There's something about Taylor Swift: Fans explain singer's mass appeal

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Jun. 13—Taylor Swift is the biggest thing going in the entertainment industry.

Turn on the TV or radio, scroll social media, listen to talk on the street, and there she is.

Her ongoing Eras Tour is on track to become the highest-grossing tour ever by a female artist, with Billboard Boxscore projecting $591 million in ticket sales.

Her sold-out concerts Friday and Saturday at Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh will contribute to that total.

Billboard says that figure would be good for fourth place on the list of highest-grossing concert tours. Elton John's ongoing Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour has the lead with a gross of $817 million as of January.

There was such a clamor for Eras Tour tickets when the presale began in November that the Ticketmaster website crashed, leading to upset fans filing a class-action suit and the Senate Judiciary Committee holding a hearing.

Teens screaming and fainting for The Beatles in the mid-1960s is probably the closest equivalent to Swift-mania, said Gayle Pamerleau, a licensed clinical social worker and director of counseling at Pitt-Greensburg.

"It's the 2023 version of that," she said.

So what is it about Swift that has led to her pop music world domination?

"It's a study of social dynamics for me, to see how everybody is reacting to this," said Teresa Baughman, director of operations and programming at The Palace Theatre in Greensburg.

Swift is the complete package, Baughman said, offering something for everyone to relate to — a notion seconded by local Swifties.

She's a talented singer, songwriter and musician. Her songs speak to universal experiences. With every album, she grows and evolves as an artist.

Despite numerous, well-publicized romances — and subsequent breakups — she maintains a wholesome image. She relates well to her fans.

And she's beautiful.

She 'gets it'

"She's so likable. So many young girls, women — even men — can relate to her songs," said Erika Jay, midday radio personality at Q92.9 in Pittsburgh. "Of course, there are the haters that say she only writes about her ex-boyfriends or who she's gonna date now. But even if she's writing about an ex, everybody can connect with that in some way."

Taylor Swift "gets it," said Megan Palcic, 26, of Southwest Greensburg, whose first Swift CD purchase was "Speak Now" in 2010.

"Throughout her discography and specifically her first three albums, even now I remember how I felt when I listened to them for the first time — a little out of place in the world, a little alone, that little kid listening to those songs and not getting what they meant but still feeling them," she said. "I remember struggling to form friendships at a time when that was really hard for me, and finding a home in her songs."

Swift "has the words that we're all thinking, but we can't put them together like she does," said Hannah Patterson, 24, of Hyde Park.

People who only know Swift's radio hits and not the deep cuts are missing out, said Nick Corona, 26, a Greensburg native living in Chicago. He'll be back in Pittsburgh for Swift's Saturday concert.

"Her mainstream music is great, but I think I can attest for other Swifties, too, that those aren't our favorite songs," he said. "The hits are catchy, they're good, but those other tracks on the albums are the ones that have the amazing lyrics and her true heart behind them."

Swift vs. Dylan

Sara Woods has a good-natured, running debate with her husband, Derek Woods, about how Swift's music compares to that of the legendary Bob Dylan.

The Hempfield couple perform together as the acoustic duo Woods Rising. He is the frontman of the Americana-roots outfit Derek Woods Band, plays in The Woods Family Band and is a music promoter.

She's the Swiftie; he's the Dylan acolyte.

"I say, I know this sounds crazy to you, but I respect her in the same singer/songwriter way that you respect Bob Dylan," Sara Woods said. "I always say she doesn't get as much credit because she is singing about boys and things like that, but I always say she's comparable — and he's admitted it."

Although Swift doesn't have the vocal range of, say, Mariah Carey, her craft and talent speak for themselves, Woods said.

"You have to know a little bit about singing to know that it's harder to sing her songs than you would think," Woods said. "It's not just the singing. It's the songwriting and the way she markets herself. It's her whole package."

Whether it's Swift or her team, there's a marketing genius somewhere in the mix, Baughman said.

"She hasn't toured in five years, but she did put out a lot of releases during those five years that helped sustain her popularity," she said.

Swift stays connected with fan club members through sharing inside information and special content and with exclusive meet-and-greets and other perks.

"In the past, she has invited fans to her houses — her multiple houses — and played albums for them before they're even released and baked cookies with them in her kitchen," Patterson said. "She comes across as so in touch with her fans.

"Even the way she talks to the crowds at her concerts, it's like you're having a one-on-one conversation with her."

Palcic felt that connection at Swift's May 26 concert in MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

"She has a way of making you feel she's singing directly to you, and I was 10 rows from the back wall," she said.

Many people see Swift as an ally and her concerts as safe spaces, Woods said.

"She stands for a lot of good things," she said. "She's very much an LGBTQ ally, she tells people to vote, she tries to stand up for women's rights — and all of that is very important to me, anyway."

Contagion effect

Swift's popularity may benefit from existing in a time of 24-hour, global connectedness, Pamerleau said, when everybody knows what everyone else is thinking and doing. Call it a contagion effect, in which a person's emotions and behaviors are affected by those of others.

"We as humans want to be liked and to fit in, and even more so for early adolescents," she said. "You want to know the songs and the music to fit in with the conversations with your friends."

Then there's the bonus of modern concert technology, Baughman said.

"She has the costumes and special effects that are so common these days," she said. "The production values have gotten so much more sophisticated, and Taylor's right there with the best elements of production that there are."

Baughman will be one of thousands seeing Swift at Acrisure Stadium, along with Kay and her daughter and Woods, her friend and both of their daughters.

Baughman said she's curious about the "post-concert amnesia" reported by some concert-goers who say they remember very little of the experience afterward.

Pamerleau said it's not a true amnesia and not unique to Swift concerts but "likely to happen at any event where there is a lot of excitement and anticipation, and then a lot to pay attention to in the stadium — big screen, pyrotechnics, props, etc."

She noted that increased adrenaline from excitement makes it harder for the brain to store memories and, similarly, "screaming tells our brains we must be scared, so our brains are focused on safety and not memory storage."

Practicing mindfulness and staying calm will help with memory, but it's not always foolproof.

Referring to a May 30 "Psychology Today" article by Robert N. Craft, she said, "When we're busy experiencing life, we're not busy remembering it."

Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Shirley by email at smcmarlin@triblive.com or via Twitter .