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On Sept. 19, the Eras Tour artist — who is in the process of re-recording the albums she made under her previous record label Big Machine — teamed up with Google to create a series of word scramble puzzles. If fans collectively answered 33 million puzzles correctly, it would unlock the titles of Swift’s vault tracks for 1989 (Taylor’s Version).
“Search for ‘Taylor Swift’ in the Blank Space (ahem, a Search bar). Click on the blue vault and solve one of the word puzzles. It may take a second, since there are 89 puzzles to get through, a la 1989 (Taylor’s Version) — don’t say we didn’t warn ya!,” read a Google blog post about the company’s collab with the artist. “But nothing lasts forever. You’ll be helping Swifties around the world get out of the woods (or unlock the vault) as everyone collectively solves 33 million puzzles. And that’s how it works, that’s how you get the vault track titles!”
So many people responded to the “Wildest Dreams” singer’s puzzle that it briefly crashed the system. However, just one day later, the vault tracks — titled “Slut!,” “Is It Over Now?,” “Now That We Don’t Talk,” “Say Don’t Go” and “Suburban Legends” — were revealed, thanks to some excellent Swiftie decoding.
Solving 33 million puzzles may seem like a big task. However, for Swifties, it’s just one of many times they’ve used clues to gain insight into their favorite artist’s next move.
What’s an Easter Egg, and what does it have to do with Taylor Swift?
Many Swift fans are now master sleuths, thanks to the fact that Swift famously communicates with fans via “Easter eggs,” or hidden clues left for fans to find and interpret.
In 2021, she revealed to Jimmy Fallon that she started dropping these “cryptic clues” in her music when she was putting together her self-titled debut album in 2006, making these hints an integral part of her career. “I wanted to do something that incentivized fans to read the lyrics because my lyrics are what I'm most proud of out of everything that I do,” she shared with Fallon.
Some of Swift’s earliest Easter eggs were in the liner notes on her albums, where she would capitalize certain letters within her lyrics in order to spell out a message. (For example, on Red’s friendship anthem "22," she shouted out pals Ashley Avignone, Dianna Agron, Claire Kislinger and Selena Gomez.)
Now, these clues typically hint at what is next for Swift. Easter eggs could be pretty much anything, from an image in a music video to a piece of jewelry worn by Swift in a photoshoot. Even the number of exclamation marks used in a tweet could be a message, such as the number of days until a major announcement.
Swift's re-recordings meant an influx of Easter eggs, as the more new things Swift has to tease, the more clues fans must search for. Fans are slightly ahead this time: They know Swift will release her re-recorded albums, but when and how is still a mystery to be solved.
One example of an Easter egg fans noticed around the re-recordings — and there are many — is the koi fish that appear in her Midnights music video for “Lavender Haze.” Swift played a koi fish-decorated guitar during her Speak Now era. What album dropped next after Midnights? Speak Now (Taylor’s Version).
Sometimes the clues even involve math: Swift fans deduced the Eras Tour date she would announce the release of the upcoming 1989 re-recording by calculating that Aug 9, 2023 was eight years, nine months and 13 days since the release of the original album. (For the uninitiated: 89, for 1989, plus Swift’s favorite number, which is 13.)
Why do fans love these puzzles so much?
According to Michelle Janning, professor of sociology at Whitman College, there’s a very good reason why Swift’s puzzles are effective at keeping her fan base engaged.
“Hints, codes, and satisfying revelations of a new element of an artist's work are great ways to get fans invested in a long-term relationship with that artist,” she tells Yahoo Entertainment. “These strategies allow fans to get to know the artist's story, or at least the version of the story that the artist's marketing team wants to be revealed. The inclusion of cliffhangers or ‘what's next’ moments keeps fans intrigued and invested, waiting for the next secret story element to be revealed. This method will work as long as the revealed moments are satisfying to the audience.”
Philadelphia-based Swift fan Courtney Thomas tells Yahoo Entertainment that she loves looking for Easter eggs because “it feels like Taylor's giving us a ‘peek behind the curtain’ of how her mind works.”
“These puzzles deepen that connection between Swifties and Taylor,” she explains.
Some fans even fell in love with Swift as an artist because of how she communicates with fans. Tori, who runs the pop culture TikTok account @toris.intel, tells Yahoo Entertainment that while she’s now a “full-on Swiftie,” she was “a fan of her marketing before I was a fan of her songs,” becoming “enthralled” with the online discourse surrounding her artistry.
“I work in marketing, and I became amazed at how she used these subtle hints and clues as promotional tactics — and to become closer to her fans,” she explains. “Swift’s ability to garner fan interaction via this method is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s genius. Coming across fan made videos and designated online threads about the lore surrounding these mysteries is what made me start listening to her songs.”
Ginnie Low, who runs the Swift-centric TikTok account @TheThriftySwiftie, regularly uses her account to analyze potential Easter eggs. She says she’s always loved puzzles growing up, which is one of the reasons it’s so fun to try to figure out what codes Swift is sending fans through her work. She calls the Easter eggs part of Swift’s “secret language.”
“Anyone can learn it, and anyone is invited in,” she notes, “but it’s truly a way for her to speak directly to her fans, which is not always something you can do when you have millions, if not billions of fans.”
The vault puzzle, Low adds, was especially fun, because it was a direct way to bring Swifties together.
“She literally said 33 million puzzles had to be solved — that has to be collaborative,” she says. “It brought me genuine joy to see people say things like, ‘OK, tapping out for the night, time to go to bed…international Swifties, it’s your turn.’ It was truly this moment of togetherness.”
As Janning notes, “Tapping into this kind of interactive game play not only makes fans feel closer to an artist by virtue of investing time and energy in that artist's projects; it also allows fans to feel close to each other. People like to know who is on their ‘team’ which can include preferences for certain music."
Of course, not every Swiftie is a master sleuth — some are happy to wait for the “Blank Space” artist to announce what’s next. “I accepted a long time ago that she’s smarter than all of us,” Swift fan Madison tells Yahoo Entertainment of Swift. “So I don’t really bother trying to decode anymore.”