How Taylor Swift's famous 'Easter egg' strategy became her worst enemy.

On a typical day in May, Taylor Swift arrived at a New York City recording studio in a white shirt and dark denim shorts.

It was unremarkable to almost everyone. But for some, it represented a long, convoluted hint.

In 2018, she had left her house in the same city in a similar outfit: white shirt, denim shorts. Her front door was flanked by screaming fans and paparazzi, who she smiled at as she walked a couple of metres to a car waiting out front.

In 2020, with the release of her Netflix documentary Miss Americana, this day in the life of a megastar took on new meaning.

Watch: Netflix's Miss Americana trailer. Post continues below video.

Video via Netflix.

Footage from that moment showed Swift enter the car and tell the camera that she realises that having people wait for you outside your home is not normal, in a resigned tone. Then she speaks about how the photos born out of moments like that often 'triggered' disordered thoughts she had with an eating disorder.

Back in the present, Swift had spent days being followed to and from the studio by fans. Some chased her car down the street screaming or banged on the window as she attempted to enter her parking garage. 

So, with a couple of (il)logical backflips or cartwheels, Swift fans decided the white shirt get-up was an 'Easter egg' for that scene, and Swift's message with it was clear: you are harming her and she would like to be left alone.


Of course, she probably would like to be left alone. But that has more to do with the fact that people banging on your car is terrifying and less to do with... a white shirt.

It was probably just a white shirt.

But a white shirt is only a white shirt until Swift wears it.

Listen: Mamamia's daily entertainment podcast The Spill. Post continues below audio.

For 17 years, she has cultivated a uniquely personal — or, so it appears — relationship with her fans. It began with clues in CD liner notes, that gave those in the know hints about the inspiration behind her songs. She was a teenager when that began, writing music about her teenage life.

As she blew up, it transformed into gifts, donations and invitations to hear her albums before the rest of the world. She would interact on social posts and address fans by their names when she recognised them at events.

She was self-referential and crafted a deep, deep lore. If you knew a particular moment from a past song, or a video, or a Tumblr joke, the new song or video or Tumblr joke had deeper meaning. If you knew that she once believed that love would be 'burning red', you'd feel a particular level of significance to her now describing it as 'golden'. You got it in a way that others didn't, and that, made you feel special.

Swift's fandom became fixated on the minute details and she rewarded them for it.

As her fame rose, she pulled back on pointing the figure towards any muse in particular. Not that it particularly mattered, because her life was now tabloid fodder. The horse had bolted.


Even if her liner notes for 2014's album 1989 told a story about a girl who 'found herself' amid heartbreak in New York City, anyone could crosscheck old articles, pap pics and rumours to find out details of what they really wanted to know: what, or who, the music was about.

Nine years down the line, the tradition of media, fans and haters alike searching every lyric for meaning has long snowballed into all details of Swift's (public) life.

Everything is considered a hint: her lyrics, obviously, but also her clothing and her choices of words. 

A simple black top is likened to Princess Diana's 'revenge dress', because the necklines are similar. A casual use of the phrase 'long story short' to wrap up a story causes gasps around a stadium, because they anticipate the words to mean she will play her song with that title. And a white shirt is obviously not just a white shirt.

She's played into it too, by readily accepting the title of 'mastermind' and through interviews where she gleefully exclaims that sometimes, she has to create a spreadsheet to keep track of it all the Easter eggs.

For fans, it's mostly fun. There's internet clout to be had in finding a clue that others haven't yet, or theorising on what her wearing butterfly detailed clothing twice in a month could mean.

But on the outside of the neat, albeit highly parasocial, community she fostered, the view has often skewed differently. It was calculated. Fake. Manipulative.

The problem for Swift is that at some point, fame gets away from you. She can at once be one of the most powerful people in the world of celebrity — commanding respect from peers like Paul McCartney and breaking records no one thought could ever be broken again — and also have no real control over how we see her. 


Because even traditional PR, like People magazine stories or pap walks with pals, are trumped by the possibility of unearthing a mystery. 

With the Easter eggs and the lore and the callbacks, she gave people permission to pry, if only at the things she wanted to show them. It truly benefited her career to do so and is one of the reasons she has one of the biggest, most visible fan bases in the world.

But she's too far from the door to shut it again. Too many people — who are there in good faith, bad faith and for juicy tabloid clicks — have entered the house and are looking around at anything. Everything. Even the things she didn't want them too, like constant rumours about her six-year relationship with ex-boyfriend Joe Alwyn, and more recently what ended it. And at things that she probably never intended to mean anything, like a casual outfit to go to work.

During her promotion of 2022 album Midnights, Swift commented on not feeling 'like a person'. Like her life is treated as fan fiction or a video game, where anyone can mould their version of the truth based on their own biases. For those following along, she is a 'choose your own adventure' novel in popstar form.

Somewhere along the lost control of the mastermind narrative. It loomed so large that it defined her, rather than she defining it.

Now, a white shirt is always just a white shirt.

Unless it's worn by Taylor Swift.

Feature image: Getty.

As women our bodies are constantly changing! Tell us about your experience and go in the running to win one of four $50 gift vouchers.