At a certain point, a fandom can go beyond merely enjoying someone’s work and enter what is called a parasocial relationship. According to Oxford Reference, parasocial interaction refers to, “A kind of psychological relationship experienced by members of an audience in their mediated encounters with certain performers in the mass media, particularly on television; regular viewers come to feel that they know familiar television personalities almost as friends.” Fans of celebrities, including Taylor Swift, often develop parasocial relationships with the artist based on the content they consume, such as music, interviews and social media updates. Social media platforms further contribute to parasocial relationships, as fans can follow celebrities’ daily lives, thoughts and constant updates. However, it’s essential to recognize that the perceived connection is not reciprocal. While fans may feel a closeness to a celebrity, they don’t share the same level of personal connection with each fan. Celebrities may not be aware of the individual fans forming these connections and the emotional investment is often one-sided. However, this is not the case with Taylor Swift. I believe that, over the past two decades, Swift and her team have meticulously designed their business model to intentionally forge these relationships to, well, become the billionaire that she is today.
Swift can formulate these relationships in numerous ways, such as by advertising herself as just a ‘normal person.’ She has used all of her forms and sources of media to establish a sense of intimacy and vulnerability. Her music often discusses her emotions and life experiences, which has resulted in an increase in her relatability to the average person. Yet, the most paramount aspect of her lyrics’ relatableness pivots around her current and past relationships. Relationships are arguably one of the most relatable topics in the entire world; almost every person has experienced the highs and lows of dynamics within the relationships of friendships, romantic partners and/or family members. The ambiguity of these topics, which Swift sings about in nearly all of her songs, can bring forward this ‘normal person’ persona. However, she isn’t just a ‘normal person;’ she is a billionaire with more than 180 million fans in the United States alone. Although being one of the largest celebrities with incomprehensible finances does not turn you into a three-headed alien, it still prevents you from maintaining the position of a normal member of society. Yet, it is this persona that cultivates the parasocial relationship between Swift and her fans.
The cultivation of an environment that supports parasocial relationships with fans is something that Swift has been contributing to for years. She has intentionally made it possible for her fans to know more about her and her relationships through her songs, more than she will ever know about any one of them. Swift engages in activities that instill enough confidence in her fanbase to consistently believe that her music, her lyrics and herself are undoubtedly authentic, wholesome and the truth. She invites select fans over to her own home for listening parties with homemade cookies. She likes and comments on fans’ social media accounts in a personalized manner. She leaves secret written messages in the liner of her physical CDs and hidden meanings in her songs and social media posts, known as Easter eggs, that only ‘Swifties’ would be able to understand. Thus, some parasocial behavior that some ‘Swifites’ find themselves engaging in is not solely due to their machinations but Swift’s as well.
Due to this pre-established dynamic, it is not just Taylor Swift that her fans are highly invested in, but her relationships as well. Recently, Swift began dating a professional American football player, Travis Kelce. But I’m sure you already knew that as news headlines began to flow since her presence at a Chief’s game with Travis Kelce’s mother, Donna Kelce. Following this, nearly every single news source periodically began reporting ‘news,’ if you can even call it that, of the suspected relationship between Swift and Kelce. What I found ironic, was that “Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce” was on the front page headline, along with “Israel-Hamas war,” when looking at news sources, like AP News. Is the relationship between two celebrities just as newsworthy and important as an ongoing conflict? Obviously not, but when their relationship was announced, it was discussed and reported on equally as much in the mainstream media. Yet, the only way a topic can be so publicized is if there are that many people invested in the story.
The majority of ‘Swiftie’ opinion seems to represent that they approve and like her current boyfriend, Kelce. There are thousands and thousands of Taylor Swift subreddit threads discussing how Swift has finally found a ‘good’ boyfriend who will treat her like she ‘should’ be. For instance, hundreds of news outlets have put stories out recently regarding a kiss that Swift and Kelce shared during her Eras Tour. I mean, why is this such a hot topic? Two individuals in their mid-30s kissing when in a relationship isn’t jaw-dropping and contemporary news to me. Although the fandom seems to be all for Swift’s — for all we know — ‘new’ relationship, there have been numerous instances in which they were not. This could be seen in the case of Jake Gyllenhaal. Accounting to the hundreds of sources that published information on this, Swift and Gyllenhaal dated for a few months in 2010. However, following the release of Swift’s re-recorded album “Red” in 2021, Gyllenhaal’s social media comment section was bombarded with hate comments from Swift’s fan base. It is interesting, to me, that thousands of people found drama that had occurred in a brief relationship 13 years ago enough fuel to perpetuate hate online; especially since the main characters in the relationship are celebrities who don’t even know they exist. I believe that it is here that the Taylor Swift fandom transcends from a typical fanbase into a parasocial relationship between Swift, her current partner and the fans.
Sierra Williams is a fourth-year English and Political Science major. SW960048@wcupa.edu.