Taylor Swift is known for hiding hints about her new music in everything she does — and the new cover art for her single "You Need To Calm Down" is no exception. After the singer dropped her new single on Friday, June 14, dedicated Swifties began wondering about the hidden meaning behind Swift's giant back tattoo and what it could hint about her upcoming seventh album, Lover.
The singer unveiled the cover art for "You Need To Calm Down" on social media at midnight, which featured Swift standing with her back to the camera, gazing out at a candy-colored trailer-park. However, the most striking part of the photo is the fact that Swift's back is almost completely covered in an elaborate tattoo that features a snake in the middle of her back surrounded by butterflies, which fly up over her back and shoulders. While the ink definitely isn't real it does represent the singer's transition and transformation from the reputation era into the Lover period of her career.
The art for "You Need to Calm Down" is markedly similar to the opening of the "ME!" music video, which showed a snake lunging at the camera before exploding into a cloud of multi-colored butterflies. After being bombarded with snake emojis on social media in the midst of her feud with Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West back in 2016, Swift reclaimed the snake as the main motif for her reputation album. Now that she's moved into a new phase of her career, however, she's shedding the snake motif and adopting butterflies, and using the combination of the two as a way to show how she's turned the negative into something lighter and more positive.
Swift fully embraced the "snake" imagery during her reputation era, even kicking things off by deleting all of her Instagram posts in August 2017 and counting down the days until the release of "Look What You Made Me Do," with a series of videos of a snake slithering across the screen. During that time, she released snake-themed merch, featured them in all of her music videos and even showcased a giant snake as part of the set design of her record-breaking reputation tour.
In an essay for ELLE magazine back in March, Swift explained that she decided to reclaim the "snake" insult as a way to "disarm" the negative comments that people were making about her at the time, and finding the humor in a stressful situation. "I learned that disarming someone’s petty bullying can be as simple as learning to laugh,” she wrote in an essay about everything she's learned ahead of her 30th birthday. "In my experience, I’ve come to see that bullies want to be feared and taken seriously."
"A few years ago, someone started an online hate campaign by calling me a snake on the internet," Swift continued. "The fact that so many people jumped on board with it led me to feeling lower than I’ve ever felt in my life, but I can’t tell you how hard I had to keep from laughing every time my 63-foot inflatable cobra named Karyn appeared onstage in front of 60,000 screaming fans. It’s the Stadium Tour equivalent of responding to a troll’s hateful Instagram comment with 'lol.'"
While Swift's newest single is just as much of a kiss-off to haters as her giant, inflatable cobra is, the art for "You Need To Calm Down" shows that Swift has found a new way to combat the negativity in her life: with relentless, infectious optimism. "I wrote ["ME!"] this past winter, but I've known for quite a while what I wanted this album to look like, feel like, and evoke," Swift revealed during a recent interview with The Independent. "I wanted it to be like the sky looks after a storm. Colourful, calm, somehow more beautiful than it ever had been before."
The butterflies that have become a constant motif of the Lover era also represents the idea of coming out of a difficult period and finding things brighter and even more beautiful than before. After all, butterflies represent change and rebirth, emerging after a hiatus — like, say the breaks that Swift takes to lay low between records — with a new, even more beautiful form. Clearly, the singer has made it through the most difficult part of her career in the public eye, and feels happier and stronger than ever before, and wants to share that with her fans.
The sad, brooding snake has become a bright, colorful butterfly and moved from her "lowest point" to soaring high above the haters. No wonder Swift has decided to celebrate that transition with all of her artwork in this new era of her career.