thoughts on this photo of taylor swift and marilyn manson
A cursed image.
There is a photo currently doing the rounds on Reddit which is confusing everyone. The picture is designed to give the viewer the simulated experience of having a stroke by "stimulating the occipital lobe and cerebral cortex", where visual perception occurs. Everything in the image looks hauntingly familiar, but in spite of this, the illusion it creates makes us uncomfortable because we can’t quite recognise anything. Our brains register familiarity looking at the image, and yet we know it’s somehow off. Something about it is not right. It’s against the laws of nature and common sense. The optical illusion I’m referring to is not, in fact, this image of Taylor Swift hanging out with Marilyn Manson, but guys, it might! as! well! be!
This photo of Taylor Swift hanging out with Marilyn Manson is haunting me because of its familiarity and strangeness, its heady mix of normality and the uncanny, and I’m writing about it now in the hope of exorcising its chaotic, demonic energy from my life.
Supposedly the photo was not created in a lab somewhere to confuse and hypnotise the public for some sort of nefarious political gain, but instead taken at this weekend’s Wango Tango festival in LA. Here, prince of darkness and antichrist superstar Manson was seen rubbing shoulders with not just Taylor Swift but also Ryan Seacrest and Joe Jonas, who you may know as the undisputed fittest Jonas brother.
The photographer who brought these cursed images into your lives? A mysterious "rylamont", who shared the photo with a Taylor Swift fan page accompanied by the caption “this might be the craziest photo I’ve ever captured”. Eerily pixelated, like an artefact from the days of Motorola Razrs, happy slapping and horror films about demons being trapped inside your mobile, the picture is the exact opposite of those “accidental renaissance” images that periodically go viral.
In the right hand corner you can see a second unknown photographer taking a picture on his iPhone. A woman wanders across the frame. Others (security? fans?) wander around in the background. Taylor smiles, tight-lipped and hunched over, while Manson stares straight ahead. They are not hugging or touching in any way.
When I opened the picture, what I saw was shocking to me. Since then my life has never known peace. Snakes have started manifesting physically in my home. The people who retweeted the photo in shock and horror seem to feel the same. “Ok, how on earth did this happen,'' one person wrote. Another person suggested that Manson should replace one of the Jonas brothers (it would be Kevin, I’m sorry) as an alternative member of the band.
Clearly, this picture invites more questions than it answers. Why was Manson there in the first place? As a fan? Does he enjoy the music of Taylor Swift? Did he purchase his ticket or did he ask his management to reach out for some sort of Taylor Swift meet-and-greet deal? Doesn’t this remind you of the time when you, deep into your industrial goth phase aged 14, were forced to pose alongside your cousin Carly at a family christening, despite the fact that she ignores you at school? Why is the quality so low? Why is Manson glaring down into the lens with the haggard, thousand mile stare of a Vietnam war veteran? Why is there a further, second photo with Ryan Seacrest?!
Continuing the cognitive dissonance of these pictures, let’s look at the event in more detail. Wango Tango was a weekend of collabs and surprise appearances outside of this image. Later, bouncing around in a thoroughly un-Marilyn Manson-like day glo stage seat and kicking a beach ball, Taylor Swift was joined on stage by Brandon Urie. While this was perhaps expected (Urie and Swift collaborated on the Minion-esque track ME!), it understandably sparked a discussion on whether a Taylor Swift x Jonas Brothers x Manson three way musical collaboration could perhaps be in the works, presumably with Ryan Seacrest as MC.
There are some scenes that, as humans, we find hard to look at and want to hide from instantly. Like seeing your parents have sex, or watching a cartoon animal die in a children’s film. Then there are other images that, although equally horrifying, we find ourselves unable to look away from. Like AC and OJ Simpson’s 1994 high-speed car chase, or guys with spray tans and unnecessary trap muscles fighting for the affection of Instagram influencers on Love Island. This image of Taylor Swift and Marilyn Manson, in its unknowability and strangeness, falls somewhere in between the two.
Let’s call it the uncanny valley of celebrity encounters, and purge it immediately from our collective consciousness before it spawns.
This article originally appeared on i-D UK.