The Taylor Swift Effect

Intentional or not, Taylor Swift is a mega force who creates hype, crosses genres, smashes records and sets new ones, regularly makes feminism a conversation topic, boosts economies in each destination she visits thus far on her Eras Tour, and is ratings gold for the NFL. That is the effect of Taylor Swift. 

Her impact stretches far beyond the musical sphere, so much so, that universities, increasingly, are promoting college courses about her. This fall, the University of Kansas (KU), will offer two sections—one via the honors program and a larger one, The Sociology of Taylor Swift, that’s open to all students. Questions the class will explore, according to Dr. Brian Donovan, KU professor of sociology, include ones about her early career as well as about her fan base—the Swifties—and many others.  

“To what extent is Taylor Swift a feminist? What are the benefits and limitations of her feminist vision? Who are the Swifties? How is the Taylor Swift fandom organized? What are the divisions and hierarchies within the fandom?” asks Donovan. “Almost all the students do the reading and are ready to talk about it. That fact alone makes me see the value of classes like this.”

The idea to teach this class first struck Donovan two years ago, but it did not launch until 2023. So far, the response has been “overwhelmingly positive.” 

“I learn so much from my students. They routinely make smart connections and analyses that I would otherwise miss,” he says. “Almost all of them are Taylor Swift experts, so the pedagogical magic happens very quickly when we mix social-science concepts and theories into our discussions.”

In February, Swift announced at the Grammys that she was going to release a new album, which turned out to be a surprise double album, The Tortured Poets Department, and its anthology, released on April 19. In its first day, it sold 1.4 million copies, becoming her biggest sales week for an album, and further evidence of her global influence. Like millions of others, Donovan is a fan, and he became a “low-key” Swiftie during her 1989 era. But it’s her Lover album that got him hooked. As for her the reigning era, only days old, his personal favorite is The Bolter.

“It’s a headphones kind of album with precious few radio-friendly bops. Taylor perfectly summons Karen Carpenter’s beautiful melancholia. . . Musically, the album creates a moody soundscape that conjures rave chillout-room vibes,” he says. 

More than anything that she does, it’s her chemistry and connection that makes Swift a phenomenon, Donovan says, and one that he is exploring in a forthcoming book about her fandom that he’s writing. 

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