In 2023, Taylor Swift, a seventeen-year-old songstress, shattered numerous records, graced the covers of periodicals and news features, ignited fervent discussions on social networks, and yielded substantial economic advantages.
The ripple she initiated surpassed mere magnitude. Indeed, Taylor Swift stands as an exponent of the zeitgeist. Her triumph symbolizes women progressively embracing and vocalizing their self-acceptance and self-acknowledgment.
01. 2023: The Epoch of the Feminine Economy
Annually since 1927, Time magazine designates a “Person of the Year,” an individual who has exerted the most profound influence on headlines in the preceding year, encompassing both positive and negative impacts. Typically, these figures embody the traditional “great man narrative,” often reigning over conventional power domains, such as political figures or industrial magnates, predominantly male.
This year’s Person of the Year departs from tradition—because “no one has touched so many people as she has,” Taylor Swift stands as the sole vocalist to claim this distinction.
The genesis of this phenomenon may trace back to The Eras Tour, announced by Swift in 2022 after the release of her tenth studio album, Midnights, featuring compositions spanning her entire musical odyssey.
Since its initiation in March 2023, the tour has grossed over $1 billion in ticket sales to date, establishing itself as the highest-grossing music tour in history. This figure is anticipated to ascend to $2 billion as the tour progresses, excluding substantial peripheral and copyright sales.
Leaders of nations such as Canada, Thailand, and Hungary are vying to secure her performances in their realms. Analysts propose the “Taylor effect”: her visits significantly and briefly boost the local economy, inundating not only hotels and eateries but also local tourism. The concerts bestow generous remuneration upon numerous behind-the-scenes personnel, with Swift, on average, paying $100,000 per driver, as per statistics.
Swift’s financial acumen is comprehensive, extending to the filming of her final shows in the United States. The documentary film, Taylor Swift: The Times Tour, covering three concerts in Los Angeles in August 2023, transcends geographical and audience constraints.
Eschewing traditional Hollywood production and streaming platforms, Swift establishes an independent film company for self-production. This not only substantially reduces costs but also affords a heightened degree of autonomy. Swift enjoys a robust partnership with AMC, North America’s largest cinema chain, responsible for distributing the film. In the first hour of pre-sale, the North American box office reached $10 million, setting records for single-day ticket sales and bolstering AMC shares by 9.2% on the day of pre-sale.
The Taylor effect is not an isolated economic phenomenon. Communication scholar Wenger Hannah Wing notes that the Time concert, coupled with the immense success of other female-dominated cultural entities in 2023, shapes a “summer for girls.” Barbie, a film phenomenon, claims the 2023 global box office crown with $1.4 billion. In addition to Swift, Beyonce’s “Renaissance” concert also shatters European records for the highest average ticket revenue for a female singer, amassing a total of $154 million.
It is noteworthy that these three phenomena do not conflict but rather mutually appreciate and interconnect. In an interview with Time magazine, Swift expresses dissatisfaction with media outlets pitting her against Beyonce: “There have been many tours this summer, but only Beyonce and I have been compared. Clearly, the media and fan culture are still pitting the two women against each other.”
Swift and Beyonce transcend traditional narratives of female competition. Beyonce, inspired by Swift’s collaboration with AMC, strikes a parallel agreement to transform the “Renaissance” concert into a documentary film, generating commendable box office revenue. They not only extol each other’s musical accomplishments but also attend each other’s documentary premieres, mutually promoting their work. “Barbie” director Greta Gerwig emphasizes her admiration for Swift, stating, “Swift creates music with the truest of herself, directly touching the souls of others.”
In Swift’s perspective, the triumphs of the “Times” concert, the “Renaissance” concert, and the “Barbie” project signify a pivotal moment. “There have been too many voices in the past, saying that women should focus on love, glitter, and emotions. But aren’t those things that are supposed to be hopes and the basis of patriarchal society: money, income, and economy? So it’s very encouraging when women’s ideas turn into profitable areas because it helps more women create art.”
02. It Resides in the Epoch of Femininity
Swift’s success transcends mere fan economics or pop culture influence; it manifests as a harbinger of societal transformation. Sociologist Brian Donovan contends that it signals the zenith of girlhood, no longer relegated to a transitory phase from childhood to adulthood but treated with a newfound earnestness previously unseen.
In the documentary, the audience, predominantly women, emanates jubilation, singing with gusto, shouting, and shedding tears of excitement. Many sport the iconic friendship bracelet, derived from Swift’s latest album Midnights—a lyrical symbol now fashioned through spontaneous weaving and beading, turning it into a concert emblem.
High school student Aubrey Bertino, in a poignant piece for the Los Angeles Times youth section “High School Insider,” reflects on her profound experience at Swift’s concert: “There is only happiness and acceptance here. Not a single girl seemed scared or upset while singing Taylor Swift songs enthusiastically, jumping, dancing, and enjoying the music.”
Women shed societal constraints, adorning themselves in flamboyant fashions often criticized in ordinary times. Much like Barbie’s world, at Swift’s concert, all things “girly” find acceptance without ridicule. Women of all ages share tears and laughter to the same songs; even strangers exchange smiles, compliments on fluffy curls, and shiny makeup, with many sharing friendship bracelets.
This constitutes a rare liberation, as everyone can calmly embrace being a “girl.” Bertino observes, “I saw a girl who walked fearlessly onto the stage in shiny pink tights, revealing her emotions without reservation… I saw a girl who focused on making other girls feel understood, heard, and recognized through her music.”
In contemporary society, a stereotype often prevails that, as adults, liking “girl things” such as pink bows denotes naivety and vulnerability. Conversely, boys face no censure for liking sports, mechanical gear, or even the color blue, as these hobbies are deemed “powerful and deserving of respect.”
Hence, the “Time” concert and “Barbie,” amidst a sea of pink costumes, share not only surface aesthetics but, more importantly, a semblance of carnival ambiance. The atmosphere resonates with collective joy, a boisterous celebration of femininity, creating an environment where one can authentically and completely be oneself—a manifestation of women’s acceptance of self-identity and mutual recognition.
The resounding triumph of these cultural phenomena constitutes a formidable surge, a reacquaintance with, a return to, and an embracement of their intrinsic girlish spirits, fortifying women’s influence. This girlish spirit coexists with sisterhood, a departure from Chizuku Ueno’s “male alliance” in Misogynist. Instead, it fosters a natural, sturdy friendship grounded in empathy and shared experiences, uniting around common concerns.
03. She eloquently recounts her narrative, entwining it with our collective story.
Swift composes melodies that form a facet of “girl culture,” progressively emancipating itself from male-dominated narratives, staunchly asserting its autonomous representation.
For the “Time” concert, Swift amalgamated all ten of her preceding studio albums into a cohesive concert entity. She meticulously curates songs tailored to each “era,” accompanied by distinct costumes and dance styles. Importantly, these albums unveil the creative vein and growth trajectory of a female vocalist.
Swift, once typecast as a “playful blonde adorned with red lips, steeped in a history of love, and exclusively crafting songs about former paramours,” defied this stereotype emphatically during the concert.
Embarking on her career as a country singer at the age of sixteen, Swift expressed in concert, “I compose songs about the experiences and emotions I navigate at different stages of life.”
Her songs encapsulate a robust sense of self, resolutely recounting her own story. For instance, “Foolish One” exudes the melancholy of unrequited love, while “The Best Day” delves into her childhood encounters with bullying. “Lover” passionately articulates the romantic yearning of young girls anticipating married life.
Addressing themes of clandestine adventures, evoking scents of air-kissed scarves and the luminance of refrigerators when ajar, Swift captures seemingly inconspicuous details that resonate deeply, rekindling dormant emotions and memories.
Swift emerges as a formidable storyteller, artfully distilling and refining life’s intricacies while infusing them with exceptionally nuanced emotions. From the bliss of initial love to the profound heartbreak of a tumultuous breakup, Taylor’s songs encapsulate a spectrum of emotional experiences.
Onstage, Swift presents a kaleidoscope of personas, veering between vulnerability and confidence, triumph and sorrow. Her most poignant and resonant quality lies in her unwavering commitment to candidly narrating her own experiences. It’s an intimate yet public revelation, chronicling the joy, pain, fear, and confusion intrinsic to a young woman’s quest for self-discovery.
By her seventh album, “Lover,” Swift transcended the confines of depicting mere romantic love, delving into the realm of women’s empowerment. Her latest opus, “Midnights,” encapsulates songs stemming from her life’s “Thirteen Sleepless Nights,” resembling a musical memoir chronicling Taylor’s journey from the age of sixteen to thirty-two.
On “Midnights,” Swift’s prowess in storytelling reaches new heights. While performing “Midnight Rain” during a concert, she penned, “He is the bright sunshine, and I am the nocturnal rain. He craves tranquility, while I embrace the pangs of agony.” This lyrical nuance speaks to those midnight rain girls who might have chosen a simpler life, avoiding the path of pain and uncertainty. Yet, Swift suggests there is no regret, as female ambition and creativity breed independence and self-centricity.
In another performance of the album’s track, “You’re On Your Own, Kid,” Swift reflects on the alternate life she might have led had she not departed her hometown—a cyclical existence of marriage, childbirth, aging, and eventual demise, a narrative instilled since childhood. This departure from one’s town, a bold escape from perpetual yearning for distant horizons, stands as a metaphorical divergence from the mundane.
Concluding the song, Swift shifts from nostalgic musings to an emphatic call, “Cherish the present, try it, you have no reason to fear.” The lyrics eschew traditional admonishments, transforming into a form of self-empowerment encouragement.
Swift’s courage to abandon the familiar and embark on an independent adult life may evoke trepidation. Yet, in assuming full responsibility for oneself and one’s journey, an individual gains agency. In this solitary realm, freedom blossoms. Despite the nostalgia for lost girlhood, the embrace of adulthood entails newfound liberty and liberation.
As Swift matures, she revisits old compositions written during her youth, such as “You Belong With Me” at nineteen or “22,” capturing the poignant sentiments of youth. Swift effortlessly traverses these realms, offering fresh interpretations that resonate with the Taylor of today.
“Every facet of your past, every stage you traverse, is a decision rooted in your cognitive landscape at that moment. You may look back on many things with shame, but you should celebrate who you are, where you are headed, and where you have been,” Swift remarked in an interview with Time magazine, boldly embracing retrospection.
On the global stage, Swift embodies the potency of self-acceptance, summoning past joys and pains while affording neglected or forgotten memories an avenue for release. This honesty, transparency, and unapologetic self-expression create a formidable impetus for self-empowerment—a force palpable during her concerts.
“Swift serves as a conduit through which individuals can relive the joys of girlhood and the traumas and isolations of that era,” remarks Wenger. Swift’s compositions afford women the opportunity to voice their thoughts freely, a facet previously deemed inconsequential. “Girls no longer apologize for their inner voices. Female growth is not a source of shame but a cause for celebration and enjoyment.”
Onstage, Swift unveils her authentic self, singing out longings, shame, and deep-seated memories—prompting each spectator to confront their own reflections. Over time, we acquire the ability to reflect serenely on the events that deeply wounded or moved us in our youth, effortlessly finding amusement in the process. Singing, speaking, crying, and laughing—each act proves immensely beneficial for emotional release and mental well-being.
In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, respect stands as a requisite for individual self-actualization. Swift’s songs resonate with themes of respect and self-affirmation, delving into the intricacies of subtle emotions. Through her artistry, she conveys that no one is alone in experiencing these emotions—they are rational and indispensable.
Perhaps this encapsulates the true Taylor effect: a proclamation of what society has overlooked, disciplined, and even manipulated, delving into the innermost realms of women.
04. She metamorphosed into a symbolical serpent.
It is noteworthy that during the Reputation era, Taylor adopted serpents as a thematic element in both her dance routines and attire, resulting in a visually striking impact.
A poignant moment in the concert emanates from the album’s track, “I Did Something Bad.” In the chorus, the line “If a man talks ill, then I owe him nothing” resonates with hope, self-respect, and affirming lyrics, exuding a formidable energy.
This potent force, possessing a compelling and penetrating essence, emerged from a profound crisis in her professional trajectory.
In the 2020 documentary, Lady America, Swift, seated cross-legged on a sofa, candidly reflects on her arduous journey: “For the past two decades, I’ve been swayed by the ebbs and flows of public opinion; I once wore a crown, only to swiftly lose it.”
The turning point occurred in 2016 when Kanye West penned a song containing sexually demeaning lyrics about Taylor, claiming she had given her consent, an assertion vehemently denied by Swift. Kanye’s ex-wife, Kim Kardashian, released a video of their conversation, seemingly corroborating Swift’s alleged agreement.
This incident ignited a media frenzy, portraying Swift as a conniving, mendacious girl, prompting social media users to unleash their animosity, associating her name with the snake symbol. Despite later evidence suggesting video manipulation and audio retrieval that exonerated Swift, the damage was done.
A quintessential Miss Americana and a country music luminary hailing from Pennsylvania, Swift was raised with a mandate to be a virtuous girl, craving recognition and accolades. Even when deprived of a microphone on stage, she would summon a smile during interviews, refraining from exhibiting any “negative” reactions.
During this tumultuous period, besieged by continuous attacks, Swift felt battered and bruised. For nearly a year, she withdrew from public life, harboring a diminished trust in others. In 2017, she retaliated with an album steeped in defiance and vengeance, titled Reputation. The album marked a perceptible shift as Swift began to craft her own narrative, fortified by newfound courage.
Swift attempted to conform to societal expectations: “Throughout my career, record executives advised me, ‘Good girls don’t assert their opinions; good girls smile and wave and express gratitude.’ I became what everyone anticipated me to be.” Maintaining a cheerful demeanor and projecting an image of decorum is a struggle many women can relate to.
To preserve a friendly and non-confrontational image, Swift refrained from publicly disclosing her political stance. She also guarded against expressing personal emotions and steered clear of controversy.
Yet, even as a triumphant woman, she grappled with pervasive misogyny and scrutiny. Paparazzi captured unflattering images, scrutinizing every aspect of her physique. Simultaneously, she was deemed too flawless and ostensibly “fake” for maintaining her slender figure. Swift was treated as a mere vessel, incessantly interrogated about her romantic experiences during interviews.
In addition to the Kanye incident, another pivotal event transpired in 2017 when a DJ sexually harassed Swift, placing his hand on her hip during a public photo op. Despite photographic evidence and multiple witnesses, the DJ sued Swift, demanding millions in damages. During the court proceedings, Swift faced inquiries regarding her perceived lack of vocal resistance during the harassment.
Following these landmark events, Swift began to reject the externally imposed expectations, finally finding her voice within the social framework of gender inequality. She no longer “dreads vulnerability” but embraces the imperfections of her body. Dismantling her preconceived belief system, she no longer seeks external approval but scripts her own narrative.
In Lady America, Swift articulates, “I adore luxurious things, challenge the prevailing double standards in society, and wish to don pink attire while articulating my political viewpoints. I don’t believe these aspects should be mutually exclusive.”
In the past, the music industry and conventional social structures lent Swift’s life a predetermined narrative. Now liberated from the quest for external validation, she has seized control of her narrative, steering her own destiny. Swift also acknowledged her responsibility to leverage her influence to advocate for women’s rights, equality, and other pertinent issues, thus breaking her prolonged political silence and actively encouraging, interpreting ideas, and rallying young voters to participate in elections.
In December 2023, Forbes lauded Taylor Swift’s career as “a valuable inspiration for women succeeding in the corporate realm, injecting her insights into a male-dominated business milieu.” Swift’s triumph was largely attributed to “her audacity in defending her own principles.”
“Never underestimate yourself, and don’t let others undervalue your accomplishments. Stand by your convictions and bravely negotiate for what you deserve.” Swift’s recent career epitomizes one where she has become forthright, resolute, and assertive about her rights—a compelling illustration of how women can achieve remarkable success in business without capitulating to others or compromising their integrity.
For far too long, female public figures have been inundated with inquiries about their relationships, breakups, and marriages, overshadowing their subjectivity and disregarding their professional achievements and talents.
Swift countered this narrative on stage during the Reputation era with a serpent symbolizing hissing and defiance. While relationships and private lives are inevitable topics of discussion for public figures, they should not serve as the sole narratives defining women. The Guardian, which once criticized Swift, penned a new review in 2023, describing her as an “assertive serpent” shedding her old skin through music and constant self-exploration.
Concluding her interview with Time magazine, Swift remarked, “At the age of 33, I experienced a career breakthrough. For the first time in my life, I possessed the fortitude to accept the consequences that accompanied it.”