The squad: Martha Hunt, from left, Hailee Steinfeld, Cara Delevingne, Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift, Serayah, Lily Aldridge, Gigi Hadid, Karlie Kloss and Mariska Hargitay.
AS TELEVISIONS around the world switched to MTV for the Video Music Awards, one of the first things viewers likely saw was a group of 10 statuesque beauties towering a foot above the rest of the crowd, complete with flawless makeup and impeccably styled locks.
No, scientists have not perfected human cloning — one of those women was up for an award.
The other nine? Well, that was just her squad.
Squad Goals, which in 2015 managed to enter our rhetoric as swiftly as selfie, hashtag and catfish did the year prior, has become millennial lingo for anyone seeking a close-knit yet undeniably fabulous group of friends — of which Taylor Swift and her pals have become the gold standard.
But at what point did Swift’s gaggle of girlfriends shift from cool to creepy?
It’s about more than just the fact that they all look similar — though it is eerie how tall, thin and polished most of Swift’s friends are.
When Swift was announced as the winner of the Music Video of the Year, she and her squad all jumped synchronously, as if they’d been programmed beforehand, to celebrate the victory. Then, as one shiny, smiling unit, the 10 women flocked to the stage to accept the award that Swift, their brave and fearless leader, had won for them.
But talk of Swift didn’t cease when the singer left the stage. Later in the broadcast, Serayah, best known for her role on Empire, took the time to give the pop star, whom she had accompanied on the red carpet, another shout-out.
Martha Hunt, Lily Aldridge, Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift, Hailee Steinfeld and Serayah McNeill.
“First of all, I would love to give a big congrats to my girl, Taylor Swift,” the actress said into the mike, before proceeding to name the winner for best video with a social message.
The social message most of us came away with by the end of the night? Swift has managed to turn her squad into a straight-up Stepford Wives-style cult.
How else can you explain the fact that they all agreed to appear in her Bad Blood music video for free — which Swift announced to the audience during the VMAs?
The fact that one of the most successful female artists of all time couldn’t be bothered to throw some green at her “best friends” for propping up her continuing rise to fame isn’t impressive — it’s indentured servitude.
And though Swift claims being her friend is easy — “You have to like me, and you have to want to spend time with me,” she informed a sold-out crowd at MetLife stadium in July — in reality, it’s much more complex.
Merely wanting to be Swift’s friend isn’t enough. Celebrities who make the cut also need to possess enough social capital to offer her something in return — to add another dimension to bolster her clean-cut image. Baking cookies with Hailee Steinfeld makes Swift look innocent and down-to-earth; being named godmother to Jaime King’s newborn makes Swift more maternal; standing next to models such as Karlie Kloss and Martha Hunt reminds the world of how tall, svelte and blond Swift really is.
Seven weeks ago Swift wrote, “The Trinity, Frostbyte, Slay-Z, and Lucky Fiori brought the Bad Blood video to life tonight”.
In July, Ed Droste, of indie rock band Grizzly Bear, unveiled on Twitter the alleged “dark rules” of being a member of Swift’s squad, of which he’d been informed by a mutual friend. According to Droste, the singer doesn’t allow members of her squad to speak to her unless they’re spoken to, and there’s a strict dress code for both her parties and her concerts.
“@edwarddroste Bullsh*tt. The day I met her I was impressed how open of a heart she had and she has remained that way since. Don’t knock her,” said model Martha Hunt in Swift’s defence.
“@edwarddroste lol that’s the biggest load of bs. ‘Swift insider’ HA you wish you knew. Stop trying to create drama where there is none,” echoed Gigi Hadid.
Being ready to defend Swift at a moment’s notice is just another unspoken rule of being a member of the squad. Indeed, whenever any of the squad members does an interview, they are usually sure to include a line about how great it is to be friends with the 25-year-old.
“She has such an infectious personality,” Hunt told People in July. “Everyone just wants to be around her at all times. She really brings out the best in everybody.”
“She is the coolest girl. She’s so sweet,” Kloss told Cosmopolitan in 2014. “She’s a normal girl … she’s a really nice girl.”
“You know, it’s done nothing but help me …,” Steinfeld said of her friendship with Swift in an August interview with Pop Justice, “she’s such an incredible human being.”
And Steinfeld is right — her profile in the entertainment industry has risen since joining Swift’s squad. She had a role in the Bad Blood music video, she released her first album and she landed a part in the summer hit Pitch Perfect 2.
Not everyone timed their jump well.
Other pals have also been rewarded for their good behaviour, including touring gigs with Ed Sheeran and Haim, renewed interest in ageing actresses such as King, Mariska Hargitay and Ellen Pompeo, and, for Hadid, magazine covers and a starring role in Calvin Harris’ newest music video, How Deep Is Your Love?
Hell, Bad Blood even gave Jessica Alba her most memorable acting role in years.
The final rule for being part of the squad? Agreeing to wear matching white Victorian nightgowns Swift purchased for her bevy of friends in Nashville, according to Vanity Fair.
If being a member of Swift’s squad is starting to sound pretty terrible, just imagine how bad it is not to be in the It club. Swift’s Stalin-like control of the entertainment industry means that anyone who turns down an opportunity to be in the squad — or dares to diss her — had better watch his or her back.
When two of the world’s favourite funny ladies, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, mocked the star at the 2013 Golden Globes, Swift replied with the now-infamous quote: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
Indeed, the women who have crossed swords with Swift — most notably Katy Perry, for whom Bad Blood was allegedly penned — have not fared well. When Swift believed Nicki Minaj was calling her out after the VMA nominations were unveiled, Swift had no problem returning the favour. Even VMA host Miley Cyrus is fed up with the illusion of grandeur the squad portrays.
“I’m not trying to be in the squad,” the controversial singer bravely confessed to the New York Times in a story that went live at the end of the telecast. “None of my friends are famous, and not because of any other reason than I just like real people who are living real lives, because I’m inspired by them.”
Miley had better watch her back — the Swift squad is coming for her next.
This article originally appeared in the New York Post.