Madonna King: Taylor Swift is the person we need to celebrate for this year

Swift's selection by <I>Time</I> has elicited passionate reactions on either side of the argument.

Swift's selection by Time has elicited passionate reactions on either side of the argument. Photo: Getty

… Ready For It? Or Is it Over Now?

There are so many ways we could use Taylor Swift’s songs to opine on news she is Time’s Person of the Year.

And for Swift, who follows in the footsteps of Barack Obama, Greta Thunberg and Volodymyr Zelensky, Today Was a Fairytale.

But those scoffing at Swift, describing her as an outlier or undeserving of the international honour, should consider who she trumped to take out the 2023 award.

Vladimir Putin. King Charles and Barbie. Chinese President Xi Jinping. The prosecutors for former US president Donald Trump. And even the striking Hollywood actors and writers.

That’s power. And it is a different power, perhaps, to that which gifted the same award to 14 US presidents and three popes.

But that doesn’t make it a lesser power. Indeed, that’s probably more an issue of the definition of power, than anything else.

Swift, a music billionaire, holds influence a million miles away from any stage she graces.

Yes, she boasts the biggest-selling record of the year and is the most-streamed female artist in the history of Spotify and Apple Music.

Her Eras Tour film became the biggest concert movie in history. And she is the first living artist to have five albums in the US Top 10 at the same time. Overtaking Sir Paul McCartney and Lionel Richie, she also this year scored seven Grammy nominations.

Her 2023 resume certainly helped elevate her in an award that recognises an individual “who most shaped the headlines over the previous 12 months, for better or worse’’.

But her real power is more nuanced, crossing mental health and feminism, fashion and economics, leisure and literature, popular culture and gender.

Try and name another person this year whose tentacles have reached into all those areas?

In Australia, four million people queued to buy pre-sale tickets to her Eras Tour. That was about music.

But employers expressed frustration that many workers didn’t risk work that day, in case they missed out. Others – adults – sat at their desk crying, after failing to secure exorbitantly priced early-release tickets.

“In a divided world, where too many institutions are failing, Taylor Swift found a way to transcend borders and be a source of light,’’ Time editor-in-chief Sam Jacobs wrote.

Even in academia, it seems.

Just take the international Swiftposium 2024, which will run in Melbourne in February. This conference has been organised by academics from six universities (including Melbourne, Monash and RMIT) across Australia and New Zealand.

“The organisers invite academic researchers from around the world to submit proposals for Swiftposium, although we will be prioritising papers from the Asia-Pacific region,’’ its website says.

And what themes are being prioritised?

The phenomenon of fandom. The impacts of international touring and large events on the culture identity of cities. Swift’s influence on political discourse and advocacy in social movements such as feminism and LGBTQ+. The economic impact of her “cultural prominence”. Gender and sexuality. Mental health. Her impact on contemporary discussions around identity, race and intersectionality.

The list goes on. Streaming platform and intellectual property. Literary interpretations. Pop culture catalysts. Marketing and #metoo.

Perhaps organisers could throw in her influence in the law, given a US hearing into ticket sales to her concerts. And even a discussion around volcanology, with the BBC saying her concerts generate seismic activity that matches earthquakes with a magnitude of 2.3.

Taylor Swift is the person the world needs to celebrate this year; a year in which division has left an indelible mark across countries and politics and people.

Swift is a woman of her time. And just as Time changed the award’s title to Person of the Year in 1999, Swift’s acknowledgment is disruption we should all embrace.

Imagine an international academic conference with the scope outlined above centred on King Charles. Or Putin. Or any other person you could nominate in 2023?

Taylor Swift deserves to be the Person of the Year. So Shake it Off, turn up the speakers, and sing along.

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