The unbearable lightness of being Taylor Swift

As the Swift Mothership lands in Dublin next weekend for three nights at the Aviva Stadium, we look at the extraordinary spell the music deity has cast on her fans and how she has become so much more than a mere pop star

Will the sound of 155,000 Swifties thronging the Aviva Stadium next weekend trigger a mini earthquake in Dublin 4? Will the Irish economy do cartwheels as fan buying power puts boosters under the city’s businesses? Will there be enough friendship bracelets to go round . . . ?

These are the burning questions that seismologists, bean counters and shiny bead hawkers will be asking as the Taylor Swift Mothership finally lands in Dublin on her record-breaking, 152-date Eras Tour.

She will be the first act ever complete a triple whammy at the 80,000-capacity venue on what is already a busy weekend in Dublin. Among the events also taking place are the Pride Festival, concerts in Fairview Park, and two GAA Quarter Finals at Croke Park but it seems certain that pop’s golden girl will attract the most attention.

These are Swift’s first Irish shows since she played two nights in Croke Park in 2018 and it will be quite a pilgrimage for the faithful. But this time something is different – and it’s not just the fact that we now know that she is a Derry girl.

When Swift last played Ireland over two nights in Croke Park in 2018 on her Reputation tour, she was already an established megastar with an almost supernatural hold on her scarily loyal fanbase.

Six years later and she has now transcended mere pop stardom to become some kind of universal touchstone, a barometer of both art and economics. Such is the cultural capital of Taylor Swift that American universities offer learned courses on her work, economists parse the significance of Swiftonomics, and a grateful music industry lays down at her altar.

Meet Ireland’s biggest Swiftie

The 34-year-old from West Reading, Pennsylvania – with a fondness for private jets and herding cats – has become the biggest and almost too perfect pop star of the era.

You’ll often hear that the key to her success is relatability. Tay Tay’s trick is appearing to share everything with her fans in her autobiographical songs and breathless social media posts while also exercising an iron grip on her career and privacy. She has maintained a certain otherworldly unknowability.

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30-year-old Sarah Magnier from Shanakiel in Cork could be Ireland’s biggest Swiftie. She works as a receptionist for a local truck dealership but she is also a singer, Swift cosplayer, and performer who has recently formed a Taylor tribute act with her friend Hayley, which goes by the winning name of Eras, Be Grand.

Speaking to RTÉ, Sarah says, “Taylor’s been writing about her life since she was 14 and for Swifties like me who grew up with her, we’ve experienced all those things she sings about – your first crush, your first heartbreak . . .

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“She puts so much honesty into her lyrics, you just feel it and identify with it even though she’s this huge mega pop star none of us are ever going to meet. It just feels like she’s almost a friend.”

Is Taylor Swift the Stepford pop star?

Named after the soporific king of seventies soft rock James Taylor, Swift has remained a singularly uncontroversial mega star, despite the woman scorned shtick of her songs.

At the start of her career as a Nashville teen and Shania Twain wannabe, she was byword for naff and while the haters may feel nothing has changed on that score, it’s hard to reconcile the wholesome homespun country singer of 2006 with the planet striding pop colossal of today.

Taylor departing Adelaide in her private jet last March

After hurdling the white picket fence and becoming a crossover megastar, America’s sweetheart seems to have two gears – let’s play nice Taylor and avenging diva Taylor.

As she crisscrosses a planet already on fire in her private jet, it’s reported that she earns $13 million for each Eras gig and made $130 million in royalties from Spotify last year.

She handled those feuds with Kanye West and Scooter Braun with dignity and her righteous battles with streaming sites Spotify and Apple Music won her plaudits from fellow artists and fans.

However, has she become the Stepford pop star, the AI Joni Mitchell?

The Mothership is cleared to land

Did I say Mothership? Surely, I mean Sistership because if there’s one thing the 34-year-old who was raised on a Christmas tree farm has become it’s a universal big sister to her fans.

Sarah Magnier agrees, “Her fans have watched what she has gone through – people talking bad about her and making up rumours,

“Obviously, we all go through that to an extent, I went through it badly when I was growing up, and to see someone like Taylor Swift at that level of mega stardom and that stature is like, `ok, she’s going through it, I’m not alone’.

“When she went through the whole Kanye West thing and people were calling her a snake, she used a snake as the imagery of her Reputation album. She’s claiming it back. She telling people, `you’re not going to tell me who I am, I’m going to tell you who I am’. She’s not afraid to be herself.”

Taylor goes to college

We have read much about how the Taylor phenomenon has entered the groves or grooves, if you will, at academe with colleges in the US. At America’s most prestigious university, Harvard, English Professor Stephanie Burt teaches a course entitled “Taylor Swift and Her World”.

The class asks students to take a deep dive into the pop icon’s work and influence while studying the work of authors that Professor Burt considers relevant to understanding her catalogue.

Last April, Glasgow Clyde College launched a Taylor Swift masterclass to teach parents about her gig set lists and Swift’s evolving wardrobe and hairstyles ahead of recent her sold-out shows in Edinburgh.

Here in Ireland, it has been left to the students themselves to elevate Swift to higher learning with at least two on-campus Swift societies that we know of.

Picture courtesy of Swiftie Soc UCG

Out in Dublin City University on Dublin’s northside, the Swiftie Society is dedicated to all things Tay Tay with a mission to “make the whole place shimmer”.

Their website reads, “Welcome to the Swiftie Society: Where College Meets Taylor Swift and pops with passion! Embrace the enchanting world of Taylor Swift with us!”

The aims and objectives of the Society take on a semi-religious reverence. “To facilitate the practice of Swiftie Society in all its forms. The promotion of Taylor Swift in all its forms.”

On the Twitter account of University College Galway’s Taylor Society, a photoshop of her Swiftness herself can be seen striding across the campus and they also have a meme of Taylor as Jesus Christ, not the first time a pop star has inspired spiritual fervour, ironically or not.

Taylor and Ireland – a real love affair

Given Country music’s Scots Irish roots, it is no surprise that Taylor might feel a genuine kinship with Ireland and she has made the most of her previous visits here over the years.

In 2018, Swift spent Christmas at Glin Castle in Co Limerick with then boyfriend Joe Alwyn, according to reports at the time.

The Limerick Leader reported that the pair headed to a local pub and the local GAA club also confirmed the visit by sharing a picture of a signed lotto ticket purchased by Taylor – which is pretty cute for a woman with an estimated net worth of $1.3 billion.

In July 2021, she posted a black and white picture of herself on Portsalon Beach in Co Donegal, while Alwyn was in Ireland filming the TV adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends.

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Two months later, she popped up at the drama’s wrap party in Belfast, with staff from the city’s Shu Restaurant sharing selfies with the star. She also visited a Belfast cocktail bar called Tipsy Bird.

Swift has also stayed at an old coach house near Ranelagh in South Dublin and signed a picture that is now displayed in the house.

Not quite as exciting as Abba mentioning Kilkenny on their comeback album Voyage but Ireland has made its way into Swift’s lyrics, too. She namechecked Wicklow on her 2022 album Midnights on a track called Sweet Nothing, which is said to be about a visit to the county she made with Alwyn.

Sorry, no Tay-to flavoured crisps will be available

Taylor’s arrival on each stop-off on the Eras Tour has taken on all the pomp of a royal or state visit. When she touched down in Liverpool recently, the city went all out, creating Taylor installations, murals and city walks, while in London, enterprising – if that is the right word – tour guides are offering trips to the locations mentioned in her song London Boy for £100 a pop. How’s that for Swiftonomics?

Ahead of her gigs in Edinburgh last week, city trams were festooned with her image and Loch Tay was rechristened Loch Tay Tay.

It appears Dublin will not be honouring her in a similar fashion. Dublin City Council told RTÉ they had no special plans to mark Swift’s weekend in the city, but they would “be continuing our series of pop-up activations over that weekend to complement the music genre associated with Taylor Swift”.

Sadly, when contacted by RTÉ, Ireland’s most famous crisp brand said they had no plans to release a special “Tay-to” flavour for the big weekend, adding that they were concentrating on their new limited edition Monster Munch range. So, there is that.

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However, Alternative Dublin, which hosts quirky tours and events around the city, has been busy holding Taylor Swift friendship bracelet workshops as part of Swift Fan Fest, an assortment of over 20 events across the capital up until 28 June.

And there are a lot of other Taylor-related events happening all over the city in the lead-up to her gigs.

Meanwhile, the Irish Sun reported that every bar and restaurant in the city is clamouring for Taylor to drop by for a swift one and score them the ultimate social media photo opportunity.

What to expect at the Aviva gigs

Let’s face it, there hasn’t been this much anticipation for a gig since the last time a certain other country star with pop leanings played five nights in Croker in 2022.

So, what to expect next Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Aviva?

Well, after she greeted the crowd in Welsh at last Tuesday’s night show in Cardiff, you can bet your bottom Euro that Taylor will utter a Cúpla Focal to her adoring fans at the Aviva.

The average Taylor concert during The Eras Tour sees her perform for a stamina-testing three hours and 15 minutes on average. At Anfield Stadium in Liverpool last week, she played an incredible 48 songs, spanning her back catalogue from Lover, Red and her most recent album The Tortured Poet’s Department.

The last word on Taylor should go to our super-Swiftie Sarah Magnier. She’ll be up the front at the Aviva next week in the bespoke Karma jacket she made especially for the gigs.

Sarah Magnier and friend

“I have loved Taylor Swift since I heard Love Story for the first time back in 2008. I just fell in love with her,” she says. “I’m a singer performer but I write as well and the way she writes music completed entranced me.

“I grew at the time when it wasn’t really cool to like Taylor but watching her success now is just insane, watching people loving her and kids growing up now and just discovering her and becoming obsessed. It’s amazing!

“With every album she’s got bigger and bigger but there is something about this tour, and the way it blew up. It’s crazy.”

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