Welcome to Swift Notes: your weekly guide to the ever-expanding Taylor Swift multiverse – The Guardian

Join me in teasing apart Swift’s record-breaking, norm-shifting, joyously deranging and sometimes infuriating cultural influence
Crafts, capitalism, conspiracies, cultural norms, the climate crisis; football, family relations, fine dining; Argylle, AI, asbestos, academia and museums; the US election, Senate hearings, international relations and the international date line; romance, sexuality and the right way to be successful; gun crime, Grammys and grammar (yes, really): in just the first two months of 2024, the Guardian’s reporting on Taylor Swift has spilled far beyond her natural home in the music section, reflecting a reach that exceeds the pop superstar’s unstoppable ambitions. Last year, one US publication sparked controversy for hiring a dedicated Swift correspondent, but the joke is that anyone in entertainment and culture media – and the rest of it – is essentially a de facto Swift reporter now. Her influence is so vast that writing about her sometimes feels less like documenting a singular pop career than it does reporting on the affairs of a small nation. (The total revenues of just the US leg of the Eras tour have been estimated to be larger than the GDP of 35 countries.)
I can’t lie: this can feel exhausting. And even after the recent brouhaha around her victory at the Grammys and her boyfriend Travis Kelce’s victory at the Super Bowl, there’s still untold Swift activity coming down the pipe this year: a new album, The Tortured Poets Department (no apostrophe!), in April; the final two albums of her re-recording project; the Eras tour doesn’t even reach Europe until May – and those are just the plans that the workaholic pop star has divulged. Just as Swift claims to offset carbon emissions from her private jet usage, I sometimes fret that for every Swift piece we publish, we should cover something from music’s fringes. (Luckily for anyone less-than-enchanted by her ubiquity, there are plenty of alternatives in the music pages.) But sometimes, the best approach to an absurd state of affairs is more absurdity, and so throughout 2024 – until some suitable conclusion – rather than be dragged under by this inexorable tide, the Swift Notes newsletter will ride the Swift wave in all its record-breaking, norm-shifting, joyously deranging and sometimes infuriating magnitude, examining the impact of Swift’s actions and the lens she offers on to a baffling range of contemporary issues, with seriousness/silliness as called for.
In September, Shaad D’Souza wrote about how Swift had managed to get back on top after enduring a debilitating backlash around 2017, caused in part by overexposure. His theory was that in today’s age of hyper-personalised social media feeds, “there’s just too much content online for any one person to become significantly overexposed and fewer avenues for fans or haters to air grievances that will be seen by broad swaths of the population”. While I think this is true in general, the hyper-acceleration of Swift’s already incomparable fame in subsequent months – thanks to her high-profile relationship with Kelce, the blockbuster cinema release of the Eras tour film and her apparent resumed ease with being photographed in public after her very private six-year relationship with actor Joe Alwyn – has proved her the monocultural exception to the rule. In January, Billboard named her No 1 on their annual Power 100 list – above Lucian Grainge, CEO of her label group.
Her every move is documented – this month, the tabloids used drones to get blurry photos of her and Kelce visiting a zoo during the Sydney stint of the Eras tour; she also “went official” with Kelce on TikTok – which in turn produces a surfeit of raw material for onlookers to make meaning from. At its most benign, that’s fan speculation about what Selena Gomez whispered to her at the Golden Globes; at its weirdest, it’s the New York Times publishing a weird essay speculating about her sexuality (save it for Tumblr); at its most nefarious, it’s rightwing pundits alleging that her relationship with Kelce and his team’s Super Bowl win is a “Biden psyop” designed to dupe the US into re-electing the Democrats, while one poll says 18% of Americans believe Swift is part of such a covert operation. (Meanwhile the New York Times reported that Biden’s camp is desperate for Swift’s endorsement – he joked on late-night TV that the matter was “classified” – and another poll suggested that 18% of voters would be more likely to vote for any candidate that Swift backed.) Swift is undoubtedly significant, but she has also become a magnet for meaning, much of it over-ascribed. “Call it the Swiftularity,” as the New Yorker’s Kyle Chayka put it recently. “It’s not that Swift is all we talk about; it’s that anything we talk about bends back toward her, stretching the boundaries of logic.”
Given this wild multiplicity of narratives, Swift Notes will tease out the stories that Swift crafts so carefully – in her songs and her self-mythologising – and those that are told about her. My qualifications: about 12 years ago I realised I had gone from “casually aware” of Swift to being an attentive fan; I struggle to retain information on anything useful yet could probably do Mastermind on her without cramming. I’ve interviewed her at home in Nashville and seen her live six times, including an Eras show in Los Angeles last year; a friendship bracelet reading “1-2-3 let’s go bitch!” hangs in my room. In June, I’m going with nine friends to see the tour in Edinburgh, having endured the nightmarish Ticketmaster sale process that Swift likened to experiencing “several bear attacks” (there were spreadsheets). We are both 1989-born type-A freaks with a bit of a vindictive streak, yet I am baffled by her apparently endless need to win. And while I find her project to re-record her first six albums to regain ownership over them bonkers in a great way, I think the multiple physical editions – each made attractive by the inclusion of one supposedly “exclusive” song that then inevitably becomes widely available later on – exploit her loyal fans (and the Taylor’s Versions seldom hold a torch to the originals). That said, ask me again once we get the bonus tracks on the forthcoming Reputation (Taylor’s Version), categorically her best album …
I’ve always made sense of the world through music, so this prismatic pop star is a dream subject for weekly essays, Q&As, analysis and number-crunching. Join me and fellow Guardian writers in this getaway car (possibly on a direct route to madness). Queries, theories or comments? Email me at [email protected] – and mark whether your comments are for publication in future newsletters.
Politics Weekly America: Is Taylor Swift part of a conspiracy to defeat Donald Trump?
V&A museum seeks Swiftie to advise on Taylor Swift fan culture
Taylor Swift: The Eras tour Melbourne show review – eye-popping spectacle from a generous performer
‘Taylor became part of the family’: Swiftie parents and kids on how her music brought them together
‘I’m scared I’ll never feel the same happiness again’: how to handle a Taylor Swift comedown
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Welcome to Japan, Taylor Swift fans. Please remain seated as you cheer (New York Times, 9 February) A fascinating report from the Tokyo stop of Swift’s tour on the frustrations of famously polite Japanese fans at the rowdier international Swift tourists who travelled abroad for the show.
Taylor Swift made Grammy history – and one big mistake (Slate, 5 February) The great Canadian critic Carl Wilson on Swift’s surprise mishandling of the Grammy awards: appearing to shun Céline Dion – in a rare public appearance after her diagnosis with stiff-person syndrome (also the subject of Wilson’s phenomenal book on “bad” taste) – when she collected the award for album of the year; and announcing her new album in another acceptance speech as if “she was at a shareholders’ meeting to announce her second-quarter profit projections”.
Taylor Swift conspiracy theorists get psyops all wrong (Wired, 1 February) An informed dissection of the “psyop” conspiracies – and why those making them have no idea what a psyop actually is.
Taylor Swift and the unbearable whiteness of girlhood (NPR Code Switch, 31 January) A smart podcast episode on why whiteness gives Swift the privilege of being associated with girlhood, even at age 34, and the presenters’ perception that she has not adequately used her very safe platform to advocate for others. (Transcription here.)
Mdou Moctar – Funeral for Justice From a new album addressing colonial violence against Niger and the Tuareg people, the Nigerien guitarist and his band issue a rallying cry for African leaders to “retake control of your countries, rich in resources / Build them and quit sleeping” that seems to frenetically dismantle the past and tessellate a new future. (Follow the weekly Hits Different playlist on Spotify.)

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