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The year of Taylor Swift

The artist’s tightknit fandom highlights the modern need for community

Taylor Swift accepting the award for video of the year for "Anti-Hero" during the MTV Video Music Awards on Tuesday, Sept. 12 Associated Press/Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision

The year of Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift’s popularity has grown so universal and influential that it is often talked about in ecclesiastical terms.

After attending one of Swift’s Eras Tour concerts in Los Angeles in August, journalist Bilal Qureshi wrote, “In a city without a center and isolating car culture, for one week Taylor Swift transformed LA’s stadium into a cathedral.” Qureshi called the concert a “big tent revival,” describing how fans found shared identity and community in the event.

How did Swift build such a devoted following? What need do her music and performances attempt to meet in modern society? Brett McCracken, senior editor for The Gospel Coalition, says the answers to those questions can hold insight for Christian ministries.

“I think anytime those secular worship services of sorts play out, Christians should pay attention to that and ask questions about what is it that is motivating people in this kind of passionate way to come in such large numbers around this thing,” McCracken said. “Because in answering that question, I think we will turn up fruitful insights about the people we’re trying to reach evangelistically and how we’re trying to ultimately offer a more satisfying object of worship, which is Jesus Christ.”

Swift’s Eras Tour kicked off in March and has since made modern music history. It is projected to make more than $1 billion, surpassing Elton John’s farewell tour record of over $900 million, according to Time. The tour has boosted local economies where she performs. USA Today is hiring a reporter dedicated to covering Swift, who recently made international headlines by striking up a romance with Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce.

For those who can’t attend the tour in person, Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour movie will be playing in theaters starting Oct. 13. Sales for the film are also breaking records, according to CNBC.

After a long, pandemic-induced break from concerts, the Eras Tour celebrates Swift’s 17-year music career. At about three hours long, the setlist features songs from each of her “eras.” Since the beginning of her career in the 2000s, Swift’s music has captured the experiences of young girls maturing into women through vivid and relatable stories. Her early work in country music depicts innocent love and youthful heartbreak. It addresses the insecurities, delights, and daydreams of the teen years.

“Those are some of the most familiar feelings humans go through, is love broken or love unrequited, things like that,” said Sam Ortiz, a Swift fan. “They’re very relatable for many, many people.”

In the 2010s, Swift shifted genres away from the country style associated with her stories of high school romance. Her pop albums 1989 (2014), Reputation (2017), and Lover (2019) reflected a change of scene for Swift and new experiences that were still relatable. The topics of her music became more mature while her lyrics remained mostly inoffensive. (Lover included the song “You Need to Calm Down,” a pro-LGBT anthem.)

“COVID was peak Taylor in our family, in our station wagon, where a playlist kept her in heavy rotation,” Taylor Antrim wrote for Vogue. “Every family in America was listening to Taylor Swift—but that only made it better. We were part of something big, a monoculture, possibly the last one [my daughter] would experience.”

Swift stayed busy during the pandemic, retaining influence over the pop music scene and interest with her fans by shifting stylistic gears to match the mood of COVID-19 years. In less than three years, she released albums Folklore (2020), Evermore (2020) and Midnights (2022). For the first two, Swift pivoted stylistically from pop, achieving a wistful folk-inspired sound. Midnights is pop-influenced again, but still moody. Music critic and historian Ted Gioia writes that sad music is growing in popularity and that Gen Z is pushing this trend. Gen Z fans will find that sadness in Swift’s later albums.

Nostalgia is another important part of Swift’s fan culture and the Eras Tour. In reference to a lyric on the Midnights album, concertgoers make and trade homemade bracelets, a throwback to childhood crafting trends before social media took over. Swift leans into the nostalgia—she is releasing new recordings of her albums online and selling them as vinyl and CDs.

“Our society in the digital age, loneliness is on the rise,” McCracken said. “People feel isolated. Technology, for all of its promises to connect us, has actually made us feel more lonely. And so I think there’s actually a deep hunger in our current cultural moment for community and for belonging.”

Swift exhibits respect for her audience, treating it as an integral part of the experience rather than a bloc of consumers. McCracken said churches can learn from the Swift fandom by “just recognizing that there is this real hunger for the types of things that the church is naturally set up to provide, which is belonging, and community, and a community of diversity where you’re united with people you don’t normally rub shoulders with, or a common praise and worship of something that is worthy of praise, and Jesus is worthy.”

Anna Sylvestre

Anna is a WORLD contributor and a graduate of World Journalism Institute.


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