There’s nothing new about hidden meanings and messages, intentional or merely perceived, in popular music. Back in the day, “Paul is dead” was practically a growth industry among some Beatles fans: the clues were everywhere; it was obvious he’d been replaced by a double. But Taylor Swift has turned the encouragement of forensic investigation by her fans into an art form. “Everything Swift does means something; nothing is an accident,” wrote Charlotte Ivers in The Times of London. “Thus her social media presence, and her musical output, is littered with cultish symbols and signals worthy of a Dan Brown novel.... You could scroll through TikTok for days and not run out of videos of young women declaring frantically: ‘Guys, I’ve cracked it.’”
“Swift’s community-building approach is in a league of its own,” a record-label manager, Ed Macdonald, told the newspaper. “By inserting subtle—and blatant—clues and self-referential imagery in her art, she is not just encouraging fans to obsess in detail over her current work but actively inviting them to speculate on what she might be up to next.” Which should be crystal clear, if you know where to look.
This city’s image as a capital of extravagant high life—which has only increased since the pandemic and the war in Ukraine sent record numbers of the super-rich scurrying for more agreeable playgrounds—has also turned it into an influencer magnet. But there’s a new part of the equation, and it’s strictly transactional. “Some of these influencers are funding their lifestyles by selling sex for thousands of pounds a night,” reported The Times of London. “The more popular they are on social media, the more they can charge. ‘They are paid with flights, jewellery, bags … and of course cash,’ said one influencer with close knowledge of the situation.” One “famous blogger,” she said, “will charge at least $5,000 a night … and for the weekend out of the city it will be about $20,000.”
Selling (and buying) sex is illegal in the United Arab Emirates, but it’s hard to police because so much of it is conducted online, noted the newspaper: “Plenty of people who do not sell sex post bikini pictures online, or ask their boyfriends to buy them a bag for their birthday.”
Something was missing from China’s Communist Party Congress last month … Now what was it? Oh, right. “There are no women in the … 24-strong politburo and none in the seven-person standing committee,” observed The Times of London. “The top party bodies now consist entirely of middle-aged men, picked for their blind loyalty to the leader.” The newspaper noted that “the picture improves slightly further down the party’s food chain: women hold 30 positions on the 371-strong central committee, which sits beneath the politburo. Overall, 29 per cent of the party’s 96.7 million members are women, but the glass ceiling above them has grown stronger under Xi.” Outside of politics, the picture is a little less bleak: women have a greater presence (13.8 percent) on the boards of Chinese firms than they did a few years ago and are reportedly founding more tech start-ups than men.
First the affair ended up in London’s High Court, and now it’s in a podcast. Corinne Larsen, the Danish businesswoman also known as Corinne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn, and currently a resident of this Shropshire village, is embarking on a detailed eight-part series about her affair with Juan Carlos, the former king of Spain, “one of the biggest seducers in the royal world.”
In Corinna and the King, Larsen “portrays herself as a woman abused by a powerful man and expresses the feeling that she was never just a mistress but a wife, even after discovering that he had multiple lovers,” said The Times of London. “She tells the story of an affair that ultimately forced the former king to abdicate in favor of his son, Felipe, and to flee Spain for exile in Abu Dhabi amid financial scandal and corruption claims.” We also learn that “Juan Carlos used to call her ten times a day, using the code name Mr Sumer when leaving messages at her office. Sumer is an acronym of ‘Su Majestad el Rey’ — His Majesty the King.”
Larsen has accused Juan Carlos of harassment and of spying on her, but he is appealing a court ruling that could force him to stand trial—on the grounds that, as a Spanish royal, he can’t be subject to litigation in England. His defense, essentially, is that he’s “Mr. Sumer.”
Villa Aurora could still be yours. The 16th-century palace, whose 30,000 square feet include Caravaggio’s only known ceiling mural, drew no bidders when it went up for auction earlier this year for a starting price of $531 million. But be warned: its value might have just increased. The court-ordered auction was an attempt “to halt an ownership row between Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, the 72-year-old Texan widow of the villa’s owner Prince Nicolo, who died in 2018, and his three sons from a previous marriage,” said The Times of London. “In recent years she has battled to safeguard the house’s treasures, including Caravaggio’s 1597 depiction of Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto, discovered under a layer of paint in 1968, and three works by Guercino.”
Make that four Guercinos. “There is a Guercino sketch called Two Nymphs and a Satyr at the Courtauld Institute in London, undertaken in the period he was working at the villa, which corresponds to none of his known paintings,” Corey Brennan, a classics professor with a new book out on the villa, told the newspaper. “While we wait for conservation work, my best guess is that it may be a sketch for the hidden painting.”
Princess Rita—former wife of the Abscam-scandal congressman John Jenrette, actress, model, political-opposition researcher, Playboy centerfold, author—blamed the confusing Italian state-auction Web site for the initial lack of bidders. “An American billionaire said he wanted to bid but couldn’t figure out the site,” she told the newspaper, adding that the legal battle with her late husband’s sons might soon be resolved, which could result in a private sale. “There are potential buyers who want to turn it into a museum, which would be ideal, but they would have to be very wealthy.” Restoring the villa, she said, could cost $20 million. —George Kalogerakis
George Kalogerakis, one of the original editor-writers at Spy, later worked for Vanity Fair, New York, and The New York Times, where he was deputy op-ed editor. A co-author of Spy: The Funny Years and co-editor of Disunion: A History of the Civil War, he is a Writer at Large for AIR MAIL