Swifties: Connection and Obsession

When Kate Morena was nine years old, she heard the song “Sparks Fly” by Taylor Swift for the first time. Now nineteen, she laughs, remembering the scene in vivid detail. It was 2011, and the song played through speakers in her then-neighbor’s bedroom. Sunlight filtered through the floor-to-ceiling windows and cast a yellow glow on the two girls, who danced barefoot on top of white bedding, humming and singing along. 

It was the first time Kate remembers feeling moved by music—the way the electric guitar reverberated as Taylor sang the bridge, “I run my fingers through your hair, and watch the lights go wild.” Her voice quieted to an almost-whisper before reaching the final chorus. Before returning home that day, Kate remembers proclaiming: “I love Taylor Swift.” 

In the months that followed, Kate downloaded Taylor’s discography to her iPod. Kate had always loved reading stories, and indulging in Taylor’s music felt similar; each song seemed to contain a world. 

Although Kate and I didn’t know each other then, I was experiencing something similar hundreds of miles away. I heard Taylor’s “You Belong With Me” for the first time in 2011 while in the car with my older sister. I remember feeling taken by Taylor’s voice—warm, youthful, and tinged with a slight country accent. That afternoon, I returned home and replayed the song’s music video for hours. 

At nine years old, I was emotional and socially withdrawn, and often felt alienated as a result. But Taylor, in her lyrical vulnerability, made me feel understood. I frequently found myself in my bedroom after school replaying the song “Innocent.” When I heard the lyrics, “It’s alright, just wait and see, your string of lights is still bright to me,” I felt she was singing directly to me. 

In 2012, Kate and I both created Instagram accounts devoted to Taylor. I posted screenshots of music videos and images from photoshoots. In my captions, I expressed gratitude for Taylor and her music. “Thank you for writing my favorite song, @taylorswift.” “Thank you @taylorswift for making me feel less alone.” 

As months passed on Instagram, my captions became more personal. In September of 2013, I wrote about my first day of middle school, and found myself asking for advice from other “Swifties” online: “how do I calm my nerves?” A high school student reminded me: “everyone’s nervous, so it’s nothing to be ashamed of.” 

Kate, too, sent me a direct message introducing herself. We were the same age, and she lived in Ohio. We quickly began texting and talking over Facetime for hours, sharing an appreciation for Taylor’s music, a devotion to unpacking her lyrics, and an infatuation with the artist herself. 

Swifties wanted to get to know each other. And Taylor, it would soon appear, wanted to get to know us, too. In 2013, Taylor began leaving comments on fans’ Instagram posts.

 “Izzi! This was the sweetest message!!” she wrote to one fan. “I must say, you look lovely in red lipstick and I love the ballet picture of you on your page!!!” 

Taylor consoled another fan, Caitlyn, after a break-up: “You and I both know there’s got to be some greater storyline for you than ‘girl gets heart broken, was sad forever.’ I think a nice one would be ‘girl gets heart broken, was sad for a while but in her heartbreak she found freedom, friends, and the ability to look back and laugh at all she’d learned. She now lives her life on her own terms and still has fantastic hair.’ I love you. Hang in there.”

Many of us had been drawn to Taylor and her music amid loneliness, craving depth of connection. Now, Taylor’s efforts to show us we mattered to her, too—reciprocating our emotional honesty and unconditional support—only made us love her more. 

In 2014, Taylor signed up for Tumblr, where many Swifties had been posting images, videos, and text for years. In her first post, Taylor wrote: “Taylor here. I’m locking myself in my room and not leaving until I figure out how to use my Tumblr. Well, I might leave for a second to get a snack or something but that is IT. I am FOCUSED. I have lots of questions, help me.”

After hearing Taylor had joined Tumblr, I, along with many other Swifties, created a profile. Tumblr felt more private than Instagram; I didn’t know a single person from school who had an account. Its deep blue backdrop made me feel secluded, as though each post was a private conversation with Taylor or fellow Swifties. 

Immediately after joining Tumblr, Taylor began “following” fans, liking their posts, and writing personalized messages. Swifties crafted a website, istayontumblr.com, to monitor whenever Taylor was “online,” displaying the time Taylor had most recently liked a post. “Yes, Taylor Swift’s online,” it said some nights. “It’s been 0 minutes since she liked something.”

My friends and I checked the website obsessively, posting whenever Taylor seemed to be “active.” When she liked my post expressing how much her song “Tied Together With A Smile” meant to me, I felt heard. When she liked a video of my brother singing along to “Wildest Dreams,” I ran to his room and yelled, “Nate! Taylor knows who you are!” 

It’s unfathomably gratifying, I think, to know your role model has devoted energy to knowing and loving you, too. Taylor’s attention filled a void for all of us, satisfying an innate desire to mean something to someone.   

In July of 2018, Kate and I received a direct message from Taylor’s fan-management team (@taylornation), expressing that Taylor would like to meet us in-person at her Reputation Stadium tour. Over Facetime, Kate and I sobbed. Not only would we be meeting each other for the first time, but we’d get to express our gratitude to Taylor in person. 

A day before the concert, Kate and I met in Newark Liberty International Airport, where she had traveled from Ohio and I from Connecticut. We laughed and cried and repeated “this is so weird” in between hugs. 

The next morning, we drove to MetLife Stadium, where we were handed green slips of paper with the words “pre-show meet and greet” in bold. When we walked into the room where Taylor stood, she opened her arms and said, “It’s so good to finally meet you.” She proceeded to make a joke about our matching usernames, calling them “neighbors.” 

The day felt like a dream. When Kate and I returned home, we sat on my bedroom floor and scrolled through Tumblr until four in the morning. We posted our photo with Taylor with long captions, expressing gratitude and disbelief. “I miss you already @taylorswift,” I wrote. If she saw my posts, I thought, maybe she’d remember that we’d met. Maybe I’d continue to be a part of her world—continue to mean something to her. 

In the days following meeting Taylor, I spent most of my time in my bedroom. When I finally emerged, I told my sister, through tears, “I don’t think Taylor liked me.” 

Although I had reached the pinnacle of connection with my idol, I felt empty. Kate did, too. Now, perhaps, she recognizes why. 

“Receiving validation from the person you admire most in the world can create a cycle of relying on that validation,” Kate said, “and comparing yourself to others when you’re not receiving it.” 

Although Taylor has served, in many ways, as an inspiration and source of comfort, I’ve now begun to see the impact of my idolization and obsession. In latching onto Taylor’s validation, I’d begun losing sight of my own sense of self. 

This November, to commemorate the release of her album “Red (Taylor’s Version),” Taylor hosted a private fan event in New York City. Many of my close Swiftie friends had been invited. While photos from the event flooded social media in real-time, a friend and I sat in sweatpants on the floor of a New York apartment, refreshing Tumblr. 

I looked up from my phone, and noticed my friend was crying. In between tears and laughter, she asked, “Why does Taylor hate me?”

It felt like a suppressed secret had been verbalized. We loved Taylor, and we loved the friends she’d given us. But had that love been corrupted by obsession and comparison? 

We sat on the floor for hours, discussing how much Taylor meant to us, how much we missed her, and how badly we wished we were at the event. As we spoke, I wondered what the difference was between caring about someone and desperately seeking their approval. 

When we finished talking, we dressed up, did our makeup, and started walking toward the event’s location. If we got there soon enough, maybe we’d get a glimpse of Taylor on her way out.

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