Taylor Swift just released a cover of Earth, Wind & Fire’s 1978 soul classic “September.” And in traditional Swiftian fashion, she embedded an Easter egg for the true scholars of T-Swift lore out there.
The original “September” begins with the line “Do you remember the 21st night of September?” But in Swift’s cover, recorded for the Spotify Singles series, she changed it to “Do you remember the 28th night of September.” And in her stripped-down arrangement, the change is crystal clear.
For a casual listener, the change might seem meaningless. But Swift’s fans knew exactly what it meant: It’s most likely a reference to her relationship with Joe Alwyn, which started on September 28, 2016.
So by Taylor changing the lyrics from “Do you remember the 21st day of September” to the 28th she is literally slipping us their anniversary date. This was Taylor on September 28th 2016. This was the day it all began. AAAAAAAAAAA pic.twitter.com/XO1fPpQQrh— Rachel (@taylortrivia13) April 12, 2018
Much like the reclusive antisocial billionaire of Ready Player One who forces children to dredge up the minutia of his past in order to play his elaborate mind games, Taylor Swift is given to seeding her songs with hidden references to her past, and especially to her love life. And in large part, that’s because these hidden Easter eggs allow her to simultaneously harness the twin poles of her star image: intimacy and control.
Last year, I did a deep dive into the history of Swift’s public image and concluded that both her appeal and her image struggles stem from the way she creates a sense of profound emotional intimacy with her fans while visibly working to control everything around her. The control is what makes the intimacy possible — Swift likely wouldn’t be able to create that sense of closeness with all her fans without working hard and micromanaging everything in her career — but it sometimes also makes the intimacy look fake and manufactured.
One of the places this conflict plays out most clearly is in the Easter eggs Swift likes to scatter through her lyrics. As I wrote last year:
This kind of subliminal storytelling, the kind that gets teased out on gossip blogs and always has “alleged” attached to it, is where the two sides of Swift’s persona work most closely in tandem. She is in total control of her narrative, firmly positioning herself as the righteous and sinned-against party who has the last word, always, and that narrative is profoundly tear-stained and intimate. And if the narrative turns against her, she can always deny it, because the story depends on her confirmation.
What gets Swift into trouble is when that narrative starts to look fake.
The September 28 Easter egg is par for the Swiftian course. It’s a wink at her fans: “You know me well enough,” it says, “to get what this means. You’re like my best friends. You know my anniversary.” It creates an incredible sense of closeness. This is how her Easter eggs are supposed to function when they’re working.
It’s not necessarily clear that returning to her old media strategies is the best possible move for Swift, who only recently emerged from months of public exile after 2016’s #KimExposedTaylorParty. But if “September” suggests anything, it’s that her gossip-stoking game is returning to form.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Earth, Wind & Fire released “September” in 1971. It was 1978.