Home Blog What Taylor Swift superfans want you to understand – The Washington Post

What Taylor Swift superfans want you to understand – The Washington Post

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JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — In a sunlit bedroom of a cozy stone house nestled among the fall foliage of Georgia’s Chattahoochee River, Molly Swindall sits in a closet.
It’s where the 29-year-old flight attendant often retreats when she’s back in her childhood home, admiring and tending to a cramped and overflowing collection of memorabilia that began being assembled in 2006 — the same year she discovered a budding singer-songwriter named Taylor Swift.
“I have wholeheartedly been a strong Swiftie since day one,” Swindall says.
Lined with vintage tees and hoodies, vinyl records and CDs, posters and lithographs, snow globes and tumblers, tour confetti and plastic wristbands, the closet is a vault of fan memories for Swindall — echoing concerts attended, songs belted and friendships formed.
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On this particularly warm October day, Swindall crouches down to study an assortment of fan-traded friendship bracelets piled on top of a plastic bin. Hiking up the sleeves of her thick cardigan, she plucks one out and places it in her palm — a string of gemlike crystals and shimmery beads in various shades of blue.
“Some of these bracelets people make are insane … I’m so impressed,” Swindall says, taking in the craftwork. “Like, I’m sure this one had to have taken awhile.”
Since March, Swindall has swapped colorful, beaded bracelets with dozens of fans she’s met during 10 shows from Swift’s record-shattering Eras Tour — and that’s just from the American leg. Next year, she has tickets to five more concerts in countries that include Sweden, Portugal, Scotland and Ireland.
Naturally, it’s getting harder to contain the merch. Some of it spills out into the bedroom where Swindall has displayed select pieces. Mini guitar replicas and “Swiftmas” ornaments sit on a vanity; soft fleece and woven collector’s blankets are spread across a small white bed; a blue sequined tassel dress hangs on a wall near a large concert poster; and more than a dozen autographed CD booklets are sealed in floating frames on shelves where a letter board poses: “What would Taylor do.”
Amid the #SwiftTok creators unpacking Swift’s relationships, concert moments, street style and release theories, Swindall’s collection has earned her a niche space in the community where she is affectionately known as the “closet merch girl” and has playfully called her collection a “shrine.”
She often guides her more than 57,000 followers through the items — showcasing Swift’s latest vinyl pressings, explaining how to spot forged autographs and reviewing new merch drops.
“Some of this stuff really is valuable,” Swindall says of her collection, and she treats it as such with a Ring security camera perched on her closet shelf and the door secured with a fingerprint lock.
Before starting her account in January 2022, “my biggest claim to fame was that I drove a hot dog and a shoe,” said Swindall, who worked as an Oscar Mayer Hotdogger and an L.L. Bean Boot girl during the pandemic — often playing Swift’s music as she trekked across the country.
Now, as Swift’s stardom has soared this year, fans like Swindall have stepped into the spotlight for their unwavering devotion and collective action, with even Swift recently declaring them the “main characters” during her Eras Tour film premiere.
That year, 2022, was first punctuated by an unprecedented Ticketmaster meltdown in November, triggering a congressional hearing, a federal investigation, legislative action and an ongoing lawsuit backed by more than two dozen disgruntled fans. After 53 stops and counting, the Eras Tour could rake in as much as $4.1 billion and become the highest-grossing tour of all time (it even triggered a “Swift quake”). Swift’s personal life — from an unexpected breakup to a new rumored relationship with Travis Kelce have sent the media in a frenzy, even prompting the NFL to take part. And the release of her concert movie last weekend shattered presale ticket records and is already the highest-grossing domestic concert film.
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Meanwhile, her fandom has widely been seen as providing a major boost to the economy. Last month, USA Today announced a new reporter job to cover Swift (as well as one for Beyoncé), at least partly in response to her “unprecedented” following. (Swindall, with a journalism degree from the University of Georgia, was among the nearly 1,000 candidates who applied).
Of all her years collecting merch and following Swift through each of her eras, this feels most like Swift’s “Beatlemania” moment, Swindall muses.
“I honestly don’t know how you can get more everywhere than she is,” she said. “People I’ve never even heard talk about her are talking about her.”
Gayle Stever, a professor of psychology at Empire State College/State University of New York, has studied fandoms for 35 years, embedding with communities for Michael Jackson, Madonna, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen and more.
“In each case, what I’m interested in knowing is ‘what does this mean for you in the context of your life?’” Stever said. “And often what I find is that … people form these social networks that are as much about each other as they are about that celebrity.”
Swifties recognize and embrace this truth. Most of them have never met or spoken to the pop star — but they engage with each other on end.
Like any subculture, they’ve established their own set of rules, languages and behaviors. They investigate rumors and theorize about new releases. They travel together and camp out in long lines. They dress in costumes. They text in private group chats. They organize meetup events. They create memes and TikTok trends. They fiercely defend each other and their idol. They trade stories, memories and gifts — like the bracelets mounting in Swindall’s closet.
“The more I felt like I was connecting with other people, the more I just wanted to keep creating content,” Swindall said of the fans she’s met since starting her TikTok account. “And some of them are my really good friends now.”
October, in particular, has brought a host of opportunities for her to connect with other Swifties. Last week, she went to two Atlanta showings of the Eras Tour film — singing, dancing and swapping more bracelets with fans. And for the rerecorded release of “1989 (Taylor’s Version)” on Oct. 27, Swindall will fly to New York to meet with other Swifties — hopeful that the singer might make some live appearances in the city that inspired the opening track of her genre-shifting album.
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The fan frenzy surrounding Swift routinely brings its detractors, and many of them comment on posts such as Swindall’s with antiquated beliefs and critiques about fandom. “Are you a stalker?” “Why do you have so much merch?” “You’re too old for this.” “Get a life.” “Get a job.”
Stever said such perspectives, especially ones that associate fandom with adolescence, often miss the bigger picture of how people network and discover social outlets. “I don’t think there’s any time in the life span when we don’t form connections to [public figures] for different reasons,” she said.
Still, the misconceptions about her can sting, Swindall said.
“People only know what people put online, which I think makes things difficult sometimes because I have all these other aspects about me and all these other things that I do,” she said. “[They] don’t have a whole picture of somebody.”
Swindall first heard Swift’s voice on a summer day in 2006 when her older sister, Caitlin, played “Tim McGraw,” the first single from Swift’s self-titled debut album.
“He said the way my blue eyes shined / Put those Georgia stars to shame that night,” Swift begins the song.
Swindall, then 12, brightened at the mention of her home state by a rising teen country artist. “Oh my gosh, it’s where we’re from,” she recalls exclaiming with her sister.
They preordered Swift’s album that same day and, months later, stood in a meet-and-greet line at HiFi Buys Amphitheater in Atlanta — now known as Lakewood Amphitheater — where Swift had just opened for Brad Paisley.
“She signed two autographs for me,” Swindall said, one of which was a tour shirt she still owns. The ink is still visible against the T-shirt’s faded purple dye and its boxy screen-printed graphics.
“She’s always been so good with her fans and so caring, and I think that’s why she’s as big as she is,” Swindall said. “I understand she doesn’t actually know me, but she makes you feel like you know each other. ”
For a global pop star, Swift has found ingenious ways to create intimate moments with devoted Swifties. She’s long had a reputation for hiding cryptic clues and Easter eggs in her songs, music videos and social media posts. She’s invited select groups of fans into her homes for album listening parties. She leaves comments on fan posts, including Swindall’s.
“I grew up with Taylor, I grew up with her music,” Swindall said, crediting early hits like “Mary’s Song” and “Fifteen” for echoing phases of her life, especially as she was entering high school — the growing pains, heartbreaks and insecurities. But also the thrills of her youth — the friendships, crushes and adventures.
“I remember we’d always go in my sister’s car … and we would listen to ‘Love Story’ and go get snow cones in the summer,” Swindall said. “I remember screaming certain lyrics with friends and family on road trips or when my older siblings would take me to school in the car.”
She remembers the giddiness she felt in the stadium parking lot before seeing Swift perform live for the first time. And her adventures abroad re-creating Swift’s “Delicate” music video in 13 countries — with a lot of help from her late father.
“There’s just so many memories connected to her music that are like core memories, almost, that have been bonding things through friends and family.”
Her closet has become a place of solace to relive those memories, she said, and reflect on the icon who inspired them.
“When I go into that room and I see all the merch, I know that I stayed by her through every single era, through all the thick and thin,” Swindall said. “And that’s something that I get to be proud of — that whether it was cool or not, I was a fan,” Swindall said.
“She has always, in my mind, been a huge celebrity even before she was a huge celebrity to everybody else.”

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