With her record-breaking “Eras” Tour, Taylor Swift was recently re-released onto the cultural landscape the way humidity is unleashed on Atlanta every August. All-encompassing, unescapable. Even city economies have been directly affected. Even the NFL is not immune.
The interesting question is “Why?”
Yes, she’s talented. Yes, she’s hard working. Yes, she’s highly intelligent, and yes, she has catchy songs.
But her sound is not particularly groundbreaking. Many would argue she’s not at the level of Stevie Wonder, Miles Davis, or Michael Jackson. She’s also shifted her sound over the years from country, to pop, to alternative, to folk, even occasionally dabbling in trap.
So how has she been able to keep a massive yet cult-like following?
The short answer: by being a masterful community builder.
Taylor Swift’s life experiences, described honestly and powerfully in her songs are received by her fans like the words of an older sister sharing her wisdom. Her narratives serve as a rallying cry for fans who connect around their shared experiences.
Outside of her songs, she’s created a Swiftie movement with social objects and social interaction (e.g. getting fans to swap friendship bracelets at concerts, working with Google to create word searches where the answers are all inside jokes for fans, or training Swifties to look for “easter eggs” in everything she releases from music videos to finger nail polish), creating an inside groups of symbols, jokes, and references as vast as the Star Wars universe.
On the surface, Swiftie spaces online may look like a bunch of borderline conspiracy theorists analyzing when she’ll release her next album, her most underrated song, or their favorite lyric. But what really matters is the underlying message Swifties send to each other as they participate: ‘I understand you. I can speak your language. We are part of the same team.’
Back in the 18th Century, Voltaire famously said, “If God didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” Taylor Swift reminds us that we can find connection and shared experiences in almost anything.
In a world where traditional community spaces are deteriorating, the Swifties have created a new place for human connection.
From a business perspective, there’s a good lesson. Sometimes it’s not the thing itself that’s interesting (in this case her music) but the human interaction and conversations created around it.
Sometimes all you have to do is take an ordinary thing, and elevate it the heck out of it.