Academics from 78 institutions around the world are gathering at a conference in Melbourne to dissect Taylor Swift’s ever-growing influence on the world.
And it all started with two Swiftie scholars from Auckland.
Rebecca Trelease (Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi) is a senior lecturer in the School of Communications at Auckland University of Technology (AUT).
Angela Rose Asuncion is a lecturer in the same faculty and together the two sparked the creation of the academic symposium called Swiftposium 2024.
Swiftposium is running from February 11 to 13, in the lead up to Taylor Swift performing her first Eras Tour Melbourne show on February 16.
Gender, fandom, the economy, popular culture, literature, and the music industry are some of the topics academics will discuss Taylor Swift’s impact on.
Re: News journalist Janhavi Gosavi spoke with Rebecca and Angela about what they will present at the Swiftposium and why Taylor Swift is a pop culture icon worth being studied.
What's the story behind creating the Swiftposium?
Rebecca: It all started when Angela spent 16 hours on Ticketek to get us tickets to one of the Melbourne dates of the Eras Tour.
I realised I knew multiple academics who also had tickets to the show and thought ‘there’s totally a way we can all hang out’.
Taylor Swift performing at The Eras Tour. Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images
I asked my friend who's an Australian academic, who then posted a big call out on X and it snowballed from there.
Swiftposium has now become a big collaboration between a number of Australian universities and AUT, who have been very supportive.
170 academics from around the world will be presenting at the Swiftposium either online or in person, including some who don’t have tickets to the show but are flying to Melbourne specifically for the conference.
What are you presenting at the Swiftposium?
Rebecca: My presentation is about how universities are making higher education more accessible by offering courses related to Taylor Swift.
It’s a relatively recent trend that popped up around the time Taylor received her honorary doctorate from New York University in 2022.
These courses either teach students about Taylor's work or use her as a gateway to theoretical concepts.
Rebecca Trelease is one of the academics presenting at the Swiftposium. Photo: Auckland University of Technology.
They all get media attention because it's not considered normal to discuss pop culture or a young woman's body of work in a high-class environment like university.
Historically, there was a lot of gatekeeping in academia.
Instead of saying ‘this concept is too difficult for you to learn’, universities are now saying ‘we can explain these concepts using Taylor Swift because students understand Taylor’.
She is one of the most recognisable names in the world and she’s making ‘lowbrow’ pop culture into something worth being studied.
Angela: I’m presenting a 15-minute snapshot of my Master’s thesis.
It’s about how Taylor has paved the way for how artists utilise social media by creating new approaches to promotional marketing strategies.
I’m using her re-released albums as case studies.
These ‘Taylor’s Versions’ are re-recorded versions of old albums, some of which have been out for a decade.
Angela Rose Asuncion with her vinyl of 1989 (Taylor’s Version). Photo: Supplied
Music marketing typically involves billboards, television and radio ads, magazine interviews.
There wasn't a lot of that for her re-releases but there was insane hype on social media.
Taylor uses easter eggs (hidden messages in film, games and other media) to spark conspiracy theories within her fandom, and fans post a lot of user-generated content about different theories which helps promote her music.
She also uses transmedia narratives, which is when she takes one narrative across different forms of media.
For example, to promote Red (Taylor’s Version) she made a TikTok version of a 2012 Tumblr post where she described what she loved about autumn.
She brought the old post into the present by making a compilation of videos from her present-day life.
The compilation was littered with clues about new music so fans would re-watch the video, screenshot certain frames and individually post them to figure out hidden meanings.
Her fans do the heavy lifting and drive the hype up - it's not a traditional approach to promoting music.
Taylor could just be walking into her apartment, and her fans will analyse what she’s wearing and be like ‘this is a sign, we need to look into this’ and post about it.
What are some concepts that people can learn through studying Taylor Swift?
Rebecca: You could learn about how to disrupt traditional media distribution by looking at how Taylor skipped the middle man and made a deal directly with theatres to release her Eras Tour film in 2023.
So many people have learned about intellectual property and the legal ownership of songs through watching Taylor re-record her old music after being denied the right to purchase her back catalogue.
Taylor teaches people about social psychology, English literature … even voting. Like when she posted about registering to vote in the US elections and 35,000 people registered that same day.
What do you think about the incredibly close relationship Taylor has with her fans?
Angela: It's hard for it not to be completely parasocial because she is a famous celebrity, but there is a hint of genuineness.
Since releasing the Fearless album in 2008, Taylor has left clues in her album lyric booklets for fans to decode.
Janhavi: That was the beginning of a long-standing tradition of Taylor weaving easter eggs into everything she does for her fans.
Angela: And she listens to her fans and acts accordingly.
Fans begged her to record the 10-minute version of All Too Well, so she did it as part of Red (Taylor’s Version).
Taylor Swift performing All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version). Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images
At her concerts, she goes along with the chants that fans come up with and does things to make them laugh.
You also can’t pay for a meet-and-greet with Taylor, she hand-picks you to meet her for free after shows.
Janhavi: Like the “secret sessions” she did for three albums, where she invited dedicated fans to her houses and played them albums before they came out.
Angela: Taylor also posts online according to where her fans are: she started out sharing voice notes with people on MySpace, then she was on Tumblr, then Instagram and now TikTok.
She always tries to meet her fans where they are, making them feel special by liking and commenting on their posts.
How does the Swiftposium validate young womens’ knowledge of pop culture?
Rebecca: I don't think people realise there is so much comprehensive analysis happening in fandoms.
Fans spot things, investigate and analyse and share their research on TikTok.
Fans watching Taylor Swift perform the Eras Tour at SoFi Stadium. Photo: Allen J. Schaben /Getty Images
20 years ago when I went to uni, I didn't know academia was a career.
And when I started studying Media Studies, I realised I had been studying media all this time and that my knowledge is worthwhile.
I really hope fans out there realise their really intense knowledge about a specific topic is literally what academia is.
Angela: As a younger, newer academic, it lessens my imposter syndrome and reminds me that I can be in love with what I talk about.
It’s no longer a far reach for me to present my work on an international level because academia is not as exclusive or mundane as it used to be.
What’s your current favourite Taylor Swift lyric or song?
Angela: The phrase “champagne problems” intrigues me, it's such a Taylor-way of saying ‘first world problems’.
I’m in my late 20s and I feel like I’m finally finding my people in life and making memories I know I’ll look back fondly on, so I’m loving the lyric ‘I had the time of my life fighting dragons with you’ from the song Long Live.
Rebecca: Since her song Mastermind came out, I can’t read the word ‘Machiavellian’ and not think of Taylor.
The chord progression on This Is Me Trying is really beautiful, I love that song and You’re On Your Own Kid. They’re just about people who are trying their best and pushing through life.
Image: Taylor Swift performing at the Eras Tour. Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images
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