Every holiday has its icon. On Christmas, Santa ho ho hos into his sleigh. On Easter, an upright rabbit, preferably not of the Donnie Darko variety, thumps around a field spreading plastic pastel eggs. And between the years of 2013 and 2016, when she was still hosting her famous backyard gatherings, Taylor Alison Swift eclipsed Uncle Sam as the figurehead of American Independence Day.
At its peak, a Taylor Swift Fourth of July Party was a very special J Crew Catalogue starring the A-list celebrity elite, resulting in a flurry of tastefully filtered selfies and group photos in ambitious, carefully curated poses. At these events, which increased in extravagance and inflatable slide quantity each year, Swift and her friends gathered at her Rhode Island beach manse and enjoyed the sunny weather (save for a rainy blip in 2014), as if the heavens of America were shining right upon them. For the vast majority of the American population not close enough to Swift’s thumping heart to garner an invitation, ogling her guests, their matching bathing suits, and their nearly identical figures became part of the national holiday. These parties made patriotism look chic. America: It’s what the cool kids were doing.
Then, last year, the celebrations ceased. In 2017, Swift forewent her Fourth of July party, leaving her teenage fans camped out nearby with their “I Love Taylor” signs high and dry. Not only did Swift skip the party — she later scrubbed all evidence of prior parties from her social media accounts, along with all prior posts, to prepare for her reputation album release. (That relatively dark, rebellious LP, of course, announced the death of “Old Taylor.”)
Without the magnet of Swift’s party to bring them to Watch Hill, Rhode Island (where billionaires tend to summer), her friends scattered throughout their luxury globes. Gigi Hadid boarded a private jet with her then-boyfriend, Zayn Malik. Martha Hunt, a model and Swift Squad member, watched fireworks over a ferris wheel. Lena Dunham showed off her painted nails. They didn’t need these parties — and by 2017, neither did Swift.
Here’s the thing you need to know about Swift’s Independence Day parties. In addition to being an excuse to have a hell of fun time, Swift’s shindigs were performance pieces in the art of image cultivation — quite deliberate ones, at that. While her first Fourth of July party was in 2013, Swift’s first heavily documented, star-studded party was in 2014. At the time, Swift was deep into her self-mandated Single Phase. After dating (and singing about) Joe Jonas, Taylor Lautner, Jake Gyllenhaal, Conor Kennedy, and Harry Styles, she stopped linking herself with men. So, for that Fourth of July party, Swift swaddled herself among friends, i.e. squad members. Lena Dunham, Jaime King, Emma Stone, Andrew Garfield, Jessica Stam, among others, participated in wholesome American activities like baking pies and careening down a slip ‘n’ slide.
In the autumn, with the whiff of the July 4 party barely faded, Swift’s single life — and her “reinvention” – were the focus of feature stories in People, Esquire, and Rolling Stone. Swift offered various reasons for her dating hiatus. Mainly, she felt steam-rolled by the reputation she’d garnered in the press as someone who blew through men. “I really didn't like the whole serial-dater thing. I thought it was a really sexist angle on my life. And so I just stopped dating people, because it meant a lot to me to set the record straight—that I do not need some guy around in order to get inspiration, in order to make a great record, in order to live my life, in order to feel okay about myself. And I wanted to show my fans the same thing,” she told Esquire. Dating, she said, wasn’t “a possibility,” but having “entire league of incredible girlfriends” was. The friend-fuelled party, which featured Swift smiling among her squad, corroborated her curation of an image as a single, rising phoenix.
As the parties grew more elaborate, so did the creation of Swift as a Good Friend. In 2015, “the Squad” — the nickname for Swift’s congealed clique — made its first appearance at the party. Blake Lively and Karlie Kloss rode inflatable swans, Gigi Hadid held up a berry cake decorated like an American flag. But at this point, Swift had “grown up” and settled into a relationship. Calvin Harris, her then boyfriend, posted a photo of her grilling with the caption, ‘She cooks, too.’
If 2015 was the picture of domestic bliss, proving Swift could balance friends and dating and fun, then 2016 was the year things went off the rails, as if Swift’s actual desires eclipsed her desire to present a perfect image. Looking back, it seems like she just was acting like an impulsive twentysomething (she turns 30 in 2019). Either way, her dating life became a spectacle of fascinating proportion, exactly what she’d been trying to avoid with her parties. Only two weeks after Swift and Harris broke up in June 2016, she and the actor Tom Hiddleston were pictured kissing by a rocky beach near the same Rhode Island mansion. In the course of their whirlwind summer romance (which included trips to visit both couples’ parents), Swift’s Fourth of July party was an essential stop. That’s where her brand was solidified and 3D-printed each year.
The Fourth of July spectacular began in 2014 as a way for Swift to demonstrate her comfort with being single. It concluded in 2016 with the whole world gazing with perplexed amusement at an older British man wearing an “I <3 T.S.” tank top. Swift’s July 2016 was peppered with another high-profile PR disaster: She was locked in a feud with Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West about whether West had permission to call her a “bitch” in the song “Famous.”
After that heated summer, Swift didn’t have a Fourth of July party in 2017. She was quietly dating the actor Joe Alwyn, and she was in hibernation from the public, waiting for the day her album, Reputation, would come out in November and speak for her. Notably, Swift has done no press interviews for Reputation. Clearly, she’s no longer the woman she’d been in 2014, when she gave honest, long-winded quotes about her heart and soul and dating life to the press. Instead of giving the press fodder, she communicates directly to fans at concerts and on social media. As one fan at an private listening session reported, “Taylor literally said at the LA [secret session], ‘I thought I’d take all the time I usually spend doing interviews and promos to, instead, hang out with you guys and talk to you online.’” Choosing not to have a party goes along with forgoing press interviews — both demonstrate Swift is aligning herself towards a new approach to fame, one that’s less public-facing (but no less devoted to fans).
Given this evolution, Swift likely won’t host a hashtag-able party in 2018. Plus, having an over-the-top Fourth of July party in this divided country has new implications in 2018
Notably, all of Swift’s parties took place during the Obama era, when performative patriotism was more comfortable for liberals. Donning the flag wasn’t a statement, but a tradition carried through administrations. However, imagine if the optics of Swift’s 2014 party — people posing in American flag bikinis and draping themselves in American flag towels — were transplanted to the year 2018, which has seen an array of discomforting progressions, from erosion of democratic institutions to the separation of children at the border. For Swift, who has been unwillingly appropriated by some in the alt-right as a hero, having a Fourth of July party isn’t so innocent. It could be interpreted as a political statement of support of the prevailing “American” — re: Trumpian — values.
In this divided country, Swift has retreated to an isolated place, where she opts not to speak about politics (save for a statement in support of gun control in March and pride messages at her shows). In the careful curation of her image as a neutral pop star, there’s no room for Fourth of July parties. She’ll go on tour, she’ll quietly date her British boyfriend. But prance around in an American flag? Probably not. That Old Taylor is gone.