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TAYLOR SWIFT
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Opinion articles written in the style of their author. These texts are to be based on verified facts and must be respectful towards people, even though their actions may be criticized. All opinion articles written by individuals from outside the staff of EL PAÍS shall feature, along with the author’s name (regardless of their greater or lesser renown), a footer stating their office, academic title, political affiliation (if any) and main occupation, or the occupation related to the topic being assessed

The cost of being a Taylor Swift fan

On how the pop star maintains the illusion of personal contact while a creative team designs every detail we know about her

Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift at a 2018 concert in Los Angeles.Kevin Winter (Getty Images For dcp)
Diego A. Manrique

I recently received an email informing me that they’re looking for “Taylor Swift’s biggest fan to offer them the most insane and exclusive package in the world.” It occurs to me that such a heading could come from a parody on The Onion. But no: a centrally located Madrid hotel is offering a two-night, all-inclusive stay in its presidential suite to a couple, with two “VIP tickets to the May 30 Taylor Swift concert” including perks like “a Taylor-colored lipstick”. Cost: $32,000. Out of your price range? Fine, you can stay in one of the establishment’s lesser suites, where an identical treatment will only run you $23,500.

Hmm, the message appears to be directed to a male clientele, and I thought that Swift’s following was largely female. I turn to my favorite observer of trends, the neighborhood newsstand. It has its finger on the market’s pulse: right now, its proprietor is selling—”they’re saturating the market”—a dozen publications about the singer, in English and Spanish. The newsstand vendor explains to me that such offerings tend to attract young girls, although there are some young boys in Swift’s fan legion as well. I explain about the hotel offering and the vendor frowns: “They’re not exactly swimming in cash. They usually come with their mom, who helps them to pick out what they buy and who usually ends up paying.”

They’re known as swifties. Fans identify with her youthfulness: Swift is 34 now, but seems younger than when she began her career, hidden underneath a cascade of curly golden locks, a pure, Nashville aesthetic. This has been Swift’s master plan: evolve country towards rock, folk, indie and electronica, only to wind up in the vast cauldron that is universal pop. Such a movement has been anything but improvised: during the last decade, she even hired the (costly) services of the Swedish King Midas, Max Martin, as her producer and co-writer.

To swifties, she is an older sister and, of course, an object of desire. In more countercultural times, she would have been viewed with suspicion: you can’t say she has suffered for her art. After the inevitable beginner’s stumbles, everything came up rosy: daughter of a well-off family who moved to the country capital to follow her dream (her father even invested in Big Machine Records, the label that eventually signed Swift). But the telling of her tale tends to emphasize what happened when she broke with Big Machine; upon losing the rights to her first six albums on the aforementioned label, she decided to start re-recording them as “Taylor’s versions”. I can hardly think of a case of such zeal when it comes to a successful artist’s defense of their own work.

Nonetheless, Swift’s central plot is the connection between her repertoire and love life, which is dutifully amplified by the media. An intimate diary takes shape via songs that, one supposes, reflect her expectations and anxieties. The miracle lies in the idea that Swift maintains one-on-one contact with millions of swifties, who faithfully decode her every stanza.

A hyper-professional team busies itself with guarding this flame with an overwhelming amount of merchandise, plus the amplification of each record-breaking sales figure and romantic coupling (I suspect they also control the numerous entries for Swift on Wikipedia.) I am not surprised they have monetized satisfaction for the couple who will pay $32,000 for the deluxe version of the Swift experience.

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