In Praise of Taylor Swift

I have become a fan of the Taylor Swift phenomenon.

This is not fandom in the classic sense. I am in no way a Swiftie. I’ve never seen her perform; in fact, I’d be hard-pressed to recognize one of her songs.

But I love it that she has this huge fan base among women and girls, so huge that she was just named Time’s Person of the Year. And while I’m sure she has fans of other genders as well, even male ones, it is the joy I observe among women that makes this so satisfying.

The point at which I realized Swift was a big deal was when I heard her discussed on podcasts with women lawyers and law professors. These lawyers were going to her shows, some with their daughters, some on their own.

I’m talking about the kind of lawyers who teach constitutional law, which is about as high-powered as you get academically in the legal profession. Women who are up and coming academic powerhouses are not only Swifties, but not afraid to trumpet their fandom.

When I think about how careful the women lawyers of my generation were, especially the ones who aspired to judgeships and high academic posts, I am agog. These women are demanding that you pay attention to their legal thinking and at the same time they’re the embodiment of Cyndi Lauper’s great song “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”

It thrills me to see it, much in the same way that the Barbie movie thrilled me. Like Swift, Barbie is not really my thing, but the combination of feminism and sheer joy in that movie – a movie about a major commercial toy! – was so damn refreshing.

And since we are still living in capitalistic times, it is worth pointing out that both Swift and the movie make money – big money – out of performances that are squarely aimed at women and girls.

If it doesn’t inspire me to become a Swiftie, it’s not for lack of respect for her talent and skills. It’s rather that I am not a fan of spectacles, of performances before tens of thousands.

I get claustrophobic in big crowds. I prefer music shows that are built around the music itself, rather than all the bells and whistles. I can see the charm in it, but it doesn’t attract me these days. I’m not sure it ever did.

I recall a great night at the Cactus Cafe in Austin, a small (really small) bar in the corner of the Texas Union on campus, listening to Ruthie Foster sing and play guitar accompanied by the late (and very great) Samantha Banks on drums and her cousin Tanya Richardson on stand-up bass.

No costume changes. No pyrotechnics. Just music – great music. And charisma to burn.

There aren’t a lot of venues around like the Cactus. Austin still has some, but Austin’s overpriced real estate is driving musicians out of the city. And Austin has always been an outlier – few other cities have so many clubs.

In truth, you can’t make much of a living playing venues like that. The money’s in spectacle, or at least in large venues, and musicians have to eat.

So I’m glad to see the women performers who are making that work, and making it work for women fans.

It doesn’t have to be my thing for me to be glad it exists.

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