“There’s more to life than dating the boy on the football team.” — Taylor Swift
Over the past several months of the NFL season, you wouldn’t know it. As we trundle towards the Swifter Bowl, the entire social media universe seems to be fixated on pop Supergal Taylor Swift dating the football boy. On this, I’d like to point out that Swift made history this past week, both by winning her 4th Album of the Year Grammy—a first for an artist—and by somehow not showing up as a pareidolic goddess burned into my breakfast toast.
Well, she’s been everywhere else. And as she strides the globe in the 4-inch heels of total conquest, the question is raised: how much Taylor is… too much Taylor?
For weeks, the world of football fans has either been agog or a-Grinch about Swift’s glaringly persistent presence at Kansas City Chiefs games, bouncing like a cheerleader in Travis Kelce gear while her tight end boyfriend grimaces and roars on the field below, striking Hulkamania poses from victory to victory towards what always seemed like a supernaturally foreordained return for Kelce and the Chiefs to the Super Bowl.
Taylor hugging Patrick Mahomes’s wife Brittany. Swifties “in shambles” over Taylor hugging Travis Kelce’s mom Donna! Taylor on the Jumbotron, on the field, and in barguments as football fans celebrate and/or grumble.
This being America, “backlash” is as inevitable as an all-caps Trump post—some of it amusing, some of it ugly. There have been times when it has been tempting to nod along with it. While not cheering on her boyfriend, Swift was racking up the 14th win of her career-long 52 Grammy nominations, cruising at supersonic speed past 114 million in album sales, and unsurprisingly (yet somehow still shockingly) racking up a reported net worth of significantly over $1 billion (!). Never mind dating a two-time Super Bowl champ; watching Swift’s life is a little like watching your sister win Powerball every weekend. How can we miss you if you don’t go away…
And then there is the backlash-backlash, as Swifties are nothing if not ferociously loyal. Fans point out online that, “If you’re not listening to Taylor, you cannot objectively accuse her of lacking talent.” She is hailed by her admirers for genre-shapeshifting, from country and folk to pop, synth, rock, hip hop, and even a dash of indie-slumming.
Adding to the Swifties backlash is how Taylor has become a lightning rod for a more politicized form of attack and defense. Fox News claimed her private jet flights to Kelce’s games cost “138 tons of emissions in three months, as the popstar continues to be the world’s most carbon-emitting celebrity”. (A Swift representative noted the singer had bought double the carbon credits required for her Eras tour before it kicked off in March.)
Then it got MAGA. A Fox host, strapping on the tinfoil hat(e), claimed that, “Around four years ago, the Pentagon’s Psychological Operations unit floated the idea of turning Taylor Swift into an asset during a NATO meeting. What kind of asset? A Psyop for combatting online misinformation”.
Not only did Whoopie Goldberg blast that lunacy, so did the Pentagon with a spokesperson stating, “As for this conspiracy theory, we are going to shake it off”.
This led to pushback from some online feminists, charging that Too-Much-Taylor gripes were a form of misogyny, a dog-whistling for a famous, prominent woman to “be smaller, be less”. And while there is doubtless a share of basement-dwelling Incel-ery out there in grumbleland, respectfully, no, you don’t have to be a misogynist hater to be a little ‘over’ the Swiftathon right now, or, rather, over the issue around it, as I’ll get to below.
As a music writer, I’ve no interest in slamming Taylor Swift. I’ve seen her live three times, including with my daughter when we drove from Manhattan to Chicago’s Soldier Field for the Reputation Tour. That meant driving the entire breadth of Pennsyltucky—twice. Truly, there is no greater show of love. And it’s further interesting to note that Swift is among the most fame-aware songwriters in pop history:
“I’m intimidated by the fear of being average,” she once said. Her lyrics have referred to “These hunters with cell phones”, and in a more considered pushback: “I’ve been in the public eye since I was 15 years old,” she has said. “On the beautiful, lovely side of that, I’ve been so lucky to make music for a living and look out into crowds of loving, vibrant people. On the other side of the coin, my mistakes have been used against me, my heartbreaks have been used as entertainment, and my songwriting has been trivialized as ‘oversharing’.”
Then there was this lyric, in which she imagined the story of a star who turned away:
“It was a few years later, I showed up here
And they still tell the legend of how you disappeared
How you took the money and your dignity and got the hell out.”
Forecasting? Would Swift consider making a DB Cooper getaway from it all? Doubtful. She does seem to revel in the glow, and in having utterly recodified and captured the All-American Beauty crown, somehow managing to be girl-next-door in $10,000 heels with two private jets and owning the colour red.
This is gentle chiding. Relax. I’m a fan. And the final straw for Fox America plaintiffs was the report that Swift would be flying back from her 55,000-capacity Tokyo Dome show in one of her jets (Dassault Falcon 900 or the Dassault Falcon 7X) to make Kelce’s Super Bowl shindig in Las Vegas.
At which point, the “be smaller, be less” pushback rings with some truth, does it not? Flying in a private jet to the Super Bowl may be ugly on a normal-human non-Powerball level, but it’s also de rigueur Rock Star, and the nuclear version of a Swift lyric. And if, say, Bono or Jagger were caught in such Rock Star indulgence to make the wife/girlfriend’s fashion show…
The issue reference above? If non-Swifties are denouncing the overexposure of Tay-Tay in their wild-eyed, spittle-flecked screech—if they’re looking for someone to blame for this outrage—look no further than the TV broadcast they wish she weren’t appearing in. Because, dear Super Bowl fans, no entity in the media universe browbeats, belabours, and ‘blowhards’ like the NFL.
The NFL has never met an issue, angle, narrative, image or celebrity it couldn’t supersize and ram down viewers’ eye-tunnels. Start with the two-week overkill-beatdown that is the Super Bowl prelude. Overexposure? If Chernobyl were a sports league, it would be the NFL, and Travis Kelce and Patrick Mahones would be its irradiated emissaries. Is Kelce in every commercial on television?
Why is Taylor Swift on the Jumbotron as she bounces and cheers? Did she ask to be? When you watch as much football as I do, you know full well that she is there because the NFL is using the world’s biggest popstar to sell as much State Farm, Budweiser, Chunky Soup, F-150s, Pfizer, and Travis Kelce jerseys as inhumanly possible. And—to tap into a heretofore untapped volcanette of a demographic: 12- to 22-year-old females.
It’ll all be over soon, until their wedding, when that coverage burns out whatever is left of your retinae. In the meantime, Swift can take solace from her own lyric: “So don’t you worry your pretty little mind because people throw rocks at things that shine”.