Taylor Swift in front of multiple browser windows with red circles on them
Illustration by Carmel Ada, American Academy of Art

How the Taylor Swift Fandom Became a Mess of Theories

The singer has fans running in circles trying to figure out her next steps.

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Taylor Swift in front of multiple browser windows with red circles on them
Illustration by Carmel Ada, American Academy of Art

The singer has fans running in circles trying to figure out her next steps.

It all started with the secret messages in Taylor Swift’s lyric booklets. How did that grow to Swift posting actual codes for diehard “Swifties” to crack about the vault tracks for her re-recordings?

Whether you love her or hate her, you know Swift; everyone does. She has become one of the most influential artists of the 21st century. She is known for her different eras, which define the sounds and aesthetic of each new album, and her lyrics, which poetically paint metaphors for her listeners’ ears.

Swift has changed the game more than anyone. When she was accused of not writing any of her lyrics, she released an entirely self-written album, “Speak Now.” When she was attacked after an edited phone call was released, she put out the album “Reputation” and went on a tour that became the highest-grossing U.S. tour ever. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world in 2020, she released not one, but two albums composed of songs that weave together fictional stories.

“Midnights,” Swift’s 10th studio album, will be released on Oct. 21, and fans are thrilled. She refers to the album as “the stories of 13 sleepless nights scattered throughout my life,” which could mean fans get to hear songs that reference her earlier eras. Until the album is released, “Swifties” will try to decode her outfits, Instagram posts and even the number of TikToks she has liked to get some hints about “Midnights.”

How did Swifties get to the point that they would pick at carefully hidden details to determine Swift’s next steps? Swift’s journey with codes began with secret messages in her lyric booklets. She would have the lyrics printed in all lowercase except a select few uppercase letters that would spell out a phrase about each song. In the booklet for “Fearless,” the lyrics for “The Best Day” spell out “GOD BLESS ANDREA SWIFT.” On “Red,” the song “22” contains the names of her friends, “ASHLEY DIANNA CLAIRE SELENA.”

From here, she started to include Easter eggs in her music videos, such as “Look What You Made Me Do.” Regarding the music video, Swift said, “There are thousands of Easter eggs. There are some that people still haven’t found. It will be decades before people find them all.” She throws shade by dressing as Katy Perry, manufactures a squad because of the hate her entourage got for looking like perfect models, and wears a copy of her Junior Jewels shirt from “You Belong With Me,” except with the names of her faithful friends on it (Selena Gomez, Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively among them). These Easter eggs are only a fraction of the video, but there are many more recorded elsewhere and certainly more that have not been found.

In the “ME!” music video, she reveals the album title for “Lover” and the second single, “You Need to Calm Down.”

Swift has also found Instagram to be useful for teasing her fans. After she finished recording the album “Lover,” Swift posted a cryptic photo of seven palm trees, alluding to the beginning of the era for her seventh album.

However, Instagram sometimes leads Swifties astray. After the palm trees photo was posted, Swift uploaded another one of her on the sixth step of a staircase. One day later, Swift posted another picture of her in between five holes in a fence. The photo sent Swifties crazy into theorizing mode. They firmly believed it was a countdown, just with less-obvious numerical things. She did not post on what would have been day four of the countdown and day three’s post did not appear to have three of any countable thing. Still, people waited for day one, March 1, 2019 — and nothing happened. The five holes in a fence theory was debunked and became an inside joke between Swift and her fans.

Her other Instagram posts have alluded to more, yet few Swifties connected her two 2020 Instagram posts captioned “Not a lot going on at the moment” to the recording of new albums. After posting the caption for the first time in April 2020, she released “folklore” in July, and after Swift posted the same caption in November, she released “evermore” in December 2020. Blake Lively used the caption in November 2021, which drove fans wild, but another sister to the two albums never materialized.

Last year, Swift created actual anagrams for Swifties to decipher the titles of vault tracks for “Fearless (Taylor’s Version).” Unsurprising to both Swifties and Swift herself, the fans decoded everything in a matter of minutes. When a fanbase is as large as Swift’s, their cooperation means everything happens quickly. When it became time for “Red (Taylor’s Version),” Swift published 13 combinations of letters, all with 13 letters in them. Fans realized they were the lines in a word search, and soon enough, Swifties had also cracked the vault tracks for “Red (Taylor’s Version).”

On “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” in 2021, Swift revealed that she plans three years ahead because she wants to release Easter eggs about what is coming next. A recent Swift theory has claimed “Midnights” was teased by the house in the music video for “Lover,” which was released roughly three years ago. The house has nine rooms, seven representing her seven albums at the time and two that are believed to represent “folklore” and “evermore,” which were only ideas at the time (and were expedited due to the pandemic). The sky above the house, however, is nighttime — dare I say, midnight. With the release of “Midnights,” Swift’s first 10 albums will be out, and the “Lover” house will be complete.

What will be in “Midnights”? Will “Midnights” be Swift’s last album? Only Swift knows where she will go from here, but Swifties will not be idle. Her fans will continue to theorize about the album until Oct. 21— and about future projects forever. The fandom is all about decoding Swift’s Instagram posts, music videos, red carpet outfits and hairstyles to reveal her next steps. Swift has become the queen of Easter eggs, and the Swifties are okay with that.

Writer Profile

Virginia Beall

Elon University
Religious Studies

Hello! I’m Virginia, and I am an incoming senior at Elon University. My favorite pastime is reading, and I am working on expanding my reading taste by reading classics and more literary fiction.

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