n one sleepless night, perhaps close to when the clock struck midnight, Sarah Bayoumi, a fourth-year undergraduate student, sitting alone in her room, opened her laptop and began typing in the Google search bar. She searched, “UC Berkeley Taylor Swift club.” This was almost a routine for her; as a Taylor Swift fan, or a Swiftie, Sarah had been looking for a community of like-minded Swift fans on campus since her freshman year, occasionally searching the web for any clubs or student organizations dedicated to the artist that she could join. But all her searches proved unfruitful, there was nothing on the internet pointing to an existing Taylor Swift club on campus. But on that particular night, seconds after hitting the search bar, a Reddit post made exactly one day before appeared on Sarah’s screen; “Who wants to start a Taylor Swift fan club with me?” it read.
This was almost a routine for her; as a Taylor Swift fan, or a Swiftie, Sarah had been looking for a community of like-minded Swift fans on campus since her freshman year, occasionally searching the web for any clubs or student organizations dedicated to the artist that she could join.
Immediately, Sarah created a Reddit account and crafted a response. The original post was written by Sneha Mukherjee, a second-year undergraduate student and a life-long Swiftie. She, like Sarah, was disappointed that she had never found hardcore Swifties like herself at the school. She wanted to start a Taylor Swift society in Berkeley, and she was looking for a partner.
The two of them connected and immediately got to work. Today, Sarah and Sneha, both of whom I had the pleasure to chat with while working on this piece, are the co-founders of the UC Berkeley Taylor Swift Society, an ASUC-sponsored student organization on campus.
When I first heard about the UC Berkeley Taylor Swift Society, I was immediately interested. As a Swiftie myself, I am always in awe of the strong sense of community Swift fans share around the world, and this student organization seemed like the perfect way to explore this. The Swiftie fandom, most will agree, is unlike any other, in the sense that fans are more connected, dedicated and involved than fans of other artists. For many, being a Taylor Swift fan is a passion, a lifestyle.
But what is it that makes Taylor stand out from other artists? What makes her fan base so unique? How did Taylor, a teenage country singer and songwriter from Nashville who has received so much hate and criticism throughout her career, become the global music and feminist icon that she now is? With these questions in mind, and also hoping to understand my own admiration for Swift, I sat down with Sarah Bayoumi and Sneha Mukherjee to talk about Taylor Swift and being a Swiftie.
How did Taylor, a teenage country singer and songwriter from Nashville who has received so much hate and criticism throughout her career, become the global music and feminist icon that she now is?
Sneha has been a Swiftie all her life. She explained to me that the first time she was introduced to Swift was when she was six years old, playing with other kids on a playground. “There was this one girl who was singing ‘Love Story’ by Taylor,” she told me. “It was right after the song became popular. I don’t remember if she was singing it well, but I just remember really liking the melody.” That was the first time Sneha heard a Taylor Swift song, and from that moment on, everything changed for her.
Sarah, on the other hand, became a Swiftie much later, during her high school years. “I really relate to her storytelling,” she explained. “I love going in depth into her lyrics or following all the clues that she leaves for her fans — it’s a whole other universe. When I listen to her music, I can actually see the scenes play out, as if I am reading a book. This is something I don’t experience with other music. There is just so much detail to everything, it really feels like I’m in another world.”
The attention to detail is one of the most well known things about Taylor’s music. She often leaves clues about upcoming projects in song lyrics, music videos, social media posts and even clothing. Fans call these Taylor’s “Easter Eggs” and love to search for them. For Swifties, the Easter Eggs are a way to connect with Taylor and her music, while many also see them as a marketing strategy. With all of the hints and clues about what she will do next, fans have something to work with even in between album releases. Sarah explained to me the importance of Taylor’s Easter Eggs: “The way that she plans things so far in advance is very exciting for her fanbase who get to speculate what these clues are about. It also creates a relationship between Taylor and her fans that I don’t feel with any other artist.”
Sarah and Sneha explained to me that this relationship Taylor has with fans is one of the main things that make Taylor so special. “She cares about each and every one of her fans,” Sarah said, while Sneha took this further, adding, “At this point, I don’t even think she cares about the general public anymore, everything she does, she does for her fans.” Taylor has made many efforts to bond with her fans throughout the years. From inviting fans to her house for private shows, to sending her mom out in concerts to invite people to surprise backstage meet & greets, she has shown and stated, time and time again, that she values her fans and doesn’t take a moment of her fame for granted.
It is incredible how loved and popular Taylor Swift is today, considering the amount of hate and criticism she has repeatedly received throughout all stages of her career. The media has not always been kind to Swift; from being mocked about her teenage romance songs to being dubbed as a snake and a villain following conflicts with other celebrities, she fought against many labels the media tried to force on her. In 2016, following her public feud with two major celebrities, Swift went on a hiatus, disappearing from the public eye for almost entirely a year. She explained later that she had simply grown tired of “fighting for people’s respect” at the time. In 2017 she made her iconic comeback with the release of her album Reputation, an album filled with songs about enemies, bad reputations and revenge, with an underlying message about re-branding yourself and rising from your ashes. “The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now,” Taylor says in her song Look What You Made Me Do following the sound of a phone ringing. “Why?” she repeats into the telephone, before answering, “Because she’s dead!” With Reputation, Swift not only “killed” her old self, but the negative media image of herself. She decorated her music videos and stages with snakes, reclaiming the animal previously used by the media to brand her as the villain.
It is incredible how loved and popular Taylor Swift is today, considering the amount of hate and criticism she has repeatedly received throughout all stages of her career.
As good as Swift’s Reputation era was, fighting back against the hate and creating a new image for herself was likely difficult. One of the most candid depictions of this effort came from a recent Swift release, “Anti-Hero,” a single in her latest album Midnights. In this song, Swift repeatedly sings, “It’s me, hi! I’m the problem, it’s me,” and explores her anxious thoughts about her identity, body image, social status, and more. Sarah shared with me her take on this song, saying, “I think she’s pointing out that the media has caused her to see herself as a problem; she’s talking about her own depression and thought spirals.” Sarah explained that she believes this is very different from Reputation-era Taylor, because while she had to prove herself and actively fight against the hate back then, she is now at a more stable point in her life and career where she can accept that she isn’t perfect. Sarah claimed, “She is one of us. We mess up all the time, we are not perfect, and I think it is really respectable how she shows that she is human and similar to all of us.” Sarah isn’t alone in this; ever since “Anti-Hero” got released, many people on social media have used its lyrics or sounds to share their own anxious thoughts and insecurities, sparking online trends and discussions around mental health.
But “Anti-Hero” is only one of many Taylor Swift songs fans greatly relate to. In fact, relatability is a huge part of why many fans love Taylor Swift songs. “I think the emotions that she describes are really timeless, things that people of all ages can relate to,” Sneha told me. Sarah agreed and added, “There are things that are going on in my life that I don’t have words to describe. I experience really strong emotions but I cannot always name them, and sometimes I hear a song and realize I can really relate to it. She gives me words to articulate my feelings.”
Though Swift writes about many different experiences and emotions, the bulk of her music focuses on romance. As a teenager singing about love, Taylor has been consistently mocked for making a big deal out of what people deem unimportant relationships or “typical” teenage romances. However, there’s a reason her lyrics strike such a chord with listeners. Living in a society where children or teenagers aren’t taken seriously, and constantly told that their feelings aren’t serious, that they will experience “the real thing” only as adults, can be extremely damaging and invalidating. Teenagers experience feelings of love, anger, sadness and betrayal as strongly as, or even more strongly than, adults do. In a world where they are pushed to reject their feelings as unimportant or overly-dramatic, young people finally found, through Taylor’s music, validation and comfort.
As a teenager singing about love, Taylor has been consistently mocked for making a big deal out of what people deem unimportant relationships or “typical” teenage romances. However, there’s a reason her lyrics strike such a chord with listeners.
A whole generation of kids, including myself, grew up with Swift’s music. When we were experiencing heartbreak and insecurities about growing up, she sang about it. She gave us the words to describe our feelings and let us feel like whatever we were feeling was valid and deserved attention. Even years later as an adult, Swift still owns up to her old songs and lyrics that many people mock. She accepts those songs as important parts of her life and continues to advocate for them.
“I think people believed that because she was young, she didn’t know what she was singing about,” Sarah explained. “But we still see that there is so much consistency in her song writing over time. The core of who she is as a songwriter hasn’t changed, and I think that shows how the media’s response to her was related to her age.”
Though her songwriting has remained consistent, Taylor Swift did occasionally experiment throughout the years, using her music as a medium to tell a variety of different stories. Her two pandemic albums, Folklore and Evermore, for instance, were largely fictional rather than auto-biographical, like many of her other albums, including her latest one, Midnights.
“In the past, she was seen as a teenage girl writing about her stupid love life,” Sneha told me, making air quotes as she said “stupid love life,” alluding to the media’s impression of Taylor Swift’s earlier years as an artist. She also added, “but now she is a 30 year-old woman writing not only about her life, but about different experiences. I think this made people respect her more.”
Whether it’s her age or the consistency in her music that has gained the general public’s respect, Taylor Swift has undeniably grown into a figure loved and admired by people of all ages and backgrounds. She became more than an artist for many of her fans, empowering and influencing them. “I have really structured my life around Taylor Swift, and all my friends know that,” said Sarah at the end of our conversation. Sneha explained that Taylor Swift was the reason she started playing the guitar and writing her own songs, as well as why she became friends with who is now her best friend.
For people of my generation, Taylor’s career and music are closely connected to different stages of our personal lives. She described our first loves with songs like “Love Song” and “You Belong With Me,” helped us through hard times as she battled with her own struggles, and is now an inspiring example of hard work and perseverance in the music industry.
With her constant re-branding and hard work as a songwriter, one can only wonder what she’ll do next.