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Taylor Swift is driving her fans crazy, and they couldn't be happier

Adam Graham
The Detroit News (TNS)

Taylor Swift is a mad genius. If that is somehow not the case, she sure is doing a good job of fooling everyone.

Swift is currently ramping up toward the release of her new album, "Midnights," which is due out Oct. 21. For those dialed in, its hype cycle has been absolutely unhinged, full of enough mysteries, clues and fan theories to power their own internet.

Is Swift gay? Many fans think "Midnights" will signal her coming out. Is it tied to her feud with Kim Kardashian? Well the fact that it's coming out on Kardashian's birthday can't be a coincidence, can it?

That's just the top layer. Fans have been investigating every nook and cranny of every piece of media she's put out around the album. The reveal of each track name — strategically rolled out one by one in a series of entertaining TikTok videos, each posted at midnight — garnered news coverage from major media outlets, hungry for the clicks they receive on all things Swift. And those track titles have been devoured and dissected by Swift's fans, affectionately known as Swifties, who are trying to piece together how those titles fit into the narrative Swift's been spinning over the course of her career.

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At a time when artists are having a hard time cutting through the clutter of social media and the noise of the world, the 32-year-old Swift is doing everything right, engaging her fans and giving them so much to dine on that they can't help but be captivated, and crave even more. And she's done it all without releasing a single piece of music from the album, proving the power of her persona apart from her songs.

Sixteen years into her career, the Taylor Swift brand has never been stronger.

"Midnights" is Swift's 10th studio album. By an artist's 10th album, they're usually not still driving the culture; oftentimes their best work is behind them, and they're clinging onto any shred of relevancy they can find.

Taylor Swift arrives at the MTV Video Music Awards at the Prudential Center on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022, in Newark, N.J. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

The Beatles are an exception to almost every rule in music, but even their 10th album was "Yellow Submarine." Bon Jovi's 10th album was "Lost Highway," which found the New Jersey boys heading in a country direction, having exhausted their rock roots. Janet Jackson's 10th album is "Discipline," which you'd be hard-pressed to name a single song from. Radiohead is still only on album No. 9.

But Swift — with nearly 1 billion streams she was Spotify's most-streamed female artist in September, racking up almost twice as many streams as second place Blackpink, according to data from the streamer — has fans clamoring for album No. 10 like Marvel fans waiting for a new movie announcement or a juicy piece of casting news. She's her own cinematic universe, fueling fan theories with every wink of her eye or gesture with her hand.

Is Swift giving signals in her videos? Why did she hold her phone upside down in one of them? Is there a reason she's announcing the tracks in the order she is? And you guys know that M (as in "Midnights") is the 13th letter of the alphabet, right? (Things in Swift's world have a knack for pointing to or somehow adding up to the number 13.)

Swift announced "Midnights" during this year's MTV Video Music Awards, which saw her winning the Video of the Year award for her "All Too Well: The Short Film" music video, from her "Red (Taylor's Version)" release. It was Swift's third Video of the Year award, giving her more wins in the category than any other artist in VMA history.

And she clearly knew ahead of time she would be winning, because everything Swift does is a part of her intricately constructed master plan, and there's no way she would leave the announcement of her new album — which closed the show in dramatic fashion — up to chance or to the whims of whoever is voting for the VMA winners these days, who might have just as easily given the Moonperson to "Way 2 Sexy" by Drake featuring Future and Young Thug.

The official album announcement, which took place later that night online, included a message from Swift that said, in part, "this is a collection of music written in the middle of the night, a journey through terrors and sweet dreams. The floors we pace and the demons we face. For all of us who have tossed and turned and decided to keep the lanterns lit and go searching — hoping that just maybe, when the clock strikes twelve … we'll meet ourselves."

Casual fans might read that, say "cool words!" and never think about it again. But for Swifties, the message was riddled with hints and coded language pointing to all sorts of suspicions or beliefs about the singer, her hidden truths and the story she's been telling through her music since her debut album in 2006.

The hypotheses play into Swift's infatuation with numerology — again, 13 — and also her penchant for secret messages and hidden Easter eggs in her music and her videos. Her TikToks announcing the album's track titles (there are 13 tracks on the album, of course) have been studied frame by frame by fans, who have detailed their findings in conspiracy-laced TikTok videos of their own that would make Oliver Stone blush.

Are there more important things going on in the world today? For sure. Is the world so overwhelming and daunting that a respite offered by deep diving into the psyche of an artist who loves making her fans part of her story and relishes giving them breadcrumbs and puzzle pieces to play with is such a bad thing? Absolutely not.

No one quite knows where all this is headed except for the master marketer herself. And when it's time to let everyone in on her latest mystery, those dialed into her frequency will be the first to know, which is just the way she wants it.