Hannah Diviney: 5 Things
I Learnt From Melbourne University's Swiftposium

by Hannah Diviney
Friday 16 February 2024

Yellow Dress

FEBRUARY 2024: The hype and excitement surrounding the Australian leg of Taylor Swift's Era's Tour is drawing comparisons to the rise of Beatlemania in the 60s! It's also expected her seven concerts in Australia will generate $140 million, according to state government modelling! So what is it about Taylor Swift? Hannah Diviney did a deep dive on all things Taylor at this week's Melbourne University Symposium.

HANNAH DIVINEY: As you might remember, a couple of weeks ago,
Missing Perspectives published a piece I wrote on the world-first 'Taylor Swift Fanposium' being hosted in Melbourne as part of an academic conference dedicated exclusively to the impact of Taylor Swift. We explored what we thought it might involve and mean for the way society at large views fan culture. 

A couple of days later, I got an email from Dr. Eloise Faichney, a researcher at the University of Melbourne and the chair of the Swiftposium Steering Committee, asking me if I'd be interested in attending the conference alongside academics from all corners of the world.

So, for the last two days that's where I've been, thanks to the power of Zoom, and my goodness I learned a lot. Not just as a Taylor Swift fan but also as someone deeply interested in the bigger landscapes and contexts that the experiences of young women in particular can be placed in. 

Narrowing my learnings down to five things then has proved surprisingly difficult, but here we go:

#1: The marriage of academia and Taylor Swift isn’t as strange as you think 

When I was given the details for this conference, one of the things I was immediately struck by was the sheer vastness of concepts, disciplines, and ideas some of the world's cleverest minds had managed to connect to Taylor Swift. Everything from music theory and economics to creative writing and cardiovascular health. Seriously, there was a really cool paper investigating which Taylor Swift songs fit the beats per minute criteria for learning CPR as a means of assisting young people in learning life-saving skills much like older generations have used the Bee Gees song "Stayin' Alive."

Beyond all those cool links for relevancy and case studies, keynote speaker, Brittany Spanos (a writer at Rolling Stone and adjunct professor at the Clive Davis Institute of Music in NYU) explained that it's actually quite normal to take classes built around the careers of entertainers, both for aspiring musicians who can learn how to shape their careers and for those more interested in the behind-the-scenes side of the industry as future music journalists or executives.

#2: Everyone's curious about where on earth Taylor goes from here

Unless you've been living under a rock for the last couple of years, it's no secret that Taylor Swift has been everywhere. Her productivity and creative output since 2019 in particular (Lover, Folklore, Evermore, Midnights, her versions of Fearless, Red, Speak Now, 1989, plus the imminently released The Tortured is astounding to consider and shows no signs of slowing down. But is it possible to sustain creative peak after creative peak?

Is there a risk of overexposure and a turning in the tide of public opinion? Since that already happened on a vicious scale in 2016, could it happen again or are we past that? Would it just bounce straight off? Does that even matter if the person at its centre doesn't care and is only focused on creating as much as they can out of a love for it as Taylor seems to be? Would we be having these same conversations about a male artist? Does gender even play into it?

Black Dress

She’s shown us that you don’t have to forgive to move forward, and that there is nothing wrong with being the kind of woman who wears pink and also talks about politics.

- Hannah Diviney, Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief and Missing Perspectives

#3: There's still so much work to be done in taking female creators, their art, experiences, and intelligent commentary about them seriously

Despite the existence of the conference itself and the support from major academic institutions in legitimising the use of Taylor as a case study for so many things, there's still a lot of stigma and internalised misogyny to break through, the same kind that makes being a fan of football OK but not a fan of pop music. The conference's second keynote speaker Georgie Carroll who is currently undertaking a PhD connected to Swift spoke candidly about the struggles and ridicule she has often faced in trying to be taken seriously as an academic.

Not only that, but there's a pattern within the broader spheres of entertainment and music that shows historically we don't often appreciate the contributions of female artists or consider their legacies until they're either ageing or dead. Why for example, did it take 80 years before the Grammys welcomed Joni Mitchell to the stage? Why was Taylor's music suddenly taken infinitely more seriously when it sounded indie and had the support of people like the National & Bon Iver?

#4: Her willingness to participate in the 2024 US Presidential Election could make a BIG difference

Say what you will about whether or not celebrities and public figures have a place or a responsibility in politics but there's no denying their impact. When Taylor Swift broke her political silence in 2018, supporting local Democratic candidates and encouraging people to vote, vote.org saw its single highest day of voter registration ever. Similar figures were seen when she endorsed President Biden and spoke out against Trump in 2020. Several papers at the conference were dedicated to her potential for political impact, not just in the US but across the world.

As America faces its potentially highest stakes election in modern history, many are wondering just how involved Taylor Swift and other celebrities of her ilk might get. Whether or not you think they should, it's difficult to ignore the resonant effects of mobilising masses of people through their platforms. Of course, it shouldn't necessarily be about telling anyone how to vote (although it's pretty clear that Swift runs blue and will be vocally endorsing Biden) but more about encouraging them to do their own learning and get politically engaged. That's the only way the future remains intact and hopeful.

#5: She can teach us A LOT about girl and womanhood but we also have to look further

There are so many of us, from all corners of the world, who feel as though she’s somehow taught us or at least reinforced the idea that it’s okay to romanticise a five-second interaction with a stranger, to bare your deepest insecurities, to realise you were the one at fault and apologise, to own it when you’re feeling hurt, or betrayed, or lonely, or scared, or angry.

She’s shown us that you don’t have to forgive to move forward, and that there is nothing wrong with being the kind of woman who wears pink and also talks about politics. That you can be hopelessly in love without ever compromising on standing up for yourself. That women contain multitudes.

But her experience and the things we learn shouldn't be as far as we're willing to go. She's white, straight, able-bodied with a fair amount of financial privilege built into her life from the beginning. There are so many stories and complex experiences that don't match that, that are just as valuable and it's important when we consider her, that we also look at the people who might be missing or not heard as easily.

At the end of the day, Taylor Swift might not be your cup of tea but the way in which she makes things like academia accessible is something worth celebrating. I think the Swiftposium should be just the beginning and more pop culture should get this treatment.