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Taylor Swift, The Black Dog, and the fan frenzy flywheel

Cover image for Taylor Swift, The Black Dog, and the fan frenzy flywheel
Photo of Kriss Thakrar
by Kriss Thakrar

A new Taylor Swift album is almost guaranteed to start a fan frenzy - the question is, what form will it take? Breaking Spotify records is a given, but digital consumption is not enough to satiate super fandom. Superfans crave a reason to swarm, and that is exactly what they did around The Black Dog - a small South London pub.

The Black Dog has long been an unassuming pub in Vauxhall, London. Now it is a Mecca for Swifties flocking to the spot after it was mentioned in one of her songs. In an era of fan frenzies, Taylor Swift has mastered them. How does Swift activate her fan community so well, and send the fan frenzy flywheel spinning?

Active digital triggers

Music is mostly streamed passively in the background. But, for superfans, music is an active experience. As such, we do not see super fandom as white noise. To build super fandom, fans need something to grab their active attention. 

Taylor Swift’s proficient ability to grab attention has enabled her to build an audience that wants to dive deeper because she provides the content that allows them to - for example, her albums often feature easter eggs for fans to explore.

Whether it is easter eggs or other forms of active consumption such as participating in viral trends and challenges or co-creating with fans, artists must turn digital music consumption into an active experience. 

IRL drivers

Digital engagement can foster connections between fans and artists but does not substitute real-world engagement. The soaring growth of the live music sector is a testament to this with virtual concerts yet to take off in the same manner.

Fans want community and connection with their favourite artists and with each other. If active digital engagement is the spark of super fandom, the real world is the fire in which it is forged. And, to create real-world experiences, we need more physical places of significance.

Taylor Swift fans are not gravitating towards The Black Dog because of a random London pub TikTok challenge. Rather, it provides proximity to a moment in Taylor Swift’s life that was significant enough for her to sing about. However, simply bridging digital and real-life experiences is not enough. Fans need greater incentives to become fan activists.

Incentives to share

Showing up in a place of significance with other fans is typically enough incentive to share. However, super fandom is accompanied by a never-ending appetite for more. Hence why The Black Dog is looking to explore Swift-inspired burgers, beers, and other products that bring the Swift essence to the location.

The exclusivity of access to products and experiences in the real world contrasts with the ubiquity and abundance of the digital world. This is why it is the perfect content for fans to express themselves on digital platforms. 

When superfans start sharing their access to something exclusive in the real world, it has a snowball effect that creates fear of missing out and feeds the frenzy. Once this catalyst has been triggered, we are in a position to turn fans into fanatics.

Community priming

The period of heightened interest will inevitably end, but the memories of the experience will endure. Fans will begin to long for the sense of community and connection they experienced and this is where artists, labels, and streaming services can add the most value. 

It is hard to cultivate a fan frenzy, you can only sow the seeds. However, when it occurs it is a precious and scarce experience that can lay the foundation for even bigger fan movements in the future. To reap these rewards fans need recognition for their engagement, whether through rewards such as digital badges or access to exclusive fan communities. 

The key here is creating a digital space that consolidates fan relationships organically but allows artists and their teams to capture the first-party data of their superfans. Once this space exists, it only takes the smallest trigger to create a new wave of fan hysteria.

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