How Taylor Swift uses nail polish to drop hints about her album releases

After all, in Taylor Swift’s world, nothing is accidental. Not even a manicure.

Harper's Bazaar India

The Swifties were certain. Grammys night would’ve, could’ve, should’ve been when Taylor Swift announced the impossibly anticipated 'Reputation (Taylor’s Version)'. She’d given us so many signs—or so we thought.

Since the Eras Tour took its holiday break, she’s been spotted wearing tons of black, and even some positively serpentine Jimmy Choo boots. (Snakes and 'Reputation' are kind of a thing). And in her interview for Time’s Person of the Year cover last year, Swift teased that the previously unreleased 'Reputation' “vault” tracks to come were “fire”. Some fans even swore, based on the truly arcane “112-day theory” (read about it here), that Rep TV would be released on February 16.

And then last Sunday, she arrived on the red carpet at Arena in a creamy white custom Schiaparelli gown with black opera gloves. Black! For 'Reputation'! “The gloves were an interesting styling choice that nodded to trendiness, but also added drama,” says Sarah Chapelle, owner of @taylorswiftstyle on Instagram and author of the forthcoming hardcover Taylor Swift Style: Fashion Through the Eras.

We should have known drama was coming. Upon winning for Best Pop Vocal Album (her 13th Grammy, an auspicious number in Swiftian folklore)—and just as every fan around the world was about to lose consciousness—Dr Taylor Allison Swift pulled the rug out from under the universe by announcing not 'Reputation (Taylor’s Version)', but a brand-new studio album, The Tortured Poets Department (TTPD). Within seconds, she had posted the album’s black-and-white cover on Instagram. Cue global meltdowns. (Not one, not two, but five friends immediately texted asking if I was okay. I was not.)


A post shared by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift)

Something important happened next. Upon returning to her seat, Swift discreetly removed those black opera gloves, revealing a white manicure. When she took the stage later in the evening to collect the Album of the Year award—becoming the only artist in history to do so four times—she held the statuette in a way that clearly showed off her white nails—discreetly announcing an aesthetic shift not into the black of Reputation, but into the white of TTPD, her newest era.

It was an act of subterfuge. A wink. We should have known! The gloves were literally and figuratively coming off, putting the spotlight right back on her manicure. After all, Swift has been sending messages with her nails for a long time.

“Taylor grew up wanting to express herself through fashion. But I feel like in the early part of your career, when you’re trying to make a name for yourself, you’re more likely to follow what’s on trend and go with what the stylists pick for you, so her nails and hands are where she would express herself,” longtime Swiftie Courtney Bloch tells me.

That’s why in the Fearless and Speak Now eras, Bloch theorised, we saw Swift give herself glittery manicures, draw a large number 13 on her hands, or even write song lyrics along the entire length of her arm. “The arm lyrics used to give us insight into what was happening in her life,” Bloch says. “Now that she’s older, I think she feels more confident to convey those same messages just with her nails.”

Swift’s manicures offer us a glimpse into her inner world. In March 2023, just days before kicking off the Eras Tour, she posted some pictures from rehearsals, captioned, “In my Eras era. 💅” A purely coincidental emoji? We think not.

On tour last year, Swift painted each of her fingernails a different color, signifying her first 10 studio albums: mint-green eponymous debut, gold for Fearless, purple for Speak Now, red for Red, turquoise for 1989, black for Reputation, pink for Lover, gray for Folklore, peach for Evermore, and sparkly navy for Midnights.

She has also been known to use her nails to hint at upcoming projects. In a 2018 music video for Reputation single 'Delicate', for example, she extends her pastel-painted fingers toward the viewer, “almost in this ‘Look at my nails’ kind of way,” Bloch says. Fans did just that. “A specific way you can leave Easter eggs is on nails,” Swift told Entertainment Weekly in 2019, confirming she was indeed sending a message in the video. “Some people picked up on it immediately, others picked up on it a few months down the line, but it made me feel nice.”

In the video for her single 'Karma', released in May last year, one of the final shots zeroes in on Swift’s hands, holding a latte emblazoned with the face of a clock. A thumbnail painted blue next to the clock’s Roman numeral VIII, as we know now, foreshadowed the announcement about 1989 (Taylor’s Version) that followed, in the (eighth) month of August. Her other thumb, painted Reputation black, is next to the II—which is why so many of us were convinced a Reputation TV announcement was—or perhaps still is?!—due in February.

Either way, Swift’s nails frequently spark mini trends within her fandom. Bloch emulated the superstar’s multicoloured mani when attending the Eras Tour last year. She says, “Given that many fans love Taylor’s style for its approachable and imitable nature, I think her nails, and the fact that she seemingly loves doing them herself, give fans an entry-level access point to her style that we can replicate at home that isn’t dependent on a high-end designer budget.”

Now, the attention Swift’s fingers receive is at an all-time high, not only as her fans hunt for music-related Easter eggs, but also as rumors swirl about her possible or upcoming engagement to her boyfriend, NFL star Travis Kelce. She has been spotted going out to dinner in New York City or attending his games with longer nails—not the short, guitar-friendly sort she typically sports. “I thought the longer nails were a reference to Reputation, because she has longer, clawlike nails in the ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ video,” Bloch says. Perhaps they were a Reputation Easter egg. Or perhaps they were just a woman trying out a new look over the holidays while taking a few weeks off from her demanding job. But could it really be that simple?

May we present another theory: In “You’re Losing Me,” a Midnights single recorded in December 2021 but not released until almost two years later, Swift sings: “I sent you signals and bit my nails down to the quick.” Rumoured to be about her ex, Joe Alwyn, the song tells the story of a frustrated Swift on the cusp of deciding to walk away from the relationship. If Swift does bite her nails when she’s nervous—well, nail polish can be a way of curbing that habit. Fake nails, however, make nail-biting nearly impossible. Could the extensions she’s wearing be a signal to fans that Swift is feeling more secure?

What we do know is that those longer nails were most certainly a press-on, says celebrity nail artist and Tweezerman ambassador Tom Bachik, who works with Selena Gomez and Jennifer Lopez. “Once I’ve measured a client, I can create a custom, full-coverage nail that is fit and shaped to them,” said Bachik. “When a client sends me creative ideas early enough, I can create custom looks ahead of time.” In other words, celebrities can change their nails faster than you can say sabotage. It’s well documented that Swift enjoys painting her own nails, but she has been quietly working with nail artist Lisa Peña-Wong for the last three years for big red carpet moments, like the Grammys in 2021, 2023, and 2024—as well as the vividly colorful video for “Bejeweled.” (Peña-Wong posted on Instagram that Swift is all about a DIY manicure on tour).

The star’s new affinity for press-ons allows her the flexibility of going back to a shorter nail when her tour resumes, but also to experiment with colour and shape when she’s off duty—and the ability to continue sending us messages through her precisely coded manis. (For what it’s worth, the white Grammy nails are still intact while Swift currently tours Tokyo. But what polish colour or shape will this weekend’s football festivities bring?)

She may have gotten us this time with the Reputation (Taylor’s Version) and Tortured Poets Department switcheroo, but next time we’ll know that the proof, dear reader, is in the polish. Never trust a gloved hand again.

Because remember: In Taylor Swift’s world, nothing is accidental. Not even a manicure.

This link originally appeared in Harper's Bazaar US