Rag Time is a bi-weekly media investigation of a single celebrity story that's vastly more in-depth than you ever thought you needed. This week: the patrician origins of Taylor Swift's formerly annual July 4th party.
Independence Day is tomorrow, which means pop music’s most prolific Tumblr-note writer, Taylor Swift, is in the news. By now, you have probably heard about her kerfuffle with Scooter Braun, the mega-manager who recently closed a deal to buy Swift's former label, Big Machine, and thus, her masters. But aside from that, it seems that every year around this time, Swift becomes a dominant force in celebrity gossip. That, I believe, is by design.
You remember the great “Taymerica” parties of 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016, don’t you? When Swift invited every celebrity in her Rolodex to celebrate the 4th of July and take lots of photos at her $17 million mansion in Rhode Island? In the not so distant past, Taylor Swift hosting a blowout annual July 4th party was a given. How did that come to be?
In the years since she discontinued the tradition, I have developed a theory: Swift’s obsession with the 4th of July can be traced directly back to the Kennedys.
Perhaps you have forgotten the short, strange summer of 2012, when a then-22-year-old Swift romanced a teenage Kennedy scion during a series of visits to the family compound on Cape Cod. It was one of Swift’s first very obvious failures to create and control her public image, and in honor of the holiday week, I think it’s high time to revisit this period of Swiftian history. Our story begins with … a documentary about Ethel Kennedy.
Taylor Swift befriends a grandma
The New York Daily News reported on July 5, 2012 that Swift spent the holiday with several members of the Kennedy family in Hyannis Port. What? said many at the time. Why? Well, it turns out that Swift had previously reached out to the family as a fan. Six months before their 4th of July party, she attended a Sundance screening of Ethel, a documentary about the octogenarian Ethel Kennedy, wife of the late Bobby Kennedy. It was there that Ethel’s daughter Rory, who directed the film, revealed that Swift had “read a lot of books” about her family.
"She really just loves my mother which is so sweet," Rory told ABC News after the screening. "I'm a huge fan of hers, I have young girls and we had been to a few of her concerts. I met with her at one of them and she had read a ton of books about our family. She was inspired and wrote a song. (That song was "Starlight" off the Red album.)
A few weeks later, Swift told Vogue that she was in awe of the family and claimed to be something of an amateur Kennedy historian. "The only time in my life I have ever been starstruck was meeting Caroline and Ethel Kennedy," she said. "I got to spend the afternoon with Ethel a couple of weeks ago. She is one of my favorites, because you look back at the pictures of her and Bobby and they always look like they are having the most fun out of everybody. You know, 11 kids, all these exotic animals on their property. I've read a lot about them."
And so Swift was invited to the family’s 4th of July party, along with friend Dianna Agron. According to Us Weekly, it was a multi-day affair that involved sailing, capture the flag, and lots of school-age Kennedy cousins.
A long walk on the beach with Patrick Schwarzenegger
Based on paparazzi photos from the holiday weekend, Swift first showed a special interest in Patrick Schwarzenegger, then 18. They took a long walk on the beach together, and at one point, Agron took a photo of just the two of them. "They are getting to know each other, but she thinks he's cute!" a source told Us Weekly of Swift’s dalliance with the son of Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger. "He kept kicking sand at her and was flirty with her."
If you look back at all the photos from the event, though, you can see that Conor Kennedy was also in attendance, alongside his dad, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., currently well-known because of his anti-vaccine activism. (You might recognize him from his recent trip to the California statehouse with Jessica Biel.) It appears that Swift chatted with Conor during the outing, but she seemed to spend more time with Schwarzenegger, possibly because Conor was only 17.
Pizza and chicken fingers with Conor Kennedy
But the young Kennedy soon turned 18, on July 24, and he was spotted on a date with Swift the very next day. “On July 25, Swift, 22, and Kennedy, 18, enjoyed slices at Kennedy family favorite Marcella’s Pizza in his hometown, Mount Kisco, N.Y., and ‘walked out hand-in-hand,’” People reported.
The following weekend, they were back on Cape Cod, where they went sailing together and ate chicken fingers. Per The New York Post, the two were seen “kissing, holding hands and getting extremely ‘touchy-feely.’”
On Sunday they went to church.
Things moved quickly for the couple after Kennedy’s birthday, even though he still had two more years of high school to complete at Deerfield Academy, a prestigious boarding school, and she was a world famous pop star. According to paparazzi photos and tabloid reports at the time, Swift and Kennedy made out all over Cape Cod during Kennedy’s summer vacation. In August, they made a somber visit to Kennedy’s late mother’s grave site, which was fully documented by the paparazzi. The next day, they attended the wedding of Kennedy’s cousin Kyle Kennedy, which created a national controversy that eventually ensnared Kathie Lee Gifford
The Boston Herald reported that Swift CRASHED the wedding and was asked to leave more than once. Victoria Gifford Kennedy, the mother of the bride, told the paper, “They texted me an hour before the wedding and asked if they could come. I responded with a very clear, ‘Please do not come.’ They came anyway. … I personally went up to Ms. Swift, whose entrance distracted the entire event, politely introduced myself to her, and asked her as nicely as I could to leave. It was like talking to a ghost. She seemed to look right past me.”
Swift’s rep at the time denied that Swift was asked to leave, and Swift herself later said the story must have been "based on the biggest misunderstanding," but Kathie Lee Gifford (who was married to Frank Gifford, the bride’s grandfather) confirmed Victoria’s story during the fourth hour of the Today show. “She said very nicely, 'Please do not come,’” Gifford said. “Guess what? They came.'”
And then, somewhere in there, Swift bought a house in Hyannis Port.
New neighbor: Taylor Swift!
The details are sketchy, but seven years on, the tabloids and real estate sites agree that at some point in 2012, Swift bought a $4.9 million mansion literally next door to the Kennedy compound. Perhaps Swift imagined another beautiful summer on Cape Cod with her boyfriend, but unfortunately, her dream was not realized. The deal to buy the property officially closed in November 2012, and by then, Swift and Kennedy had parted ways. "It was just a distance thing,” a source told Us Weekly. “No hard feelings. They're fine." (Kennedy was back in boarding school and Swift was busy promoting Red.) The family apparently remained close enough to Swift that the RFK Center for Justice & Human Rights honored her with the Ripple of Hope Award in December.
Swift quickly flipped the Hyannis Port property, selling it for $5.7 million in March 2013. And then, it seems, she was inspired to make a much bigger real estate investment an hour or so away in Rhode Island.
Perhaps searching for the same magic she felt at the Kennedys’ 4th of July party in 2012, Swift bought a $17 million mansion—in cash—in Watch Hill, Rhode Island in April 2013. She quickly readied it to have a 4th of July party that summer with so many friends. Swift invited the dancers and backup singers from her Red tour and staged a flashy photoshoot, which she posted on her blog. “Independence Day is one of my favorite holidays of the year,” she wrote.
In the following years, Swift staged increasingly more elaborate “Taymerica” parties at the mansion, including a rotating cast of celebrities like Emma Stone, Blake Lively, every Victoria’s Secret model, and Lena Dunham. Each year, the tabloids breathlessly reported on who was—and was not—invited, and blogs catalogued the dozens of Instagram posts that were posted throughout the multi-day events. (These were the years in which Swift was in peak friend-collecting mode: Remember Jaime King? Martha Hunt? Haim?) In 2014, Swift installed a slip-n-slide in her backyard. In 2015, she set off professional-grade fireworks. And by 2016, the affair included a dizzying number of A-listers and a hired photographer, so that guests would have perfect (or at least interesting) photos to share on social media.
The tradition seems to have ended in 2016, after Swift’s then-boyfriend Tom Hiddleston wore an I <3 T.S. tank top on the beach in full view of the paparazzi. (Hiddleston later attempted to explain his choice of beachwear in a GQ profile, which served only to further embed the image into public consciousness.) To think: that beautifully insane moment was made possible by Swift’s apparent desire to one-up the Kennedys as the most fun 4th of July party host in the history of America.
The Kennedys have never directly addressed Swift’s wild summer in Hyannis Port. Schwarzenegger went on to briefly date Miley Cyrus, while Conor Kennedy went back to high school and retreated into relative obscurity. Last month, biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli published The Kennedy Heirs, which touched on the Swift-Kennedy relationship. “Conor liked Taylor, don’t get me wrong,” a friend of Conor’s told Taraborrelli, “but this business of her buying the house on the Cape made him nervous. It seemed as if she was getting a little too attached, spending five million bucks on a house just to be near the guy.”
Swift has only publicly addressed the Kennedy romance once, in a fall 2012 cover story for Rolling Stone. “The way I look at love is you have to follow it,” she said, “and fall hard, if you fall hard. You have to forget about what everyone else thinks.”
This post has been updated to clarify that Swift wrote the song "Starlight" about the Kennedys.
Got a tip about this or any other celebrity mysteries? Email Allie at firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact her on Twitter .
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