Taylor Swift's Midnights is the biggest selling album of the year. It has already crossed the one million units sold mark and she briefly crashed Spotify. There are very few artists who can do that consistently, especially in these turbulent content-consuming times, so some of the big records that she’s breaking or matching are her own. Taylor is now a self-admitted “Mastermind” so, needless to say, she’s definitely pretty chuffed right now. As she sings on that track, “None of it was accidental… I laid the groundwork…it was all my design”. Different artists aim for different targets, different achievements. Conventionally measurable stats mean a lot to Taylor. The numbers, the trophies, the traditional markers of success – she has always chased them, she is still chasing them, she’s just more naked about her intentions now. And pushing for more.
We are only halfway through the first week of Taylor’s Midnights era and there are still more promotional events planned. She was on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon last night ahead of the release of the second music video off of Midnights, for the song “Bejeweled”. I’m mad at myself for forgetting to predict on Friday, in my first post about Midnights, that “Bejeweled” would come next, but then again, it was pretty obvious. Because “Bejeweled” has all the hallmarks of a typical Taylor Swift lead single – it is far from the best track on the album, but does give her a lot of material, like “Shake It Off” and “ME!” and “Look What You Made Me Do”, for the kind of visual playtime Taylor is known for with lyrics about shimmering and sparkling and this line that was expressly written to be on camera: “I polish up real nice”.
In short, “Bejeweled” is annoying, as annoying as the other singles she’s led with in the past, which is why it’s no surprise that it’s getting the music video treatment so soon. Of course it’s fairy tale-themed.
When asked about it last night with Jimmy on The Tonight Show, Taylor wasn’t particularly cryptic in her answer. She basically told him everything – that it’s a twist on Cinderella, all the celebrities who show up, even some of the lines in the opening scene. But she only gave that much away because there’s a “psychotic” amount of Easter eggs included, so much that they had to keep a PDF file to organise them.
If we’re talking about Easter eggs though, Taylor doesn’t just leave them in her music videos and Instagram posts, she also does this when she’s being interviewed. So her appearance on The Tonight Show in and of itself can be seen by her fans (and they do see it this way) as an Easter egg hunt. Watching them then – the music videos, the interviews, the reels, the TikToks – is a game, a game she’s playing with her fans. It’s a video game, like Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, only instead of artifacts, fans are collecting clues and piecing them together to find out the answers to Taylor’s riddles, the riddles being either the lyrics of her songs, and who she’s singing about, or riddles about upcoming songs on future albums.
This is interactive fanship, it goes beyond the music. It’s how Taylor has built her community – or, as Caroline Mimbs Nyce explores in The Atlantic – it’s how Taylor has built her own metaverse. The Easter egg games, the interviews, the social media posts, all of those are elements in an elaborate video game that she’s created for her fans that has become its own world, and both Taylor and her fans share that world together. It is both artificial and intimate at the same time. And in this world, while Taylor is the master who constructs the territories, the borders, and the rules, for the inhabitants, their citizenship feels earned …because they’ve accumulated the points (picking up on the clues etc, piecing together the puzzles) to keep advancing through the various stages, to remain worthy of participation.
Is it exhausting? To me, yes. I’ve never really been a gamer but I play word games and I can’t start my day without at least getting NYT Spelling Bee genius level followed by Wordle followed by Quordle so I understand the pull of games. For Taylor Swift fans, their engagement with Taylor is not unlike a gamer’s obsession with Minecraft or Mario or Zelda. Sure, Taylor might be a real person but she’s also a celebrity, which means she’s also an avatar. Avatars accumulate unlimited power in digital spaces. If the ultimate power is immortality, Taylor’s been masterminding her own immortality in hybrid human-virtual megabites.