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Inside the whirlwind week of peak Taylor Swift

Feb 6, 2024, 5:36 PM | Updated: 5:37 pm

FILE - Taylor Swift stands on the field after an AFC Championship NFL football game between the Bal...

FILE - Taylor Swift stands on the field after an AFC Championship NFL football game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024, in Baltimore. Taylor Swift, who is holding concerts in Japan, will make it in time for the Super Bowl to see her partner and football superstar Travis Kelce play. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

(AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — She’s everywhere, and the world is merely her backup band.

This is Taylor Swift’s week. It’s hard to remember a star of Swift ‘s stature straddling so many roles, spanning so much of the globe, covering so many corners of the culture and doing so much of it in the spotlight she will have between Sunday’s Grammy Awards and the coming Sunday’s Super Bowl — with four Tokyo concerts in between.

It represents a packed pop-culture moment — a sort of perfect storm of fame, exposure, art and excellence for a woman who has become one of the planet’s most recognizable names. And every moment of it will be dissected — with adulation and criticism alike.

Is this the apogee of modern multimedia stardom? It might actually be more of a throwback, to a time of a less segmented, less subcultured society, when a star could be a household name across continents and generations, taking part in events that people actually follow together as they happen.

“She’s at the center of these moments that we don’t have very often anymore,” said Shilpa Davé, a professor of media studies at the University of Virginia.

How this Taylor Swift moment is a throwback

You have to look far into the past, and well past music, to find someone with Swift’s cultural power. You might have to look to a time when media wasn’t so fragmented, when the pipelines to people’s eyes and ears were fewer and slower.

“She’s Walter Cronkite. She is the most trusted name, the most trusted voice in America,” said John Baick, a history professor at Western New England University who examines the intersection of popular culture with broader society. “I just can’t think of anyone in our politics, in our culture, in our society who we know across more generations. Maybe Oprah, but, I think Oprah had a smaller appeal in some respects.”

For many from young generations, splintered by social media, “Taylor Swift offers a vocabulary — a shared language,” Baick said.

Swift’s whirlwind week began with a record-breaking fourth win for album of the year at the Grammys in Los Angeles, where she may have made even bigger waves with her surprise announcement that her next album is ready to drop in April. Nearly 17 million people watched, a huge and surging number for a modern awards show that no doubt owed much to her.

Then it’s off to Asia for four concerts at the Tokyo Dome in an echo of her seismic stadium shows in North and South America last year.

If all goes as expected, then she’ll turn back the time zones and hustle back to the U.S. to play the role of fan-in-chief to her Kansas City tight end boyfriend Travis Kelce at the the Super Bowl in Las Vegas, and will likely be seen in a suite with Kelce’s family and friends during the game by an audience far bigger than the Grammys’.

Don’t worry – she’ll make it everywhere

Followers concerned with the plausibility of her tightly timed itinerary have been assuaged by the Japanese embassy in Washington, which said in a statement that “if she departs Tokyo in the evening after her concert, she should comfortably arrive in Las Vegas before the Super Bowl begins.”

Swift seems to embrace the whole storm, if her album of the year acceptance speech is any indication.

“I would love to tell you this is the best moment of my life. But I feel this happy when I finish a song, or when I crack the code to a bridge that I love, or when I’m shortlisting a music video, or when I’m rehearsing with my dancers, or my band, or getting ready to go to Tokyo to play a show,” she said from the stage. “For me, the award is the work. All I want to do is keep being able to do this.”

While she says little publicly about her relationship with Kelce (he didn’t get thanked during her two Grammy speeches and wasn’t at the ceremony), she’s clearly aware of the visual story she’s telling.

“She obviously didn’t have to go to the games. She could have watched from home,” Baick said. “She didn’t have to go to these boxes where she would be perfectly framed with family members and friends. But her career matters. And this is someone who is unapologetic about that. In that sense, she’s also like Madonna. Everything she does is in the public eye. And why not?”

Part of Swift’s appeal is the cultural moment we’re in

Kelce weighed in on the phenomenon Monday from Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas that “she’s rewriting the history books herself” and she’s “definitely brought a lot of new faces to the game.”

The secret to her culture-defying appeal that may be reaching its peak this week comes in part from the particular glow of positivity she is able to bring — a positivity that the pandemic, political turmoil and social erosion have created a hunger for.

“We don’t have many very big moments where we’re celebrating just the joy of music and culture,” Davé said. “She brings that with her. … And I think we need it in this moment as well.”

Baick agrees. “I don’t think we, as a country, have ever needed someone as much. With the sole exception of after John F. Kennedy was killed. I mean, Beatlemania was in part because of that terrible vacuum, a terrible sense of loss and that desire for young people to give themselves up to, to cut loose. And like this, it was female-driven.”

This moment was also made possible by the unmatched connection she is able to make with her followers, and her dedication to serving them and centering them. Part of that connection might be her willingness to be a big fan herself, an essential role at the beginning and end of her big week.

At the Grammys, as she often does at awards shows, she stood un-self-consciously and sang along with everyone from Tracy Chapman to Olivia Rodrigo. And she’ll play the fan at the Super Bowl as she has for much of Kelce’s and the Chiefs’ season, a role she appears comfortable in, with no fear of her own job or identity being eclipsed.

But the adulation has come with criticism

There could never be unanimity around someone so prominent, and those appearances have brought out detractors. Some football fans have griped about the attention she is given during games, though her actual screen time can be counted in seconds. She’s also been slammed for the private jets she should be making liberal use of all week.

And she has been the subject of utterly unfounded rumors ranging from claims she’s part of Pentagon psychological operations to the notion she and Kelce are assets in a plot to help President Joe Biden get reelected.

“There’s some genuine fear about what she and tens of millions of people who follow her could do in an election that’s probably going to be close,” Baick said.

Of course, plenty simply don’t care for her or her music. And her appeal does run deeper in some communities than others.

“It is, predominantly, a white middle class phenomenon,” Baick said. “But it cuts deeper than that. It is more than that. It is not monochrome. And it is geographically broad. The world — which may not like our politics, which may not like our foreign policy — still loves our pop culture. And she is a proud ambassador.”

It will be a week she’ll have a hard time topping. Yet she’s transcended what seemed like previous peaks.

“In her victory lap, I’m curious to see where it will take her,” Davé said. “Because these things don’t last and so how does she just become this big commercial success, or does she leave a legacy?”

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Inside the whirlwind week of peak Taylor Swift