Pastoral Perspectives

What Swifties Reveal About Our Longings

I recently learnt, to my surprise that one of my neighbours, M, who is a single parent of 5 children, some who are already in their early 20’s is also a Swiftie (that’s what fans of American pop-star Taylor Swift are affectionately known as). In M’s case, when she heard that one of her favourite singers was going to perform in Singapore, she quickly applied for a week’s leave. She was preparing herself to be on standby to log in to the ticket booking system once sales opened. In fact, to maximise her chances of scoring the coveted concert tickets, she even went back to her office to tap unto their high-speed wifi! To her great delight, she was rewarded with 4 tickets for all her efforts.

M is certainly not an outlier in her adoration for Taylor Swift. In Singapore alone, Swift will be performing for 6 evenings to a full-house crowd in a venue that can easily accommodate more than 50,000. Judging from the additional few thousands who gathered enthusiastically outside the National Stadium during Swift’s performances, singing and dancing heartily along in their Swift-inspired outfits, Swift has undoubtedly captivated the hearts of multiple generations. Whether they are Gen Z, Millennials, Gen Xers and even some Boomers, these fans certainly exuded a positive vibe in their Taylor-gating.

Even if some may not enjoy her music, there is no running away that at the age of 34 years old, Taylor Swift is the most significant figure and cultural influence in the world at the moment. Apart from being Time’s magazine’s 2023 Person of the year, Swift has also received numerous accolades including a total of 14 Grammy Award and achieving 12 number one albums on Billboard. She has also broken a lot of records, becoming the first female artist in Spotify history to reach 100 million monthly listeners.

In an era where so many are distrustful of authority figures and jumping onto the bandwagon of cancel culture, it is rather fascinating that Taylor Swift continues to win the devotion of millions of people across generations and nationalities. This is certainly no easy feat when you consider that Swift has been in the public eye for almost two decades.

A quick look at a recent Channel NewsAsia article (1 March) may help us understand the secret behind Swift’s immense popularity. In that article, one fan commented, “(Taylor Swift) has been the soundtrack of my life. Her music’s been there through thick and thin, inspiring me and countless others…” Juntilla, a 27-year-old who has been a fan since she was a teen shared, “Taylor Swift is my whole world. She saves me through her songs.”

Finally, Danica Daluz said: “Taylor is incomparable to other artists, for me. She’s so pure and genuine, even in her most dreadful moments. She’s so real with her lyrics that she can build a castle out of all the bricks they threw at her, and that’s so powerful…”

For many Swifties, it is more than just Swift’s song-writing talent, marketing savvy and entertainment value that have drawn them to this American superstar. From videos of her live performances to candid snippets of her day or thoughts on social media, Swift appears to have found a way to connect with her fans.

In the words of one writer, Swift is able to “emotionally connect with the people’s desire for both the transcendent and the immanent through her music. She is at once the global megastar and the girl next door”. For so many Swifties, they adore Taylor Swift simply because they perceive her as being authentic and being able to get them. Although most will never get a chance to exchange a word with Swift, there is something about her lyrics and public persona that make her fans feel seen and understood. And having felt seen and understood, they readily offer Swift their whole-hearted devotion.

Regardless of whether we are Swifties or not, I think most would agree that there is something about what Swift offers that we as humans are all drawn to. The desire to be known, to be loved and belong, and to express ourselves in love in return. These are deep longings of all whom God created and intended to be in right relationship with.

To the extent that Swift offers a glimpse of that which only Jesus Christ can truly satisfy, it is a reminder to we as Christians have our work cut out for us. If God’s people sincerely desire others to put their faith in Jesus, we must continue to work hard at communicating the beauty and glory of the Gospel faithfully and finding meaningful ways to capture the imagination of the different generations.

Needless to say, our motivation is not to fill our sanctuaries or to extend our influence in society but to glorify God and out of love for all who are in danger of coming under God’s judgment. If Swifties can marvel at the profound feeling of belonging they experienced gathering with countless others who share the same object of adoration, surely it will be a far more glorious occasion on that day when “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language stand before the throne” offering their praises unto the Lamb of God (Rev 7:9-10).

No matter how popular Swift’s love songs are, we believe that Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection is the definitive love story for all of eternity (Romans 5:8, 1 John 3:16). Indeed, people should know that no one sees us and understands our dire straits better than Jesus (Hebrews 2:14-18). More importantly, people need to turn to Jesus since only he can and has done something about their situation on their behalf even when they were undeserving.

As much as many can identify with Swift and see themselves in her songs, let us take heart and pray that many more will be compelled by the story of God taking on flesh in the person of Jesus Christ to save sinners and reconcile them to himself. But in order for them to do so, one of the ways is for them to first see the difference that God has made to the lives of ordinary people like us.

History has shown us that a life transformed by God’s gracious love and yielded under his lordship can be a powerful witness through whom God draws non-believers unto himself. So let us take heart as we continue to humbly live out the story of God’s love through our word and conduct. Who knows how many may hear the Spirit singing “You belong with me” and then give of themselves in following after Jesus, who gave his life as a ransom for them (Mark 10:45).