the two-fold phenomenon that goes further than football and Taylor Swift

Oh, isn’t this fun?

Suffice it to say (unless any of us have been living under a proverbial rock), we have witnessed a whole new promotional scheme unfold in professional football, one that the NFL’s marketing department never concocted but over which has now undoubtedly found itself both felicitous and gleeful.

It’s called the Taylor Swift phenomenon. 

What is it? Why is she so popular?

Many indeed have their angles and answers. At only 33 years old, the American singer-songwriter has sold more than 200 million records, is the highest-grossing female touring act, and seems to be just about everybody’s person of the year. 

Some discuss her meteoric rise in the music industry; she is a fabulous songwriter. Others acknowledge her sustainability, how her music has spanned decades — writing professionally since 14 — hence, her current apt-named “Eras Tour.” Still more discuss her deliberate fan interaction and ongoing humanitarian efforts. Regardless of the angle, the reality is that Swift is profoundly popular and is indeed having a very good year.

Part of that year includes going public with her relationship with Kansas City Chiefs tight end, Travis Kelce. Suffice it to say once more, he, too, is having a very good year. 

Supportive of Kelce — and with the NFL slate equating to 17 regular-season games — Swift has been present in the stadium to cheer him on. As she has been present — and as producers are prone to do — the cameras have oft been focused on her, in a game that’s typically more focused on the football. 

Fans have noticed. “Swifties,” they are called. According to a no doubt inexact 2023 survey (by Morning Consult), 53% of American adults identify as Taylor Swift fans, from which 44% identify as the more ardent “Swifties.” According to The New Yorker, while there is some diversity within her enthusiasts, “Swift’s fanbase skews female, millennial, and white.”

All that to say that the phenomenon seems two-fold.

The first angle is that persons who never watch football are tuning in. I think of my professional colleague whose 10-year-daughter now sits with him for each weekend game. Across the country, there are countless stories of dad-and-daughter bonding, potentially more so than any organized, middle school dance. I think that’s great. The more the merrier, so-to-speak, and how fun that more want to watch the nation’s most popular sport. Especially entertaining, amusing (or insert-desired-adjective-here) is Swift’s game-time reactions to Kelce’s great plays… and his not. Oh, this is fun…

Yet the other angle we’ve witnessed, is how we treat the uniqueness of Swift’s profound celebrity status. Let me go further, with absolutely all due respect especially to Taylor Swift. 

Sometimes we can get so enamored in the sincerity of our glee, that there’s almost this rush to worship — a reverence and adoration comparable to religious homage. To be clear, Swift hasn’t asked nor encouraged such a deific response. But yet something is happening. Let’s not dash to immediately conclude it’s all bad. Better yet, let me ask: what does this tell us? What does the angle reveal? Note the observations of author Amy Julia Becker, an admitted fan, who joined in the Eras Tour with her family in Massachusetts: 

“As soon as we arrived at the show, [spouse] Peter and I were both struck by the sense of being in a house of worship. The rituals, the chants, the ecstatic moments, the shared experience, even the reciprocal relationships established through friendship bracelets—it all underscored a sense of awe and transcendence alongside intimacy. People are notably kind to one another at a Taylor Swift show. At Gillette Stadium, even the security guards were smiling widely and dancing in the aisles. Because our oldest daughter has Down syndrome, we were able to stand throughout the show in a section specifically set aside for people with disabilities. It felt holy to stand among other disabled people, watching sign language interpreters and dancing alongside a woman in a wheelchair. The title of Jessica Winter’s recent piece for The New Yorker sums it up well: ‘Bearing Witness with My Daughter at the Church of Taylor Swift.’”

Becker is grateful that of all the celebrities her children may attempt to emulate, they have turned to Swift. Remember: there are many honorable characteristics about Swift, especially in the perceived honesty and tenderness shared in her own, gifted, seemingly transparent lyrics. 

So let me provide a bit more clarity to my pondering of the phenomenon this day…

I don’t see the worship or the so-called “church of Taylor Swift” as a necessary source of judgment. Oh, golly… I’ve worshipped all sorts of lesser things before. But what I do see is a nation in need of something more… of something better… craving unity, honesty, goodness and authentic connection. The Taylor Swift phenomenon highlights that glaring need… and indeed, how we try to find it in all sorts of creative ways.

Respectfully… (… and can’t wait for the Super Bowl…)