The ubiquitous power of Taylor Swift

What makes so many people willing to traverse the traffic, navigate the chaos and pay the wildly high expense to see Taylor Swift live?

Editor’s note: This story was originally published July 22, 2023.

A clock on a gigantic screen counts down the seconds. Fans scream over the background music that starts to hum “It’s been a long time coming.” A giant parachute glides through an open stage door, and others start to follow. The music starts getting louder. Bright lights are flashing.

The dancers holding the parachutes start to congregate in the center of the stage, and then out pops Taylor Swift, mic in hand, singing proudly, “It’s been a long time coming!”

The stadium erupts in cheers, and starts scream-singing along to the song “Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince.” That’s just the beginning of a three-hour show on Swift’s Eras Tour, and the excitement and theatrics build from there.

The Eras Tour started in March, drawing in millions of fans who are willing to travel across state lines and even country lines to see her perform.

The Eras Tour, Swift’s first time touring in five years, is predicted to become the highest-grossing global tour in history, with reports predicting it could top $520 million.

Cities that have hosted Swift have reported sold-out hotel rooms and boosts to the economy when the tour passes through — the Philadelphia Federal Reserve even said her tour was responsible for the “strongest month for hotel revenue” in the city since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Chicago broke an all-time record for total hotel rooms occupied during the weekend Swift performed in the city, per USA Today.

“It’s like, a Super Bowl that happens three times a week that’s going to be happening for the next two years.” — Jaymi Fast

So is Taylor Swift-mania reaching the same heights as Beatlemania in the 1960s? And what makes so many people willing to traverse the traffic, navigate the chaos and pay the wildly high expense to see Taylor Swift live?

Taylor Swift, right, watches from a suite alongside Travis Kelce’s mother, Donna Kelce, inside Arrowhead Stadium during the first half of an NFL football game between the Chicago Bears and Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo. | Ed Zurga, Associated Press

Taylor Swift attends an NFL game and becomes the top story of the day

Swift was spotted in attendance at a Kansas City Chiefs game seated next to Donna Kelce, tight end Travis Kelce’s mom, and it took over the internet and dominated headlines. Although the Chiefs are considered the top team in the league, especially after winning the 2023 Super Bowl — sports networks, pundits, players and fans could not stop going gaga over Swift.

Kelce scored a touchdown during the third quarter, and reactions centered around Swift cheering for the man she was rumored there to see.

She was the No. 2 trending topic on X, formerly known as Twitter, Sunday night — which is a feat on NFL Sunday.

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“Swift is perhaps the only star on earth with the fame to overwhelm an NFL Sunday,” Wall Street Journal sports columnist Jason Gay writes.

The NFL even changed its official TikTok account bio to read, “9/24/23 Taylor was here.”

Taylor Swift is a performer

Her performances have never been just about the music — the woman knows how to put on a show. With a massive crew of band members, backup dancers, backup singers, 16 costume changes and dynamic elements and props that go with each song, shipped to each tour stop on a fleet of semitrucks, the event is a production.

“It’s like, a Super Bowl that happens three times a week that’s going to be happening for the next two years,” Jaymi Fast, a Canadian digital marketer who traveled to Minneapolis to see the show, told the Deseret News. “It’s awesome to see a superstar that actually works the spotlight.”

Taylor Swift performs during “The Eras Tour” on Friday, May 5, 2023, at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn. | George Walker IV, Associated Press

Fans, dubbed “Swifties,” show up dressed to the nines sporting glitter, sequins, sparkles and feathers — wearing costumes many of them have been working on for weeks, if not months. Some costumes are copies of ones Swift herself has worn, while others reference Swift’s songs or specific era. Swifties also bring handfuls of friendship bracelets to trade with other fans before the show.

The Beatles tour in 1965 was the first stadium concert, and The Beatles themselves couldn’t even hear the music over the screaming of 56,000 fans. With more modern speaker systems, fans can still typically hear the music, but during Swift’s most popular hits like “22” and “Blank Space,” her voice gets drowned out by fans singing along, even with the higher-tech speakers.

Yet Swift still manages to also engage the crowd in a way that makes fans feel seen among the thousands, and she expresses gratitude at multiple points in the show that feels personal and authentic. It’s hard not to get won over and feel like your fandom is a part of something bigger.

It’s an experience that longtime fans and new fans she’s gathered in recent years, especially during the pandemic, have flocked to see.

Taylor Swift’s prolific pandemic

While most of us were at home bingeing “The Queen’s Gambit” and “Ted Lasso,” Swift worked during the pandemic. Shortly after cities locked down, she used the extra time to write and record an entire album based on character stories, shifting genres to indie-folk, with “Folklore.”

Swift became manically prolific at writing and recording albums, releasing two new albums in 2020 and two rereleases of her original albums in 2021. She also released another new album in October 2022.

The pandemic was isolating and lonely, and Swift provided something for her fans to look forward to and to get excited about by releasing so much new music and using social media to drop hints about what would be coming next.

The rise of Taylor Swift with rerecordings

In 2019, Swift revealed that her master recordings had been sold to music manager Scooter Braun without her knowledge or offering to let her to buy the songs first. She also accused Braun of being an “incessant, manipulative bully.” This prompted her to rerecord her first six albums that had been sold by her former label, so that she could be the sole owner of her master recordings.

Taylor Swift performs during “The Eras Tour” on Friday, May 5, 2023, at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn. | George Walker IV, Associated Press

Swift has since rereleased three of her original albums, with the first two now surpassing the number of streams on the original songs this summer — evidence that her fiercely loyal fanbase has started listening to only her rerecorded versions of the songs.

“She’s a multimultimillionaire, who’s turned herself into a victim, and I think rightly so,” Knox College philosophy professor Brandon Polite, who has researched Swift’s experience rerecording and rereleasing her albums, told the Deseret News. “And her fans have really come to support her in a way that I think is entirely justified and makes sense.”

That staunch loyalty to Swift is stoked by this narrative, and it’s also a way to bring back fans that may have loved her country eras but stopped listening when she started doing pop, while also possibly capturing the fans who enjoyed her newer material. It’s a full-circle experience for many fans to experience alongside with her.

Taylor Swift has made puzzles part of her brand

To the uninitiated, the Swiftie phenomenon might seem excessive and extreme, but Swift fans crave new clues or hints at what she’s up to next. She has almost gamified her brand, dropping hints about new music for fans to figure out in her music videos, social media posts, the lyrics booklets that come with her CDs and even with interviews with the media.

There are entire social media accounts dedicated to keeping fans updated on the latest news with Swift, as well as attempts to interpret Swift’s clues. That’s what Swift has managed to do brilliantly — build a community of obsessive and anxiously anticipating fans to see what she comes up with next and who actively listen to her music.

“With the rise of TikTok throughout the pandemic, it has just made these theories and Easter eggs so easily explained in short form content that gets people interested and roped into it, and then, you know, it’s just down the rabbit hole from there,” Fast said.

Wichita State University professor Hannah Wing, who studies parasocial relationships, has researched the Swiftie phenomenon and believes that part of Swift’s continual success comes down to her “business savvy.”

“The fact that she’s still selling so many physical albums and CDs in a time where that just that doesn’t happen anymore is impressive. She is able to do it because she keeps thinking of creative ways to keep it worthwhile for fans,” Wing told the Deseret News.

Taylor Swift accepts the award for best longform video for “All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version)” at the MTV Video Music Awards at the Prudential Center on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022, in Newark, N.J. | Charles Sykes, Invision, Associated Press

The Swiftie culture and community

After the Taylor Swift Ticketmaster crash of 2022 when close to two million fans tried to get tickets for her tour, thus crashing Ticketmaster, Wing asked 265 survey participants of about their experience trying to secure Eras Tour tickets. Despite 94% of respondents saying they had experienced at least one sort of issue purchasing a ticket, only 6% of respondents said they wouldn’t try to get tickets again.

“I also wonder if it’s a demographic of the kind of people who are Taylor Swift fans, typically young women who have grown up with her, who feel a lot of nostalgia about her and a lot of sentimentality,” Wing said. “And so I think it just means a lot to them. And so they’re going to be more willing to make the sacrifices necessary to make it to the show.”

“What it has to come down to is this, that she’s a really, really, really good songwriter.” — Brandon Polite

According to data from Morning Consult, 45% of her fans are millennials, meaning that many started listening as teenagers or young adults. For many of her fans, Swift’s music got them through breakups, big life changes and the seemingly impossible experience of growing up in the last 17 years.

Taylor Swift performs during the opener of her Eras tour in Glendale, Ariz., on March 17, 2023. Swift’s “Karma” is one of AP’s contenders for song of the summer. | Ashley Landis, File, Associated Press

Taylor Swift is a master of relatability and poetry

Despite exponential accolades (including 12 Grammys) and financial success — music and financial experts predict by the end of 2023, Swift will become a self-made billionaire — she has managed to remain a master of relatability.

With so many ways to find new music and artists, Wing said Swift’s ability to stay relevant and at the top of the zeitgeist is in how she still manages to relate to her fans directly through her music and writing.

“I think part of her popularity is probably also the level of intimacy in her music and then her lyrics that also cultivate that feeling of closeness,” Wing said.

Swift has written or co-written every song she has released, and fans view her writing as grounded, poetic and relatable to anyone who’s experienced love, heartbreak and the experience of just being human.

“You can have all the business savvy in the world. But if your songs aren’t good, if your lyrics aren’t good, if the songs aren’t catchy, and they don’t speak to people, and they don’t resonate with an audience, all the business savvy in the world isn’t going to get you much of anything,” Polite said. “And so ultimately, what it has to come down to is this: she’s a really, really, really good songwriter.”