The Story of How Taylor Swift's Squad-Studded "Bad Blood" Video Came Together

It's been five years since the release Taylor Swift's iconic single and accompanying music video, a pointed treatise on friendship, betrayal and revenge

By Natalie Finn 17 May, 2020 4:00 PMTags
Gigi Hadid, Martha Hunt, Hailee Steinfeld, Cara Delevingne, Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift, Serayah McNeill, Lily Aldridge, Karlie KlossJeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

2015.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the time of individuals, when Kanye West declared he'd run for president in 2020, which seemed so far away. It was also the time of #squadgoals, when a dozen famous friends huddled together on the red carpet before going into an arena full of people to be honored for their transfixing badassery. 

It was the year of "Bad Blood." Whether the iconic single off of Taylor Swift's 1989 album feels to you as though it came out five years ago or 50 years ago, it bubbled up on May 17, 2015, along with its instantly iconic music video starring some of the singer's closest friends, as well as some more surprising faces who wouldn't have missed out on being in the revenge anthem of the decade for anything and were happy to do Swift a solid.

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30 Fascinating Facts About Taylor Swift

Swift has certainly had some adventures between then and now, releasing two more albums, mending fences with some and while burning a few bridges down, and welcoming new love into her life in the form of boyfriend Joe Alwyn, whom she's happily squared away with in London amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

But in 2015, which included "Bad Blood's" win for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards, where almost everyone from the production was right by her side, it was a simpler time of telling Katy Perry just what you thought of her in song (without ever saying the song was about her).

Here's how it all came together for Team Taylor:

Taylor Swift

Catastrophe, the leader of the pack, isn't exactly a walking disaster, but trouble does seem to follow her wherever she goes.

Selena Gomez

Taylor and Selena were friends for years, through thick and thin, Justin and Joe, Justin and John, Justin and Jake. So naturally Taylor thought it would be a hoot if Selena played Arsyn, who works alongside Catastrophe and then betrays her, leaving her for dead. The video ends with Cat and her squad tracking Arsyn down and the two about to battle it out—presumably to the bitter end.

"It was actually funny because the video was originally going to end with us just looking at each other, and then Joseph came in and was like, 'I think it would be really cool if you guys just went for it,'" Gomez shared with MTV News that June. "And I was like, 'I love you,' and she was like, 'I love you, too,' and then we just slap each other. It was fun."

In 2019, When Taylor was devastated to find out that Scooter Braun had bought out Big Machine Label Group, and therefore owned the rights to the master recordings of her first six albums, Selena was among those who sprang to her defense. 

"I have known Taylor for 13 years," she wrote on Instagram Story. "She is the most dedicated, fearless, fiesty [sic], strongest woman I've ever known. People can say b*tch but what I'm saying to you is that's called a woman with true identity and strength who takes no sh*t. I listened to fearless before it came out and I just remember us jumping on a bed and she was just sparkling."

Cindy Crawford

Naturally one would want one of the biggest supermodels of all time as your squad's Headmistress. Crawford considered the cameo part of her ongoing evolution, which has included launching her own skin care line.

"So it's just doing things that I'm interested in," she told Red Carpet Roxy in October 2015. "And then sometimes you get lucky, like Taylor Swift asking me to be in the 'Bad Blood' video. It was fun because all of a sudden my kids were like, 'That's cool.' It gave me street cred."

Cara Delevingne

In a February 2015 Vogue story, it was noted that pics of Delevingne were included Swift's wall of Polaroids in her Tribeca penthouse, and Mother Chucker continues to look out for Catastrophe.

Commenting on Swift's announcement that she planned to re-record the music she wrote that fell under Braun's ownership, Delevingne told Entertainment Tonight, "You need to stand up for yourself, not [because] you're a woman and emotional and crazy, [but] because you're just defending yourself and being who you are and that's what I love about her. That's what I'll always respect about her, that innate strength and wisdom."

Mariska Hargitay & Ellen Pompeo

How could the actress who plays Olivia Benson, namesake of one of Swift's beloved cats, turn down the role of Justice?

Hargitay revealed on Late Night With Seth Meyers in 2015 that a "very nice" Swift had actually approached her at the Met Gala a few years back to let her known she was a big fan and that her cat was named after her Law & Order: SVU character. Their paths crossed again in 2014 when Swift gave Hargitay and her husband a lift home from an Ingrid Michaelson concert in New York. So when Swift texted her about being in "Bad Blood"...

"I got to tell you, I didn't know what to expect," Hargitay confided to Andy Cohen on Watch What Happens Live. Getting the ask to be in the video was "so sweet because I didn't know what to expect, because they're all 12," she quipped, "and they were so lovely and inclusive, and I actually had so much fun with them. The day we got to the video, I met a lot of them before, but like Karlie Kloss just grabbed my hand [and assured her] 'I'm staying with you.'

"And it was one of those things where, I just felt like I was in seventh grade and the cool girl picked me! But it was so sweet and I had so much fun. They are so tight, these girls, and Taylor's ridiculously talented, and it's hard for me to even download her, what she is, 'cause I don't understand the talent and poise at that age."

And the same goes for her other cat's namesake, Meredith Grey, in the role of Luna. A couple days after the video premiered, Grey's Anatomy star Pompeo appeared at the 2015 Billboard Music Awards to present Top Female Artist to Swift.

Martha Hunt

Swift met the Victoria's Secret Angel in the line of duty, performing at the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, and the transplanted New Yorkers became fast friends. Hunt was Catastrophe's fellow assassin HomeSlice.

"She's always there for me and she always has good advice," Hunt shared with E! News about her pal in 2015. "She's been in the spotlight for a very long time so she obviously has so much advice to give me...I love learning from her. She's really talented, she writes her own music. I mean, I have nothing but good things to say about her." 

Jessica Alba

The Sin City star, who once again looked fierce in a graphic novel-inspired milieu, admitted that she didn't really know Swift before she was asked to play Domino in the video. But once she got to set, Swift was "so nice." (And you could guess she had a decent experience, because Alba was spotted taking her kids to one of Swift's 1989 Tour shows that August.)

"That's what's weird" about her, an almost baffled-looking Alba told Andy Cohen on Watch What Happens Live, "she's actually very, very nice. 'Cause I don't know, I just didn't expect that...She's literally the nicest person, and kind and fun, and all of that."

Serayah

Similar to Alba, the Empire actress' friendship with Swift also started when she got the call to play Dilemma—or when Taylor's people called her people. "Bad Blood" director Joseph Kahn had seen her on Empire and suggested she join the party.

"Well, initially, her management contacted my management, they proposed the idea to me," Serayah McNeill told Billboard. "And I completely loved it and so we went from there. It seemed like [from] the ideas for it and the treatment for the video, I was just like 'Oh, my gosh! This is so dope. I can't wait.'"

And then, she revealed to ASOS that summer. "I was driving, and my mum called me, saying, 'So guess who just called me? Taylor Swift!' She said that Taylor had asked for my number so she could talk through everything about the video. I was like, 'Don't ask me! Just get her to text me now!'"

She remembered, "When Taylor called, she said, 'Thank you so much for saying you'll do it.' And I replied, 'Come on! Anything! I'm there!' It just shows that huge pop stars can still have that humility, which is so inspiring."

And they stayed friends, Serayah insisted, adding, "We all hang out. We get together and we go eat and go to late-night cafes. I think people think it's this celebrity gathering, but it's just a bunch of girls, hanging out."

Swift also had her join her onstage to perform during the 1989 Tour. "It was like walking into the room and having to do a scene with Taraji [Henson]," Serayah told Coveteur. "You can never really prepare for these moments, when they're so big."

Karlie Kloss

Catastrophe has a secret weapon and that's her wingwoman Knockout, played by the supermodel who at the time was Taylor's closest friend in the whole squad. The besties also shared the March cover of Vogue, the Power Issue, that year.

"It doesn't get better than that," Karlie said on Good Morning America when the issue came out, several months before "Bad Blood" premiered. "For me, what's significant about that cover, is that it's all about power friendships. Taylor and I are really close, but we also have very different jobs in very different industries... we also are twentysomething-year-old women working very hard and very focused to pursue our dreams and goals, and I think we both are very supportive of one another—and I think that kind of friendship, whether it's with a sister or a friend, that kind of friendship is really powerful, and it's been a huge part of my success."

They also met in 2013, backstage at the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, after which they went on a girls' trip to Big Sur—which served as inspiration for their Vogue shoot. "People had been telling us for years we needed to meet," Taylor told Vogue. "I remember makeup artists and hair people going, 'Doesn't she remind you of Karlie? God, she and Karlie would be best friends. They're the same. Karlie's such a good girl. She brings us cookies every time we do a shoot.'"

"I feel lucky to have such a good friend in Taylor," Karlie reiterated, "but also I think...there's a lot to be said for women supporting other women."

Kendrick Lamar

This wasn't exactly a super-tight friendship arrangement, but artistically, it was a match made in heaven. The Pulitzer Prize-winning rapper, who collaborated on the song, appears as Welvin Da Great in the video.

"She reached out," Lamar told Ellen DeGeneres on her show a couple weeks after "Bad Blood" debuted. "I've always been a fan of hers, and she was a fan of my music and she reached out and we got it done."

Lena Dunham

Jessica Alba's favorite person in the squad aside from T.Swift (as revealed on WWHL)! Before she was cast as boss figure Lucky Fiori, Dunham too was on the wall of Polaroids.

"When I did SNL they both came," Dunham told Vogue, referring to Taylor and Karlie Kloss, "and at the after-party it was so confusing to everyone, like these Amazon twins. Taylor's so tall, Karlie's even taller, and together it's just surreal."

She called Taylor "the Betty Crocker of friendships," someone who was always reachable to her friends when needed. "It's amazing to have a friend who's that busy and also so available. Even if she's in Hong Kong on tour and I'm going through something, if I text her, I get an answer in two seconds. If something good happens to me—say, I get a nomination, or it's my birthday, or the day before my birthday, or my book comes out—I get a text from Taylor way before I get a text from my mom."

Hailee Steinfeld

Taylor wanted someone with true grit, so she got her Oscar-nominated friend to play The Trinity.

Talking to Nylon in early 2014, Hailee called Taylor "an amazing friend."

"I always get the 'Tell us something nobody knows' question," the Dickinson star said. "And it's like, we both respect each other tremendously, but we choose to keep our friendship out of the public eye. She's a really great person and an inspiration to me and many others."

Hailee told E! News that she first met Taylor through mutual friend Emma Stone in or around 2010. "We do just really random stuff when we are together," the actress and singer confided. "We just love to kick back, listen to music, watch TV, bake, watch movies and all of that kind of stuff."

Ellie Goulding

The British singer said that playing Destructa X in "Bad Blood" had inspired her to ""be a bit more kickass" in her own videos.

Goulding told London's Daily Mirror in November 2014 that she and Swift first met when they were on ITV's The Jonathan Ross Show in England. "We're good friends and we have a similar sense of humor," she said.

Gigi Hadid

For the model, who met Taylor in 2014, playing Slay-Z was really a fangirl's dream come true.

"An amazing thing about my friendship with Taylor has been that she is a songwriter that I've connected to through my childhood into my adult life," Gigi shared with Variety in 2019, "and becoming friends has given me an insight into the mind that creates those lyrics. She writes words that people experience but can't put into words themselves."

In turn, Gigi was treated to 10 shows each on Taylor's 1989 and Reputation Tours.

"I would totally buy [tickets], but Taylor is very generous," Gigi, who made some stage appearances during 1989 as well, told Variety. "I would go lie on her couch while she starts hair and makeup, and then I'd be in the crowd. I was like, 'How are we both just chilling, and now I'm a little tipsy, dancing at your concert, and you're up there in a glittery suit?' It's an interesting duality to experience in a friendship, because I love her and cherish her as a friend. But I'm also her biggest fan."

Hayley Williams

The Paramore singer first met Taylor in 2011, when the artist rolled into town and invited Hayley to join her onstage one night on her Speak Now Tour.

"I really wasn't aware that she covered different people's songs every night, which now has become such a big part of her tours, like she'll bring out friends that have big songs or whatever," Williams recalled to Stereogum in 2020. "But it blew my mind because I didn't really think—I mean 'Misery Business' had been a big song at the time, but I really did not imagine that that many kids would know 'That's What You Get.' And it was so fun to get to do that."

For awhile they were both living primarily in Nashville and started hanging out "after the big Kanye thing happened."

"She's really a sweet person and this harsh music industry tried to chew her up and spit her out a thousand times," Williams said (though she noted that she doesn't "really know [Swift] that well anymore"). And I think she always rises to the top because she's actually a great writer and a great artist. And I do think that she is just a good person, you know?"

Recalling the "Bad Blood" video, "I think we can all clearly see that I don't fit in," Williams said, laughing. "It was really f--king cool. Like I had to do choreography for that fight scene, but then they brought in a stunt double for the things I couldn't do. I definitely felt like I was in a world I didn't belong in. I feel that way anytime Paramore's ever done something that's mega mainstream."

At the time, though, Williams did appreciate being given full artistic freedom to follow her inspiration for The Crimson Curse.

"[Taylor] was like, 'I just need you to pick sort of like a fighting style and like a name,'" Williams told MTV News after the video debuted. "I instantly was like I want to be like Leeloo [from The 5th Element] ... and that's pretty much the way we went with it."

"All day was a dream [on set]," she added. "I still text [Taylor]...freaking out about the fact that I got to play basically a character that I'm obsessed with."

Zendaya

Count the future Euphoria star as one of the bunch who was surprised but thrilled to get the call.

"She's just a genius," Zendaya told ET about Swift at the 2015 Billboard Music Awards, where the video had its world premiere. "She's so smart. People are going to be blown and are going to be obsessed with [the video]. I don't know how they're going to think about anything else!"

Lily Aldridge

The future Frostbyte introduced Taylor to Karlie at the Victoria's Secret show.

"Taylor just loves her friends, and so do I," Aldridge explained to Net-a-Porter's The Edit in 2015. "My girls are my girls. We're such a close-knit group of women, and the most special thing about our group of friends—and it extends so far—is that we all have each other's backs. It's about supporting and being happy for each other. When you lift up the people around you, it elevates you as well. Bringing everybody up is the way I hope the whole world changes."

"I think we're all just playing characters, our alter-girl that we would love to be... just [an] amazing strong type of woman that can do kicks and stunts and things like that," Serayah mused to Billboard about the bevy of butt-kickers that turned out for "Bad Blood." "I think it was just a character we were all fascinated with."

The production also won the Grammy for Best Music Video in 2016, the year that saw Swift standing tall at the end of the night as she won Album of the Year for the second time in her career— and called out an unnamed person for trying to steal away a slice of credit for her success. Ensuing events that year would provide inspiration for 2017's reputation, after which events would conspire to feed the red-hot flame of 2019's Lover

So here we are.

Watch: Katy Perry Addresses Taylor Swift Collaboration Rumors

No one—the squad was polled, they all demurred—ever confirmed that "Bad Blood" was about Katy Perry, but she and Swift have since buried the hatchet (not in each other's backs, happily) and life changes have abounded for the members (onetime and ongoing) of Taylor's squad.

"Something about 'We're in our young twenties!' hurls people together into groups that can feel like your chosen family," Swift herself wrote for Elle last year, as she approached her 30th birthday. "And maybe they will be for the rest of your life. Or maybe they'll just be your comrades for an important phase, but not forever. It's sad but sometimes when you grow, you outgrow relationships.

"You may leave behind friendships along the way, but you'll always keep the memories."