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This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by editor Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.
I am devastated to report that I now know who Travis Kelce is. I guess Taylor Swift really did put him on the map. (Straight women, you’ve never been funnier than in those TikToks where you tell your husbands and boyfriends how great it is that Swift gave Kelce this boost, since no one had heard of him before—I’ve never seen blood pressure spike so quickly.)
Typically, it’s not a good thing when ol’ Kevin Fallon is aware of a football player’s existence. It means they committed a crime, were anti-vax, are one of the New York Giants that I overhear my family cursing about on Sundays, or got really drunk once on Bravo. (OK, I actually appreciated that.) That, or they’re Tom Brady, which… gross.
I am, of course, exaggerating my lack of interest in the NFL—though only slightly. But there is something about the Taylor/Travis relationship, with apologies to all those TikTok husbands, that does make this seem like a unique situation. The Taylor Swift effect is real. I’ve never seen an athlete-celebrity “relationship” (are they even calling it that at this point?) smother the cultural zeitgeist to this extent, where it seems that no other news or famous person matters.
Originally, I thought this whole ordeal was orchestrated by Big Football to convince the last remaining of us to care about the sport. Indeed, the pop star showing up at Kelce’s game last Sunday did capture the entire country’s attention, as if we were all watching in awe as a meteor crashed into Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium. In the days since, pandemonium surrounding the pair has been all-consuming, not just dominating the celebrity news cycle, but also affecting, apparently, the economy, politics, and—most shockingly—the condiment industry.
I’m not immune to a little fascination over a celebrity coupling. (I have a body-language expert on retainer for each new Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck photo that drops.) But this Taylor-Travis hullabaloo seems unprecedented—and I am exhausted!
On Sunday, Swift fan accounts, noticing that its Taylor-obsessed followers were dutifully paying the closest attention they’ve perhaps ever given to a football game, began posting explanations of the sport’s rules on X, which I’m insufferably forced to now call the site formerly known as Twitter. It’s unclear whether or not this was a joke: “Okay… what’s a down? Is it like dropping the ball?” read one reply. Regardless, it’s tempting to mock the seriousness with which this NFL 101 social-media seminar was treated.
But the laugh’s on me: Even in the realm of a cultural force as preposterously gargantuan and influential as the NFL already is, Swift inspiring her fans to tune in to Kelce’s game made its reach improbably larger.
In her piece “Can Taylor Swift Force Girls to Care About Football?”, my colleague Helen Holmes ran through the impressive stats. The Chiefs game that Swift attended was the most-viewed of the week and the highest-rated among women in several key age demographics. And with Swifties comes dollars. In one day, sales of Kelce’s jersey jumped 400 percent.
With great power comes great responsibility. In response to that extreme spike in sales and viewership, questions arose as to whether Swift was being ethical with her financial influence—at least, from a pop-culture point of view. All over my social media timelines this past week, there were posts from people offering up what they wished Swift would throw her commercial power toward, instead of a football player who, as the TikTok husbands assured me, is already quite successful.
“Date Carly Rae Jepsen next,” posted one user, championing pop’s most underappreciated queen. “If Taylor Swift went to a Broadway show she could single-handedly save the theatre industry,” wrote another. Watch women’s tennis. Be photographed with a Tinashe CD. The pleas even became jokingly political: The impact that the star riding public transit could have! Endorse Medicare for All! Save print newspapers! And of course: “Can we get a video of Taylor Swift attending the melting down of an assault rifle?”
can we get a video of Taylor Swift attending the melting down of an assault rifle https://t.co/seZKeSW0hx
— scott™ (@humantorch) September 27, 2023
Each of these posts made me laugh. But they also made me wince a bit. They’re bleak proof of just how preposterous, in ways both good and bad, the Swifties’ influence can be.
The ludicrousness of that influence became clear when an essay by right-wing pundit Mark Hemingway resurfaced this week, entitled, “Taylor Swift’s Popularity Is a Sign of Society’s Decline.” (Reasons include: She is childless, unmarried, and her music suggests to other women that this is OK. Good stuff.) The wonderfulness of that influence became clear when one of Swift’s Instagram posts led to 35,000 people registering to vote. And the silliness of that influence became clear when we all started talking about “seemingly ranch” dressing.
What began as an innocuous post amid the spate of attempts from various social media accounts to breathlessly chronicle every single detail of Swift’s trip to the Chiefs game has metastasized into one of those viral jokes that far outstayed its welcome. “Taylor Swift was eating a piece of chicken with ketchup and seemingly ranch!” the account @tswifterastour posted, complete with an alarm emoji. An initial bemusement with the phrase “seemingly ranch” quickly became a cultural preoccupation.
Too many brands made jokes about it to even list here. The Empire State Building’s official account quipped that the landmark’s red-and-white lighting this week was in honor of “ketchup and seemingly ranch.” And the thing that broke me: Heinz announced a limited-edition condiment inspired by the tweet.
Ketchup and seemingly ranch pic.twitter.com/8L7UhjCaH7
— Empire State Building (@EmpireStateBldg) September 27, 2023
It’s natural to suspect that this dating match-up is a publicity stunt, especially when the result of Swift being spotted at the game was… all of this publicity. (Let’s not forget that Swift’s Eras Tour concert film hits theaters later this month.) But that may also be unfair, as this level of attention related to anything Swift does can’t be helped or prevented; this week proved it. Trust me, I’ve tried to escape the relentless news coverage of her and Kelce’s latest moves. It’s impossible.
Reports are that she’ll be at his game again this week. OK? I don’t need to know her weekend plans. Much like most celebrity relationships or, lately, divorces and breakups, it all amounts to a whole lot of “this is not my business.” I feel steadfast in that opinion, and I will repeat it to myself each and every time I click on a new headline, article, and tweet, because I will be reading all of them.