The United States of Swifties

18 min readSep 26, 2023


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Welcome to the Age of Swift. How are you enjoying your time here? I, for one, am loving it.

Picture this: the seismic surge of a musical supernova, and at the center of it all, there’s Taylor Swift, holding the reins of pop culture, while casually rewriting the rules of the music industry. If someone were to quiz me about the one artist that would likely pop up in history books for defining music in this era, my money’s on Taylor. And trust me, it’s a good bet.

To say “Taylor Swift IS the music industry” might sound a tad dramatic, but come on! She’s the soundtrack to our lives, the undercurrent of every gossip column, and quite frankly, on a subtle mission to world domination. But hey, a world under Swift’s melodic rule doesn’t sound half bad. 🤷‍♀️

It’s truly fascinating how pop icons like Swift are the barometers of our societal evolution — channeling our collective psyche, sometimes even ascending to levels where they’re worshiped more than the gods of yore.

Before you roll your eyes and mention The Beatles, let me stop you right there. Given her stratospheric rise, comparing her to The Fab Four doesn’t seem far-fetched. And for those naysayers quick to label her as the “queen of love songs” — have you had a heart-to-heart with Lennon and McCartney’s discography? Love ballads stand the test of time for good reason.

It’s worth noting that Swift, however, isn’t just crooning about heartaches. Whether it’s the warm embrace of family memories in “Best Day,” the heart-wrenching “Ronan,” or the poignant “Never Grow Up,” she paints life’s tapestry with varied strokes.

There’s a peculiar thing about Taylor: we all, in some inexplicable way, feel like she’s our long-lost BFF. This colossal, glittering entity also feels like the girl next door, and it’s this duality that has legions ready to, quite literally, follow her to the ends of the Earth.

Honestly, if Taylor and I ever had a sit-down (our Scottish fold cats in tow, obviously), I envision endless hours of banter about life’s highs, lows, and everything in between. And that’s not my star-struck heart speaking. It’s the universal charm of Swift.

As we embark on this Swift-driven sojourn, prepare to immerse yourself in the enigma, the legend, the powerhouse that is Taylor Swift. Because, after all, it’s a Swift world, and we’re just living in it.

Overview: The cultural juggernaut we never saw coming (but totally should have)

Oh, Taylor. The world of pop culture was merely a pawn before she decided to become its reigning queen. I mean, where do we even start? The way the billboard charts sway to her tune? Or perhaps the Easter egg hunting seasons she seems to instate every album release?

Photo credit: Billboard

Just glancing over 2022, Swift’s “Midnights” held the coveted crown of the year’s top-seller, breezily surpassing Harry Styles’ numbers with a cool 1.8 million copies. As if she hadn’t asserted dominance enough, “Speak Now (Taylor’s Version)” made its grand debut at №1, ensuring Swift knocked Barbra Streisand off her pedestal by achieving her 12th top spot album.

Her 131-date Eras tour? Projected to be the highest-grossing tour of ALL time, ringing the registers to the tune of $1.4 billion. The economic echo this is expected to have on the hosting cities? A mere $5 billion. So, when she sings about shaking it off, the global economy dances to her tune.

Still, perhaps the true magic in Taylor’s tale lies in her uncanny ability to resonate. Whether it’s a preteen fumbling through adolescence or an adult navigating the maze of modern relationships, Taylor’s lyricism feels universal. In the vast cosmos of songwriting, Swift shines for her lyrical and melodic brilliance. That’s not due to fancy chord progressions by any means. To put it simply, it’s not the chords but the stories they carry. Plus, can we please have a moment of silence for the sheer number of words she’s blessed us with?

Yet, as the universe dictates, with every action comes an equal and opposite reaction. Swift, the wholesome cat-lover (because seriously, who doesn’t love cats?) with an unparalleled talent has, unfortunately, not been immune to the green-eyed monster of jealousy. The very success that has made her a cultural icon has also made her a target. Throw in a bitter feud with Kanye, and voilà! Yet, just as alchemists turn lead into gold, Swift turned pain into platinum hits.

In an age where artists’ lives unfold on social media, Swift stands out. Why? Because it’s about more than her TikTok teasers or hashtags. She genuinely engages with her fandom.

Speaking of events, have you heard about the “post-concert amnesia” her fans seem to experience? While it sounds like something straight out of a sci-fi novel, Dr. Michelle Phillips, a reputable music psychologist, assures that it’s just a case of “time flies when you’re having fun”. Fans were so engrossed in the moment that the memory became a vibrant blur. Personally, I heard from a friend, first hand, about this experience.

Now, how about that time her fans literally caused an earthquake during her Seattle “Eras” concert? Yep, a seismic activity equivalent to a 2.3 magnitude earthquake. If that’s not rock (or pop) ’n’ roll, I don’t know what is.

To round it up, whether you’re decoding her Easter eggs or swaying to her anthems, one thing’s clear — Taylor Swift is a name for the history books. She’s a cultural phenomenon, reshaping the way we view artistry, fandom, and yes, even rocking earthquakes.

The Swift science of fandom

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When we think of cultural icons, several figures might come to mind — Marilyn Monroe or Elvis Presley. But if you want a dash of sass and wit wrapped in profound wisdom and an almost uncanny knack for tapping into the zeitgeist of two generations, look no further than Taylor Swift.

Taylor’s magic recipe is a mix of relatability, a dab of aspirational energy, a tight-knit fan community, and — oh, did I forget? — absolute, raw talent. Sure, we all can’t relate to the pressures of celebrity life, but tell me you haven’t felt the weight of a broken heart or the joy of new love. That’s Taylor’s lyrical bread and butter.

Remember the awkward transitions into adulthood? Well, millennials grooved to Taylor’s tunes while navigating those tricky waters. They grew up alongside her, sharing milestones and melodramas. And then Gen Z, those TikTok aficionados, discovered her amidst the isolation of a pandemic, bonding over heartbreak anthems and indie vibes. Taking that into consideration, it’s really little surprise that her popularity continues to soar right now. In truth, for these fans, Taylor isn’t just another chart-topper — she’s a narrative of their lives.

While millennials and Gen Z might be finding their paths, Taylor’s already strutting hers, unapologetically. She’s reclaimed her work, powered through adversity, and has essentially yelled, “Watch me!” to the world. Aspirational? Absolutely. Inspirational? 100%.

While her fan communities wait for the latest single to drop, they keep themselves quite busy. They’re about forming bonds, forging friendships, and finding a tribe in a big, chaotic world. Taylor’s fandom is the literal embodiment of that.

Celebrity, and especially in this case, impact encompasses a whole lot more than album sales. A 2017 study found celebs influence outcomes like vaccination and mental health awareness. Taylor’s activism — be it feminism or LGBTQ+ rights — makes her more than just a singer. She’s a changemaker. By leveraging her platform, Taylor highlights pressing social issues, raising awareness and mobilizing change.

Celebs, quasi-fictional beings that they are, have a unique place in our psyche. They’re relatable yet distant, accessible yet elusive. This dynamic fosters parasocial relationships, which, as NYU Langone psychologist Dr. Yamalis Diaz notes, can be potent. Especially for teens and young adults in the throes of identity formation. The dopamine rush when a celeb posts? Real. The adrenaline highs and lows around a concert? Even more real.

Cynthia Gordon, our trusty linguistics expert from Georgetown, believes Taylor’s lyrics play a pivotal role in her relatability. By using “lects” (informal private languages, for the non-linguists), Taylor crafts intimate spaces that foster community and connection. It’s like being in on an inside joke — a secret club of Swifties, if you will.

But wait, did someone say “coursework?” Alexandra Wormley of Arizona State University did! She highlights how Taylor serves as a lens to explore complex topics within social psychology. No, they’re not dissecting Taylor’s life, but using her as a relatable case study. From romance to social development, Taylor’s life and work showcase it all.

It’s a phenomena so fascinating that Stanford University is delving into the poetic realm of Swift with courses like “All Too Well (Ten Week Version)” and “The Last Great American Songwriter: Storytelling With Taylor Swift Through the Eras.” Berklee College of Music, Rice University, and the University of Missouri (among others) are also boarding the Taylor train, offering courses that dissect her lyrical genius and musical prowess.

🎶Honey, life (really) is just a classroom!

An economic powerhouse and political power player

Taylor Swift: A name synonymous with broken hearts, dramatic ex-boyfriend tales, and… global economic impact? Wait, what?

Enter, “Taylornomics.” Just imagine every time Swift steps foot in a city with her colossal Eras Tour, she’s essentially dropping a billion-dollar bomb (of love and dollar bills) on the local economy.

Swift’s 20-city Eras Tour in the U.S., casually known as the tour that’s helping cities recover from the economic blows of the pandemic, is on track to set records. You thought football stadiums with a 70,000 capacity were impressive? Taylor’s laughing and counting her billion (potentially) from concert grossing.

And cities? They’re not just thanking her. Glendale renamed itself “Swift City” for heaven’s sake! How about being the honorary mayor of Santa Clara? Check. Oh, and the Willis Tower in Chicago lighting up in Swift-themed colors? A midnight skyline’s dream.

Now, I know math can be a tad boring, but bear with me. The Eras tour is all set to gross $2.2 billion in North American ticket sales alone. But here’s where it gets juicy: for every $100 spent on live performances, there’s usually $300 worth of side spending. What about Swifties? Oh boy, they’re dropping around $1,300-$1,500 on extras. That’s like saying, “Why have a slice of pizza when you can get the whole pie… and then some?”

Photo credit: Statista

So, is it surprising that Taylor Swift is literally causing bead and sequin shortages? Nope, because every Swift concert turns into a bead bracelet festival, thanks to her hit “You’re on Your Own, Kid.” And despite a looming economic crisis, 91% of concertgoers said they’d spend that kind of money on Taylor’s concert again.

The economic impact is so profound, world leaders are practically begging her to grace their countries with her presence. Even the Federal Reserve has remarked on the economic impact on regional economies. Not to be left out, the Federal Reserve is commenting on her regional economic prowess too.

If you think Taylor’s all take and no give, think again. In a jaw-dropping act of generosity, she handed out bonuses of $100,000 to the Eras tour’s trucking staff. For context, that’s 10X the usual amount. Truckers, caterers, dancers — they’re all feeling the Swift love in a BIG way. How big? Over $55 million BIG.

Swift is also a political heavyweight. Because, why not? Her foray into the political realm in 2018, with endorsements and standpoints against systemic racism and for LGBTQIA+ rights, led to tangible outcomes. Over 50,000 registered to vote post her comments. Specifically, 18-year-olds saw a 115% rise in registrations from the previous year.

Swift’s impact, both economically and politically, is a strong testament to the profound connection she shares with her fans and the society at large. She’s much more than a singer-songwriter, she’s an era in herself.

The double-edged sword of fandom

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America’s sweetheart. Songwriter extraordinaire. Cat lover. Perhaps the only person who can shake off bad vibes like they’re mere specks of dirt. But every golden goddess has her complexities, right?

Let’s dive into the wonderful world of fandoms, and in particular, the “Swifties”, to decipher if they’re a cultural boon or a ticking time bomb.

First question we should ask — is this fandom all sunshine and rainbows? A few numbers to shake things up: More than half of our American buddies consider themselves fans of Swift, as per a recent Morning Consult survey. With nearly 16% labeling themselves as “avid” fans. Most of these fans are millennials, skewing white, suburban, and quite politically Democratic.

Celebrity worship is, let’s face it, not a new phenomenon. If history had Twitter, Shakespeare might’ve been trending daily or Mona Lisa might’ve been the OG influencer. In fact, the idea of parasocial relationships, where fans develop intense one-sided bonds with celebrities, was introduced as far back as 1956. And while media personas like Taylor Swift offer a sense of identity and fulfillment for many, the potential for it turning into a dysfunctional obsession exists.

Sometimes these obsessions manifest into behaviors like stalking, and at times, it can lead to psychological issues like anxiety, depression, or even problematic eating behaviors.

However, I like to think the Swifties have evolved beyond a one-note fan group singing “Love Story” in their bedrooms. They’re part of what can be seen as a unique phase in globalization — neoliberal globalization, to be precise.

Swifties in and of themselves are a global, digital force to be reckoned with. They’re the kind who trend hashtags, flood social media platforms with news and updates, and make sure everyone and their mothers know when Taylor’s next album drops. Swifties, in many ways, represent the evolving nature of our digitally connected, super diverse society.

It’s not all hashtag campaigns and online fan art, though. There’s a darker shade to this (because every story needs some drama, right?). Some Swifties have crossed the line, attacking critics, past lovers, and even resorting to death threats.

However, they’ve also championed significant change. When illegal ticket bots wreaked havoc on ticket sales for Swift’s Eras tour, these fans went beyond bitching about their disappointment. They incited Congressional investigations and lawsuits, prompting even President Joe Biden to weigh in.

And sure, the Swiftie culture revolves around an unwavering love for Ms. Swift. But there’s a broader social fabric here. The fandom showcases how today’s societies are niche-driven. Although there’s no strict criteria for being a Swiftie (owning a T-shirt isn’t a must), there are implicit social norms. But these are ones which are largely reflected in mainstream society. Kindness, respect, and anti-bullying stances are inherent within this fandom.

To wrap this up in a neat, Swift-inspired bow: While it’s lovely (and rather cool) to be a Swiftie, reveling in her ballads and drawing inspiration from her fearless nature, it’s essential to toe the line. Passion is one thing, obsession is another. If your love for Taylor is causing harm or becoming all-consuming, it’s perhaps time to hit pause and reassess. Because as the old adage goes, “Everything in moderation”, even when it’s as glittering and fabulous as the world of Taylor Swift.

Her complex dance with white feminism

In our cultural zeitgeist, few names command the same power and incite the same mixture of adoration and critique as the multi-award-winning pop icon herself. But while Swift’s impact on pop culture and the U.S. is immense, she brings plenty of criticism. Some of it is warranted, specifically her issues of white feminism.

For the uninitiated (or those who have had their heads buried under a rock for the better part of a decade), white feminism is not a term targeting all white feminists. It’s a critique of a brand of feminism that often sidesteps intersections of race, class, ability, and more. It’s a one-size-fits-all feminism, and ladies and gentlemen, one size never did fit all.

Now, here’s where it gets spicy (and quite dicey): Swift’s rumored dalliance with The 1975’s Matty Healy. Matty Healy, for those out of the loop, has come under fire for some very, very problematic statements and actions. His blatant objectification and fetishization of Black women? A big red flag. His complicit laughter at racist remarks? Equally disturbing. If we’re talking track records, his is far from pristine. And while Ms. Swift is in no way accountable for Healy’s transgressions, her association raises some rather large and colorful eyebrows.

Miss Americana herself is a beacon of light in many respects. Her political journey, depicted in her documentary Miss Americana, shows Swift’s burgeoning commitment to activism. She has stood up as an LGBTQ+ ally, opposed Trump, voiced out against Confederate statues, and notably, vowed to be “loudly and ferociously anti-racist.”

Now, that’s what we like to hear!

But, and it’s an important but, her deafening silence on her relationship with Healy hints at a glaring blind spot. While Taylor Swift’s private life is indeed that — private, there’s no denying that her every move carries weight. When you’ve reached Swift-level stardom, your personal decisions, yes, even your dating choices, serve as more than fodder for gossip columns. They become statements, intentional or not. The waters are further muddied by the staunch defense from primarily white fans, inadvertently dimming the critique against Healy’s behavior and, to some degree, normalizing it.

Revisiting her documentary, Swift appears as a phoenix rising, shedding her previous “shut up and sing” approach, embracing a more politically vocal stance. Yet, the irony isn’t lost when Swift, with her involvement with Healy, seemingly tiptoes into the territory of white feminism she previously distanced herself from.

It’s crucial to note, however, that Swift isn’t singularly emblematic of this issue. The larger context highlights how societal issues like racism, ableism, and more aren’t deal-breakers for many, particularly when they don’t directly affect them. That said, allyship isn’t just about sporting rainbow-colored outfits during Pride month. It’s an all-day, every-day commitment.

Now, diving into a murkier pond, there’s the speculation around Swift’s sexuality. While it’s rocky to delve into someone’s personal affairs, the “Gaylor” narrative adds another layer to Swift’s already complex public image. The term refers to a portion of Swift’s fan base convinced of her queerness. With her 2019 album, “Lover,” tracks like “You Need to Calm Down” turned the spotlight onto Swift’s potential queerbaiting.

But let’s pull back and look at the larger picture. Swift’s undeniable positive impact on the LGBTQIA+ community should not be undermined. From driving significant donations to promoting self-acceptance and political engagement, Swift has been a beacon of hope for many.

Born in the tumultuous feminist landscape of 1989, when 17% of Americans identified as feminists compared to 28% today, Swift’s journey mirrors the broader feminist movement itself. Her powerful speeches against sexism and her continuous fight for equality are testaments to her belief in women’s rights.

So, while Swift’s impact on culture is irrefutable, the question of accountability remains. Like all of us, she’s a work in progress. Let’s just hope the next chapter includes more informed choices and louder statements against oppression in all its forms.

Lessons in internalized misogyny

Ever wondered why Taylor is such a polarizing figure? Sit tight, folks. We’re about to dissect this through the lens of internalized misogyny.

First, a quick definition for the uninitiated. Internalized misogyny doesn’t refer to outright thinking women are inferior. Suzannah Weiss smartly points out, “It refers to the byproducts of this societal view that cause women to shame, doubt, and undervalue themselves and others of their gender.”

Got it? Good.

Let’s talk about Swift’s haters. Some claim she’s too saccharine, overexposed, or that her music just isn’t their cup of tea. But let’s get real here. Most of the vitriol thrown her way, especially during the #TaylorSwiftisOverParty era, wasn’t about her music.

Remember when Kanye West not-so-gallantly suggested in his song “Famous” that he was responsible for her fame? Swift went radio silent, laying low for a year. But soon she was revived (or perhaps reborn?) with Reputation, her groundbreaking comeback album. She embraced the media’s portrayal of her, using snakes as motifs and brilliantly flipping the narrative. The final note of her tour was nothing short of poetic: “and in the death of her reputation, she felt truly alive.”

Swift, a successful woman, has been subjected to endless scrutiny, regardless of what she does. This is the backdrop for her song “The Man” where she smartly contrasts how society perceives male and female narratives. Men’s conquests? Celebrated. Women’s? Criticized. It’s a stark commentary on the societal norms deeply rooted in our collective psyche.

One could argue, in a sarcastic, “aren’t we evolved?” kind of way, that men who loathe Swift are simply intimidated. A powerful woman who oozes self-worth is like kryptonite for the fragile male ego. True. However, she’s also challenging the deeply entrenched patriarchal belief system they’ve grown up with.

(Sigh) But it’s not just men. Women too have been known to “dislike” Swift. The cause? Oh, just the age-old internalized misogyny rearing its head again. Women, from an early age, learn to compete with each other, to not be “like other girls”. To be different. To be “cool.” Isn’t it tragically hilarious that we teach girls to, at once, be too “girly” and not “girly” enough? A rock and a hard place, that’s where we place them. And so, many might disdain Swift, thinking it might make them unique or removed from the pop princess archetype.

Then there’s the privilege factor. Swift is wealthy, talented, and famous. Three things society tells us we should aspire to be. Yet when someone embodies these very traits, they’re often met with skepticism. This has nothing to do with Swift’s actions either. It’s about the expectations we set, then resent people for meeting.

Of course, there’s also the “perfect girl-next-door” image. Perfection is subjective and, more often than not, a mirage. Swift’s portrayal as “perfect” has indeed ruffled feathers. But remember, perfection is what we project. It’s a societal construct, often unattainable and almost always burdensome.

In a nutshell, it’s alright to not jam to Taylor Swift’s music, but let’s not let internalized misogyny dictate our feelings towards her or any other woman. After all, the world’s got bigger fish to fry.

The ever-evolving conclusion on Swift

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As we close this Swift-infused analysis, let’s get personal for a bit.

Now, I may not recall the exact moment Taylor Swift wafted into my consciousness, but the moment I became a Swiftie? Ah, that’s a memory sharper than the heel of my favorite boot. And let’s be honest — don’t we each have our own “Taylor story”?

Thinking back, I was in a college dorm room filled with freshly-minted adults, a disastrous breakup still fresh on my lips, and the echoing rebound of a beer pong ball. As “We Are Never Getting Back Together” blared, I was gently nudged (read: peer-pressured) to give my own rendition. And let me tell you, nothing heals a heartbreak faster than belting out a Swift anthem. From that cathartic moment, I was sold.

Tay-Tay, as some endearingly call her, has left an indelible mark on everything from fashion to politics. Hell, she’s probably even influenced the way we tie our shoelaces! It’s virtually impossible to find a realm untouched by her influence.

This incredible impact, while mostly positive, has conjured up its own beast: the relentless expectation of perfection. And guess what? It’s not only on her; women everywhere are in this pressure cooker. Did you know that around 91% of women are dissatisfied with their bodies, with a staggering 95% not fitting into the unrealistic body type splashed across our media?

And Taylor, with her inherent and standard-fitting beauty, isn’t exempt from these pressures either. She’s opened up about her struggles with eating disorders in her documentary, giving us a stark reminder that being under the spotlight isn’t all glitter and glamor. It’s a fuck load of pressure too.

Sure, she’s a stunner with a heart of gold, but must we place her on a pedestal so high that not even the best of stilettos can reach her? An infallible image is an unfair standard. Yes, I want her to be honest, transparent even, but I also want her to be human. Even the universe’s hint of a relationship with Matt Healy wasn’t addressed to everyone’s satisfaction. But, cut blondie some slack!

Listen up, you marvelous bunch of Swifties (and the Gaylors squabbling in the corner)! Taylor Swift is an extraordinary emblem of our generation. Count your lucky stars, because having her as the musical voice of our era is a privilege. She’s a beautiful blend of kindness, creativity, and bonafide talent. But remember this: idols crumble if placed too high. Let’s not let the toxic quagmire of hyper-criticism swallow the shining star that is Taylor Swift. OK?

Because her net influence? Overwhelmingly positive. Hands down.

As someone who’s danced through life in sync with her, I eagerly anticipate the future. Just as my own journey matures and winds through various twists, I’m sure hers will mirror those evolutions. The symphony of her life’s tales? Oh, I’m ready for it.

From the plucky girl next door to the music industry juggernaut, Swift is an enigma wrapped in a riddle adorned with cowboy boots, glistening sequences, and classic red lips. And if you’re still on the fence about her, then, darling, you need to calm down. The fence you’re sitting on? It’s probably made of lyrics from her songs. Now how’s that for a cultural seismic shift? Mic drop.




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