Swifties and Scholars: Inside an Academic Conference About Taylor Swift

Indiana University Bloomington conference explores music star Taylor Swift’s lyricism, feminism, economic impact, social-media presence, and more through an academic lens.

Author: Casey Gale       

Taylor Swift: The Conference Era

When: Nov. 3–5, 2023
Where: Gayle Karch Cook Center for Public Arts & Humanities at Indiana University Bloomington
Website: ArtsAndHumanities.
Attendees: ~700

Taylor Swift has proven she can make the whole economy shimmer with the success of the Eras Tour, a career-spanning concert that kicked off in March 2023 and will run throughout 2024. According to the U.S. Travel Association, the tour’s total economic impact on the U.S. last year likely exceeded $10 billion, with “Swifties” spending an average of $1,300 in local markets to shake it off together in style at her shows. As Swift’s star power has grown, so has academia’s interest in her — Harvard, Stanford, and NYU have introduced courses on her global impact. In February, Australia’s University of Melbourne hosted a three-day Swiftposium, preceded by Indiana University Bloomington’s Arts & Humanities Council’s three-day confab in November — Taylor Swift: The Conference Era.

‘Enchanted’ to Meet

Approximately 700 attendees gathered at Indiana University, but this was no fan event, according to Natalia Almanza, the council’s internal program and operations coordinator. Though Almanza is a fan herself, “the keynotes were selected because they had done extensive research on Taylor Swift,” she said, but were “not exactly ‘Swifties,’ which made for a more holistic conference approach” — important, she said, for facilitating critical conversations. Of the 75 academic papers submitted, 20 submissions were selected, covering everything from Swift’s lyricism being taught in classrooms to her social-media presence.

Panel topics at the conference included Only Kind of Girl They See: Feminism and Sexuality, This Sick Beat: Behind the Music, and Taylor vs. the Internet.

Speak Now

Among the keynote speakers was Leah Donnella, an editor on NPR’s “Code Switch” podcast, blog, and newsletter team, who discussed the topic of Taylor Swift and girlhood after previously writing about Taylor Swift and race. “As a Latina,” Almanza said, “I was interested in hearing BIPOC folks discuss Taylor Swift and the politics of race, gender, and age.”

The council believes the arts and humanities are a “vehicle for conversation,” Almanza said, adding that it previously hosted conferences about Greta Gerwig’s film “Barbie,” K-pop (Korean popular music), and more. “I hope folks who attended and maybe didn’t always consider themselves an academic left feeling empowered to explore the topics they love,” she said, “through an academic lens.”

Casey Gale is managing editor at Convene. Illustration by Carmen Segovia

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