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Taylor Swift’s The Eras Tour Movie: It’s Fabulous But How Do We Really See Queer Joy ?

Now that Swift has reclaimed the narrative of always being under scrutiny in the media, what are we missing? What is happening with vinyls? Who gets to access Swift and the nostalgia? What happens to those who are not a part of this “queer culture”? We all know she is everywhere but is she really where she’s needed?

A career-spanning Victory Lap

There is no doubt that Time’s Person of the Year 2023 – Taylor Swift is having a career-spanning victory lap. With multiple number one songs, re-recorded albums, a record-breaking tour, a record-breaking concert movie, and being the highest-paid and the most streamed artist on Spotify, there’s nothing she cannot do. She also has a cult-like following among her fans (called Swifties), who for the most part are teenagers, women, and queer people. The Eras Tour movie also marks the second time this year that a movie saw cinema halls being full of women and queer people; the first instance marked by the release of Greta Gerwig’s highly anticipated movie, Barbie.

Also read: Barbie: A Hilarious, Reflective Tribute to the Cultural Legacy of a Queer Icon

We only see such a passionate fervor and celebration during cricket matches or the release of sexist movies preaching violence – both of which were in abundance this year. Now that Swift has reclaimed the narrative of always being under scrutiny in the media, what are we missing? What is happening with vinyls? Who gets to access Swift and the nostalgia? What happens to those who are not a part of this “queer culture”?  We all know she is everywhere but is she really where she’s needed?

Public Space and Queer Joy

Swift’s presence in movie theaters has more than made up for the fact that she didn’t tour in India for the Eras Tour. There is an inherent queer joy in her movie, which expands upon her iconicity. From belting out the bridge of Cruel Summer to old hits such as You Belong With Me or Love Story to singing out the iconic choruses of 1989; the 10 eras from 17 years of music are a delight to anyone attending the concert movie. It’s also heartwarming to see people dressed up in all vampy black in reference to the Reputation era or all pink, while aligning with the Lover era, marking a stark difference from the usual hollering in Indian cinemas that celebrates toxic masculinity by bursting crackers at theatres.

The fact that many men attended the Eras Tour also received praise, and there are some mesmerizing accounts of people listening to Swift, even in prison. There is also, of course, pushback on this. One, the discomfort while attending the concert movie. When I went to watch it, a group of men sat next to me only to make comments about the “girls” in attendance and on their outfits. They didn’t even have tickets for the movie. Two, the online trolling of anyone who is posting about enjoying the concert movie. Within the theatres too, the act of switching on flashlights by Swifities themselves, is annoying. This doesn’t warrant that we don’t celebrate the cult-circle during Willow, or shout 1..2…3…let’s go bitch during the fan favorite Delicate, or scream the 10 minutes magic of All Too Well, but I wish it were not at the cost of others’ comfort and wellbeing.

There’s Nothing Like A Mad Woman Unless…

The trolling is certainly unfair, particularly because women and queer people shouldn’t suffer for enjoyment themselves, although not always the case – Swifties themselves disrupt the experience for others by casting their shadows on the display screen while recording themselves ruthlessly, thereby spoiling the experience for others). One narrative that was prevalent during the release of Barbie also made a comeback, which simply involved referring to women as hysteric, mad, crazy and less rational for loitering in a public space like cinema or wearing bright pink or colorful clothes. There were even comparisons made about Swifties being like Salman Khan fans.

Unsurprisingly enough, a lot of Taylor’s work discusses reclaiming the identity of the crazy, mad woman that was imposed on her, so the blaming makes sense and adds to her discography, extending to the performance politics as well. On the contrary, some Swifties are eager to impose this identity onto people who simply don’t like or refuse to listen to Taylor Swift! If this isn’t hypocrisy, then what is?

Also read: The Queerification of Taylor Swift

All Is Not Too Well: Queer Joy Cannot Be Fiercely Apolitical
Of course, there are valid critiques of Taylor Swift. Many swifties frown upon these, with some even distorting details about the death of a fan who attended her concert in Rio de Janeiro, due to extreme heat. There is also the accessibility factor; while it is refreshing to watch people recording videos of themselves while glammed up, it is limited to a certain class and aesthetic. This also ties back to the critique of Taylor Swift as a predominantly white artist. I’m not encouraging the bullying that people face when they are trolled on the internet, but there’s a clear difference when it is directed towards women and queer people from marginalized backgrounds.

The privilege that people who listen to Taylor Swift possess makes a difference in the consequences, particularly in dealing with trolling and queerphobia in public spaces on the internet. The point here is not to invalidate someone’s experience of being bullied but how it is different if the person is rich, able-bodied and privileged by race, while studying at a private school in a metropolitan city, versus a person at a government-run school in a remote area, with limited access to resources for support, and the internet itself. On Twitter, some swifties are severely islamophobic or go to the lengths of being discriminatory towards anyone who doesn’t agree with their opinion about Swift.

From the perspective of the music industry, Taylor Swift has disrupted the vinyl industry for the worse. While she has managed to break records in terms of vinyl sales, it has also left indie artists behind as they do not get slots to get their vinyls pressed. Following up on this, while re-recording albums has worked out in the favor of Swift, adding to her remarkable success, it has also resulted in artists who are still struggling being slapped with stricter contracts, some allowed to re-record albums only decades after its release.

Beyonce is being discussed a lot over X (formerly known as Twitter), arising out of an article on her apolitical-ness. And make no mistake, Taylor Swift is not any better. With the amount of coverage and traction she has received from political leaders, her comments on politics are limited to gender disparity at the minimum and double standards for men vs women at the most. Swift has been criticized before for supporting the queer community in a shallow way. While Beyonce has discussed the contribution of queer community, the lack of focus on raising AIDS-related awareness, has been brought under scrutiny. Both the stars have also been called out for screening their concert movies in Israel, at a time when the Zionist state’s genocide of Palestinians is being witnessed by the world.

Given how Canada has expressedly supported the genocide by Israel, while its Prime Minister has invited Swift to perform in Canada, I don’t see how Taylor or Beyonce will stand to loose any more than a fraction of their fanbase, if they take a stand. This is merely a reflection of the times we are living in today on the international stage, rather than forcing someone to take a stand. Even as Swift’s music defines politics for so many people around gender, culture and space, the question remains about what her politics are beyond this performance culture.

Also read: Dear Mumbai Pride, the Personal is Political

There is vital harm in overlooking queerness as not being political. And that is exactly what happens when queerness is defined by the aesthetics popularized by Swift, or any other pop star, for that matter. Given the fact that these pop superstars have made politics part of the values that they preach through their music, that should echo in their fanbase as opposed to the ignorant adulation that is characteristic of the fanbases of male artists. As mentioned by user @damnedmuddle on threads, invest in community rather than celebrity. It’s good that Swift’s music is bringing so many of us together but it depends on us where we take it from there.

It is entirely possible to celebrate the queer joy and access to public spaces that comes for women and queer people thanks to Taylor Swift; but it also extends into questioning the intricacies of who gets to enjoy it, what are the rules of enjoyment, how can pushback from patriarchy be dealt with, and where do we place politics here? In conclusion: while Taylor Swift is rightfully the biggest global superstar at the moment, who has made a remarkable cultural shift among Indian women and queers too, there is more to the story depending upon where you look for it.

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Rajeev completed their under graduation in Political Science Hons. from Sri Venkateswara College, University of Delhi in 2020. They graduated with Masters in Women’s Studies from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai in 2022 and were a participant at the International Writing Program’s Summer Institute, University of Iowa for the 2021-22 session. They have been the recipient of Mavelinadu Collective’s grant for non-fiction for the first issue of Debrahminising Gender. Their work can be found in EPW, Women’s Link Journal, Shuddhashar, Gaysi Family, Feminism in India and Hindu College Gazette among others. Their research interests include queer experiences, feminist ethics of care, and masculinities.

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