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Taylor Swift and Tom Hiddleston’s fairy-tale romance slash probable publicity stunt, explained

Taylor Swift knows what you think of her, and at her best, she'll use that against you.
Taylor Swift knows what you think of her, and at her best, she'll use that against you.
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Where were you when Taylor Swift and Tom Hiddleston were caught kissing on a rock in Rhode Island, their blond hair whipping into each other’s faces in the breeze?

I was scrolling through Twitter on June 15, as is a safe bet whenever I’m supposed to be writing. (Or where I go to spark inspiration, if you’re my editor.) Suddenly, a day filled with the usual election agita and choice GIFs from last night’s TV took a sharp turn, as my timeline exploded in escalating bursts, like a rolling earthquake powered by varying stages of grief.

There was shock, stemming from the fact that Swift had only just broken up with her long-term boyfriend — Scottish DJ/tank top bro Calvin Harris — just a couple of weeks before.

There was confusion, and even some outrage, mostly because the generally suave Hiddleston has been a member of the "internet boyfriend" club ever since he joyfully embraced the role of Thor’s wicked brother Loki in 2011’s Thor, leading many to passionately view Hiddleston as an unattainable ideal. Now the already wildly successful Swift had claimed him for herself.

For as many times as Swift has supposedly swapped one photogenic boyfriend for another, this particular choice seemed to cut to the quick. Somehow, as many angry observers implied, Hiddleston, and his smooth-as-silk British accent, was supposed to be better than this — how could he stoop to such a shameless display of emotion?! — and, by proxy, deserving of someone better than Swift.

In the days that followed, Swift and Hiddleston didn’t limit themselves to merely making out while wearing giant sweaters. Pictures of the two began popping up everywhere. In the few weeks they’ve been dating, the couple known as "Hiddleswift" have taken countless giddy walks — hands always clasped together like they’re snapped into place, Lego-style. They’ve danced through a Selena Gomez concert, traveled to Rome to take selfies at the Coliseum, flown a private plane (hers) to meet the parents (hers, then his), and partied with (her) friends on the Fourth of July.

I’m pretty sure I dreamed up a similar sequence when I was pining over a droopy-eyed boy in second grade, before I realized how unrealistic it was.

And Hiddleswift’s pièce de résistance put my elementary school fantasy to shame. While Swift and her friends — including Karlie Kloss, Cara Delevingne, and Blake Lively — frolicked on a Rhode Island beach in their Independence Day revelry, posing for photos and splashing in matching American flag bathing suits, Hiddleston lifted his lithe new girlfriend out of the Atlantic’s briny depths while sporting a homemade white tank top bearing a clear message: "I <3 T.S."

Yes "I ❤ T.S" #rhodeisland #TomHiddleston #taylorswift #Hiddleswift #hiddleswifties #hiddlestoners #Swifties

A photo posted by Actualizaciones Hiddleswift (@hiddleswifties) on

It looks, to say the least, a little too adorable to be real.

So herein lies the now-omnipresent accusation surrounding Hiddleswift: that the entire thing is just a sham, designed for the exact purpose of making people dissect it to death. That Swift and Hiddleston’s effusive and seemingly too perfect photo ops are the irresistible chum, and fans and skeptics alike are the sharks gleefully scarfing it all down.

Hiddleston has flat out denied that possibility, telling The Hollywood Reporter that the relationship's "not a publicity stunt" and that they're "very happy" together. Meanwhile, Swift is now caught at the center of a Kim Kardashian/Kanye West firestorm that just may have revealed some extra duplicitousness on her part (but we don't have time for that in this investigation, so for more on Swift/West/Kardashian's latest, please read my co-worker Alex Abad-Santos's thorough explainer).

In other words, and as per usual with celebrity gossip: it's hard to know what to trust.

So how did Hiddleswift happen? Is any of this oatmeal romance for real, or is it a ploy for publicity? How is Calvin Harris holding up?!

I can’t promise to have the answers — celebrities are secretive for a reason, and Calvin Harris is a DJ, so who ever knows — but at the very least, Hiddleswift gives us an opportunity to dig a little deeper into what the hell has us so fascinated by the idea of two enthusiastically beige Labradoodles giving love a chance.

"Oh, my God, look at that face / You look like my next mistake": the Beginning of Hiddleswift

On May 3, Swift co-chaired the Met Gala, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual black-tie extravaganza that throws celebrities and important fashion industry figures into the same room with the vague direction to dress according to a specified theme. Once she had stomped down the red carpet in a ruffled silver minidress and uncharacteristic black lipstick, Swift didn’t just sit next to Hiddleston at dinner but danced with him into the night.

As a fun personality litmus test, you can watch this video of Hiddleswift trading poses during Jay Z’s "Bring ’Em Out" and rate your reaction on a scale from "pleasantly amused" to "desperately clawing at my own face":

TAYLOR SWIFT & TOM HIDDLESTON GETTING DOWN #MET #DANCE #FUNFUN #PRINCE #NYC #tomhiddleston

A video posted by Carlos Souza (@carlossouza1311) on

I myself am stuck at "frozen acknowledgement," or the resigned acceptance of inevitability that one might feel before freezing to death.

At the time, reports of the Swift-Hiddleston dance-off were mostly limited to the standard celebrity reporting style of high-wattage events like the Met Gala, i.e., "This famous person did a thing near that famous person, and isn’t that something (please let this be something)!" The idea of Swift dancing with Hiddleston qualified as exactly the kind of "worlds colliding" trivia the Met Gala is known for.

So when the first photos of the two kissing surfaced on June 15, people immediately began combing through pictures taken before and after the Met Gala in search of a smoking gun, and found this creeper gem:

There was Swift, lurking in the shadows of Hiddleston and Met Gala co-chair Idris Elba’s impeccably tailored suits.

But there were still so many unanswered questions. What happened in the few weeks between dorky dancing at the Met Gala and revealing a passionate romance in a series of escalating dates? Who called whom? Is Calvin Harris okay?! (July 13 update: No, no he is not.)

But the biggest question of all was a simple one: Why?

If there’s one thing I know to be true about Hiddleswift, though, it’s that both parties involved know exactly what it’s like to have so many eyes on them all at once.

More importantly: They know exactly how to draw those eyes, if that’s what they want.

"Ain't it funny, rumors fly / And I know you heard about me": cue the conspiracy theories

'Manus x Machina: Fashion In An Age Of Technology' Costume Institute Gala
Taylor Swift at the Met Gala
Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for People.com

To be perfectly honest, the theories as to why Hiddleston and Swift would fake a romance are far more interesting than the storybook imagery their relationship has yielded.

The strategically shared Hiddleswift photos paired with the lightning speed of the courtship has led some to believe the whole thing is just a ruse for a new Swift music video — which, frankly, would make more sense than taking a private plane to meet your partner’s parents in less time than the average houseplant remains alive on this earth.

On the "What’s in it for Hiddleston?" side, you have Bond truthers, who insist that Hiddleston is trying to raise his profile in a bid to prove his wide appeal to those looking to cast a new James Bond. (For what it’s worth, the odds currently have Hiddleston’s chances set below those of fellow Brits Aidan Turner and James Norton.) Even if it’s not about Bond, making Hiddleston more of a household name could even be about familiarizing Emmy voters with the actor as he campaigns for The Night Manager, as anonymous publicists told Jezebel this week.

And as you might’ve heard in roughly a billion comedy routines, Swift is no stranger to rumors about her love life. From the time she released her album Fearless in 2008 through 2012’s Red to 2014’s 1989, she quickly gained a uniquely intense reputation for writing songs about her famous boyfriends — including Joe Jonas, John Mayer, Jake Gyllenhaal, Harry Styles, and a teen Kennedy — even though just about every songwriter draws from his or her love life.

All the while, accusations that the relationships were set up by publicists rather than being true affairs of the heart flew rampant. Whether or not these rumors had any merit, Swift has been more open about her distaste for the focus on this area of her life in recent years, calling it disappointing and sexist.

So my personal favorite conspiracy theory surrounding Hiddleswift — and Swift’s life in general — is that her many boyfriends have always been beards that keep throwing us off the trail of her being gay. Rumors have circulated around any number of her friends, but the most persistent one concerns Karlie Kloss, a model and longtime friend who was granted a specially designated room in Swift’s New York penthouse only nine months after they met. Fans call the two "Kaylor" and are increasingly wary of Swift’s public suitors, thanks to Kaylor’s far more fun chemistry.

Karlie!!!

A photo posted by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on

But I reluctantly have to admit that the music video Hiddleswift theory is the strongest one yet, if only because the number of milestones — and increasingly picturesque settings — the two have hit so quickly could very easily double as a shoot for one of Swift’s videos, which tend to be over-the-top romantic with at least a bit of a wink.

Most telling, though, is Swift’s own demonstrated self-awareness about her image. Swift — not to mention her team of publicists and agents — is savvy about the realities of media attention, which could mean anything from inviting a grab bag of musicians onstage for her worldwide tour to that annual July Fourth photo shoot with a grab bag of recognizable friends, or just waltzing out of the gym in perfect makeup and high heels.

Most notably, there’s the video for 2014’s "Blank Space," in which she plays an unhinged woman who has a taste for fairy-tale courtship with chiseled men before getting paranoid and throwing them into the metaphorical woodchipper — a twisted version of Swift’s own reputation.

"Love’s a game," Swift sings into the camera, red lips curling. "Wanna play?"

Lucky for her, Hiddleston is ready and willing.

"Find out what you want / be that girl for a month...": the best way to push back against a reputation is to play with it

Outside of his professional projects, Hiddleston has shown a willingness to play along with jokes for the fun of it. He’s always down to dress up as Loki and poke fun at the villain’s self-righteously serious demeanor, and if there’s a dance break to be had, you know he’s going to take it. In fact, when the Toast ran its long anticipated "If Tom Hiddleston Were Your Boyfriend" piece, his love of silly dancing was a prominent feature:

If Tom Hiddleston were your boyfriend, your life would be full of moments where you’d just be standing in your yoga pants with your hair sticking up, waiting for the kettle to boil, when suddenly he’d pop up next to you and exclaim, "Dance break!" and you’d find yourself jitterbugging or tangoing or doing some other dance that you didn’t actually know you knew how to do, while the kettle whistled. This would also come to be your second favorite way of resolving a fight.

Imaginary though this scenario is, the sporadic — and even startling — enthusiasm of it all is rooted in fact (see Hiddleston in action, in all his flailing glory, at the 1:09 mark):

So whether this whole thing is for publicity or not, there’s just no way this guy didn’t do a spit take when he saw a similarly shameless and self-deprecating Swift face-plant on a treadmill in the name of corporate synergy.

For however random the pair might seem, as Lainey of Lainey Gossip wrote, the enthusiastic pairing makes some kind of sense, even — or maybe especially — if they’re both in on the joke of developing an over-the-top romance:

How did we not realise until now that they are the celebrity mirrors of each other? She knows all the words to every song and sings along. He knows all the accents and imitations and drops a monologue on request. They’re equally eager. They’re equally earnest. And they both take "dance like no one’s watching" to a new level.

Now, of course, everyone’s watching — as is typical for just about anything Swift does.

For however much Tumblr notoriety Hiddleston has built up in recent years as part of his "internet boyfriend" status, Taylor Swift is one of the most successful pop stars on the planet. Media and fans alike have tracked every visible move of hers for almost a decade. Despite encouraging a spirited, if unofficial, campaign to become the next James Bond, Hiddleston doesn’t have anywhere near the level of recognition that Swift does, nor does he face the same pressure to cater to people’s expectations as she does.

So let’s be real: If "Hiddleswift" is, in fact, an elaborate prank, Swift is the one with the wherewithal and motivation to make it happen.

"How would she have done such a thing?" you ask?

Let’s take it to the tape.

"Because I’ve got a blank space, baby / And I’ll write your name": a storybook romance, down to the letter

Take a look at some of these pictures, please:

27 june, Taylor and Tom in Italy. #TomHiddleston #taylorswift #Hiddleswift #hiddleswifties #hiddlestoners #swifties

A photo posted by Actualizaciones Hiddleswift (@hiddleswifties) on

Even the ones that were more obviously taken from a longer distance are in suspiciously good focus for so-called ambush shots — and as BuzzFeed points out, they’re all from the same paparazzi agency, Goff Photos. "If all of this was a ploy to make people believe in their relationship," writes Ellie Woodward, "it makes sense that they’d hire paparazzi to chart the journey."

And in fact, the courtship with Hiddleston is following an eerily familiar path to a Swift romance we’ve seen before. In 2010, she and Jake Gyllenhaal infamously skipped their way around Brooklyn on their way to meet his family for Thanksgiving, resulting in a series of pictures that looked less like a human couple than a casting call for a saccharine jewelry commercial.

Nothing to see here but two adults in love!!
Us Weekly

"From secret dates to private weekends with the parents — after just five weeks!" Sound familiar yet?

In fact, as Woodward points out in another Hiddleswift followup, several of Swift and Hiddleston's public appearances echo earlier ones from her earlier relationships, from beachside family walks to Swift's 2012-era hair. Writes Woodward, "it appears that she’s re-enacting iconic moments from previous relationships."

Then there are the reportedly more professional pictures currently being posted on Instagram by those photogenic members of Swift’s so-called "squad" who stayed at Swift’s Rhode Island house for July Fourth — or, to use the official hashtag, "Taymerica." Most of these pictures feature Swift and her fellow blonde buddies (plus Orange Is the New Black’s Ruby Rose and Uzo Aduba) careening down a waterslide or playing a fierce game of charades in coordinated American flag gear.

While Hiddleston is absent from the larger group shots, he still makes strategic appearances, like in Delevingne’s water slide contribution, which went out to her 5 million Twitter followers and more than 30 million Instagram fans:

Pretty cool runnings

A photo posted by Cara Delevingne (@caradelevingne) on

Look at all this casual fun we’re having behind all these abs! Isn’t the Fourth of July grand?!

But despite Hiddleston’s impressive Night Manager physique getting a showcase, the photo that’s getting the most play this week is one posted by Swift’s childhood best friend Britany LaManna (a normal!), in which three couples cuddle up on three chairs, the better to show off exactly how warm and loving they truly are. The first two are LaManna and her husband and Blake Lively and her husband Ryan Reynolds (who looks to be mentally reciting a disdainful Deadpool monologue just to get through this).

And finally, noticeably breaking the pattern by sitting in all the wrong directions, are Swift and Hiddleston.

A photo posted by Britany LaManna (@britmaack) on

In the immortal words of Sesame Street: One of these things is not like the other.

But whether or not Hiddleswift’s aggressive cuddling is all a ruse, the point is I’ve now spent an incredible amount of time and energy trying to parse the answer — and I still won’t ever be sure, unless Swift and Hiddleston see fit to tell us.

"Don’t say I didn’t warn ya": Taylor Swift knows what you think of her

YouTube

There might be some truth to Hiddleswift, with Swift and Hiddleston finding a connection in their unabashedly dorky dancing and appreciation for the cheesier things in life. Or maybe this entire article will be rendered obsolete in a week with an elaborate music video poking fun at the very idea of "news" stories like this one. Who knows!

It’s hardly outside the realm of possibility — not to mention completely fitting — that the same woman who frequently calls out the media’s obsession with her dating life as sexist and invasive would borrow a dashing internet boyfriend with the sole intention of throwing said obsession back in our faces. Perversely, playing right into our expectations just might be the smartest way to prove how ridiculous that fixation can be.

But even if there’s no subterfuge involved in this pairing, and Taylor and Tom spend the rest of their days curling up together in the same chair while sporting varying shades of khaki, there’s still something to be learned in all the interest surrounding their relationship.

Namely: There will always be a voracious appetite for gossip about celebrities with whom we feel an affinity, even — or especially — if we have no way of knowing which aspects of their public personas are real, and which are meant to keep us guessing.

Updated to include Calvin Harris's Twitter meltdown, Hiddleston's denial, and Swift's involvement in a new Kardashian/West controversy, because like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.