When People broke an exclusive story last week claiming that Taylor Swift had split from DJ Calvin Harris, her boyfriend of 15 months, the magazine gave it a sympathetic spin: "There was no drama. Things just don't work out sometimes," their anonymous source said. He was touring, she was touring; there wasn't enough time, there were too many paparazzi; everyone is friendly and no one is to blame.
Elsewhere on the internet, though, the news was received very differently. "The evil has been defeated. That's right, Tayvin is finally OVER!" effused Tumblr user Kaylornation in a post entitled "We Were Right," which detailed months of her past predictions about how Swift and Harris's relationship would end—each of which she had updated to include how it had come true.
Kaylornation is run by a 19-year-old college student named Erin, who is part of a subset of Swift fans who believe that the singer is gay—or at least bisexual—and has spent most of her career covering that fact with a series of beard boyfriends intended to keep her image middle-America wholesome and her name consistently in the press. The theory holds that Swift has actually been dating model Karlie Kloss for the last several years ("Kaylor" is the what fans call the couple). Before that, the conspiracy goes, she was involved with Glee star Dianna Agron.
Nonbelievers refer to this practice as tinhatting—as in, wearing tinfoil on your head to keep aliens from reading your thoughts—as in, being really crazy.
Mainstream culture has recently caught up to the longtime fandom practice of shipping: fantasizing about two fictional characters or real celebrities being in a romantic relationship. Fans like Erin, though, take it a step further, arguing that stars like Swift or ex-One Directioner Zayn Malik, who recently briefly ended his very public relationship with model Gigi Hadid, are actually in closeted gay relationships. Nonbelievers refer to this practice as tinhatting—as in, wearing tinfoil on your head to keep aliens from reading your thoughts—as in, being really crazy.
Bloggers will often cite a seemingly unguarded moment between their couple of choice as their point of awakening. For Erin, it was watching the 2014 AMAs that got her interested in Swift and Kloss. "I said to myself, 'Who is that girl, and why does she look like she's in love with Taylor?'" Erin wrote in a recent email. "Then I proceeded to rewind it, and watch it again."
Erin hadn't been much of a fan of either star, and she remained only distantly interested in the relationship until what's known as Kissgate: grainy photos from a The 1975 concert that seem to show the pair making out. Still, "it wasn't until Taylor started bearding with Calvin that I really started to blog/talk about them," she says.
The tagline on Tumblr user Taytaysbeard's blog pretty much sums up the prevailing attitude among Kaylors, as they call themselves: "As long as [Swift] engages in staged relationships for publicity and sales, her tactics are fair game and open to scrutiny." This scrutiny includes everything from attempts to decode the "symbolism" of Swift's social media posts—Kloss's nickname, Sunshine, provides a lot of fodder here—to the creation of elaborate timelines tracking their movement in an attempt to catch the girls in a lie about where they are and whom they're with. More common forms of analysis are also popular: There are a lot of paparazzi pictures of Swift and Kloss holding hands with men and looking miserable.
The idea that stars manipulate their lives off of the screen and stage in order to further their careers is not a new one; orchestrations between publicists, lawyers, and tabloid journalists are a well-known Hollywood staple. But the advent of the internet has radically changed what is considered public as well as the tools available for telling—and picking apart—these stories.
Social media allows celebrities a venue to seem especially personable and personally accessible, while a public armed with camera phones and an increasingly sophisticated sense of media literacy can capture and dissect every moment of their off-brand behavior. So it's perhaps unsurprising that so many fans have turned to de-facto conspiracy theories to explain the frustrating discrepancies between the narrative we're sold and the larger picture of a celebrity's life and career.
This is not to say that there's nothing going on here, exactly. Spend an hour or two perusing blogs dedicated to Kaylor—or Ziam, which pairs Malik with his former One Direction bandmate Liam Payne, or Larry, which focuses on Malik's other band mates, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson—and it's not hard to see at least a little bit of what Erin and her cohorts are seeing. From a distance, intimate friendships can look a lot like romantic relationships. Plus, celebrities tend to stay tight-lipped about their love lives, giving us carefully managed snippets of information and highly staged romantic date nights, whereas they'll talk much more readily and hang much more naturally with their platonic pals.
A nonbeliever might think, Of course it's easier for someone to express public admiration for an old friend than a new partner. But a truther will tell you, Taylor Swift didn't hold Calvin Harris' hand in photos, but she held Karlie's because Karlie's is the only hand she wanted to hold. It's true that the media is quick to label actual queer couples as overly-affectionate gal-pals; it's also true that Swift has publicly denied Kissgate and all related rumors.
In order to combat what they see as stories spun by celebrities' PR in conjunction with the homophobic media, these fandoms are constantly amassing documents and data to back themselves up. Bloggers create often-updated master posts which cross-reference public appearances and private social media feeds to create an official-seeming timeline of exactly where a celebrity was, and when, and with whom. The level of detail available can feel bludgeoning—both because it seems like so much to know and because, necessarily, it reminds us that there's so much we still can't, and don't.
The seeming transparency of social media also encourages a feeling that fans are being heard, and seen—and sometimes responded to.
The seeming transparency of social media also encourages a feeling that fans are being heard, and seen—and sometimes responded to. Both Erin and the anonymous blogger behind Sex at Oxbridge (SAO)—who writes often about Ziam as well as Larry—maintain that the teams behind Swift, Kloss, and 1D read their blogs, or at least blogs like theirs. Erin believes that Swift herself sent her this anonymous message begging fans not to give up on Kaylor as an apology for the July 4 Instagrams of her in Harris's arms.
SAO subscribes to the RBB theory, which holds that, during One Direction's final tour, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson were so eager to reach out to believers that they started a Twitter account on which they posted pictures of two rainbow teddy bears in bondage gear staged with other props and costumes. This was intended to educate fans about gay history, to assure them that the couple was still happily together, and to warn of media stunts to come.
Celebrity romance used to be a story told and sold exclusively by the tabloids. However, social media gives everyone with "a friend of a friend who heard…" access to a broader platform. As traditional media channels combine with social—and as civilian paparazzi snap as many photos as the professionals—figuring out who's spinning what has become an increasingly complex puzzle.
The official story behind Taylor Swift and Calvin Harris's breakup is already changing: TMZ published a piece earlier this week claiming that the breakup happened because Harris was turned off by Swift's Hollywood lifestyle. Taylor fired back yesterday with a series of (likely staged) paparazzi pictures of her making out with Tom Hiddleston on a Rhode Island beach.
But Kaylor nation's faith isn't shaken. Karlie was also recently pictured with a man, her boyfriend of four years, Jared Kushner—but they were arguing. Meanwhile, Taylor is renovating her apartment and renting a place in Karlie's neighborhood for the duration. It would look too suspicious to have both girls break up with their boyfriends and then move in blocks from one another so soon after, right? Hiddleston is just another distraction; behind the scenes, everything carries on like it always has. Kaylor fans see the truth and wait for the rest of us open our eyes.