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Original photo by Taylor Gabrovic
Entertainment

SWIFTIES: OUR REPUTATION PRECEDES US

An entire crowd screams and bounces on their feet as the familiar drumming of the first song of the setlist, “State of Grace” blasts out. I’m twelve years old and can’t afford a highly coveted ticket to Taylor Swift’s Red concert, so I watch a video from the comfort of my bed, legs hanging off the edge and eyes glued to the screen. My heart starts to pound as the stage lights brighten and glisten. As she sings, the entire crowd drifts away to the lyrics: walking fast through the traffic lights/ busy streets and busy lives. The smell of fall in my nostrils, the taste of late-afternoon air, and burning red dissipating before me. This is the imagery and experience Taylor Swift invokes in her fans, endearingly known as the Swifties. 

The image you see of Swifties is often that of screaming crowds, full of young girls who never grow up and are overly obsessed with a rather bland pop star. The screaming, of course, is an integral part of our fanbase. But Swifties, at our cores, are sleuths. We search every nook and cranny for hidden secrets, scrutinize every emoji for hints at release dates, and scour every music video for easter eggs.

For example, after her Lover album, she posted an Instagram photo with seven palm trees to hint at her seventh album, which the Swifties immediately figured out. Since the Speak Now album, Taylor has embedded hidden messages within each album’s CD booklet, with capitalized letters spelling out clues of what a song is about. Using these clues, we connect the dots for every song and its meaning. 

For years Taylor has been criticized, whether it’s from a “lack of vocal” talent, scrutiny over her love life, or the way her songs are filled with lyrics about exes and love. Even recently, in the Netflix show Ginny and Georgia, during a fight with her mom, Ginny says, “You go through men faster than Taylor Swift”, an age-old insult and another rendition of the “Taylor Swift only writes songs about her exes” dig.

But in the song “Blank Space,” Taylor turns the table on her critics, and she plays into the joke of a madwoman who dramatically runs through men all too quickly. And it truly wasn’t until the release of Folklore and Evermore that people began to credit her songwriting for genius storytelling. It was only when she began to write songs that didn’t surround her love life that the public began to laud her as the genius lyricist she has always been.

To the world, Taylor is either a talentless singer or a strategic businesswoman whose every move is staged, deliberate, and calculated. This was exemplified by her drama with Kanye West, in which a secretly-recorded conversation of her approving of a lyric of his rap song “Famous” was released, and thus the creation of her reputation as a snake. 

But with her fans, Taylor engages in a way that is unique to the Swifties fandom and contrastingly authentic. On Tumblr, she lurks through fan pages and “likes” posts ranging from fan theories to lyric interpretations. She does it so often that the fanbase has given a name to her presence, #taylurking. 

As much of a storyteller Taylor Swift is, so are her fans. Her fans spin stories out of her songs, interpreting them and connecting dots that perhaps Taylor didn’t even plan. After all, once art is released into the world, it is up to its audience to interpret its meaning however they see fit. In her recent album Folklore, Swifties pieced together the details of a love triangle between characters Betty, James, and an unnamed character dubbed “August girl.” 

But Swifties, despite our reputation also calls for us to critically engage with Taylor’s image. In middle school, at the height of the backlash against her, I balanced the line between defending against the villainization put on her by the media, but also understanding the specific type of feminism Taylor represented. 

This was specifically seen with the annual July 4th parties she hosted, whose attendees were noticeably mostly white and thin. Swifties, including myself, know that Taylor Swift’s storytelling is limited to stories from a rich, privileged, cis, white woman’s perspective. But for many, we are able to both appreciate Taylor’s lyricism and literary talent while being aware that, despite her large platform and voice, her social activism at times has failed us. 

Much like her albums, Swifties are dynamic and diverse. While fanbases are often portrayed as fans blindly following the artist they love, it’s actually those who most understand an artist that can truly see them in both a critical light and appreciate their artistry for what it is.

Kelly Zhao

UC Berkeley '23

Kelly is a junior at UC Berkeley studying Economics with a minor in Journalism. In her free time, you can usually find her bingeing shows on Netflix, burying her nose in a book, eating yummy food, or daydreaming about traveling.