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What Taylor Swift's cultural impact looks like to fans

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It is something of a national holiday today if you are one of the millions of Taylor Swift fans out there because there's a new album to celebrate. It's called "The Tortured Poets Department." Listening parties are happening all over, from Puyallup to Pensacola. And in Bethesda, Md., Swifties, including Chantal Dulk-Jacobs, began gathering earlier today at the dog-friendly beer garden Bark Social. They're planning to listen to Taylor all day long.

CHANTAL DULK-JACOBS: She makes songs about what you're feeling, and you can associate your feelings with those songs and listen to it on end for days at a time.

KELLY: Here to unpack the cultural phenomenon that is Taylor Swift, we have Paula Harper on the line. She teaches music at the University of Chicago. She is co-editing a book about Taylor Swift and her fans. Paula Harper, welcome. Happy Taylor Swift Day to you - to all who celebrate (laughter).

PAULA HARPER: Thank you. Thank you. So excited to be here.

KELLY: So I want to just dive right in on the idea of fans. Can you give an example? Is there a story you would tell that would make clear just how big, how powerful Taylor Swift's fan base is?

HARPER: The Swifties are a big and powerful group. They're a force. I think my my favorite go-to example is that, at one of Taylor Swift's Eras tour concerts, they literally caused a seismic event due to the combined force of their rhythmic jumping and dancing to Taylor Swift's music - so a kind of literal natural event that is happening due to the force and the scale and the scope of Swift's fans.

KELLY: Taylor Swift can interact with her fans in a way that's quite different from what the Beatles were able to do, or what - even before that, if - people who were screaming themselves hoarse over Elvis Presley. Talk to me about the way that she interacts with fans that helps to cultivate such passion.

HARPER: Yeah, well, something that I tend to say about Taylor Swift is that Taylor Swift did come up right alongside the rise of social media as we know it. So she has been interacting with her fans on social media platforms well prior to the days of TikTok. Those of us who were around in the 2010s know that Taylor Swift was cultivating a very avid fan base on Tumblr way, way back when.

KELLY: Well, and in real life too, right? She invites fans to her house to listen to her new albums with her. She does these meet-and-greets after her shows - is that right?

HARPER: Yeah, absolutely. So you've got this porousness between online and IRL and this porousness, too, of course, between her celebrity persona and this friend, girl-next-door persona that she's cultivating and inhabiting.

KELLY: What are your plans to mark this new album? Are you headed to any listening parties yourself?

HARPER: They haven't been listening parties, but I have already been turned to as a kind of node for reaction by many of my friends who know that I am a Swift scholar. My various chat threads have been blowing up today with people who are having dispersed listening parties, and I might be hosting an on-campus listening party here as well.

KELLY: And what are the questions coming in? Is it just - how's the album? How's the album? Do you like it?

HARPER: How is the album? Do you like it? What's going on with this Florence and the Machine collab? How do we feel about the Antonoff partnership? Which song do we think is the best on the album? Who do we think these songs are about?

KELLY: What is the best song on the album, by the way?

HARPER: I'm all-in for "Clara Bow."

KELLY: There we have it. Paula Harper, thank you.

HARPER: Thank you.

KELLY: She is a Swift scholar and assistant professor of music at the University of Chicago.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CLARA BOW")

TAYLOR SWIFT: (Singing) You look like Clara Bow in this light... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jordan-Marie Smith
Jordan-Marie Smith is a producer with NPR's All Things Considered.
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.