Taylor Swift Fans Concert

Taylor Swift and the story of the Swifties fandom

15 minutes to read
Article
Amber van As
07/05/2018

Taylor Swift has been known as an artist for a long time. The Swifties are the loyal fanbase behind her and they can be considered a social group. This article will provide an introduction to the Swifties and its functioning and will connect the group to important themes such as superdiversity and neoliberalism. 

Welcome to the Swifties

When you turn on the radio, there is a pretty big chance you will come across a song from Taylor Swift, one of today’s biggest recording artists. The twenty-seven-year-old has already been around for quite some time, with her first album being released in 2006, when she was just sixteen. She was, an instant success, with her first album reaching 39.000 sales in just one week. It didn’t take her very long to become a strong force in today’s pop culture. Eleven years later, she is still a big part of the pop music scene, with her new single already breaking records, reaching nineteen million views in just one day. To be such an influencing icon she must have a pretty dedicated fandom, which she definitely does.

Figure 1. Views of newest single from Taylor Swift

Taylor’s fans call themselves Swifties, and their being a social group is the subject of this analysis. Her fans come from all over the world. When you think of a fan of Taylor’s, you might imagine a young girl, who sings along to all the songs. So, what makes them different from other social groups? Obviously, their love for Taylor. They show this by making social media accounts for her, creating YouTube videos, sending fan art etc. However, could there be more to it? Are there more rules for being a Swiftie than simply liking her music? When can you call yourself a ‘Swiftie’? These kinds of questions are the ones we will try to answer in this article.

 

Digital Ethnography and data

Due to digital developments, the functioning of and communication within fandoms has changed. It is a fact that contemporary fandom is largely an online affair (as fig 1 nicely illustrates) and this is also the case with the Swifties. In order to research this social group, digital ethnography is required, since the members of the group mainly operate and communicate online. The sphere in which the fandom operates will be our main source of information. More in particular, we will focus on the fact that identity and behavior is always embedded in infrastructures (Maly, 2017). We will analyse this group on digital platforms, and focus on their behavior, communication and their activities on these platforms. Our field of research will therefore mainly be an online field.  

Digital ethnography is research on online practices and communication, and on offline practices shaped by digitalisation (Varis, 2014). As the second part of the definition already indicates, the offline practices of the Swifties are also influenced and maybe even shaped by digitalization. Many members of the group know each other due to their digital communication, by which their offline practice is shaped, because they met on the internet. In this case, the online and offline world are very closely connected and there is barely any barrier between the two.

The Swifties mainly communicate and operate in the digital world, embedded in infrastructures

Another important way in which we will gather our data is by conducting interviews with members of the Swifties. As stated before, we have to study digital environments in order to understand the functioning of this group. The problem with this approach is that we will only see what is on the screen, and this can be misleading (Varis, 2014). By interviewing some members of the group, we hope to get some more ‘background’ or ‘hidden’ information which we could not have known by simply studying ‘the screen’. By doing this, we will also study the offline perspective of the fandom and not only look at social media accountse. By doing this, we will create a broader perspective on the social group and notice how the group is also influenced and shaped by online platforms in the offline world.

We conducted one interview via Whatsapp with Hannah Jorissen, who is part of the Swifties fandom. Another source is Savannah Goodson, moderator of the ‘Taylor Swift’ Facebook group. This position as moderator not only gives (1) a broad perspective on the social group: she has knowledge about her own membership of the Swifties and of the behavior and interactions of the different members of the Facebook group. And (2) gives insight in a social structure of the group: she can be seen as a master (Becker, 1963).

In addition, we received information from the fanpage TaylorSwiftWeb.net to gain more inside information about the fandom. These interviews are conducted through Facebook Messenger. We are aware of the limitations of our approach. Interviewing three people is not a lot and a medium like Messenger is not ideal to conduct such interviews. We want to stress that these interviews are only used to triangulate the main data of our research. The main data consists of our online observations of Swifties on different platform. In short, we will use the information of individual fans as well as information from fan sites or fanbases.

In order to collect data about the Taylor Swift fandom and describe and analyse its functioning, we will also need information on and analyses of fandoms in general. This theoretical framework on fandoms as a whole can be relevant to understand the workings of one specific fandom.

Superdiversity and neoliberalism

Swifties, as a social group, can only be understood within a very particular phase of globalization: neoliberal globalization. Swifties are a transnational phenomenon and new media are essential infrastructures of this social group. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the structure of our world has shifted a lot. We have come to live in a super diverse society, in which diversity itself has become even more diverse (Vertovec, 2006). 

 

The new media technologies that came along with superdiversity are fundamental to the development of fandoms, which are a great example of what Maly & Varis (2016) call “superdiversity”. Maly & Varis not only point to new migration patterns as the cause of the diversification of diversity, but also to diversification as a consequence of the rise of digital media and the changing economic paradigm (2016). Digital media created ‘’new forms and scales of identity construction and culture production’’ (Maly, 2017).

Swifties are clearly an example of these new forms of identity production. They are thoroughly connected with digital media. Fandoms, and therefore Swifties, communicate not only offline at concerts or meetings, but also online via Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and so on. Their community is largely formed online. Individual fans subscribe to Swiftie-centered social media to keep up with the newest gossip, facts and tour dates of their hero. Their online existence is often remarkably present, as the fandom creates popular trends and hashtags, which are often noticed by other users as well. Because of this, digital media users who are not a Swiftie will also experience their presence.

Fandoms like the Swifties show the superdiverse, digital and neoliberal world we live in nowadays

In addition to the importance of Digital Media in understanding the Swifties, we also need to incorporate the importance of the new structure of economy in explaining this social group, namely: ‘’a neoliberal paradigm focused on niche-production’’ (Maly, 2017). Basically, our society has become more and more based on consumption. Being a consumer allows people to form different groups, so they can distinguish themselves from others in society. The market produces all these kinds of new products that would have never been made if not for people's consumerism (Jayne, 2005). The producers are looking for profit, so they will make anything that consumers might want. The Swifties are such a profitable niche: the social group is profoundly commodified.

 

Looking back on the superdiverse society, we can see that all these diverse people form new kinds of groups based on all these new products. They are a result of the capitalist myth par excellence: you are what you buy. Because of digital media, these new niched groups can reach much larger amounts of people, due to the higher level of organization they can achieve. Before, someone from India for example, would have never had the opportunity to get access to the works of Taylor Swift and her fanbase. Now, basically anyone who can go on the internet can find information about the pop artist, enjoy her updates and watch her new videos at the same time, throught the same media as the American-based swifties. Our neo-liberal society caused people to be involved in new groups; Swifties are one of these new groups.

The Swifties are a super diverse community where many distinctions can be made

Our social group, the Swifties, is not difficult to connect with the term superdiversity, a term that is often used when we study the modern Western society we live in today. It is in itself a superdiverse, transnational, group full of different ethnicities and other diversities. As mentioned above, our normal day-to-day life is heavily influenced by the digital world and this created a new sense of what it is like to be part of a fandom. The fact that our chosen fandom is focussed on Taylor Swift separates them from other fandoms. Fandoms are an aspect of social diversity, and within our social group, we are able to make even more distinctions. We can naturally still distinguish the swifties by gender, class, age groups, motives, preferences and profession. This makes our study possibly a bit more difficult, because the group isn't homogenous and contains a diverse set of people. The group itself is a superdiverse population. But what makes the Swifties the fandom it is?

Structure of the group

Norms and rules

There are some do’s and don’ts among the Swifties. They aren’t written down anywhere, but every decent Swiftie agrees with them and they play an important role within the group. The following quote (originally in Dutch but translated in English) illustrates some of the norms and rules:

"I can not really say that there are clear" rules "among fans. I have several social media accounts that are Taylor Swift-oriented, and there are some social standards I guess. Bullying is (obviously) not desirable. Bad words are not really appreciated. Accounts that post hate on other accounts are usually criticized and sometimes deleted, but this is not really that often. We are quite a chill fandom and support each other very much. So rules have never really been necessary. I have been a member of a Taylor Swift fan app, which had clear rules, but they were mainly about the content of posts. In fact, imitating Taylor is a real no-go. This was quite common on that app and those accounts were immediately removed by the admins.” (Hannah Jorissen, Whatsapp interview, 2017) 

She confirmed the fact that there are no explicit rules among the fans, but of course there are all kinds of implicit social norms the fans must adhere to. The Swiftie-fandom tries to stay nice towards one another and explicit rules have never been necessary, because of this aspect of the fandom. So, according to Hannah, there are no obvious rules fans should conform to; instead there are social standards. As Howard Becker puts it in Outsiders (1963, p. 1), “social rules define situations and the kinds of behaviour appropriate to them, specifying some actions as “right” and forbidding others as “wrong”.” By applying this to the norms Hannah mentions, they norms can be seen as rules, since they specify certain actions as right and others as wrong. Swifties are 'nice', 'don't bully', love Taylor Swift, see her as a best friend, and don't do Swift imitations. 

These norms don’t deviate that much from the etiquette rules that apply to mainstream society. Bullying, for example, is not allowed among the Swifties, and we also disapprove this within society. As Howard Becker (1963) states, an outsider is a person who breaks the rules agreed on by a group. One can be considered an outsider when they break the rules that are established within the Swift-fandom. From the perspective of 'etiquette', we could say that this social group is still subject to the same rules regarding politeness created by society and as such cannot be seen as a counterculture or subculture, which is what Becker describes in his analysis of the social groups he researched in his book. The key element around which the Swifties are organized is being a fan of Taylor Swift's: following different online media, installing the app, buying the records and merchandise, and working for Taylor Swift by watching the movies, and clicking on links in order to be able to buy a good ticket to her show. Swifties are not ' a counter-culture', but they clearly differ from metal fans or skaters. Our modern society consists of a lot of different groups and niched transnational cultures nowadays; niched fandoms are just a product of the online culture we live in right now. Seen from this perspective, Swifties can be seen as outsiders. Fans of alternative music will probably laugh at them for following such 'a lame artist'; others will critize Swift for enslaving her fans. 

Societies today are a collection of niches, and only if you unconditionally love Taylor Swift you can be a Swiftie. All others are outsiders. Our asking for 'rules' in order to be a Swiftie biased the answers we got. All respondents answered that 'there are no rules', after which they went on explaining 'a rule':

Savannah Goodson (interview through Messenger) for instance also confirms that there are no rules for being a Swiftie: “No rules we just LOVE Taylor Swift so much and will do anything to defend her! She’s our bestfriend!!” Except, of course you should 'LOVE' Swift and 'do anything to defend her'.

If there are certain explicit rules among Swifties, this is always the case within certain communities or fan pages. Some communities or fan apps have a so-called ‘admin’, who manages the content (interview with Hannah Jorissen) and creates certain rules, which we can see in a community of Swifties on Facebook called ‘Taylor Swift’. These rules are not rules for calling yourself a Swiftie, but they are meant for maintaining peace in the group (fig. 4): they organize the interactions in the group. Administrators thus have a huge impact on structuring the interactions and maintaining the common sense in the group. On a global scale, these rules organize the swifties as an English speaking, a-political group that is structured around 'Swift-talk'. The most important rule-creator is Taylor Swift herself, with her new system for getting concert-tickets for example.

Fig 4. The rules members of the Taylor Swift group on Facebook have to obey

Characteristics

In order to call yourself a Swiftie, you need to love Taylor Swift and be a fan of her of course. However, it is not a necessity to own any of her merchandise: “no you don’t have to own merchandise, a lot of Swifties are younger teens that do not have a job” (Savannah Goodsen, interview through Messenger, 2017). Fan page TaySwift.com also confirms this: “from our group’s standpoint, it definitely isn’t! Just because someone can afford lots of merch, doesn’t make someone who can’t, any less of a fan”. (interview through Messenger, 2017).

When looking at language and behavior, it is definitely not done when someone in the group bullies another person and cursing is also not appreciated. When these type of things happen, the bullies will get heavily criticized and will in some cases even be removed from the group. Respectful behavior is very important, and the fans will treat each other with respect within the fandom (Hannah Jorissen). Generally speaking, fandom bullying is not approved among fandoms. There is even a website called “Stand Against Fandom Bullying”, to put an end to this phenomenon.

Crusaders

The crusaders structuring the social group are Taylor Swift herself and the fans in the social group that have a lot of followers and therefore a lot of influence on other fans. Taylor Swift is the person that brings all these people together. The people in the social group adore her and love her, which makes her an incredibly influential person for the social group.
Moreover, there are a ton of fan accounts with a huge amount of followers. Individual fans are active on social media and they can have many followers. In addition, there are also several communities on Facebook and fandoms that operate on social media platforms, like Twitter and Facebook (figure 6). Smaller fans will look up to these people or fandoms and therefore, they have a large influence on the fandom. which inludes being able to create certain rules, like those shown in fig. 4.
 

Fig. 6 Search results on Facebook for Swifties communities (left) and TaylorSwiftWeb on Twitter (right)

Swift's fandom

In conclusion, the Swifties are a social group typical for our time; its members mainly operate and communicate through online infrastructures. The group can be linked to terms such as superdiversity and neoliberalism. In order to call yourself a Swiftie, you obviously need to be a fan of Taylor Swift. Otherwise, there are no clear characteristics or rules for being a Swiftie, as owning merchandise isn't even a necessity. The Swifties are subjected to social standards and norms within their fandom, but there are no clear rules. If there are any rules, they are used for maintaining peace within a certain community.

 

References

Becker, H.S. (1963). Outsiders: studies in the sociology of deviance. New York: The Free Press.

Goodson, Savannah. Interview through Messenger. 2017.

Jorissen, Hannah. Interview through WhatsApp. 2017.

Jayne, M. (2005). Cities and Consumption. Abingdon, England: Routledge.

Loughrey, C. (2017). "Taylor Swift is asking fans to buy her merchandise for a better chance of getting tour tickets". The Independent.

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.

TaylorSwiftWeb. Interview through Messenger. 2017.

Varis, P. (2014). Digital Ethnography. Tilburg University.

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