But something about the way it all went down was just... too much. Recall, if you will, how they announced their coupling back in June by parading atop a landscape of rocks like characters in a Nicholas Sparks novel. Or perhaps the tipping point was the July 4 party whose unspoken theme was “How to be in love while channeling the L.L. Bean summer catalogue?”
Somehow, we all survived. But by the time they broke up two months later, most of us were fully over it. Which meant that this particular narrative had temporarily eclipsed Taylor’s music. Then, when Kim Kardashian released that (in)“Famous” phone call, we all but forgot about Taylor’s artistic work while the world pondered what really happened, whose elaborate plan this was, whether celebrity feuds are so totally boring in 2016, whether “Famous” was actually even a good song, or — wait, who were we talking about again?
Considering all this, a media professional as skillful as Taylor surely knows that it’s time to lay low for a while and let the news cycle refresh. Not forever — that would be unrealistic — but just long enough that we develop a hunger for Taylor Swift the artist, rather than feel a sense of fatigue around Taylor Swift the celebrity. And that’s going to take longer than, say, until Sunday. Every Swift album to date has been a canny reaction to pop as it exists in that moment, as well as a plot point in her continual evolution — or, in the case of Red, something closer to reinvention. In a year when pop music has been driven by the surprise releases of deeply personal, dynamic, and genre-busting work from pop’s elite, we should anticipate that whatever is next for Taylor would have to be competitive, and not a perfectly calibrated continuation of the persona we already know. Rebranding as a flawed, vulnerable, messy, three-dimensional human being doesn’t happen overnight.
Pop has changed substantially in the two years since 1989 (entire subgenres have lived and died!). There’s also the simple fact that we haven’t had enough space away from her musically: The last 1989 single (“New Romantics”) was released this past February, and Rihanna and Calvin Harris’s “This Is What You Came For,” which she cowrote, ruled the charts this summer. All this means that we need a season without Swifty. We need to crave new music the way we did after Red. We need to miss her. So don’t feel sad if October 23 comes and goes without a new album. You’ll thank her later.