A Taylor Swift mural appears in Chicago with a mysterious message

After finishing her shift at The Gage restaurant near Millenium Park on Monday, Jess Dension saw a message on Taylor Swift's fan page that she couldn't ignore.

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

The QR code is associated with 13 seconds YouTube short On the Swift account, where “Error 321” and a faded “13” appear in typewriter font. Swift's 11th studio album, “Tortured Poets Oath,” is due out on Friday, and she's known to have an affinity for the number 13 — along with exciting projects with carefully placed Easter eggs.

On Tuesday, three painters continued to place the small letters “ttpd” and “13” in black on the large white canvas. Some were in capital letters, others in lower case. Some were close together, while others were far apart. By Tuesday afternoon, Taylor Swift's name had been posted above the “Tortured Poets” section.

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

The crew was gone by the time Denison arrived on 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 illustrators who wrote “QR King.” She also live-streamed to her more than 60,000 followers Tik Tokwhere she posts mostly about Swift.

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“We haven't seen anything big fan-related (in Chicago) since 'Reputation' when I came out and… Fans were surprised“We haven't seen any action from Taylor since Deputy, so that's really nice,” Dennison said.

Like other fans, Dennison has theorized 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 yet-to-be-released songs.

She also believes it may be somehow connected to 2021 Quick interview With Stephen Colbert. During the interview, Swift points out a slice of pizza on the vision board, which appears to represent pizza from Scoozi's, the now-closed restaurant in River North that employed Colbert. The presence of the restaurant and the mural in the same neighborhood cannot be a mere coincidence, Dennison said.

Renee Graft, of Jackson, Wisconsin, wears a Taylor Swift concert T-shirt as she stands near a promotional QR code drawn at 25 W. Grand Ave., April 16, 2024, in Chicago. (Jun J. Kim/Chicago Tribune)

Others on social media opined that the mural's placement in Chicago could be a reference to a line in her song “The Lakes,” which includes “Take me to the lakes where all the poets died,” as a reference to the title of her new album. “The Tortured Poets Oath.”

Swift played “The Lakes” as one of her surprise songs on the first night of a three-show stop in Chicago during her Eras Tour last summer.

Overall Murals, a New York-based outdoor advertising company, oversaw the mural, although a representative said they could not comment on the project.

Swift's 2006 debut album was the first CD Dennison said she ever owned, and deciphering the superstar artist's Easter eggs and mysteries became an addictive pastime. She attended the first Eras Tour concert in Chicago last June, describing it as “amazing” and “absolutely amazing.”

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“I kind of grew up with her. She's only a few years older than me, so her life and mine fit together perfectly,” Dennison said. “I turned to her music for all my inspiration or sadness or if I was sad. If I want to cry or be happy, I turn to her music.

Renee Graft, of Jackson, Wisconsin, bottom left, gives bracelets to fellow Taylor Swift fans while standing near a promotional QR code drawn at 25 W. Grand Ave., April 16, 2024, in Chicago.  (Jun J. Kim/Chicago Tribune)
Renee Graft, of Jackson, Wisconsin, bottom left, gives bracelets to fellow Taylor Swift fans while standing near a promotional QR code drawn at 25 W. Grand Ave., April 16, 2024, in Chicago. (Jun J. Kim/Chicago Tribune)

Before Swift announced the release of the album — which contains 16 lead singles including two collaborations with Florence + The Machine and Post Malone — at the Grammy Awards in February, a similar message titled “Error 321” appeared on her website. She also hides clues about the album on Apple Music within her old song lyrics and hosts a library with Spotify in Los Angeles.

On the other hand, 31-year-old Streeterville resident Kim DeGracia is hoping the 321st countdown will be for the long-awaited “Reputation (Taylor's Version)” album. Perhaps the singer will release two albums at once, DeGracia speculates, and “1, 2, 3, Let's Go Bitch” is a common chant when Swift performs “Delicate,” a song on “Reputation.”

Degracia, who moved to Chicago in January, has been a huge fan of Swift since her first album. When she saw the mural on TikTok, she knew she wanted to check it out and show her sister.

“Her lyrics really connect,” DeGracia said. “She's about the same age as me, so I feel like I went through different stages, her teenage years, her 20s, she experienced similar things.”

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