Hundreds of thousands of fans are set to descend upon Sydney’s Accor Stadium this weekend for four nights of sold out Taylor Swift concerts, in what will arguably be the most iconic music moment in the city’s history.

And this is not a Sydney nor an Australian phenomenon. This is global. Swift has rocked sold out arenas in North and South America and Tokyo before making her way to Australia. While she skipped New Zealand, thousands of Kiwis are crossing the ditch and paying top dollar to be a part of the experience.

Prior to Christmas, the tour had already raked in over a billion US dollars, the first to do so and thus becoming the highest-grossing ever. The tour doesn’t even finish until December this year.

Meanwhile at the Super Bowl earlier this month, Swift became the hottest talking point as she watched her boyfriend Travis Kelce and the Kansas City Chiefs take home the Lombardi Trophy.

Taylor Swift is the world’s most popular artist and a global icon.

But why?

This was the question I needed an answer to. As a heterosexual man, I didn’t get the hype. I don’t hate Taylor Swift’s music, nor am I a huge fan. To me she is just another pop star. Not just that but she’s been around for over 15 years, yet only in the last few become a true superstar. I needed to understand why and how she had captured such a huge following.

I turned to the biggest Swiftie I know, ironically also named Taylor, to try and explain to me what the hype was all about.

‘Best produced pop music in the world’

Taylor (the fan) has been listening to Taylor (the artist) since the release of her album Fearless in 2008, where the songs Love Story and You Belong With Me catapulted her onto the world stage.

But Taylor explained it hasn’t always been a “love story” between him and Swift.

“I have had a love hate relationship with Taylor Swift… I’ve dropped off a couple of times over the years. But I’ve come back now, probably within the last five years to love her more than I ever have before. Because I’m probably grown up a bit and realised that pop stars can’t all be perfect.”

Yet when it comes to her music, Taylor said it’s as close to perfect as you can get, not just in terms of production but in how relatable and emotional her songs are.

“Her pop music is some of the best produced pop music in the world. She has an incredible knack for writing, melodies and harmonies, they’re incredibly catchy, and they create just like so much energy in the song, which I feel when I listen to them.

“Then on the second side of it, she writes incredibly emotional music that is far more textured and layered than what you probably hear on the radio. That speaks to me. She is someone who deals with an incredible amount of anxiety in her relationships, which comes through in a lot of music, and her albums. So I really enjoy having that perspective of someone who was just so lost in their mind when it comes to navigating through relationships and their biggest enemy as themselves.

“She has a number of songs where you can just tell she is just writing with anxiety at the thought that it’s going to end or overthinking everything that her partner does. And she manages to write them in a way that tells very, like clear and concise stories about very singular moments of hardship or difficulty.”

Breaking news: Taylor Swift fan thinks Taylor Swift’s music is great. I needed to get an expert opinion. I turned to Godfrey de Grut, a lecturer in popular music at the University of Auckland, who told me the difference lay in the detail of each song’s composition.

“The top layer that we often hear, they’re just four chords and a song. The melodies do the same thing that all songs do, the structure’s the same as all the other songs. But the attention to detail and layering really provides a great deal of depth,” Godfrey explained.

The lyrics and how they flowed with the melodies were also crucial in connecting with the listener, he said.

“The stories that she’s able to tell, connect really, really well … the lyrics alone tell great human stories.

“I don’t know about you, but I very rarely listen to lyrics. It just so happens that her amazing, heartfelt lyrics are also tied in with very memorable melodies. We often talk at the university about possibly the hierarchy of needs and a song is definitely melody first, and then everything else. So she imbues these melodies with the types of stories that you want to listen to. And a lot of the time those stories don’t ever pay off, which is unusual thing about songs, it seems that the song itself doesn’t have to end the story. But just being part of that story for a series of minutes, people seem to keep on coming back to these universal stories of heartache and romance and the human condition.”

Longevity

Taylor Swift.

Making popular music is one thing, plenty have done that. In my discussions, I ask what separates Taylor Swift from other pop stars like Dua Lipa, Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus and countless others.

I’m met with two words: Longevity and consistency.

Swift recently captured her fourth Grammy Album of the Year award, the most by any performer. Her first was in 2010, before millions of her fans were even born. No pop star has ever been able to be at the pinnacle for so long.

Godfrey said having that depth of catalogue put her above her contemporaries.

“Depth of catalogue and intrinsic understanding of music because of depth of catalogue. These are probably really important things for Taylor. And it’s like that with Beyoncé. It seems to me like every time Beyoncé releases an album, it’s like fresh and new and ‘wow, did not expect that’. And I think [Taylor] can do it because she’s got this really deep understanding of of music from a young age,” Godfrey said.

What sets her apart now as she’s ascended the demographic that she initially was appealing to.

—  Taylor (the fan) |

Taylor (the fan) agreed, but also pointed to how Swift had transcended her demographic of young girls and become appealing to a wide range of people.

“What sets her apart now as she’s ascended the demographic that she initially was appealing to. Initially she came out and she was for teenage girls and then obviously over the past, you know, 18 years that she’s been on the scene, those woman and then also men have grown up with her into millennial adults now, but now through social media and her re-releases, and just her skill as an artist, she’s somehow connected with Gen Z.”

Taylor explained Swift’s connection with a range of demographics was also due to her music transcending pop.

“She’s also connected with straight men through her folklore and evermore albums. And I think that’s what separates her from the rest of the pop artist, because they’re doing pop music for the [teenage girl] demographic, whereas Taylor Swift has transcended her demographic, and she is catering to a lot of different audiences, which together make her so much bigger than everyone else.”

How Covid-19 and betrayal changed everything

Taylor Swift performs at Lumen Field in Seattle during the sold-out Eras Tour.

I asked Taylor and Godfrey what they thought the reasons were for Swift becoming the world’s biggest artist. Taylor pinpointed the Covid-19 pandemic as a key turning point.

“The pivot of her career that turned into where it is now was the release of [the albums] folklore and evermore in 2020 during lockdown. It was so different to anything she had done before, like it was completely unexpected surprise release, and it really brought her and so many more fans because it was such a mature focus album heavy on lyricism, not as poppy.

“It really became, you know, an album more men would listen to or people who didn’t enjoy pop music so much but they enjoyed this different side to her.”

Taylor also believed the well-publicised 2019 fallout with her previous management had sparked a renaissance of sorts for the pop star.

Swift’s first record label Big Machine Label Group was acquired by music mega-manager Scooter Braun, and meant all of her master recordings of songs up until 2018 now belonged to Braun. Swift felt betrayed by Big Machine founder Scott Borchetta, as she had been trying for years to take ownership of her master recordings yet been denied.

In 2020, she began re-recording her back catalogue, which enabled her to own the new master recordings of the songs and the rights for commercial use.

Taylor said Swift had marketed her re-releases “absolutely impeccably”.

“Obviously it fits the narrative of her redemption arc of like taking back her music, but from a marketing perspective also everyone loves someone to root for and someone to root against. Each release is like a ‘f*** you’ to her nemesis and her former record label and I think people love to root for someone.”

Godfrey said the betrayal was like a “strange gift” for Swift.

“She turned that into this completely new kind of approach to re-establishing music, to take the music and re-imagine it. Nobody really has done that like she has.”

Marketing and relatability

Wanting to know more about how Swift had connected with such a wide audience, I turned to Victoria University’s head of marketing school Associate Professor Val Hooper. She admits she’s no expert on what specific marketing strategies Swift has utilised, but explained how her background, family and image had helped connect her with all corners of the globe.

Hooper said Swift’s parents, particularly her mother, who herself is a marketing expert, had been very influential in growing Swift’s brand and image.

“[Swift] is very relatable to normal people on the street,” Hooper said. “She’s caring for the community, works very hard and she’s shown that she’s human – her mum has gone through a tough cancer battle and she’s written about that in her songs. We can all relate to that, having someone close to us go through something painful.”

Every mother looks at her and would be happy for their daughter to emulate her.

—  Associate Professor Val Hooper |

Hooper said Swift’s songwriting and melodies also appealed to a lot of people.

“Her songs are very catchy, not very morbid. They have a very good beat that encourages happy movement.”

I asked Hooper about The Eras Tour and why she thought the reason was for every concert around the world selling out in minutes.

“I think if you look at it, it’s got whole families attending, not just young girls. Obviously there’s a lot of mothers there with their daughters. Taylor is very beautiful and doesn’t wear particularly revealing clothing…there’s no guitar smashing or anything like that, it’s just a good atmosphere.

“Her transparency and integrity, there’s hope for youngsters to achieve what she’s achieved. Every mother looks at her and would be happy for their daughter to emulate her.”

Godfrey said Swift had a “very canny understanding” of how to share her music and her stories with her fans.

“Looking back at early Taylor Swift, and her first manager, they had a very focused target of reaching a fan base and making sure that fan base felt part of something. So now you have this concept of Swifties. And if you manage to capture that audience with that very valuable age group of 14 to 20, it’s quite likely that they might stay with you in the long run.

“I think once in the modern age, once you’ve once you’ve built that connection, no amount of referral music is going to break that really solid relationship that she’s built with, with those fans.”

Swifties and Taylormania

Jen and Emily Taylor from Palmerston North were lucky enough to get a seats at one of Swift's Melbourne shows.

So what exactly is a Swiftie? Essentially, it’s die-hard Taylor Swift fans. Taylor (the fan) is one of those. This weekend he’ll be flying to Sydney with friends to see Swift in person. It hasn’t come at any small expense either. Determined not to miss out, Taylor bought a VIP package through the American Express pre-sale, paying an extraordinary $1300 to attend the three-hour show.

But it’s all worth it, he told me.

“Being a single gay man with no kids and no mortgage, I have money to spare. So I knew that that would be our best chance of getting a ticket because no one else would pay that price. It is not lost on me that it’s absolutely bulls***. But I paid that price to pretty much ensure myself that I’d get a ticket, because once the general sale went on, it was absolute shambles. And, you know, they estimate that only one in 10 people got tickets.”

He certainly won’t be alone. It’s estimated 300,000 people will pour into Accor Stadium across four nights, with 82% of the city’s hotels booked out and rooms commanding prices over $1000 a night. Organisers believe it will be the biggest event in Sydney since the Olympics in 2000.

“It’s the biggest selling musical tour in history and I think that gets lost on people,” Taylor told me.

“I can respect that if you’re not a fan, it can seem just overblown. But when you look at throughout history of you know, musical moments where people have just lost their goddamn minds over someone, this is right up there with them.

“It would definitely be up there for the most exciting moments of my life for sure.”

Thousands of Kiwis will be flocking across the ditch to catch a glimpse of the superstar in action. To meet the overwhelming demand, airlines are pulling out all the stops.

Qantas has stepped up its game, selling an additional 11,000 seats for Sydney alone.

Meanwhile, Air New Zealand has joined the fray, adding 2000 extra seats and scheduling 14 additional flights, each bearing the flight number “NZ1989”.

Built across a decade and a half, Taylor Swift has become more than just an artist, but a cultural icon. As the record-breaking Eras Tour continues, there’s no telling just how high her stardom will rise.

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