Three days ago, Taylor Swift disappeared from the internet. In a matter of seconds, her 102 million Instagram followers lost Swift’s trove of hyper-saturated photos forever. Her Twitter and Tumblrs were wiped. Her official website displayed a similarly blank space (sorry).
As Swift's internet presence diminished, the rumors grew more fervent. Was she dropping an album? Is there even an album, or has Swift been abducted by aliens? The weekend stretched taut with anticipation.
Then, at noon on Monday, Swift’s Instagram showed its first sign of life. Swift uploaded a fuzzy, glitchy video of a snake.
But many fans were quick to assume the video was of a snake's subtle movements. If you’ve been following the drama and tumult of Swift’s career – namely, her relationships with a few key celebrities — you likely gasped at the video. You know exactly what this snake is referencing.
We pop culture archaeologists can date Swift's association with a snake emoji back to July 2016, when three of Swift’s public feuds reached dramatic climaxes. Following her fallouts with Kim Kardashian West, Calvin Harris, and Katy Perry, the comment sections in Swift’s social media pages were pummeled by an onslaught of snake emoji, sent from her rivals’ stans.
It was a dramatic summer for Swift. In early June, Swift ended her 15 month-long relationship with Scottish DJ Calvin Harris (real name: Adam Wiles). About a month later, Swift started dating actor Tom Hiddleston.
On July 13, Swift's ex-boyfriend Harris went on a (now deleted) Twitter rant that essentially accused Swift of making him look bad. "I figure if you're happy in your new relationship you should focus on that instead of trying to tear your ex bf down for something to do," he wrote in a tweet related to Swift taking credit for co-writing "This Is What You Came For," Harris' hit with Rihanna.
Harris fans took to Instagram to defend Harris' honor using — you guessed it — the snake symbol.
Only five days after Harris' Twitter explosion came the Kardashian/West contribution to Swift's crazy summer.
Flash back to February 2016, when Kanye West released a song called "Famous" that called Swift out in the very first lines.
“I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / I made that bitch famous,” West said in the song.
Following the release of the song, Swift's representatives released a statement saying, "Kanye did not call for approval, but to ask Taylor to release his single 'Famous' on her Twitter account. She declined and cautioned him about releasing a song with such a strong misogynistic message. Taylor was never made aware of the actual lyric, ‘I made that bitch famous.'"
In the footage, West is speaking to Swift on the phone. He reads the part from “Famous” about him and Swift possibly having sex, and Swift seems to approve.
“It's obviously very tongue in cheek...And I really appreciate you telling me about it, that's really nice!” Swift said in the leaked footage. Swift continued later on in the conversation, “I'm really glad you had the respect to call me that and tell me that as a friend, about the song. It's just a really cool thing to do, and a really good show of friendship.”
By posting the video of Swift assenting to West's lyric, Kardashian West implied that Swift lied in the original statement. The pop star therefore embodied essentially snakey qualities: back-stabbing and treachery.
It gets tricky because yes, West did call for approval. However, the cut-together clips have one noticeable detail. In the video, West reads the specific lyric, "For all my south side n****s that know me best, I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex." He never reads a line which contains the word "bitch."
In response to Kardashian West's video, Swift wrote a statement which asked, "Where is the video of Kanye telling me he was going to call me ‘that bitch’ in his song? It doesn’t exist because it never happened. You don’t get to control someone’s emotional response to being called ‘that bitch’ in front of the entire world."
Despite Swift's statement, which pointed out the difference between the line she heard and the line that made it into the song, accusations of Swift's supposed "snakiness" continued to proliferate. Before Kardashian West released the video, she tweeted about "National Snake Day," which is apparently a thing. It appeared to be a dig at Swift.
Following the incident with Kardashian West and Harris, the snakes became so prevalent on Swift's Instagram account that, according to a Wired article, Swift’s Instagram became the first testing ground for a filter that removes unwanted comments from posts. Thanks to the new feature, the snakes that had overrun Swift’s Instagram posts retreated back into their caves and disappeared.
The snake references have quieted — until now. On the eve of her (potential? possible?) single release, Swift makes a subtle wink to her infamous summer. She claps back at her rivalries. Instead of flashing a bat sign in the sky à la Batman, Swift posts a snake video. It means the same thing. It means, "I'm coming, baby."
Coincidentally enough, Taylor Swift was born under the sign of the Snake in the Chinese Zodiac. She really is a snake: wise, spontaneous, and yes, occasionally a bit devious.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article misstated that Taylor Swift "denied" consenting to the lyrics in "Famous." Swift claimed she was never made aware of the specific lyric "I made that bitch famous."
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