Comment: How ‘Swift-mania’ Took Over the World

Taylor-made for success: Matthew Ennis on the incredible rise of the 21st Century’s biggest pop star…

(Image: Omin Armin, Unsplash)

If Taylor Swift was one of the most famous people in the world before, we’re now living in the world (Taylor’s Version). 

In the last year, the singer-songwriter has reached unprecedented heights, marked by the release of her 10th studio album Midnights, in October 2022. 

The album became the most streamed in a single day on Spotify, the best-selling of 2022 and a chart juggernaut, making Swift the first person to claim the entire Billboard Top 10. 

Presales for Swift’s record-breaking Eras Tour crashed Ticketmaster as 3.5 million fought for tickets. For context, Swift would have to play 900 stadiums to fill this demand!

But ‘Swift Mania’ goes beyond numerical values of popularity; it’s a unique cultural phenomenon and an economic market which smaller firms can prosper from. 

With dedicated club nights like Swiftoggedon, societies in most universities, cities being temporarily renamed in her honour during her tour stops, and innumerable podcasts and academic material (including a planned ‘Swiftposium’ conference in 2024), the impact is undeniable. 

Even drag impersonator Taylor Sheesh recently drew in a crowd of 10,000 in a Philippines mall performance. 

This extends to York, with its’ Swift Soc and 4 club nights in October alone. 

But what is it about Swift that attracts such unrivalled cultural frenzy?

It can’t be discounted that Swift was the right person at the right time. A teen country star embodying the heartbroken girl next door, she emerged as a wholesome and relatable figure for young girls to grow up alongside. 

Crucially, her 2008 breakthrough happened during a time before streaming when people still broadly consumed the same content through radio stations and broadcast TV channels. 

It’s unlikely that she could have captured the initial household name status, which she now builds upon, in the present day, when media is more oversaturated with social media and music streaming services that allow everyone to dictate their own listening – limiting the number of globally recognisable superstars and hit songs. 

Nevertheless, Swift’s artistry has allowed her to hold on to this success. 

Essential to her appeal is a commitment to the craft of songwriting while traversing different musical genres and aesthetics. 

Swift has written or co-written all of her songs that cover country, pop, folk and even rap and pop rock. 

This generates the idea of something greater about Swift than any one sound, defying contemporaries like Katy Perry who haven’t held on to their 2010’s pop success. 

Entering the music scene through country, a genre that doesn’t typically hold mainstream appeal, may have helped her establish a more committed fanbase by emphasising a more central artistic essence. 

Swift has always focussed on lyricism and storytelling too, covering heartbreak, friendship, grief, ageing and politics. 

The same emotional vulnerability can be heard in both teenage tales of unrequited love on her 2006 debut and her introspective self-loathing and anxious ruminations on 2022’s Midnights.

This storytelling is consistently underscored by strong melody. 

Though more muted, the same melodic strength that defined the catchy pop hooks of 1989 is present in the folk songs of Folklore and Evermore

Producing carefully curated albums, rather than singles, has further defined her career., 

Each album has a definitive sound, concept and visual aesthetic (its’ ‘Era’). 

Alongside consistent engagement with fans that can be traced back to hidden messages in lyric booklets on her debut album, these Eras create a wider ‘universe’ beyond Swift herself. 

Swift constantly references previous albums with Easter Eggs hidden in her visuals. 

Hence, to be a Swiftie is to enter a community who engage in endless analysis and theorising, who look for number 13’s everywhere, who associate every colour with an album, and who recognise the significance of otherwise insignificant details like red scarves, snakes and friendship bracelets. 

The success of Midnights is less representative of the album itself but rather the culmination of 17 years of artistry and world-building. 

Swift’s ‘back to basics’ approach of slower, acoustic songwriting on 2020’s Folklore cemented her artistic status and gained acclaim from people who wouldn’t previously consider themselves fans.

With the ease of revisiting large discographies on streaming platforms and Swift’s ‘Taylor’s Version’ project (re-recording her first 6 albums to reclaim the rights to her masters), these new fans could quickly immerse themselves in this ‘universe’ in a process that couldn’t have happened at any other point in music history. 

Looking to the future, while Swift’s fame may fluctuate over time, the committed fanbase she has fostered means she’ll never (completely) go out of style.