Europe’s ‘Swifties’ await icon with open arms

When a pair of “Swifties” in The Netherlands tried to get a local Taylor Swift fan night going two years ago, club owners turned up their noses — doubting the US megastar would be a hit with the hip crowd.

“They were not on our side at all,” Alexa Fischer, 25, told AFP.

“We couldn’t even put their names on our socials because they were embarrassed to host the Swift party,” recalled her friend, Femke van Splunter.

As it turned out, their first party was an instant success — with all 200 tickets snapped up in a day.

Eighteen months later, once-reticent clubs now seek out the duo to organise Swiftie nights — having taken the full measure of the phenomenon in Europe, where the singer-songwriter kicks off the latest leg of her record-smashing Eras tour in Paris on May 9.

– Devotion belittled –

The trigger for the first event was the 2022 release of Swift’s hit album “Midnights”, as well as the urge to come together with like-minded fans to celebrate.

“We were like: ‘A lot of people are hyped about it but we don’t know where they are and we don’t know who to hype with’,” said van Splunter, 30.

Like the Netherlands-based pair, Portugal’s Joana Lopes said Swifties are used to having their devotion belittled: the icon herself has been dismissed for lyrics revolving heavily around her ex-lovers.

“A few years ago, we couldn’t talk about Taylor without being judged or mocked,” said Lopes.

But Swifties across Europe — all of whom will flock to see her perform this year — told AFP in a series of interviews that the sense of community is very real.

Take Fischer and van Splunter: the pair curate an eclectic mix of groups on WhatsApp, from one focused on videos of Swift’s ongoing tour to another in which Swifties get together to talk politics.

That’s just one example of the flourishing world of group chats bringing Swift fans together around much more than just music.

On the other side of Europe, in Lisbon, Lopes and her friend Ana Carmo, 29, are in a WhatsApp group with dozens of Swifties living in different cities — and which helped Lopes get tickets to see her icon perform.

– Feeling ‘seen’ –

Beyond a sense of belonging, for many the singer has provided solace in tough times.

After Fischer — who uses the non-binary pronouns they/them — lost their father at the age of 16, they remember drawing help from a song “about Swift’s own journey with cancer and her mum”.

Her music similarly helped Lopes grieve the loss of her grandmother.

“It’s on the same day that Taylor became part of my life,” said the 33-year-old, who says Swift’s lyrics are “the thing that I value most”.

Swift makes her fans “feel seen”, summed up Clara Garcia, a Brussels-based consultant. “It’s like this entire community, the Easter eggs, the concerts, the friendship bracelets.”

And there is little doubt this has been a key to her record-shattering success, experts say.

“Taylor has deliberately curated a community and positioned herself as someone who could be a friend to her fans,” said Georgia Carroll, a fan culture expert who said Swift is “definitely the most popular she has ever been”.

– Europe’s love story –

Streams of her music were up 50 percent on the Deezer music platform in Europe in the year since April 2023 — the month after she kicked off a tour that has already grossed more than any in history, $1 billion by the end of 2023.

Data from streaming giant Spotify, from just before her latest album’s release in April, showed the most enthusiasm for Swift in The Netherlands and Portugal as well as Belgium and Slovenia.

Swift’s appeal as a songwriter may not be obvious in a continent where few speak English as a first language — but that’s no obstacle to her fans.

“I started to listen to her songs, and I thought, ‘OK what the hell is she saying’,” recalled Lopes, from Portugal. “So I started reading her lyrics and translating to understand.”

“I’m learning new words, I’m learning new meanings of things,” echoed her friend Carmo, while Brussels-based Alessia Faranna, 25, said Swift helped “a lot” with her English.

Faranna put it quite simply: “I fell in love with the way she expresses her feelings.”

AFP

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