News of an upcoming ‘Swiftposium’ hit the headlines this week – a three-day Taylor Swift conference to be held in Melbourne next year. We speak to Dr Rebecca Trelease, who helped create the upcoming event, about why Taylor Swift is deserving of a conference and how the idea came about.
Next February, a three-day academic event will be taking place in Melbourne as academics from around the world get together, both online and in person, to discuss the impact of global superstar Taylor Swift. It’s the first event of its kind, put together by seven different universities. And the idea came from one of the most epic challenges that a human can endure in 2023: trying to buy tickets to the Eras Tour.
Dr Rebecca Trelease, a senior lecturer in Communication Studies at Auckland’s University of Technology, was trying to get tickets to the Melbourne show after Aotearoa was left off the concert list (a Cruel Summer indeed). She’d teamed up with one of her colleagues, Angela Asuncion, a fellow Swiftie whose Master’s thesis revolves around the promotional marketing of Red (Taylor’s Version), and the pair had managed to score the coveted tickets in a flurry of excitement.
“Later that night, I was a bit like ‘oh my gosh, we just bought tickets to a concert in another country – there’s no accommodation, there are no flights… what have I done?’” she laughs. “I wondered if this was the line, that I had finally gone too far.”
But after looking on Instagram and seeing many of her academic colleagues in Australia and NZ celebrating their own Eras tickets, Rebecca realised she wasn’t alone in her excitement (and her spending). She reached out to a fellow academic – and fellow Swiftie – Dr Hannah McCann, from University of Melbourne to schedule some Taylor Swift related networking, but the conversation quickly snowballed into something bigger. Hannah tweeted out about having a Taylor Swift-themed chat and several academics reached out, keen to be involved.
The meet-up became a one-day conference, which then turned into a three-day ‘Swiftposium’, to be held at the University of Melbourne. Once the event was announced online, it went viral – making headlines around the world. The hour before I chat to Rebecca, the Girls That Invest Instagram account has just alerted its 260k followers that the event is happening, an announcement that thrills Rebecca.
“Everything that Sim [Kaur, co-founder of Girls That Invest) does for finance, in terms of making it accessible and relatable, that’s what I want to do with academia,” she says. “Academia doesn’t need to be intense and over-the-top, it doesn’t need fancy words; it’s about making everyone feel that they know what they’re talking about, because they do!”
Long before the Swiftposium, Rebecca said that Taylor Swift as a cultural figure has come up so frequently in her classes that she has to warn her students that “you’re going to be hearing about her a lot.” The possible academic themes for the Swiftposium, as listed below and on the website, cover the reality that Taylor is basically the centre of a pop culture Venn diagram.
Swiftposium Conference Themes include:
● ‘You know I adore you, I’m crazier for you’: The phenomenon of fandom, including its histories, psychological underpinnings, and social implications.
● ‘This city screams your name’: The impacts of international touring and large events, particularly Taylor Swift, on urban landscapes and the cultural identity of cities.
● ‘Shade never made anybody less gay’: Taylor Swift’s relationship to social movements such as feminism and LGBTQ+ rights, including her influence on political discourse and advocacy.
● ‘Who knows, if I never showed up, what could have been’: The economic reverberations of Taylor Swift’s cultural prominence, uncovering the intersections between art, entrepreneurship, and industry.
● ‘If I was a man, then I’d be The Man’: Taylor Swift, and gender and sexuality.
● ‘When my depression works the graveyard shift’: Mental health discourse and Taylor Swift.
● ‘You’re really gonna be someone’: Reflecting on Taylor Swift’s impact on contemporary discourses about gender, identity, race, and intersectionality.
● ‘And when you can’t sleep at night (you hear my stolen lullabies): Taylor Swift, streaming platforms, and intellectual property (Taylor’s version).
● ‘I was so ahead of the curve, the curve became a sphere’: Taylor Swift as pop culture catalyst, prophet and mirror.
● ‘One single symbolic dollar’: Taylor Swift, #metoo, and the law.
Now, the level of your fandom might dictate how seriously you take these themes but when asked why Taylor Swift is deserving of a full three-day academic conference, Rebecca gives a simple, inarguable answer.
“She’s global; every single person knows who you’re talking about when you mention Taylor Swift,” she says. “It’s not that you can’t escape her, it’s that she’s a recognisable phenomenon. If you refer to her in any context, any person is going to understand who you’re referring to. You don’t have to be a fan to know anything about her, and yet, people inherently know things about her… who she is and what she’s achieved.”
The Summer of Taylor Swift
The Eras tour has so far grossed an estimated $1 billion and is on track to become the highest earning tour of all time. The Era’s Tour film is already breaking box office records, even though the tickets are twice the price of normal tickets.
Then there’s also Taylor’s extremely public courtship with NFL star Travis Kelce, which has seen a stratospheric rise in his popularity (the fact that I, a person who has never watched a football game in their entire life, could type his name from memory is a minor sign of this). Last week the Empire State Building (!) lit itself up in red and white to mirror Taylor’s viral post-NFL game snack: a chicken tender, ketchup and ‘seemingly ranch’ sauce. So, yeah – she’s omnipresent enough to inspire a Trans-Tasman academic conference.
“I love that it’s different universities,” Rebecca says of the Swiftposium. “It’s like, what will bring the biggest collaboration of Australian and New Zealand universities together? Taylor Swift, of course. It totally makes sense.”
The Power Of The Female Dollar
After a pop culture dearth brought on by the pandemic, 2023 has seen the power of the female dollar highlighted thanks to the global financial impact of the Beyoncé Renaissance Tour, the billion-dollar success of the Barbie movie and then the Eras tour. Are we finally, finally going to see the value of female interests given the respect they deserve? Rebecca isn’t sure.
“The dominant voice in media is not young women,” she says. “And unless we as young women are the ones talking about it, then I think [female pop culture] is going to constantly be looked down on. This is why we need more female academics, more women in media, more women in charge, in order to have the conversations that aren’t looking at Swiftposium or anything aimed at young women simply as frivolous.”
Because there’s a difference between frivolous and fun, and – as we have previously argued on Capsule – female-centred pop culture can be both silly and taken seriously. For the most part, Taylor’s music is fun, Rebecca says. “It doesn’t need to be depressing and really intense or dramatic; things can be fun! Why can’t things that are fun be beautiful, and celebrated, and examined academically.”
‘Why can’t things that are fun be beautiful, and celebrated, and examined academically.’
Currently the Swiftposium is at the ‘calling for papers’ stage, where academics around the world send through their proposed discussions and then a double-blind peer review process will pick who presents at the three-day event. Given the extreme online interest from non-academics, Rebecca says she and the committee are still working out how to make the conference more accessible to fans, with a possible event open to the public in the works.
So we know why Rebecca the academic is interested in Taylor Swift. But Rebecca is also a fan – who is eagerly awaiting the 1989 (Taylor’s Version) release, who rates Reputation as her favourite T Swift album (even if she can’t listen to it until the re-release comes out). From that fan perspective, why does Rebecca think that Taylor Swift has become the global powerhouse she is?
“She was actually sharing what girlhood was, while she still was a girl,” Rebecca says of Taylor’s long-term career impact. “With media today, we get things like ‘this is our new TV show, and it’s going to capture girlhood,’ but it’s made by older executives, putting together what they think girlhood might be. Taylor was sharing her own girlhood, from her own voice, as she saw it. And there are people who love her who have grown alongside her. So when we get to our 30s and we start looking back at that song that defined a summer, or a specific moment in our life, she’s attached to them all. You cannot escape Taylor if you’ve grown up alongside her.”
“I’m 40, and I hear tracks from Speak Now where she’s singing about being 19, and I’m just like ‘oh, I feel that,’ and then it’s like, ‘How?? I’m 40 years old,’” Rebecca laughs. “But I was also a 19-year-old girl once.”