Taylor Swift mural pops up by 'the lakes' in Chicago with mystery 'The Tortured Poets Department' message

Rebecca Johnson, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Entertainment News

CHICAGO — After clocking out of her shift at the Gage restaurant near Millenium Park Monday, Jess Dennsion saw a message on a Taylor Swift fan page that she couldn’t ignore.

She ran to River North, where painters hoisted on a green scissor lift created a fairly inconspicuous QR code using the letters “ttpd” and the number “13” on the side of a building at 33 W. Grand Ave.

The QR code links to a 13-second YouTube short on Swift’s account, where the message “Error 321” and a faded “13” pop up in a typewriter font. Swift’s 11th studio album “The Tortured Poets Department” is set to be released Friday, and it’s well known that she has an affinity for the number 13 — along with teasing projects with carefully placed Easter eggs.

On Tuesday, three painters continued placing tiny “ttpd” and “13” in black across the large white canvas. Some were in capital letters, others in lowercase. Some were close together, while others were far apart. By Tuesday afternoon, the name Taylor Swift was placed above “The Tortured Poets Department.”

It was a fun guessing game for the dozens of Swifties who filtered in and out to photograph and analyze the mural — including Dennison.

The crew was finished by the time Dennison arrived Monday, but she vowed to show up first thing Tuesday morning on her day off. The 29-year-old River North resident brought friendship bracelets to hand out to fellow fans and a few for the painters that said “QR King.” She also livestreamed to her more than 60,000 followers on TikTok, where she posts mostly about Swift.


“We haven’t seen anything big involved fan-wise (in Chicago) since ‘Reputation’ when she came out and surprised the fans,” Dennison said. “We haven’t seen any hands-on Taylor action since Rep, so this is really nice.”

Like other fans, Dennison formed theories about the meaning of the “Error 321” message. She definitely thinks Swift is counting down to something. Since it’s on YouTube, her best guess is a music video for one of the unreleased songs.

She also thinks it might connect in some way to a 2021 Swift interview with Stephen Colbert. During the interview, Swift points to a slice of pizza on a vision board, seemingly supposed to represent pizza from Scoozi, a now-closed River North restaurant that used to employ Colbert. The restaurant and mural being in the same neighborhood can’t be a coincidence, Dennison said.

Others on social media mused the mural’s placement in Chicago could refer to a line in her song, “the lakes,” which includes “Take me to the lakes where all the poets went to die,” as a nod to her new album’s title, “The Tortured Poets Department.”


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