Fan theories: How far is too far?


Taylor Swift in 2012.

Katrina Sanville, Arts Writer

For fans who are constantly looking for new music from their favorite artists, a dry spell without music can be devastating. Even for those who just got a release, the clues left by the artist can be just as appealing—if not more so—than the newest single or album. However, there are always the fans who take the theories too far—and what happens then?

With social media, it can be easier than ever for fans of a musical artist or band to talk or form connections on the basis of their favorite musician. So when an artist starts dropping hints about their next work, or leaves what seems like a breadcrumb trail of clues for their fans towards the next work, fans often band together to solve the clues as best as they can.

No clearer of an example of this are the theories from Taylor Swift’s fans surrounding April 30 and the release of her next album. A few of Swift’s fans began noticing “Easter eggs” that she was leaving in her posts on social media. Swift has always been the type of artist to include these hidden details in her work for her eagle-eyed fans to find, and with enough investigating most fans can pick up on these details. The details pointing towards the next album—what started as the second re-record and quickly spiraled into the third album in the “Folklore” trilogy theory—has been no exception to this as well.

Fans in support of the “1989 (Taylor’s Version)” release pointed out small details during Swift’s performance on Stephan Colbert’s show, such as song tracks and albums adding up to certain dates, photos in the collage Swift made for Colbert, or the 500th post on her Instagram being the announcement of “1989 (Taylor’s Version)” with the original album being her fifth album. As Natalie Morin for Refinery 29 writes:

“In it [the collage], she includes a photograph of the talk show host from 1989, a seagull that was featured in the shirt Swift wears on the ‘1989’ album art, as well as 8 hearts and 9 stars. One user was also quick to point out that Swift included a picture of a pizza (emblematic of New York) with five pepperonis, as ‘1989’ was the singer’s fifth full-length album.”

On the other hand, fans in support of the third album in the “Folklore” trilogy looked to sets of three. Swift and her team used motifs of three in social media posts—such as three heart emojis, three praying hand emojis, or the use of “well, well, well” in a tweet—as well as Swift’s merchandise for “Folklore” and “Evermore” coming in a set of three. As Elena Rubin for Showbiz CheatSheet said:

“They [Swift’s fans] found clues in album covers, repeating trilogy stories within the songs themselves, and even Swift’s merchandise containing sets of threes.”

However, nothing came of either of these theories, and when April 30 rolled around—the day Swift’s fans were theorizing—nothing was announced. Though the fans had been let down, these theories seem a bit far-fetched and as though the fans were grasping at straws for content, even though “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” had just been released in April.

Swift’s fans are not the only group to fall victim to the black hole of theories, though. Fans of musicians like J.Cole, twenty one pilots, One Direction, and Lorde all have created speculations about their favorite artists.

Some theories have more substance to them than Easter eggs disguised as “hints” by Swift, such as someone pretending to be J.Cole’s media manager and claiming that an album would be dropping the night the tweet had been posted, but others fell right in line with Swift and her fanbase.

A One Direction fan speculated that musicians like Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift were hurrying to get music out back in July before the band made their return, however that theory had little substance to it beyond the speculation that artists were releasing music out of nowhere because they knew One Direction would top all the charts.

The twenty one pilots theories seemed to be even more in line with Swift, with fans over-analyzing numbers provided by the musician. As Rachel Dowd for Alternative Press writes:

“A lot of listeners took to Reddit to share their ideas on what 178 may signify. Some believe it could mean new twenty one pilots music is arriving on Aug. 17, 2021 (8/17). Meanwhile, others think we could hear new music on June 22, 2021 which is 178 days after the [“Level of Concern” music] video originally ended.”

The impact this sort of “tin-foil hat conspiracy theorist” style of fanbase can have is two-fold. On the one hand, fans get their hopes up for a release that never comes, but on the other, if the artist is planning something, it can foil their plans before they’re ready for the surprise reveal.

While there likely isn’t any way to stop fans from making these conspiracies or theories about their favorite artists and their releases, fans should be more attentive to what is actually a clue and what is just a far-fetched idea. Though artists may like to include Easter eggs in their work, not everything they write or do has a hidden message, and rather are done on accident, or have no other meaning. While the thrill of playing detective can be fun, just enjoying the music and the surprise of releases can be as well.