In the Instagram story, the blond woman in the coat lifts the receiver on an old-fashioned phone and says mysteriously to the camera, "Meet me at midnight." At the appointed hour, a new music video would be released. The blond, of course, is Taylor Swift and this teaser for the video of "Lavender Haze" was only the latest in her promotional campaign for her most recent album "Midnights." By all accounts, it's been a smashing success.
Stay up or jump up: Swift keeps fans on their toes.
The rollout of that album has been, as Vulture describes it, more traditional than other fare from the star lately. For "Midnights," there was a long lead-up, a social media tease of track names. "The plan would be to unveil one per night pulled from a bingo-ball cage," Vulture writes. Compare that luxurious rollout to how Swift unveiled her previous two albums, which was . . . not really at all. They were just there, "folklore" and "evermore," announced by Swift less than 24 hours before their respective releases, with barely enough time for the youngest fans to save up enough babysitting money. Stay up or jump up: Swift keeps fans on their toes.
Both the sudden announcement of her previous albums as well as the slower, late-night reveals of "Midnights," are part of the same pattern: the extremes we now demand of fans. A real fan doesn't need sleep. A real fan is ready to drop money at a moment's notice, be it for new tunes or concert tickets. In a world of easy access to videos, streaming music, even once-obscure articles about musicians available now online, anyone can be an expert. To be a fan, you must be hardcore and take things to the extreme. Who needs sleep when there is Swift, or a healthy bank account when there is Beyoncé?
As Swift teased out song titles like a siren bingo hall caller, fans expressed wonderment, bordering on exasperation, about the late-night reveals of "Midnights." "Can someone tell @taylorswift13 to please get a normal sleep schedule. I'm 32. How am I supposed to stay up till midnight on a work night?" one wrote on Twitter. "Taylor never wants us to sleep again" is the title of a YouTube video where the fan starts by yawning. "Taylor Swift had me up all night last night," she says, speaking to the camera in her bathrobe.
Yes, Swift chose to burn the midnight oil to spill her album's secrets, night after night, in keeping with its theme — but fans didn't have to choose to stay up. They could have learned the information the next morning, when it was everywhere on the internet. But that's not what a fan does anymore. A fan knows the info right away. A fan is there to hear it live, to witness it.
Now you're stuck in the dreaded Ticketmaster waiting room, number 2,000, mere hours after learning a performance was even scheduled.
Although her fandom is considered extreme, Swift certainly isn't the only artist who commands instant allegiance. To land concert tickets these days, you need to be terminally online or you'll miss them. As I write this, I'll still adrenalized from scoring Tori Amos tickets to a performance announced less than 24 hours ago. Gone are the days of seeing an announcement for a show, marking your calendar, and carefully waiting at the appointed time outside a box office. Now you're stuck in the dreaded Ticketmaster waiting room, number 2,000, mere hours after learning a performance was even scheduled. No time to coordinate with friends, barely time to check your bank account balance. The frenzied nature of modern fandom can lead to panicked, impulse buys. NBCNews, in an article about the "chaos surrounding ticket sales," describes current concert ticket buying as "competitive and expensive" while the Wall Street Journal says, "Buying concert tickets increasingly feels like a losing game."
After years of backing away from performances due to COVID, live shows have returned in a big way, for better or worse. And one of the ways is presales, a special early sale of tickets. Getting these coveted presale codes isn't always easy or fair (witness: Swift's Ticketmaster debacle). The social media announcement of Amos's upcoming tour made no mention of the presale codes; those had to be uncovered through internet sleuthing (a noble reddit thread also came to the rescue). Minutes after Beyoncé's next tour was announced, article after article was published trying to explain how on Earth to get tickets. Are you a big enough fan to figure it out?
Like Swift, Beyoncé will be using a presale program called Verified Fan. Verified Fan is rather a meaningless term, one you register for and hope for the best. It's designed more to prove ticket-seeking people are actually people and not bots. But even after being proven human, fans are usually chosen at random for the opportunity to buy tickets. Case in point: I was approved as a Verified Fan for Swift's presale and while I'm not a hater, I'm not the most devoted, either. Meanwhile, a friend of mine who knows every lyric by heart was not approved, shut out of tickets.
To keep fans guessing is to keep them.
Programs like Verified Fan only whip up the frenzy even more. Other presales are available only to holders of certain credit cards. Must you be a particular credit card user to be a fan? Where are all these stipulations coming from?
Limited supply of course increases demand — but Swift in particular is also an expert in what AdNews calls her "little-known secret weapon: The brand refresh." From "Fearless" to "reputation," "folklore" to "Midnights," Swift is a magician when it comes to changing shape. Her image, aesthetics, even musical style vary from project to project, often wildly. And importantly, she does this, as AdNews says, proactively. Before things get stale, she's already moved on to something else — have you followed? To keep fans guessing is to keep them.
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No one wants to be the last to know, about a concert, new album, new band — or a beloved musician's fresh era. We want to know and to know first, to be there when it happens, even if it's well after bedtime. And exclusion makes things even more attractive. As Swift herself sings, "I'm yours to keep. And I'm yours to lose."