Under the Swiftie Lake

Also: goofy ahh beats, flashlights, and jungle breaks.

Under the Swiftie Lake

EX is a research report about digital culture. You can learn more here. This week: musical conspiracies, Microsoft Bob, and a YouTube empire in disarray.

1. Swifties' numerological obsession reaches Pynchonesque heights

That rupture you felt in the universe earlier this week was Taylor Swift announcing, at the close of her tour’s first leg, the re-recording of her 2014 crossover smash 1989. Swift fans had predicted this announcement as the latest triumph in an ongoing numerological ARG that rivals Qanon for its inscrutability. The tour closer occurred 3,208 days since 1989's release, and 3+2+0+8 = 13, a number with cosmic significance for Swift fans. The announcement occurred on the ninth day of the eighth month (i.e. “89”), but 3,208 also translates to eight years, nine months, and 13 days, pairing the numerological clues (89 + 13).

If this already seems like a stretch, you have no idea. Swift is open about her love of the number 13 — she was born on December 13, features it in her Twitter handle, and sometimes writes it on her hand. However, the Swiftpedia counts numerous instances of the number 13 occurring not just in the Swift discography but through existence itself: her debut album went platinum in 13 weeks; several songs have 13-second intros; there are 13 clouds in the music video for "Me!"; in 2018, she won 13 awards (citation needed). The gematria extends beyond 13, too. Swift fans seemingly foresaw 1989's re-release in the video announcing previous re-release Speak Now, because, in the video, the presence of five bodyguards alludes to a re-release of her fifth album.

Many online music fandoms tend toward the conspiratorial — Kendrick Lamar fans clamored so much for a reverse version of DAMN that Kenny eventually released NMAD; Radiohead fans conjured not just a second half to King Of Limbs that never arrived but also a vast decade-long conspiracy interweaving OK Computer and In Rainbows. (Fans also hypothesize not one but two secret Swift albums, one called Karma and another called Woodvale, the latter of which has its own fanfic.)

But while the Kenny and Radiohead conspiracies seem incidental, with Swift, everything is intentional. Multiple Swift timelines now layer over each other, with a vast mythos of cross-referencing numerology, color-wheel associations, and coy misdirection via social accounts. One current fan theory even has it that we're secretly living in the Reputation re-release era — we just don't know it yet. For true believers, the evidence is everywhere.

2. The dog’s entertainment

Japanese fever dream rhythm game Dog of Bay has been translated into English. The PS2 title, which takes a disturbing approach to merging human and dog faces, features music sung by the likes of Minako Honda and the guy who played Frieza in Dragon Ball Z. The person responsible for this, Hilltop, has been working on a translation of legendary “slow game” My Summer Vacation 2 (Boku no Natsuyasumi 2). For now, you can enjoy “The Dog’s Entertainment.”

3. Tech reviewer battle royale turns into apology royale

Linus Tech Tips, the 800-pound gorilla of PC hardware review channels, recently enraged other YouTube tech guys by boasting about its supposedly higher testing standards in a studio tour. Competing channel Gamers Nexus fired back in a 45-minute video with one incendiary segment claiming that LTT auctioned off a prototype device that it was supposed to return to a small company. On August 16, LTT responded to mounting criticism by saying it would take a weeklong pause to review its practices. That same day, former LTT employee Madison Reeve came forward to describe sexual harassment and a profoundly toxic work environment at the company. LTT then told The Verge that it had hired an outside investigator to look into the allegations.

It’s hard to overstate how important viewer trust is to channels like LTT and Gamers Nexus. Fans count on the biggest talking heads — GN’s Steve Burke (one of several long-haired YouTubers called “Gamer Jesus”), LTT’s fast-talking Riley Murdock and ultimate tech guru Emily Young, Jason Langevin of JayzTwoCents, etc. — both to explain complex benchmarks and to cut through the bullshit of tech marketing. The idea that some of these people might be awful coworkers, or corner-cutting clickbait merchants, is incredibly damaging to the kind of loyalty that moves branded mousepads. In the comments below LTT’s poorly received apology, fans accused them of the ultimate crime: sounding like a corporation.

4. Down the Yandere Simulator rabbit hole

The unfinished indie project Yandere Simulator has been a magnet for controversy and an undying source of YouTube clickbait over the nine years since it first surfaced on 4chan. Though Yandev — the game’s beleaguered American developer — hasn't uploaded a YouTube video in months, fan channels continue to post updates and analyses covering the game's turbulent development. In Yandere Simulator, the player is a schoolgirl who becomes so infatuated with another student that she starts torturing or murdering any classmate that she considers competition. (In anime and manga, "yandere" characters have a murderous obsession with the object of their desire.) It's violent, frequently lewd, and sort of like Hitman.

Yandev's most passionate critics are also his most passionate fans. An "iceberg" meme about his offenses, for example, places concerns about the game's raunchy depictions of high schoolers next to a complaint that one of the game's bonus modes is still unfinished. The subreddit where this was posted, "r/Osana," is a gathering place for jaded fans who seem to long for Yandev’s cancelation even as they wish for Yandere Simulator’s completion.

As a result, the controversy surrounding the game has become inscrutable to anyone who didn’t have an interest in playing it in the first place. Issues with more palpable consequences — like abusing the free labor of "volunteers" — get buried beneath moralizing claims about Yandev's character and squabbles over the quality of the game's content.

5. r/flashlights reminds us to cut Reddit some slack

via @karakittel on Twitter.

Reddit’s reputation is always in flux. For years, Twitter users used “Redditor” as a byword for tryhard pseudo-intellectualism, pompous moralizing, and smug quips. But at the same time, as a popular post criticizing Google Search described, the site became a pillar of real discussion that users across the internet relied upon as other social networks filled up with ads, bots, and scams. Even more recently, in the aftermath of Reddit’s mod protests and firings, legitimacy questions have flared up as some formerly well-run subreddits have become dubious resources.

But posts like this one from r/flashlights are a reminder that some parts of the site have still got it. It’s the epitome of the sweet and harmless nerdiness that binds many subreddits together, and serves as the latest dispatch from “Good Reddit,” a hazily defined but heavenly place where like-minded geeks talk shop about their intensely niche interests forever.

6. How the microwave-type beats of yore gave way to the goofy ahh sounds of today

Ever since we entered the age of DAWs — "digital audio workstations" that consist of music-making software — the tools for making auditory shitposts have been widely accessible to anyone with a laptop. The template "[insert word] ahh beat" is the latest addition to the YouTube beatmaker's shitpost vocabulary. ("Ahh" is pronounced like "ass" but without the consonant "s" sound, a convention popularized by AAVE.) The original and most common use of this template is "goofy ahh beat," which initially saw prominence on TikTok in 2021 after DaDood uploaded a viral "goofy ahh remix" of Baby Keem & Kendrick Lamar's "range brothers" (which you most likely know as “the top o' the morning song"). The term saw renewed popularity across late 2022 after the term was mockingly attributed to videos of The Backpack Kid — the kid who invented "flossing" a few years ago and then sued Epic Games over itproducing ill-received beats live on TikTok.

More recently, the template has become a way for producers to make shitposts out of purposefully strange and esoteric samples. Even older videos featuring beat shitposts are now retroactively labeled "goofy ahh beats," illustrating that the template is an evolution of a trend that has a long history amongst YouTube delinquents. Hip hop artists have used the phrase "[insert word] type beat" to delineate production styles for years, so it's only natural for the "[insert word] ahh beat" template to function as an in-joke amongst bedroom producers. Contemporary iterations of the trend often include a screen recording of the DAW as the track plays, a harmless humblebrag over how much detail they managed to stuff inside a throwaway gag.

7. Exploring YouTube's obsession with PS1-era jungle

Everyone's algorithm is its own unique snowflake, but anecdotally speaking, a lot of those unique snowflakes have lately been featuring mixes of drum'n'bass tracks from PlayStation 1 games. Mixes like “Jungle in Gaming Mix” (1.2 million views), “PlayStation jungle mix 01” (1.8 million views), and “90s / 00s Ambient Jungle in Gaming Mix” (1 million views) collect surprisingly deft tracks culled from the soundtracks of games like Ape Escape, Bomberman Hero and the Wipeout series. Something broader is going on with the internet's current focus on turn-of-the-millennium games, fetishizing Y2K-era textures via a raft of low-poly stealth games, shooters, and Jet Set Radio knockoffs.

But also, maybe that music just slaps? A smart video essay from a few months back goes into some of the reasoning for the popularity of drum'n'bass and jungle on that era's systems. Game composers like Soichi Terada and Jen Chikuma, amped off the freedom afforded by CD-quality sound, started looking to club culture for something uptempo and game-like. Their evocation of the sounds they heard were infused with dreamy synthesizers to accompany the surrealism of the games themselves. The result was altogether different than what, say, Roni/Size was doing at the time, but complementary to it, and suffused today with the sort of nostalgia only classic gaming soundtracks can produce.

Chum Box

  • Cortana is out at Microsoft. The Halo-derived voice assistant app, which was part of Windows 10 and 11, has gone the way of Microsoft Bob.
  • The Quake II remaster was received so positively over the past week that it’s invited discussion about whether other remasters were less graceful in their translations of the source material.
  • AI made Parappa the Rapper deliver his Chunky Burger order as a cover of “Ballin.’” The interesting thing here is that “Ballin’” itself doesn’t have much to do with the joke — it’s becoming a stock tune for AI vocals about anything.
  • A winner has been crowned in the contest to see who could mash up "Barbie Girl" with the theme song from Neon Genesis Evangelion.
  • For a long time, people have wondered why Netflix was buying game studios. A new beta test allows users to play Oxenfree right through the app, making clear their ultimate ambition of fully interactive, download-free gaming.
  • “When you realize that the dumbest person in the argument is on your side, that means you’re on the wrong side.” An excellent Steve Albini profile explores the musician’s long evolution from proto-edgelord to eloquent elder statesman.
  • Neil Breen, the green-screen auteur behind bad-movie classic Fateful Findings, is back with a new film called Cade: The Tortured Crossing, in which “an identical AI twin brother restores an old mysterious mental asylum.” The New York Times ran a preview.

That’s it for this week. Big game season continues next Friday with the release of Armored Core 6.