TAylor Swift Swifties Fandom superdiversity

Superdiversity within the Swifties

10 minutes to read
Article
Sam van Alebeek
07/05/2018

Music is an international language that everyone speaks; it brings people together. Members from fandoms come from places all over the world, they all have different nationalities, speak different languages and come from different cultures. The fandom of Taylor Swift -  the Swifties – is therefore a superdiverse group. Or is it?

Superdiversity refers to the proces of the 'diversification of diversity' (Vertovec, 2006). In contrast to this, one could argue that despite this superdiversity, some characteristics of the members are similar all over the world. When members of the group communicate with each other online, for example, the main language used is English. Moreover, Swifties buy and wear the same merchandise and listen to the same music no matter where they live or where they come from. Accordingly, we could ask ourselves the question: in what way are Swifties superdiverse?

 

Taylor Swift, outsiders and the Swifties culture

Taylor Swift is a 27-year-old singer-songwriter from the United States. She has had multiple number 1 singles and has won several Grammy Awards. ("Taylor Swift", 2017). She has a huge number of fans, who call themselves Swifties. The Swifties are a social group in the way that social groups are described in Howard Becker’s Outsiders (1963); the group has norms that members of the group have to obey, these are not particular written-down rules, instead there are social standards and norms that need to be obeyed.  

Looking at the group in an online environment, for example on Twitter, one of their rules is that it is not allowed to bully another fan. Fans who notice people being rude to others will stand up for each other and confront the bully about their behavior. Curse words are not appreciated and hate towards others gets heavily criticized. Lastly, imitating Taylor Swift is a total no-go, and will not be respected by other fans (Hannah Jorissen, personal communication, 2017). 

Moreover, the group contains crusaders who guide and ‘rule’ the group. They are basically the leaders of the group and have a big online following, which gives them much power within the fandom. According to Becker (1963), it is important in social groups that its obey certain rules. The main crusader of the Swifties is Taylor Swift herself. She is obviously the most important person in the fandom, with an enormously powerful position in controlling the group. If Taylor Swift makes a decision regarding the fandom, the Swifties will obey this and follow her ideas. The Swifties thus is a social group with norms and social standards, ruled and guided by crusaders, which are Taylor Swift herself and the more well-known Swifties.

Subcultures exist through people who engage in activities regarded as deviant in their social group.

In Outsiders, Howard Becker describes that in order to “understand the behavior of someone who is a member of such a group it is necessary to understand that way of life.” (1963, p.97). As mentioned in the book, “whenever some group of people have a bit of common life with a modicum of isolation from other people, a common corner in society, common problems and perhaps a couple of enemies, there culture grows. (Becker, 1963, p. 80). In the case of the Swifties, the group of fans do not live isolated from other people, though they do deal with common problems regarding the fandom and their idol and do sometimes share a couple of enemies, which could be people from other fandoms for example. 

There is an actual culture regarding this fandom with its own social standards. Within this culture, there are multiple subcultures. These subcultures exist because some members of the group's behavior differs from the norm: “people who engage in activities regarded as deviant typically have the problem that their view of what they do is not shared by other members of the societies. (…) Since these cultures operate within, and in distinction to, the culture of the larger society, they are often called subcultures (Becker, 1963, p.81-82). These subcultures within the Swifties exist because all of these fans come from different places in the world, speak different languages and experience their own, local cultures, which causes this 'deviant' behavior. 

 

Superdiversity and the Swifties

Pop music is accessible everywhere in the world and so is Taylor Swift’s music. When looking at the sales of her albums, they're made all over the world. The most significant ones vary from the UK to the US and from Japan to Australia ("Taylor Swift Discography", n.d.). It is therefore no surprise that Swifties are a superdiverse group as well. All of these people from all of these different countries listen to the same type of music, although their behavior still varies, as they are from different cultures. At most concerts in Japan, for instance, it is not allowed to take pictures or film videos during the concert. This is not because of copyright reasons, but because a ton of phones and cameras will block people’s vision. Not taking pictures or videos is seen as an act of politeness (Japan Today, 2015). This is an example of superdiversity within a fandom, in this case the Swifties. 

In the Netherlands for example, it is very common to take pictures and videos during concerts. After a concert of any musician or artist in the Netherlands, footage is available everywhere. Therefore, during the same world tour of Taylor Swift, the concert in Amsterdam might be an arena full of fans recording her and taking pictures, while the concert in Tokyo might look completely different.

Moreover, there are tons of national fan pages for Taylor Swift. Swifties are organizing themsleves around national Facebook pages in France, Taiwan, Brazil, Mexico and many other places as well. This is a very clear representation of the superdiversity in this group. A couple of these fan pages have Taylor Swift’s latest album “Reputation” as their profile picture and others have used another picture of her. This is a first illustration that the fan pages contain similar types of content and all revolve around Taylor Swift. This is an index of the truly global aspect of this social group. The music of Taylor Swift and her merchendise are all distrubuted on a global scale.  

The first differences pop up on the national scale. The first indicator of the layered nature of this global phenomenon is thus found in language. Even though all these Facebook pages give a similar biography of Swift, they do use different languages. Allof these pages are in their own national language, and are therefore targeted at fans from that particular country. This is a classic example of the proces of deglobalization: a global product is infused in a local context. This is another indicator that the Swifties are a transnational phenomenon, and thus not a homogenous subnational culture.  

Social media platforms are important infrastructures of this social group. It's these media that co-construct the social group. Certain media are operating on the local/national scale; others are operating on a global scale. The Swifties are superdiverse and they are made into one group through their fandom and through social media. People from all over the world have the opportunity to communicate with each other via social media platforms. It is this embeddness that explains the layeredness of the group: on a local or national scale they use the local language; they mobilize local customs in their fandom. At the same time, these media also facilitate the existence of a social group on a global scale.

When Swifties attend meetups in their own country, they are most likely to speak the national language with each other, just like this is done on their national fan pages. This also happens when Taylor Swift gives a concert in a particular city. When taking that aspect into account, there is much diversity between the different nationalities of the Swifties and their ways of communicating with each other. 

National fan pages of Taylor Swift on Facebook

In contrast to these national fan pages using their own language, when Swifties communicate with other fans from different countries on online platforms, the language that is spoken is English. By using English, Swifties from all over the world are able to unite and communicate with each other and as an effect of this, their messages and ideas will reach more people than just fans from their own country. Moreover, Taylor Swift (just like other artists) sells the same merchandise at her concerts, no matter their location, and her online store is international. This causes her fans – regardless of where they come from – to all wear the same merchandise and buy the same items. 

All of these factors make the superdiversity in this group so interesting: the Swifties have their own norms and rules that apply within the fandom, as mentioned earlier. They have their own culture where these rules apply. Though in contrast to this, the Swifties do come from different cultures and speak different native languages. This causes subcultures to exist within this fandom and this results in a superdiverse social group.

It is important to note that the digital infrastructure is crucial in establishing the superdiverse nature of the Swifties. It is by using digital platforms, such as Facebook, that the different local Swifties become part of this transnational culture. Digitalization, just like migration, is a constitutative element of what we call superdiversity. The structure of this culture, its layered and translocal character reflects the affordances of the digital platforms. 

 

Swifties, digitalization and superdiversity

To conclude, it is very clear that the Swifties are a superdiverse group. All of this diversity within the fandom is a result of new migration patterns, the rise of digital media and the changing of economic paradigms. This fandom is the perfect example of what Maly & Varis (2016) call micro-populations. Identity in times superdiversity, they argue, is polycentric, layered and transnational affair. Digital media created ‘’new forms and scales of identity construction and culture production’’ (Maly, 2017). Swifties are a clear example of these forms of identity production on a new scales. The Swifties are not just a 'global social group', but a layered, polycentric and transnational group. Some aspects function on a global scale (the style and music of Taylor Swift for example) but other aspects are purely local: the use of the national language, or the following of national customs. This layerd population of the Swifties is connected to digital media. It is the embeddedness in this digital infrastructure that provides the structure of the group.

The group has its own culture on a global scale by wearing identical merchandise, admiring the same artist, enjoying her music and speaking English when communicating with each other on online platforms. On top of this, the group has rules and norms that are thought of and regulated by crusaders in the group, which are ‘popular’ fans and Taylor Swift herself. This global cultural dimension of the Swifties gets appropriated locally. The Swifties are thus not a homogenous social group, but is a layered cultural phenomeon orienting towards different centers of normativity on different scales.  Even though English is the lingua franca on the global scale, we see different Swifties pages organized on a nationale scale: most countries have their own national fan page for Taylor Swift. In these communities, Swifties speak different native languages. And in every country, there are different cultural values that are operational and interact with the global Swifties culture. 

The Swifties are thus not a global group, nor is it a national subculture, it in an inherently superdiverse transnational micro-population. All of these different cultures within the fandom create superdiversity within the social group of the Swifties. And that superdiversity is not erased because of their fandom, it interacts with the global operating crusaders. It is in this interaction that the Swifties come into being. 

References

Becker, H. (1963). Outsiders: Study in the Sociology of Deviance. New York: The Free Press

Jorissen, Hannah. Interview through WhatsApp. 2017 

Maly, I. (2017). Knowledge in the Digital World. Notes from lectures. Tilburg University. 

Maly, I. & Varis, P. (2016). The 21st century hipster: on micro-populations in times of super-diversity. Tilburg papers in Humanities.  

Miller, KK & Rocketnews24. (2015, March 5). Why do most concerts held in Japan prohibit taking pictures? Japan Today. 

Taylor Swift Discography. (n.d.). Wikipedia. Retrieved November, 2017. 

Taylor Swift Store. (n.d.). Retrieved December 30th, 2017.

Taylor Swift. (n.d.) Biography. Retrieved November, 2017. 

Vertovec, S. (2006). The emergence of super-diversity in Britain. Centre of Migration, Policy and Society, Paper 25.