This weekend, during Taylor Swift's three-night stay at the Met Life stadium, Jack Antonoff, Gigi Hadid, and Emma Stone paid Swift a visit. Todrick Hall, one of Swift's most avid collaborators, also made it to New Jersey, as did Iris Apatow (daughter to Judd) and Lena Dunham, the Girls creator who will soon tackle a new show, Camping, on HBO. The photographer and author iO Tillett Wright also attended alongside hairstylist Rachel Lee. Last week, in Philadelphia, Martha Hunt, Esme Haim, Kennedy Rayé Black, and Ashley Aviogne all attended her concert, celebrating the event on Instagram. Back in May, Selena Gomez came to the reputation stadium tour, where she performed "Hands to Myself" with Swift.
"The reason why she's one of my best friends is because this person has never, ever judged me for a decision I've made. She's always met me where I've been," Gomez said onstage of Swift. "She encouraged me when I had nothing to be encouraged about. And I don't know if I would be as strong as I am if I didn't have you and your family."
Others who attended gave similar toasts to Swift. Dunham dedicated an Instagram post to her friend, writing, "Tonight I was just a fan again, one of 60k who got our souls rocked by her artistry." This weekend, Todrick Hall thanked her for "always being so sweet and welcoming." (Hall appeared in her video for "Look What You Made Me Do.")
These are all the disparate parts of Swift's 2018 "squad." Swift, a pop culture juggernaut no matter how you feel about her, was once the epicentre of a pop culture conglomerate called the "squad." It was based mainly on social media: A few posts featuring Taylor and a few of her high-profile friends (like Blake Lively and Gomez) and she was suddenly a part of a sealed pack of, mostly, girls. The squad included Gigi Hadid, the Haim sisters, Martha Hunt, Karlie Kloss, Lorde, Dunham, Hailee Steinfeld, Cara Delevingne, Ellie Goulding, Lily Aldridge, and Serayah, among others. For her 2016 video "Bad Blood," Taylor recruited a number of these women, adding Mariska Hargitay and Ellen Pompeo for good measure.
The video prompted an SNL parody entitled "Tina & Amy's Dope Squad" featuring Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. Their squad included their nannies, their other nannies, and their gynaecologist, whom they happen to share.
The SNL parody, silly as it was, was a little prophetic for Taylor's pack of celebrity friends. Following the release of "Bad Blood," Swift endured a summer of bad press, starting with the media attention to her then-boyfriend Tom Hiddleston and ending with Kim Kardashian's fateful Snapchat. That pretty much stopped the squad in its tracks: Swift left for better, lower-profile pastures, and her squad stopped, well, being a "thing." (When was the last time any self-respecting influencer used the groan-inducing #squadgoals hashtag in earnest?)
Two years later, it feels like things have changed. Lorde's comments about Swift to The Guardian went so viral that Lorde had to apologise. People who probably still hang out with her don't post about it on social media anymore. An anonymous member of the squad reportedly told the Spanish tabloid Grazia, simply, “Celebrity friendships are weird. You don’t see each other for forever, and you accept that." The source added, “I even heard about people getting requests not to mention her in interviews. It’s hard when that’s all you’re asked about, but Taylor is hypersensitive. I guess you have to be high-maintenance to become the biggest pop star in the world.” The quote is dubious and a little catty, but the intention is interesting. Did Taylor Swift just do what the rest of us do: Did she age out of her squad?
The article in question is actually about Swift allegedly moving in with Joe Alwyn, her newest and most secretive boyfriend. (He is, apparently, the reason she wears a chain around her neck with a "J" on it.) Which is funny, because if Swift did move in with Alwyn, then her squad might very well have changed. She actually spent Fourth of July this year with Alwyn in Turks and Caicos, sans squad. Some of her past and present squad have come to see the reputation concerts, but they've done so quietly, appearing in just a few fan photos. Swift was too busy with her historic three-night run at Met Life to return to Los Angeles to celebrate Gomez's birthday this Monday, but she still celebrated, baking a cake and presenting it on Instagram.
The squad looks like what Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants 3 will be about: a bunch of women splayed across the world trying to maintain their friendships. Squads are cool, but they're also rooted in a marketable safety. In a squad — like, say, Brockhampton or Leonardo DiCaprio's volleyball squad, if we're calling a spade a spade — there's a bit of protection. You long for a squad when you're seeking a superficial type of support, the same support that comes with group Instagram shots and social media shout-outs.
Swift might be morphing into a Tina and Amy-style squad leader. She loves her friends, and she supports her friends, but she's not necessarily in need of a squad's protection. Squads are, after all, inherently exclusive, and their marketability decreases considerably as you get older. What matters now is less the image of a squad but what a squad really is: a group of supportive friends.