So our son’s girlfriend and her friend wanted to see Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour and our son wanted his brother along for company, so it ended up being all of us going, somehow. Her parents came along as well, and got us all our tickets. Not that I knew anything about Taylor Swift other than that she is immensely popular, and that she had a hit song called “Shake It Off.” I went because I always want to be in the zeitgeist, as this blog’s title indicates.
The theater was one of those dine-in places, and I grabbed a beer and a wine at the bar while Aileen ordered us some nachos. As we went in to the theater to sit down, an employee approached us and asked us what our favorite Taylor Swift song was. I answered “Shake It Off,” as that was literally the only one of her songs I knew of. “That’s in the show!” the employee said, and for my trouble she gave us each a sticker from a bag she was holding.
The seats were nice, not recliners but big and comfortable. We were sitting in front of our son’s girlfriend and her friend, and when I showed them my sticker, it turned out they hadn’t gotten any, so we gave ours to them. The friend in particular was a big fan, and had already seen the movie the previous night, at a different location.
The movie, which is a film of Swift’s currently touring concert, turned out to be very long (but not even as long as the actual concert, as I understand it). It was filmed at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, just last August. It was quite entertaining, and I enjoyed it throughout despite its length, and despite the small crowd of young girls who were noisily singing along to every song.
And I mean girls – just kids, some no more than 5 or 6, who knew every word of the lyrics, though I had to wonder if they really understood them. They were being supervised by their moms, who presumably were the ones who had indoctrinated them into the cult. The moms were about the same age as Taylor Swift herself, and recorded the girls on their phones as they paraded through the aisles and sang off-key. I’m sure it would have mortified any fire marshall, or voice instructor, who might have been there.
The show is a spectacle, with lots of fun sets with moving platforms, flashy costumes, and incredibly talented musicians and dancers. It is divided into multiple acts, each featuring songs from one of Swift’s albums, in chronological order. These are the “eras.”
But the thing about her music is, to me at least: all her songs sound the same. They have the same dancy beat, and I could barely tell the melody apart from one song to the next. The lyrics aren’t poetic so much as personal monologues, like each song is a journal entry. Her concert ends up being a musical about the last ten or fifteen years of her life.
What stands out about Swift’s performance isn’t her musical creativity so much as her incredible poise and presence. If she were an RPG character, her main stat would by charisma. I mean, she has it at legendary levels. How else do you think she got millions of followers? She’s been brashly telling them her life story through song, freely confessing to every insecurity and petty grievance, and they are hooked on it.
Swift is an iconic embodiment of the ambition and confidence of her generation of women. She’s a Millennial, and even identifies as such at one point in the program. Her generation was raised to believe in their specialness and their capability, and the women of her generation in particular have benefited from this upbringing. They are the “girl power” generation, and Taylor Swift surely projects power when she is on stage.
She projects the self-assurance of an independent woman, like the female pop singers of a slightly older age (Beyoncé is a great example) that came before her. I’m sure this is part of why the MAGA crowd is so annoyed with her. That and her support for Democratic candidates. It might be only superficially, but in her style and choices she is clearly on the side of the Culture Wars that supports diversity and inclusion. If MAGA has a problem with that, she just tells them: “you need to calm down.”
As I watched the spectacle on the screen, I realized that it reflected a vision of women and minorities empowered that is the antithesis of the reactionary MAGA vision. Taylor Swift’s cult of personality is thus in direct opposition to the one of that other guy. Joanna Weiss, writing for Politico, noticed this as well, commenting on the power of group belonging, and how it shapes politics.
Culture and politics instersect, and though Swift isn’t a politician, if her superfans of voting age follow her lead, she will certainly act as a counter to the other cult leader at the ballot box. His rallies might have their own energy and enthusiasm, but they don’t reach anywhere near the scale of a Taylor Swift concert. Judging from that alone, in the final anaylsis, the partiarchy doesn’t stand a chance.