The XX Factor

Why Is Everyone Freaking Out Over Taylor Swift’s Dalliance With Tom Hiddleston?

“Hey internet, look who’s got your man.”

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

The world is reeling from the news that Taylor Swift lured a man to Rhode Island to make out with her on a rock. Though Swift has lured other men to other rocks in her day, this conquest was special, because the man in question was Tom Hiddleston, and cameras were strategically placed around the scene so the news of this coupling could be transmitted around the world. Swiftleton—or Hiddleswift, Tiddleswift, or any number of fantastical tiddlywinks-sounding portmanteaus—was born; Brangelina wept; Swift’s rumored Aryan fanbase presumably rejoiced; and the internet nearly exploded.

Just about everyone on Earth tweeted about the news when it broke Wednesday evening. The blog Oh No They Didn’t declared a “pop culture emergency,” with attendant emoji sirens. Lainey Gossip cackled with glee. The Ringer hosted a debate about the seemliness of the pairing. Developments kept coming: Fusion called a Rhode Island archaeologist to ask about the suspicious pile of rocks in some of the photos. The Cut argued that Taylor was attempting to deflect attention away from something Kim Kardashian said to GQ about her.

Why does this news have everyone out of their minds? We’ll attempt to break it down.

Immediately, there were whispers that the photos look staged. As if it’s unnatural to make out on a rock in front of photographers and not an important part of the courtship process. There’s also the timing: Swift broke up with her boyfriend of more than a year, DJ Calvin Harris (whose real name, oddly, is Adam), only weeks ago. Lainey Gossip saw the photos as a way to get back at Harris for advancing the narrative that he was the one who ended things: “She gave him a couple of weeks. And then she decided to take over with her own message. Oh hi. I’m just with Loki now, everybody see?”

The canoodling is also notable in light of Swift’s overall romantic backstory. In the publicity surrounding the release of her most recent album, 2014’s 1989, Swift had been trying to give her public persona a makeover. Instead of the girl who dates famous guys and writes songs about them (you already know this, but her rap sheet includes John Mayer, Harry Styles, Jake Gyllenhaal, at least one Kennedy, and at least one Jonas brother, among others), she turned herself into the girl with a sometimes-cultlike legion of female friends. Longtime followers expect her public moves to be calculated and precisely executed. So a return to her old serial-dating ways is, well, a statement. Swift is a pro. Surely she knows of and has access to private making-out rocks where she can frolic with a man away from the prying eyes of the press. All signs point to her wanting to be caught with Hiddleston.

Though some gossipmongers were able to delight in the Sun’s “Tinker Taylor Snogs a Spy,” or at least applaud a headline for the ages, other reactions ranged from playfully perturbed to downright hostile: There Taylor goes again, stealing the internet’s boyfriend. Swift is one of the most famous and powerful women in the world, but with great power comes mad haters, and Swift is constantly beset by them, attracting criticism for doing things like calling out Nicki Minaj and using feminism and friendship to bolster her own brand. In short, not everyone’s a fan. And Hiddleston, for his part, has recently become a media darling, lighting up Tumblr with his serious-actor cred and willingness to dance on command. In addition to sticking it to her ex, is pairing off with Hiddleston Swift’s attempt to endear herself to her critics? To say, hey internet, see, I can date someone cool? Or is it more like, hey internet, look who’s got your man? Either way, Hiddleston does not come off well in the relationship. Maybe he thinks this is a move that will help him make the leap to leading-man parts, or even score him that coveted next James Bond role. But lounging on those Rhode Island rocks, he just looks like he’s gone from the media’s dancing monkey … to Taylor’s.