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How Taylor Swift Won Back the Public The reputation era was the last time the pop star let someone else define her. Here’s how she rebuilt her image.



In her quarrel with the Wests, Swift was cast in the role of perfidious white woman falsely claiming victimhood.

And since she has made her near-downfall an integral piece of her star narrative, the darkness before the inevitable triumph, some have questioned whether it was really that bad. (This magazine once called her single “Look What You Made Me Do” a “pure piece of Trump-era art,” which was not intended as a compliment.)

After retreating from the public eye for months, she resurfaced in the summer of 2017 for a civil suit against a radio DJ who’d groped her years earlier.

Confronted with a situation in which Swift incontrovertibly was a victim, seeking nothing more than a symbolic $1 in damages, public opinion began to turn around once more.

She made such a winning appearance on the witness stand, refusing to be shaken by aggressive questioning, that even outlets who’d once denounced her published roundups of her best quips.

Photo: Robert Kamau/Getty Images

During Swift’s year away, she began dating up-and-coming actor Joe Alwyn. Throughout their seven-year relationship, the pair were rarely photographed together and said as little as possible about each other in interviews. “We decided together we wanted our relationship to be private,” Swift would say. Going dark not only helped Swift ward off the overexposure that caused her trouble in the past, it also meant that, if you wanted to follow their love story, you could only do so through her music, a medium where Swift had full control. (And where Alwyn, credited as “William Bowery,” would occasionally pop up as a co-writer.) As Swift returned to the spotlight, she was careful to underline the difference between her public and private selves. In the liner notes to Reputation, she wrote, “We think we know someone, but the truth is that we only know the version of them that they have chosen to show us.”

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