Three months ago, Taylor Swift did the unthinkable. On the eve of the release of her first new music in over a year she deleted every single social media post.
Years and years of carefully crafted image were erased in an instant. It was a clear indication Taylor was ready to bury the old her. And after a year of backlash and shaming, she wasn't the only one.
For a woman who had been a trailblazer, going from country roots to becoming the pop princess of a generation, her fall was rapid, to say the least.
Just weeks after splitting from Calvin Harris, in June 2016, she was photographed watching a New England sunset in the arms of Tom Hiddleston. The new love affair caused a media firestorm as the couple crossed continents and met each other's parents. Taylor and Tom sped through Nashville, New York, London and Los Angeles. As whirlwind celebrity romances go, this one was dizzyingly fast.
But as the romance heated up, so too did the public's rage against her. How could she do this to Calvin? Didn't Tom know she likes to chew up and spit out her exes and then write songs about them? Blank spaces and all that?
The trolls made sure we were aware that the previous criticism against her squad life was simply an appetizer. Because here was the main course; they were determined to punish her for being so heartless, moving from one man to another without so much as a breath in-between.
Of course, under the surface, those receipts were also bubbling up. When Kanye West released his single "Famous," rapping that he might one day have sex with Taylor while simultaneously taking credit for her success with his infamous interruption, it led to Taylor shading him at the 2016 Grammys—thus forcing the hand of Kim Kardashian to release so-called proof that Taylor was actually in on it.
The secret recording of Kanye and Taylor's phone conversation was the final nail in the coffin for some. A smoking gun which provided all the evidence her harshest critics needed to confirm their suspicions, that Taylor was everything they feared: a manipulator willing to do anything to save her reputation.
So began the never-ending public judgment and online bullying. In response, Taylor went completely MIA thanks to private jets and bodyguards, plus an assist from a rumor that she was sneaking in and out of her New York apartment hidden in a trunk.
Little did we know she wasn't spending all that time licking her wounds, but rather was happily falling in love with Joe Alwyn.
Now, finally, after a year of biting her tongue, she's ready to emerge anew.
Her new album, reputation, is everything she has wanted to say during her self-imposed banishment. She's been a spectator as the Internet dragged her, as ex-boyfriends commented on her, as her enemies gained headlines because of her. It's been a long time coming. She stayed silent when she was proved wrong by her archenemies Kim and Kanye. Censored herself after her former friend Katy Perry publicly declared she was ready to forgive her (after a long-running feud over whether Katy stole Taylor's backup dancers in 2013). She didn't retort when Hiddleston opened up about her in a GQ cover story. Or when Calvin Harris bashed her on twitter last year.
Now, she's ready to stick up for herself. And, as we saw with "Look What You Made Me Do," she's throwing snake emojis back in the face of all the haters. When her new album finally drops on Thursday night/Friday morning, we'll see how far she's willing to go.
As she told us in "LWYMMD": "I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time. Honey, I rose up from the dead, I do it all the time." And this time, "All my flowers grew back as thorns."
So, yes, she's everything we've always said she is, starting with strategic: "I've got a list of names and yours is in red underlined."
And she's vengeful: "The world moves on, another day, another drama, drama, but not for me, not for me—all I think about is karma."
So are we finally ready to forgive her? Was her year-long retreat a long enough time away from the spotlight?
I am. Yes, she can be Machiavellian when it comes to her public image, but name a celebrity that isn't. She might not be the sweet and innocent girl that exploded on the country music scene as a teen but I'd much prefer to see Taylor's good and bad sides (and her 15 different incarnations as evidenced in "LWYMMD") than a pre-conceived mold thought up by a record company to sell music.
We like to build celebrities up, to make them perfect icons, and yet at the same time want them to be relatable (and imperfect). We insist our pop stars explain the sometimes indescribable: how it feels to fall in love, and the devastation that ensues when the euphoria is snatched away. We want songs we can listen to while wallowing in self-pity under the duvet cover. Because Taylor understood our vulnerabilities so well, when she seemed to callously dump one lover for another and tell a lie over Kanye, we felt betrayed and let down.
But that's exactly why I am willing to give her another chance.
I would much prefer to listen to lyrics written by a women who has found the strength to fight back. We got a glimpse of the new Taylor when she took the stand in her lawsuit against the Colorado DJ she accused of groping her in 2013 (the jury found in her favor).
Sure, she's made mistakes, but now she's angry and not afraid to stick up for herself—and that makes her far more interesting than someone who has never put a foot wrong.