Opinion | The Eras Tour reveals a new modern wave of “Beatlemania” for Taylor Swift

0 51
opinion-|-the-eras-tour-reveals-a-new-modern-wave-of-“beatlemania”-for-taylor-swift
Connect with us

In May 2022, Taylor Swift’s “Only the Young,” a song about the political power of youth, surged on Filipino streaming platforms. The relatively obscure track became a surprising rallying cry for supporters of then-Vice President Leni Robredo of the Philippines, who was running for president at the time. At campaign rallies, Robredo’s followers hoisted signs that read “Swifties for Leni” with images of Robredo superimposed over Swift album covers.  

One could draw a comparison to Beatlemania, but Beatles fans didn’t have TikTok.

Swift’s stamp on popular music, and popular culture more broadly, is hard to overstate. And with her Eras Tour now underway, we’re seeing the power of Swift, or more precisely, the power of her fandom, on full display.

Swift’s intensely loyal fan base, known as Swifties, reflects the euphoric possibilities of pop music fandom as well as how fan communities reflect and reproduce divisions and inequalities in wider society.

Swift has won the Grammy for album of the year three times, placing her in the company of Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder. Last November, songs from Swift’s most recent album “Midnights” occupied the top 10 spots on the Billboard Hot 100, a feat no other living recording artist has achieved. Although Swift got her start writing about teenage romance, her lyrical sophistication has gained serious scholarly attention, as well; academic journals are publishing articles about her, and Stanford and NYU have offered courses focused on her art and career.

For her Eras Tour, Swift plays for over three hours, rivaling the marathon concert productions of Bruce Springsteen and the Grateful Dead. Yet unlike shows from those classic rock titans, Swift moves through multiple set designs and costume changes, each reflecting a different era of her music catalog.

Swifties have created a shared culture that has taken on a life of its own, making a Taylor Swift concert an interactive event. The crowd screams a six-word chant during the opening bars of her song “Delicate.” For Swifties, the “Delicate” chant is a de riguer tradition that originated with a TikTok video produced by a teenage fan. In November, Swift fan Mikael Arellano released a TikTok video of him dancing to Swift’s song “Bejeweled.” Concert attendees imitate the dance every weekend, and Swift has incorporated the moves into her own choreography.

ATLANTA

A stray line about friendship bracelets in her new album has prompted hordes of Swifties to create and trade bracelets before the show. On every tour stop, bracelet trading has created an occasion for fans to meet one another and share their pre-concert excitement, and some arrive ticketless simply to share in the parking lot revelry. “Swifttok,” the devoted TikTok Taylor Swift community, produces a constant supply of inspiration for fans to design concert-ready costumes that refer to different albums, songs and lyrics (the more obscure, the better).    

Swift’s concerts offer a church-like experience of participatory joy rather than a spectacle to be passively consumed. Some fans have reported having post-concert amnesia due to sensory overload. One could draw a comparison to Beatlemania, but Beatles fans didn’t have TikTok.

I’ve interviewed over 50 Taylor Swift fans for a book I’m writing about the fandom, and many have described the delight of watching the concert unfold on their phone and the power of knowing that their private experience is being shared by literally hundreds of thousands of fans across the globe. Swifties have told me that they relate to the autobiographical details of Swift’s songs because her lyrics speak to near-universal experiences of girlhood and womanhood. One told me that it was like Swift was “reading my diary.”

Fans react as Taylor Swift performs in Atlanta
Fans react as Taylor Swift performs in Atlanta, on April 28.Terence Rushin / TAS23/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management file

The intense commitment fans have with their celebrity heroes can create positive lateral bonds with fellow fans, or what sociologists refer to as “social capital.” These feelings of deep intimacy can also escalate into unhealthy parasocial relationships. Swift’s breakup with Joe Alwyn, her boyfriend of six years, led some fans to mourn the separation as a personal loss. In Minneapolis, Swift performed her song “Dear John” for the first time in over 10 years, and prefaced the song by encouraging her fans to act with “kindness and gentleness,” a move to squelch the hatred Swifties tend to direct toward her ex-boyfriend and the reputed subject of the song, John Mayer.

The Eras Tour will likely make Taylor Swift a billionaire, and the U.S. leg of the tour is on track to generate approximately $5 billion in consumer spending.

Swifties are not without their divisions and drama. Members of the “gaylor” community — those who interpret Swift’s music and celebrity through a queer lens — sometimes face online harassment from their fellow fans. Swift’s short relationship with Matty Healy, the controversial frontman for the band The 1975, caused a brief but intense uproar within the fandom. After Healy appeared to condone racist remarks on a podcast, some Swifties circulated an open letter to Swift calling on her “to engage in genuine self-reflection” and to distance herself from Healy. While some fans supported the letter, others saw it as an embarrassing effort to police Swift’s personal life. For Swift’s mostly white millennial fanbase, these controversies create a space for important conversations about allyship and the limits of white feminism.

The Eras Tour will likely make Taylor Swift a billionaire, and the U.S. leg of the tour is on track to generate approximately $5 billion in consumer spending. It is easy to dismiss the frenzy surrounding Swift as mindless hero worship. Yet, the Swifties have shown the power of fandom to create social bonds that transcend consumerism. In an era of climate crisis and deepening social inequalities, fans have leveraged their parasocial relationships with Swift to create an imperfect haven from an often-difficult world.  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *