While the singer chose not to address the recent drama over her music in her acceptance speech, her outfit choice spoke volumes.
Going into the awards, it was unclear whether the Blank Space singer would be allowed to perform her greatest hits, from Love Story to Shake it Off, due to an ongoing feud with her former record label, Big Machine, and industry managers Scooter Braun and Scott Borchetta.
Lifting the lid on the ongoing battle, Swift appealed to her fans this month, claiming she was being barred from playing her own songs, adding: “Don’t know what to do.” Big Machine denied this was the case. And in the end, it appeared an agreement had been reached that would allow her to play her music after all.
On Sunday, Swift chose not to call out the public drama while accepting the Artist of the Decade award. “The fact that this is an award that celebrates a decade of hard work and of art and of fun and memories, all that matters to me is the memories that I have had with you guys, with you the fans, over the years.”
Instead, Swift chose to make what many assumed was a subtle dig at the battle during her performance by donning a prison-style white shirt, stencilled with the names of the six albums her old label owns, while singing her new song The Man: a track about the realities of being a woman in the music industry, and the ongoing struggle to be taken seriously.
However, the singer quickly shed the outfit to reveal a gold-sequinned one-piece for the 13-minute medley of her biggest songs. She was also joined on stage by friends Halsey and Camila Cabello for a rendition of Shake It Off before concluding with Lover, which featured a routine by Misty Copeland.
Following her performance, Swift was presented with the iconic award by legendary singer-songwriter Carole King, who praised the relatability of Swift’s music, before adding: “The best is yet to come”.
During the evening, Swift also picked up another five awards, bringing her tally to 29 AMA trophies and breaking Michael Jackson’s record, who received 24 awards.
As Swift fans, or “Swifties”, will know, this is not the first time the singer has used symbolism to send a message.
In her music video for Look What You Made Me Do, for instance, fans spotted a single dollar bill in a tub of diamonds, which many believed to be a subtle reference to the symbolic dollar she earned in the sexual assault case against the radio DJ who groped her in 2013.
In the same music video, there is a tombstone with the name “Nils Sjoberg”, the pseudonym Swift used as a co-writer on her ex-boyfriend Calvin Harris’ song, This Is What You Came For, which is widely assumed to have contributed to their break-up.
So we really shouldn’t be surprised that her latest power move is just as creative and telling. We wouldn’t expect anything less.