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Solitude to Stadiums: How Taylor Swift Connects Individuals and Creates Community
From folklore to Eras Tour, exploring solitude and community found through fandom
Picture me in the trees…
In July of 2020, exactly three years ago, the folklore album dropped, like most things those days, out of nowhere. In July of 2020 I’d had big plans: namely, I was to go to Lover Fest East in Foxborough, MA, a concert I’d fought the Great War (the moniker Swifties now use to symbolize fighting the ultimate 🐉 dragon–Ticketmaster) to obtain tickets to make sure I could scream the “Cruel Summer” bridge with eighty thousand of my closest friends. As the Spring of 2020 turned into the cruelest summer that ever cruel summered, I held onto those tickets like an oath. 🧣 Until, of course, the tour succumbed to an inevitable cancellation: a deadly global pandemic took many things from all of us, and taking Taylor from me fit the bleakness of the year.
But Taylor, being Taylor, surprised us all (and admittedly, herself) with the folklore drop. Lest we forget, what with the fame and fervor that surrounds her always: she’s a writer, a creator, and creators often get inspired during the darkest of times. She released a woodsy, contemplative, fictional yet autobiographical piece of musical storytelling that appeared in the dead heat of July, and it came at the perfect moment. Living alone for months in a two room apartment looking at the same four walls where I worked, ate, slept, and leisured, never going anywhere public inside, I found solace in a nearby park. 🏞 I learned the park’s winding trails over those months, ones I’d never given much attention to because life was, well, busy. When Taylor sang in my ears, “green was the color of the grass where I used to read in Centennial Park,” I myself was looking at the grass where I now took my books (or my work laptop) to enjoy the fresh air in a desolate time. When Taylor sang, “please, picture me, in the trees,” I myself was literally, at that exact moment, listening to “seven” for the first time while walking under a canopy of woods and trees. 🌲 Maybe I couldn’t go to Foxborough, but Taylor Swift had found me on an empty trail in the woods, and she’d come with a gift: an album written just for me.
Of course, it wasn’t just for me. It was for her, but also, for all of us. “In isolation my imagination has run wild,” she wrote in the folklore introduction, and while I know Taylor to be a poet, nothing she’d ever written had felt so poetic. The rest of us were doing our best in isolation too: if we weren’t caring for families or being a first responder, we were writing our novels,📓 planting gardens, 🌻 baking bread. 🍞 It was comforting to know that Taylor’s quarantine felt similar to a lot of people’s. Our imaginations had all run wild in their own ways.
It was a moment of fandom I’ll never forget. Never has solitude felt so uniting as it did during that year for many, but for Swifties, having new music created out of and inside a dark time was nothing short of miraculous. We dutifully whiplash-shifted gears from the bright cotton candy skies of Lover-core and got right on board with the muted colors of the folklore merch drop. We bought the cardigan. We adopted cozy plaid and the idea of wearing wool in the oppressive heat of summer. Taylor drew stars around our scars, and helped us process what we’d been losing. We settled in for a new TS Era, much sooner than we thought, but nothing about 2020 felt predictable, so it made sense.
Three years later, Taylor Swift is wrapping up the historic U.S. leg of maybe the biggest stadium tour of all time. The Eras Tour is breaking records on every level. I was lucky enough to attend a show in New Jersey, and when I wasn’t busy scream-crying the lyrics to every song, singing and dancing amongst thousands of people in very close proximity, maskless, I thought, well isn’t this something: here we are screaming the lyrics to… “august?” “cardigan?” “the last great american dynasty?” Podcaster Kate Kennedy, just after the release of evermore, had joked that we’d probably be in a “Folklovermore” era for a while, but she was really right: the music that was never meant for a stadium full of people–in fact the music that comforted me and millions of fans in our solitude–has now been played across the country to seventy thousand-ish live people every night of the summer-long tour (with thousands more fans simultaneously watching on TikTok and Instagram Live.📱) The folklore set on the tour is a high point, with a dramatic cabin set on stage, and several songs on the setlist from the album that truly, nobody ever thought would be played in public, much less at such a giant show. It’s a mid-concert, sobering reminder of a different, lonely time: while we all experienced those songs by ourselves, here we are, having survived, singing them all together.
You’re on your own, kid.
Taylor’s latest release, Midnights, contains one song that really got me thinking about solitude and fandom, a notion that felt more present than ever during the pandemic album releases of folklore and evermore. “You’re On Your Own, Kid” reads like a diary entry from Taylor to Taylor, sorting through reflections about her rise to fame whilst growing up. It’s seemingly about inner demons and the mistakes one makes even as all eyes are on them, but the realization that while she’s been surrounded by fans and people helping her run her career for almost two decades, it’s still her, alone writing, at the end of the day. Just like she wrote songs in her bedroom at age fifteen, she returns to the writing, diligently, at thirty-three.
You’re on your own, kid
You always have been
This is the Taylor I picture in the early days of the pandemic, writing the first stanzas of folklore when there was no stadium to play in.
Growing up is a lonely endeavor, though, too, and the rites of passage associated with growing up are themes that Taylor uses all over her music. On Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) in the song “Never Grow Up,” Taylor laments growing pains, and longs for the simpler time of childhood. She sings of being in a new apartment, having just been dropped off in a big city and “It’s so much colder than I thought it would be.” Being on one’s own for the first time is scary, unfamiliar. Who are you when you’re no longer living under your parents’ roof–even if you are a ridiculously famous teenager? I felt the same way when I moved to my college dorm.
But on 1989’s “Welcome to New York,” a peppier “When we first dropped our bags off 🎒on apartment floors/Took our broken hearts, 💔 put them in a drawer/Everybody here was someone else before” signifies a defiant move into independence and adulthood. In this context, being on one’s own is a victory, a chance to be oneself fully: “and you can want who you want.”
Either way, being on one’s own for the first time is the embodiment of “happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time” from the song “22.” But “You’re On Your Own, Kid” does something that “Never Grow Up,” “Welcome to New York,” and “22” don’t: it suggests that being on one’s own isn’t relegated just to youth, or growing up: it’s something that stays with us as we move through every phase of our lives. (It’s certainly something I reflected on quite a lot in the solitude of a pandemic quarantine.) In this way, Taylor never outgrows her fans: we individually can relate to this idea. We’re all on our own: in life, and in our personal fandom.
The paradox of fandom
One staple that Taylor Swift brought to her live shows starting with the 1989 World Tour was the light up bracelet that each attendee is given as they walk in the door. Taylor said during the 1989 World Tour Live documentary that she implemented the light up bracelets, which would be synched to the music, 🎶 because stadiums are big, and she wanted to see every single one of us at those shows–even in the last, highest row–instead of a dark, faceless crowd.
We might have known then that while our friend Taylor is essentially on her own on a stage in a massive space, she wants to draw us in as much as we want to be included by her. It was the first clue that the size of her fame doesn’t correlate well to her need for connection, but paradoxically influences it. Her music is so well loved and popular precisely because it’s personal. Her innermost thoughts become amplified through the popularity of her songs, as we, the fans, memorize and immortalize every line she writes. We feel deeply, personally, individually connected to those lines, and in singing them together they become something else: a communal experience rather than an introspective one. Or maybe, more accurately, as well as an introspective one.
Fandom itself is a paradox of community. On one hand, our own fandoms are personal: what moves one person might not move another. Even within the Taylor Swift fandom, Spotify’s recent “My Top 5: Taylor Swift’s Eras” promotion has fans trading thoughts on which albums of hers they connect the most with. The Eras Tour itself has attendees dressing up for their favorite Taylor Era, some in plaid shirts and flowy maxi dresses alongside others in sparkly fringe shifts and the number “13” painted on their hands. Every fan might be connected to her work, but each individual has an entry point that moved them, or a moment along the way that means more to them than others. I vividly remember the first time I connected with a Swift lyric. It was: “Was I out of line? Did I say something way too honest, made you run and hide, like a scared little boy?” from “Forever & Always,” off of her second album, Fearless. “How did she know this is how I feel about the situation I’m currently in?” I wondered. How did a stranger write the exact thing that made me feel so seen, and helped to articulate the particular madness I was feeling in that moment? Every Taylor Swift fan has a moment like this, and I would argue that any fan of anything in the world does too.
But fandom is also the exact opposite of a solitary pastime. We go to concerts, we converge online, we buy matching t-shirts, 👚 and celebrate our fandom with like minds. We come together in that fandom. We fill stadiums (even fill the parking lots for Taylor-gating) and commune together in celebration of a thing that is actually quite personal.
Ironically, the Eras Tour phenomenon comes with a celebration of togetherness, as evidenced by this lyric in a song about being on one’s own:
So make the friendship bracelets
Take the moment and taste it
In the pandemic, we all learned how fleeting things are, how we took for granted the simple acts of having dinner with friends, shopping in a store, going to school, or attending a concert. “Take the moment and taste it,” she says. Not unlike “capture it, remember it” from “Fearless,” this woman has always instructed us, and more specifically herself, to “remember this moment” (“Long Live”) because you might not ever get a moment like this one again. In fact, you probably won’t.
Fans took the friendship bracelet line quite literally, and got to work. Because if there’s anything we all learned in the pandemic, it was how to get crafty. I, a nearly middle-aged woman myself, bought a bead kit to make bracelets for my friend and I to wear for my Eras show; my nine-year old niece did the exact same thing. Famous attendees like Jennifer Garner have shown off their bracelet hauls.
The point being that regardless of age, gender, or city, every fan has gotten in on the action. Taylor herself made the friendship bracelet phenomenon a part of the Eras show; during “22” in the Red era set, she bestows her hat to a fan that has been hand-picked by her mother Andrea to receive, and in turn the fan usually gives Taylor a bracelet from their own arm. We made the friendship bracelets, Taylor; surely, you can’t feel so on your own still?
Give me back my girlhood; it was mine first
A long time ago, at the start of her fame when she was still a teen, I remember reading an article about why Taylor connected with so many young people. The author of the piece said something to the effect of Taylor being “the big sister we need,” a person who experiences the same things but can write a song for us to be prepared as we, too, go through those similar experiences, facing all the complexities of growing up (ahem: “happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time”). While Taylor was born at the end of a decade, I was born at the start of that same one making me older than her but, I needed her as a “big sister” figure in my life no less. So late last year, hearing “You’re On Your Own, Kid” for the first time, it was a bit of a sucker punch, as a fan. Hearing that Taylor, now in her 30s, who comforted us for over a decade in our times of loneliness, felt—and feels—like she is in fact on her own, made me sad. But also? I felt something else: that familiar, haunting recognition that she’s talking about me too.
And maybe this links us, the fans, to her further: that loneliness that we all feel. There’s a freeing sense of independence as we grow older that we get to experience as humans. Women (who demographically make up much of her fandom), especially, experience a particular rite of passage when we begin to support ourselves financially and mentally. American girlhood is fraught on this topic: the Baby Boomers, Generations X, Y, Millennials, and Z all grew up with conflicting ideas about female independence. To draw an obvious link to the current cultural zeitgeist, women in these generations played with Barbie dolls or at least were aware of Barbie’s ability to be a princess and also a businesswoman–at the same time. The main takeaway was, she can be anything she wants! Girls can be anything they want! We were told this; it was a sacred promise. But we grew up to find out that’s not entirely true, right? Whether women can actually have it all is constantly actively debated in cultural conversations. Can women ever be truly independent, with the patriarchy breathing down our necks? Or are we actually simply on our own, defenseless to it? Even in the lyrics of the song, Taylor sings,
From sprinkler splashes to fireplace ashes
I gave my blood, sweat, and tears for this
I hosted parties and starved my body
Like I'd be saved by a perfect kiss
She contemplates, and shares with us, that she could be the most famous and powerful person in the world, but her life is still dictated by the male gaze, standards of beauty, and the wonderful safety of being chosen. I personally don’t know any woman who hasn’t grappled with this. She addresses this idea in another, defiant, way when she says in “The Man” off of Lover that with all of her success she’d probably be “the man” if she were actually “a man.” But since she isn’t a man, she has to prove she earned that independence, over and over again. We might all not be “just like Leo” (i.e. very famous), but we can certainly relate to feeling like we are running in place because of our gender.
In Taylor Swift’s Miss Americana documentary, a pivotal scene shows the viewer a tearful Taylor (global superstar) arguing with her father (a loving protector, even though she’s more famous, powerful, and wealthier than he might ever be) about politics. Taylor is advocating for the right to voice her own opinions about a political figure running for office in her home state of Tennessee, while the men on her team are advising against it. Taylor, with the verbal support of her mother, brings up all the reasons why she wants this to be the moment she speaks: the candidate doesn’t support the Violence Against Women Act which protects women from domestic abuse and stalking (which she herself has been a victim of) as well as LGBTQ+ human rights issues. It’s hard to watch this scene from a film that came out in 2019 and not think of 2022’s “You’re On Your Own, Kid;” in the scene Taylor is quite literally on her own, in tears, pleading her case to the man that loves her the most. As a woman myself, I saw my own conversations with my father, and male figures in my life, play out in that exchange. Taylor might be on her own, and so am I, but again my connection to her grew exponentially watching her have the most relatable conversation with a loving parent who just doesn’t get what it is to be a girl, a woman. The same teen who sang about guys pretending not to see things as they are is the woman now arguing with her dad about why we, as a culture, need to support laws around violence against women.
It’s fitting, then, that Taylor’s Eras Tour is taking place in football stadiums across the U.S.: Tyler Foggart wrote in The New Yorker that the Eras shows have transformed American football stadiums, “typically a center of male aggression, into a sanctum of gleeful femininity” where there’s no safer place to be your full, authentic self, even if that self is covered in glitter and sequins at age 42 (It’s me. Hi.) and friendship bracelets: those relics of innocent girlhood we often shed before our twenties that adult women and men alike have proudly taken back. Concert goers are essentially on their own in their personal Eras aesthetic and personal connection to specific Eras of music, but they exist together in that individuality. At my Eras concert, I remember looking up at the stands while we waited for the show to start: with the amount of individual glittering outfits folks donned for this occasion, the crowd simply sparkled. Everyone’s personal connection to their fandom was on display. And as we all screamed the “Cruel Summer” bridge (finally!), and every word to “All Too Well (Taylor’s Version) (10 Minute Version)” and swayed to “Enchanted” and went to church during “Don’t Blame Me,” we connected to the experience on our own, but also together.
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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