Enchanted by Taylor Swift: Her Inspiring Influence on Media and Culture
An exploration of Taylor Swift’s impact on authors, musicians, and other creators
With over 265 million followers on Instagram, around 86 million daily(!) streams and her face regularly gracing our device screens, it’s not surprising that so many of us know a thing or two about Taylor Swift and have heard at least some of her music. 🎵 She has been a chart topping global 🌐 phenomenon for years and her star 💫 is shining so bright that she has started to seep into our language and art.
While more specific Swift “fanilect” (a term coined by Wired to describe the practice of quoting Swift lyrics and bringing up related themes, like red scarves 🧣) might be reserved for the fans–known as “Swifties”–Taylor Swift’s name, song titles and life experiences are regularly dropped into conversation, Senate meetings, college lectures and a wide range of art. Many books, 📚 television shows, 📺 and songs 🎹 by other artists are filled with mentions.
FLETCHER, Lady A, McKenna Grace, Kanye and Screwface Capital are among the many artists who have songs that casually reference Taylor in a line or two. Other artists have entire songs about the 12 time Grammy winner. Bowling for Soup’s “Award Show Taylor Swift” for example, is about the excitement Taylor exudes at award 🏆shows:
“I wanna live in a wide eyed wonder
Every second, every minute, every day
I’d be surprised over and over
Wake up always blown away
I’m all OMG this is crazy
Even Kanye’s got nothing to say
Where each moment we have is a gift
I wanna be like award show Taylor Swift”
Songs about Taylor come in all shapes and sizes. Matt Cooper’s “Taylor Swift” is a true fanboy’s ode to Taylor. “Sharks Fly” by Rody Walker is a chaotic and wild song of admiration. And Elijah Woods’ “The Way We Started (Taylor)” lists half her discography in a dreamy track that has been embraced by many Swifties. And then of course there’s Kanye’s “Famous”. We don’t need to get into that one, do we? 🤐
Some artists that sing about her have a personal history with her. The Jonas Brothers, for instance, referenced Taylor in “Much Better” after Joe Jonas broke up 💔 with her:
“I get a rep for breakin’ hearts
Now I’m done with superstars
And all the tears on her guitar”
A clear nod to Taylor’s song “Teardrops on My Guitar”.
Harry Styles also covertly hints at Taylor by mirroring some of her “Style” lyrics in his “Two Ghosts.” She sings about red lips and white t-shirts, he sings about red lips and white t-shirts. Swifties and Harries alike have picked through their songs and found other connections too.
Having a relationship with someone and mentioning them is one thing. Songwriting can be a way of processing feelings and experiences, as Swifties know all too well. But how can we explain all the other mentions, often by artists who have never even met her?
There are at least 32 popular YA and Romance novels that mention Taylor, according to Goodreads. Among them, the best sellers Beach Read by Emily Henry, The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood and Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston.
Like we saw in the songs, some of the mentions in books are also casual. Icebreaker by Hannah Grace has a playlist in it that kicks off with “Cruel Summer.” Ali Hazelwood’s mention in The Love Hypothesis is also playlist related. As is the reference in Beth O’Leary’s The Road Trip:
“Addie and Deb have loved country music since they were teenagers; I used to tease Addie about it, which was particularly hypocritical of me, as a man whose ‘Long Run’ playlist is almost exclusively populated by the works of Taylor Swift.”
Other mentions show that the author clearly has a command of the aforementioned Swift “fanilect”. Emily Henry is well-versed. She not only took to Instagram, assigning songs from Midnights to each of her book titles, but she also wrote this in her novel Beach Read:
“…[the old January] would have slathered herself in glitter, put on her favorite velvet loafers, and shown up with a bottle of champagne, determined to win the Grump over. But so far, this was the third worst day of my life, and that January was probably buried wherever they put the old Taylor Swift, so what I actually said was “Could you turn off your sad-boy-angsting soundtrack?”
A clear Swiftie! While researching for this article I even ran into an article titled “Is Emily Henry really Taylor Swift?” Their vibes just seem to match!
Sam Lansky’s Broken People has a character fangirling over the lyrics of “Mine”. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly Lansky said: “There's this sort of evolution to what [the character] Sam is listening to as he evolves as a person. Towards the beginning of the book, it’s very glittery like Carly Rae Jepsen and Kylie Minogue. Then you go deeper into this relationship; it’s a lot of Taylor Swift. Then the last artist I reference at the very end of the book is Maggie Rogers, who I adore. It was meant to represent this shift not only in his sonic palette but in the emotional texture of the character….”
Why all these mentions in art?
That interview quote kind of hits the nail on the head. 🔨 A mention of Taylor Swift brings with it a certain feeling or connotation. Mentioning a specific song or lyric can be especially effective in setting a mood or expressing emotions. And because Taylor has such a broad catalog, you can pretty much find a song for every mood or topic.
But even a simple mention of her name does the trick. Much like most pop-culture references do. As a Swiftie, I will jump up and snap a pic of the page in the book 📘the mention is on and get all excited about it on social media. And non-Swifties will at least pick up on the tone it sets for the passage.
A mention can’t get too specific without excluding some of the audience. The Swiftie fan dialect is a lot like a family’s language. You and your family members are in-the-know when it comes to certain phrases or jokes, but for outsiders they do not hold the same meaning. This is probably why most mentions in art from people who haven’t had a relationship with Swift are fairly basic. But as the fandom grows and more people are drawn into the “family”, this will create room for more in depth mentions.
So to recap: Mentioning Taylor adds a layer of a certain flavor or mood to a story.
A mention also reveals something about the creator. For instance, they are likely a Millennial or Millennial-adjacent. (According to a recent Morning Consult poll, the vast majority of Taylor fans are Millennials). And when Millennials think of the biggest artists of their time, Taylor is one of them. And with 53% of Americans claiming to be a (casual) fan of Taylor, it’s not surprising a lot of creators are among them.
These Millennial(-adjacent) artists probably want to let some of their personal taste filter into their work. Jenny Han, author of the The Summer I Turned Pretty book series did this perfectly.
While writing the first book she was listening to Taylor’s Fearless album religiously. There are no overt mentions of Taylor in the book (aside from there being a character named Taylor), but Swifties picked up on the vibe regardless. When the book was turned into a tv series for Amazon Prime, it was Han’s dream to have at least one Taylor song on the show. She knew Swifties had connected to her story and she wanted to give them that gift. Han got her wish and then some. Swift songs can be heard throughout the series, and trailers for both seasons got to premiere a Taylor Version song that at that point hadn’t been released yet.
Season 2 of The Summer I Turned Pretty ☀️drops on Amazon Prime on July 14, 2023!
The TV adaptation of The Summer I Turned Pretty led to a significant increase in streams for Taylor’s songs that were featured on the show, creating a full circle moment. Because just like a Taylor song brings a certain feel to a story, that story in turn can also add to why we enjoy a song. Connecting art to art. And with a catalog that spans genres and covers so many universal topics, I don’t think we’re anywhere near this stream of mentions fizzling out.
Join us at rmrk*st all month for Taylor Swift content! Make sure you check out the listening parties, watch parties and more we have planned at Remarkist on our app! And if you love games, check out our Instagram for Melodic Mayhem, our bracket-style lyric showdown! You can find and chat with other Taylor Swift fans on our Discord!
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