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Taylor Swift’s New Merch Strategy Is Brilliant, But Problematic

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It feels as cold and clinical as her new sound, and perhaps that’s the point.

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Taylor Swift’s Reputation album cover Photo: Taylor Swift

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Following a week of serpentine social media teases and the announcement of her sixth studio album, Reputation (out on November 10th), Taylor Swift dropped her much-anticipated lead single last night. It’s called “Look What You Made Me Do,” and it’s polarizing, to say the least.

But it looks like the controversy swirling around Swift’s Reputation era won’t be limited to her brash, biting new sound alone. The pop star also relaunched her website with an updated online store yesterday, and her new merch pointedly pokes fun at her snakelike public persona.

Taylor Swift Silver Snake Ring, $60
Taylor Swift Silver Snake Ring, $60
Taylor Swift Black Hooded Pullover, $75
Taylor Swift Black Hooded Pullover, $75

There’s also plenty of product emblazoned with the album art and title, featuring the gothic font that’s drawn comparisons to Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo merch — another visual motif that cannot possibly be a coincidence. (Is anything ever with Swift?)

Taylor Swift Album Cover Tee, $45
Taylor Swift Album Cover Tee, $45
Taylor Swift Reversible Terry Pullover, $65
Taylor Swift Reversible Terry Pullover, $65

But it’s the accompanying sales rollout that feels particularly strategic here. In an attempt to ward off scalpers and bots when her Reputation tour tickets become available, Swift is urging her fans to register with Ticketmaster’s Taylor Swift Tix program and engage in “unique activities” to increase their chances of getting concert tickets. And these activities include — you guessed it — buying her music and merch. Allow these cute cartoon kittens to explain:

As a longtime Swiftie myself, I have zero doubt that the musician wants her most devoted fans to wind up with great seats at her upcoming shows, and I’m also certain that TS diehards would happily shell out for the star’s merch without any extra incentive attached (I proudly own several tank tops and tees from her 1989 era). Still, challenging fans (and their parents) to assert their loyalty by spending the most money possible feels problematic, particularly considering how expensive concert tickets are in the first place.

It doesn’t help that Swift has done far less fan outreach in the weeks leading up to this album cycle than usual. While in previous years she’s hosted interactive livestreams and advance listening parties, this time around, she’s been practically silent. “There will be no further explanation. There will just be reputation,” reads one recent Instagram post.

Swift is also famous for randomly surprising her fans with gifts and showing up at their bridal showers and weddings, but so far, it seems the only way to secure something special from her right now is to pre-order Reputation through UPS.

While it’s entirely possible that she’ll start reaching out to fans as promotion for the album kicks into high gear, at the moment, this approach feels as cold and clinical as her new sound. (Perhaps that’s the point.)

It’s an admittedly brilliant scheme to boost sales, of course, and I’d expect nothing less from a marketing mastermind like Taylor Swift. But it also feels like a test of her fans’ patience — not to mention their pocketbooks. And in order for Swift to successfully sell her new, darker image, fans need to buy in. The question is: Will they?