In October of 2014, I went to Paris for the first time ever on a school trip. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience; we went to the Louvre and saw the Mona Lisa, walked along the Pont des Arts, and even went to Disneyland for a couple of days. Though none of these stick out to me as a favourite memory of the trip. That, I have reserved for climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower. This is not because of the insane views and the fact I was at the peak of an iconic monument. It is because it was the first time I’d ever listened to 1989 by Taylor Swift, and to twelve-year-old me, that was everything.
It was the only time in the entire trip that I was able to connect to Wi-Fi and my first port of call was not to message my parents and tell them about how much of a good time I was having. Instead, I went straight to iTunes and hit the download button. I then spent the whole journey home with my headphones in, the outside world on the back burner, devouring every little bit of the album I could as I watched the streetlights of Paris flicker against the black of the coach window.
By that age, it had already been around a year since Taylor Swift had settled herself in as number-one on my priority list. I could go on forever telling the magnitudes of fanatical stories I have during the pinnacle of my Swift-infatuated years; the Eiffel Tower moment is just one of many. So much of my teenagehood is shaped by memories of dancing under concert confetti and screaming song lyrics with mascara-splattered cheeks stained by tears of euphoria. One might call my obsession embarrassing, and taint it with a judgemental cringe, but I strongly defend otherwise. I look back on those years with intense fondness because, quite simply, I have never felt such unadulterated joy and excitement in all my life. I also know I’m not the only one who feels this way.
Taylor Swift has always been a record-breaker – since her original Speak Now sold 1 million copies in its first week of release in the US, her success has been second to none – but 2023 has been arguably her biggest year yet. As of November 2023, Swift is the number-one most listened to artist worldwide on Spotify. With the release of Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) and 1989 (Taylor’s Version) this year, she now holds the record for having the most number-one albums of any female artist in history, with 13 number 1 albums over Barbara Streisand’s 11. But why now, more than ever?
Largely centred around the release of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie (2023) back in July, discussion surrounding girlhood and the female experience has circulated heavily in social media discourse over the summer, particularly on TikTok. Girlhood is, of course, whatever you want it to be. But through this trend, many women are now reclaiming their stereotypical feminine interests – such as a love for Taylor Swift’s music – with a power that is a force to be reckoned with. No longer should these interests be rebuffed with sexist assumptions of being “basic” or “uninteresting”. Instead, they are important, and deserve to be acknowledged as such.
Also long gone is the early-2010s misogynistic narrative that Taylor Swift “only writing about her exes” means that her talent is redundant. Rather, her vulnerability is her superpower; according to a survey recorded earlier this year, half of US adults consider themselves to be Taylor Swift fans, of which 42% of those cited her relatability as the reason behind their support of her music. Swift’s strength is her validation of common aspects of the female experience, whether this be feeling like an outsider in adolescence as portrayed in The Outside, the devastation of heartbreak explored in songs such as Last Kiss and All Too Well, to the fear of aging in Nothing New. There’s a Taylor Swift song for everything, each one laced with the promise of the understanding that no emotion should be deemed insignificant.
Since the debut of ‘The Eras Tour’ back in March, Taylor Swift’s affiliation with definitions of girlhood has been established through her music’s ability to create community, online and in real life. Swapping homemade friendship bracelets with strangers is the currency of her concerts, and your reward is the experience of empowering emotional cohesion as you hear thousands of voices screaming song lyrics, the very same lyrics that you have held close to your heart for so many years, all under one roof. From throwbacks such as the Fearless era’s Love Story to the current Midnights era’s smash-hits like Anti-Hero and Karma, The Eras Tour takes its audiences, whether in-person or on the big screen, on a nostalgic journey through Swift’s album eras, eras that fans themselves have grown up listening to and defined years of their girlhoods by.
Through Taylor Swift’s music, I was able to meet and cement some of my strongest female-friendships, past and present of which always lended a hand to hold and a shoulder to cry on during some of the hardest moments of my teenagehood. They ensured that my unadulterated joy for Swift was not experienced alone. It was shared and spread wide into an amalgamation of celebration for female expression, all tied by a collective devotion to an artist who stood (and still stands) for the very same thing.
I define my own girlhood by my moments of free, explosive emotion, shared by girls I’ve been lucky to have had by my side. And Taylor Swift’s music provided such a large quantity of those moments. She’ll never not be the number 1 artist on my Spotify Wrapped every year, even as I’ve grown out of my old tour t-shirts. I imagine the nostalgia for those memories and her music will permeate my life for decades to come – and I can’t wait to witness how she soundtracks the next generation of girlhoods.