Zine Preview: Who’s Afraid Of Taylor Swift?

These days, hardly anybody

Earlier this year, writer Akosua T. Adasi decided to put together a zine on Taylor Swift after listening to a song from Swift’s album, evermore, on constant repeat. After many months of convincing friends to write about the ubiquitous star and a few weeks of procrastination, the final result is coming out this month. Here, Akosua shares her editor’s letter that gives a sneak peek into why Swift is a subject she keeps going back to again and again. 

In a recent episode of her podcast, actress and model Emily Ratajkowski claimed that despite her previous dislike of Taylor Swift (which she attributes to misogyny), these days she knows that to dislike Taylor Swift means “you don’t understand things.” Ratajkowski is not wrong. These days, even if you’re confused by her popularity, even if you don’t get the appeal of her music, there’s a lot of cultural cache to be had by finding an affinity for some aspect of Swift. Look at all the celebrities coming out of the woodwork to be seen at stops on her Eras tour! Keith Urban, I get. But what is Austin Butler doing at the Eras tour? That man looks like he only listens to soundscapes! One reason for Swift’s current popularity may be the recent cultural obsession with girlhood. In her essay, “We’ve Reached Peak Girl,” writer Delia Cai drew a correlation between the current girlieissance and Swift’s popularity, writing that “[i]n this decade, we find our girlhood worship manifested in the most popular celebrity in the world: a tall, blond, 33-year-old woman who has upended the music industry with recreated heartbreak ballads from her youth and is now embarking on a literal tour of the eras of her former self.”

In Swift’s popularity, we can also locate our culture’s nostalgia fetish—it’s nice to be reminded of who we were 10 years ago and to experience those feelings anew. And of course, our culture’s admiration of wealth and success, and the way we view a person’s capacity to make BIG MONEY as an honorable virtue, also plays a part in the current Swift supremacy. According to a recent NPR report, Swift’s Eras tour is set to make over a billion dollars. (By the time you read this, it will probably have made that and more.) That number is alluring enough for even the most disinterested party to turn their head in curiosity. In a capitalist, so-called meritocracy, money = goodness, and so Swift, as the figure who has drawn all these dollars by doubling down on femininity and glitter, becomes good by virtue of her money-making capacity.

Swift fatigue is real. There were times during the months that this zine was coming together (and not coming together) when I felt that there was no point in continuing. Between her breakup with Joe Alwyn, her whacky and incomprehensible “romance” with Matty Healy, and tour updates, much of the 2023 celebrity news cycle was populated with stories about Swift. Did I really need to contribute to the bevy of takes? Thankfully, the four pieces in this zine are incredibly refreshing reads. Written by a mix of devoted Swifties, a self-proclaimed anti-Swiftie, and an ambivalent fan, they each demonstrate (borrowing contributor Jess Kasiama’s words) the porousness of Taylor Swift as a cultural subject.

One arena that Swift has managed to permeate is the TV and film space. No, I’m not talking about her premature bid for an Oscar. What I am talking about is how her songs have become associated with some of the most popular titles in television and film, both officially and unofficially. (I bet NO ONE was expecting that “Love Story” moment on season 2 of The Bear.) I am writing this letter after watching the season finale of Jenny Han’s The Summer I Turned Pretty, a show that is essentially one big music video for Swift’s oeuvre. In the show’s two season run (16 episodes), barely an episode goes by without at least one Swift song playing. Whereas TSITP is a natural fit for Swift’s music, it’s also found its way into more unexpected places, through internet fancams for shows like Normal People and Succession. In her piece, Allison Picurro writes about how she became obsessed with one of these fancams, even as she remained staunchly anti-Swift. Fancams are only a very small part of the Swift fandom universe. If you’ve even been online for a second, you have some idea of how feral and deranged Swift’s fanbase can be. But as Verity O’Connell touches on in her short piece on Swift’s relationship with her fans, the obsessive and overly possessive nature of that relationship isn’t always as one way as it’s portrayed. Apart from being “mama” to her fans, Swift has become a sort of patron saint for the artists she calls her friends (we cannot forget the power of the squad), knighting them for eternal success. In their short piece, Winnie Wang (the incredible designer of this zine) touches on these relationships as immortalized by Swift’s texts. And to wrap things up, Jessica Kasiama (who, as Fliss, is a FABULOUS DJ) put together a compilation of covers of Swift’s music by other artists. 

Being a Swiftie can be complicated, especially because the person/a and the music tend to evoke two contradictory reactions. I can’t help but roll my eyes at Swift’s attempts to become Hollywood’s next big director, despite the fact that she has barely made one good music video. I laugh at the idea that Swift’s feminism is anything but self-serving. And yet…Her earnestness for life and love, which she pours into her music, is incredibly special. As I was wrapping up this letter, a friend reminded me why I wanted to put together this zine in the first place: the need to give proper and complicated attention to the things that we treasure (or even despise). Someone like Taylor Swift might be easier to dismiss or embrace without reservation, but to do so would be to miss out on an interesting and complex conversation about an artist who will define this moment in history. (I’m sorry but it’s true and you know it!) I think this zine contributes productively to that conversation. I hope you enjoy it.

Taylor Swift: A Zine will be available on Akosua’s website on September 19th, 2023. For more writing and cultural commentary from Akosua, you can subscribe to her newsletter, Consumption Report.

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