Drop everything, now. Fresh off her reported split from Joe Alwyn, Taylor Swift was photographed in New York City on Thursday in a formation that’s instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with her lore: She is, once again, surrounded by her squad.
In other words, these aren’t merely acquaintances. These are intimates. This is a girl squad. Not a big deal, right? Wrong.
Throughout the pandemic and the entirety of her extremely private, six-year relationship with the reclusive Alwyn, Swift could be relied upon to be photographed by the paparazzi maybe once a year. She’d typically be masked or gloved, her scowling boyfriend by her side, the two wearing matching Hunter boots or casual hiking clothes.
But in the two weeks since news of her breakup with Alwyn hit, Swift has been hitting the town hard—always in style, and always surrounded by fellow celebs. And always, conveniently, in front of the paparazzi. First there was her dinner date with producer Jack Antonoff and his fiancée, Margaret Qualley; then there was another outing with Lively and Ryan Reynolds; and now we have this mini sidewalk fashion show featuring six impeccably dressed stars, led by Swift in the center.
Swift hasn’t been seen like this in public—single, camera-ready, flanked by famous friends—since the apex of her pre-Alwyn 1989 era, an iconic but divisive time. To her detractors, Girl Squad Taylor was perhaps the peak of Swift’s cringeyness. Photos of the pop star accompanied by flocks of leggy models inspired approximately 1 million think pieces debating if the squad was feminist, anti-feminist, both, neither, or all of the above.
For another beautiful illustration of this era, consider Swift’s epic (and just as polarizing) run of July Fourth parties, hosted every year at her sprawling Rhode Island estate from 2013 to 2018. For each summer fête, Swift invited members of her touring company, longtime besties like Lively and the Haim girls, and a handpicked group of additional celeb friends: Emma Stone, Andrew Garfield, Nick and Joe Jonas, Karlie Kloss, Cara Delevingne, St. Vincent, Josh Kushner… you get the idea. Pretty much everyone agreed that the squad was annoying, the parties were pompous, and that Swift herself was insufferable.
All evidence of those patriotic blowouts was expunged from Swift’s Instagram to clear the way for her retaliatory Reputation era in 2017. But after several years and Grammys, a cultural re-evaluation of Swift’s work, and one major breakup, it appears her squad days are back. Will the return of her July Fourth parties follow? Is the release of her rerecorded 1989 (Taylor’s Version) also on the way? We’ll hopefully find out in the next few months.
For now, however, the return of the squad seems to be marking a shift in the Swift universe. This is a megastar who is known for planning everything and crafting her image carefully—a strength or an annoyance, depending on who you ask—and who wouldn’t allow herself to be captured by paparazzi lenses so frequently if it weren’t for some larger purpose. By being photographed while surrounded by friends on Thursday, she’s visually referencing a time when the general public couldn’t have been more irritated by her or her whole thing. And in doing so, she’s communicating that public opinion, to her, is irrelevant at this stage.
She’s midway through what’s shaping up to be one of the highest-grossing concert tours in history, 33 years old and single. If that’s not feminist, what is? (Don’t answer that.)