How far the world has traveled in the 125 years since Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone of London’s V&A Museum until today, when that venerable establishment announces its search for a ‘Taylor Swift Super Fan Advisor’.
The position, for a devoted Swiftie (as the 34-year-old singer’s fans are called), requires someone to provide expert insight into fan culture and the memorabilia that fellow Swifties collect and create, such as concert posters and friendship bracelets The museum hopes to have a new appointee before the 14-time Grammy winner begins the European leg of her Eras de ella tour in May.
Inevitably, the news has horrified cultural purists. They shout that this deification of a pop star, known for her string of high-profile boyfriends and her fashion sense, will tarnish the hallowed halls of one of Britain’s most august institutions. She is not cultural enough, nor literary enough, nor deserving enough. How will her homages to her sequined costumes fit together with Rodin’s sculptures and all those Madonna and Child paintings?
Frankly, they couldn’t be more wrong. Taylor Swift is as important to world culture as any of these great pieces.
I write as someone who completed my English degree at Oxford University two years ago with a dissertation titled “Is it romantic how all my elegies praise me? Taylor Swift as a modern romantic poet.”
He positioned Taylor Swift alongside the romantic poets William Wordsworth and Lord Byron. I based my thesis on ‘the lakes’ (no, this is not a mistake: Swift is erratic with capital letters), a song from her album ‘folklore’.
Lines like ‘Take me to the lakes where all the poets went to die’, of course, refer to the Lake District, home of romanticism. In fact, with ‘Tell Me How Much My Words Are Worth’, he mentions Wordsworth as the father of romanticism. Of course, I did my Swift thesis as a fan but also as an appreciation of a young woman whose work she believed the world should appreciate for its literary weight.
Taylor Swift performs at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in Australia this month
Wordsworth said that poetry was the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” By this measure, Swift’s lyrics are indisputably poetry. They evoke torrents of tears in those who have never had their hearts broken, vengeance in those who have never been betrayed, and joy in those who are heartbroken by the state of their lives.
Like all great writers, he speaks of universal experiences. His cult classic All Too Well, so popular that he released an extended ten-minute version, attests to this.
Everyone can relate to a relationship in which they have felt belittled, neglected and unappreciated. Heartbreaking lyrics like ‘You call me again just to break me like a promise, / So casually cruel in the name of being honest’ have formed a lump in the throats of many impassive people. For lack of a better cliché, Taylor Swift makes people feel seen and heard.
This woman is an inescapable global phenomenon. Her current tour has already raised more than £790 million and added £3.6 billion to the US economy. Both Joe Biden and Donald Trump know that 18 percent of American voters are likely to be influenced to vote in November’s presidential election for whoever she endorses. No wonder the V&A, one of Britain’s key cultural arbiters, wants to recognize her status. Ella Swiftie’s work is one of several pop culture consultancies the museum has launched recently. Also looking for people who are passionate about emojis and Crocs shoes. Advisors on Pokémon and Lego cards have already been secured.
According to the job description, the V&A’s new Swiftie advisor must have a “hyperniche interest”, with her being its “topic specialist”.
The museum’s director, former Labor MP Tristram Hunt, said: “These new advisory roles will help us celebrate and discover more about the enormous, and often surprising, creative diversity on offer at the V&A, as well as helping us learn more about Designing stories that are relevant to our current audiences.’
In recent months, more pillars of academia have taken Swift’s work seriously. Harvard University offered a course on Taylor Swift and her world; New York University also teaches Swift classes; and Queen Mary University of London has a specific module ‘Taylor Swift and literature’.
Shakespeare scholar Professor Sir Jonathan Bates has compared her to a “literary genius”, the Shakespeare of our time. Bates, a self-confessed Swiftie, wrote a passionate piece in which she compared the couple and said she is a “true poet.”
William Shakespeare, painted by Louis Coblitz. Taylor Swift has been compared to the British playwright for her cultural importance
Swift revises the stories and rewrites them to suit her own time and work, most notably revisiting the Bard’s Romeo and Juliet in her song Love Story and giving the young couple a happy ending. Shakespeare did the same when writing his version of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde. Why should Swift be belittled and belittled for borrowing a story Shakespeare already borrowed?
She pulls lines from everywhere. Professor Bates points out that Swift’s song ‘invisible string’ has the line ‘Isn’t it just so nice to think’, which comes from Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises, and the song’s premise: that two People connect with each other at all times. their lives – is based on Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.
With so many references, allusions and borrowings in his work, there is a mix of fact and fiction that only true Swifties can determine. Hence the need for the V&A to have an expert.
His lyrics aren’t the only things ingrained in our cultural consciousness. Even before the #MeToo movement and before allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein broke, Swift inspired other women to speak out about harassment and testified in court about being assaulted.
She has been a pioneer in her defense of artists’ rights and creative control over their work, something that has influenced the entire industry. With her new album, The Tortured Poets Department, set to be released in April, and no signs of slowing down, Swift will only further cement her position as a modern icon. Swift belongs at the V&A because, like it or not, she is defining our culture.
A concertgoer wearing friendship bracelets attends the second of four Taylor Swift Eras tour dates at Sydney’s ACCOR stadium.
The sign on the museum’s website says: “If you like it, it’s at the V&A.” There’s no doubt that people like Taylor Swift. Fans in hordes make friendship bracelets to exchange at their shows because of a line in You’re On Your Own, Kid that urges them to “make the friendship bracelets.” While I was at university, I made one for a ‘guilty pleasure party’, although looking back I don’t think I was that guilty.
The fact is that Swift inspires a devotion and following that is almost Christ-like. How fitting that last year the image of a Taylor Swift-inspired t-shirt was projected onto the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with the permission of the Archdiocesan Shrine of Christ the Redeemer, which cares for the monument.
Here in Britain the V&A was originally known as the Museum of Manufactures and when it opened it was provided with gas lighting so that it could remain open for worker comfort. It was always a museum of the people to represent the people.
Today, with almost three and a half billion views on YouTube for her song Shake It Off and 281 million followers on Instagram, Swift represents the people.
Furthermore, with supermodel Naomi Campbell about to have her own exhibition at the V&A, her exhibition on fashion designer Coco Chanel is coming to an end, and with Elton John, Cher and Diana Ross featured in one of her exhibitions current, Diva, why? Shouldn’t Swift be up there? None of these exhibitions merited the call to arms to nominate a Super Fan Adviser, which clearly shows how seriously the curators take it.
I’ve already submitted my application for the job, even though the V&A vacancies website crashed on Friday, presumably because too many people had tried to access it. Only a fool would believe that future generations will not speak of Swift’s lyrics in the same breath as Wordsworth’s daffodils or Shakespeare’s sonnets.