I recently lamented to a friend that I miss the excitement of midnight movie premieres. In the days before online ticket sales and reserved seats, being the first to see a movie meant going to the theater to buy tickets in advance, then showing up hours before so you could get a good seat.
I still feel bad for “Game of Thrones” fans who named their children Daenerys before watching the final season.
The magic of a midnight showing wasn’t just about the movie, it was about the community created by lining up. These were the people you wanted to watch the movie with: everyone else who loved something enough to wait for hours together. And they were also the perfect people to discuss all your theories about what was going to happen next in the universes of “Star Wars”, “Harry Potter”, “Lord of the Rings” or whatever scenario you were in. about to lose you in. Sometimes the party in line was better than what was shown on the screen.
That could be part of why, despite being only a moderate Taylor Swift fan, I’ve been so engrossed these days in the theories bouncing around “SwiftTok.” For the past two months, Taylor Swift’s TikTok fandom has felt like one big global party ahead of the release of her new album, “Midnights,” on Friday.
This theory is in part a response to Swift’s outspokenness about hiding Easter eggs and clues in her lyrics and social media that invite her fans to take close readings not just of her work but of her entire public life. Some of these fan theories also fuel speculation that Swift might be queer, and in the run-up to the album’s release, this conjecture culminated in a debate over whether “Midnights” would be Swift’s debut album.
Some of the fans who saw the album title and its upcoming single in the music video for “Me!” they are the same ones who pointed out that the color lavender (as in the song “Lavender Haze”, the first theme of “Midnights”) is frequently used as a queer symbol. Subtle signal interpretations may seem ridiculous in other contexts, but as Swift herself pointed out, she has “trained [her fans] be like that.”
Some people might find it weird to build fan theories about a real person in the same way we do about fictional characters, but I think as long as the interaction isn’t invasive or disrespectful, people should be able to enjoy it. After all, solving puzzles can be just as much fun as listening to music or watching a movie. Swift’s discography is like an escape room, and it’s largely one that she built.
I study fandom and online communities, especially communities that form around fanfiction, and have seen up close that fan theories bring joy to those who engage in making them. This is what fans do: We talk about the things we love and speculate about what might happen next, whether it’s a song release, a movie plot, or the outcome of a football game. Considering the way the internet unites people around media consumption, it’s not surprising, or problematic, that people who love Taylor Swift might collectively search for clues or meaning (about or about her music) from the music. same way as “Star”. Wars fans do.
This type of speculation keeps the interest alive between installments as it helps build that community of fans. The excitement created by discussions of water coolers (where Reddit and TikTok are some of the new water coolers) is also one of the reasons streaming services have gone from binge-watching full-season episodes to once-a-time installments. the week for many programs. While some fans lament the wait between installments, others feel like we’ve recaptured a collective experience that was lost.
This experience was (ironically, given the name) encapsulated by the fan culture I was involved in around the TV show “Lost.” I was looking forward to each episode on my own when it aired every week. Then one day I wondered if people were talking about it online, so I looked up a fan forum and suddenly saw the show in a whole new way. The things that people noticed! The intricate theories about timelines, purgatory and polar bears! It made me want to watch the entire show from the beginning to see what I had missed. But he also made sure to check out the forum after each new episode so I could experience the collective excitement of dissecting new clues.
So when TikTok pushed me over to SwiftTok in August by showing videos with Taylor Swift fans theorizing about “Midnights” on my For You page (the personalized feed of videos created by TikTok’s recommendation algorithm), I felt once again I was stumbling on those “Lost” or the “Game of Thrones” subreddit or, as I wrote in 2014, the subreddit dedicated to the discussion of the “Serial” podcast.
The excitement I saw build up around Swift’s album made me much more interested than I otherwise would have been. It was like I had only planned to go see the movie during its opening week like most people, but it turned out I was at the midnight line party and the discussion was so interesting that I stayed.
Of course, there may be a downside to fan theories built around celebrities. I worry about fans who are so into it that they get upset if their theories don’t work out, in the same way that someone might be upset if their favorite TV show character turns out differently than they expected. (I still feel bad for “Game of Thrones” fans who named their children Daenerys before watching the final season.)
But for now, my For You page has been filled with excited videos from fans just enjoying Swift’s music. I imagine the Easter egg hunt will soon start up again with so much new content to sift through. In the meantime, it’s great to see fans being fans… together.