12 Feb 2024

Swift101: The study of Taylor

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 12 February 2024

Taylor Swift is more than a pop icon - she's a phenomenal businesswoman and the subject of university studies around the world, including this week a Swiftposium in Melbourne

Taylor Swift on stage in the concert movie Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour

Photo: Taylor Swift Productions

If you stripped her back to her guitar and her voice Taylor Swift would be a mega star. But add in her business nous and her genius in using her online power to connect with her millions of fans and you can understand why politics fret about her and academics all over the world are "Taylorising" their classes.

"Taylor is such a recognisable global phenomenon that you can actually mention something about her and it can be an 18-year-old or it can be her grandparents, they probably know who she is and understand the concept," says Dr Rebecca Trelease of AUT's School of Communication studies, a Swiftie who puts a Taylor lens on her lectures.

"There's just so much to unpack in her approach to her work," says her AUT colleague Angela Asuncion who is using Swift as her major case study in her masters degree.

"Because at the core of it all she's an amazing business woman. You really see that shine through in her work and how she deals with her fans, the promotion of her work. Just everything she does is so calculated but she makes it seem so natural."

Asuncion and Trelease are going to Swift's Eras tour concert in Melbourne later this week but right now they're in the city for the world first Swiftposium, which Trelease co-organised. It has attracted more than 400 submissions - 130 of these accepted - from 78 academic institutions worldwide, spanning 60 academic disciplines.

It will highlight how a single artist has influenced various aspects of contemporary life, in music, economics, business, media studies, health, and societally and culturally.

AUT academics Rebecca Trelease (left) who is a co-organiser of the Taylor Swift conference and_Angela_Asuncion, who is using Taylor Swift as a major case study for her Masters

Swifties Rebecca Trelease and Angela Asuncion are bringing mega-star Taylor Swift into the academic realm Photo: Sharon Brettkelly/The Detail

Trelease tells The Detail that the idea for the conference came after she saw so many academic Swifties talking about the concert online. She quickly set about organising it alongside an Australian academic but she was shocked at the global response to the event. As Swift continues to break records with album sales, streaming and tours, Trelease says it is important to understand the Swift phenomenon.

"Academically we need to be critiquing it. We just want to ask questions around it, that's literally our jobs. Why is this happening? And so if we're already having these questions about Taylor let's all have them in the same place at the same time in the week leading up to her concerts."

Trelease includes Swift in her lectures to help students understand popular culture discussions covering classism and sexism. They may not all be fans but they all know who Swift is, she says.

Asuncion's studies focus on how the pop icon has used social media to promote her new "versions" albums. She looks at Swift's so called Easter eggs or hints in her messaging of what she's planning next, how she uses her close connection with fans to promote her new albums or songs. 

She explains the term para social and how it fits with the research into Swift's innovative marketing approach, her engagement with fans and her calculated use of TikTok to promote her work. Swift has paved the way for other artists in the way they use social media.

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