Carys Musto has been a Taylor Swift fan since before she was born.
“In the womb I was listening to ‘Our Song,’” the 11-year-old says, clutching a Swift collector’s cup after a matinee at the Boston Common theater with her two best friends, Keira Carucci and Aubrey Schley. All three sixth-graders have friendship bracelets stacked proudly on their wrists.
After bonding at Glover Elementary in Milton, Massachusetts, the three girls started at different middle schools this fall. But the documentary “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” renewed their ties – and those of thousands of others. It has earned more than $200 million globally to become the highest-grossing concert film of all time.
Girlhood is having a moment. From the sold-out stadiums of Ms. Swift’s Eras and Beyoncé’s Renaissance tours to the success of Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie,” which has grossed nearly $1.5 billion worldwide, the world is thinking pink, and sparkly. Girlhood is no longer a transient phase of childhood to be outgrown, but rather a state of mind bringing community to anyone who wants to participate. And no one is capturing and capitalizing on the spirit of the times more than Ms. Swift. On Friday, she received six more Grammy nominations to add to her 12 previous wins. She is now the most nominated artist of all time in the top songwriting category.
Ms. Swift is the perfect example of girlhood’s resurgence in a cultural landscape growing beyond male-dominated narratives, says Brian Donovan, a sociology professor at the University of Kansas. In tandem with “Barbie,” “it is like girlhood having its moment and being taken seriously in a way that it hasn’t previously been,” he says.
While there have always been megastars like Beyoncé, Britney Spears, and Madonna, Ms. Swift connects to her audiences through the premise of being every girl’s best friend. She has created communities for people to revel in girlhood alongside her. “She represents a kind of nostalgia for girlhood, and her songs represent a kind of time portal where people can relive both the joyous moments of girlhood, but also the traumas and the alienating moments of girlhood,” says Dr. Donovan.
And that’s translated into serious economic clout. The Eras Tour is expected to be the first tour in history to gross over $1 billion. The recent rerelease of “1989 (Taylor’s Version)” became her 13th No. 1 album on the Billboard 200. In 2010, she became the then-youngest person to receive the album of the year Grammy for “Fearless.” On top of this, her net worth is now over $1 billion. While Ms. Swift may sing about love, and her relationship with NFL star Travis Kelce is boosting the Kansas City Chiefs ratings this fall, at concerts and online, the emphasis is on celebrating friendship. Not since the Spice Girls has pop culture seen such an emphasis on the importance of friendship in women’s lives. In a recent survey, 55% of Generation Zers and millennials said friendship is more important than romance.
For Kaity Lunde, a nurse practitioner in Tulsa, Oklahoma, being a “Swiftie” is simultaneously celebratory of being a girl and of growing up. “And it’s like she’s a friend, she’s a sister, she’s a daughter, she is a businesswoman, she is a performer, she’s an artist,” says the 40-year-old mother. “She’s so many things. And I feel like that’s every woman – every woman has all of these roles to fill.”
Ms. Lunde describes her experience at the Eras Tour in Kansas City, Missouri, this summer with her 15-year-old son, Carter, as one centered around community. Despite being surrounded by tens of thousands of strangers, the stadium transformed into an intimate setting. “I didn’t know the people standing in line in front of me,” she says, “but we became friends in that moment.”
Take the friendship bracelets, which have become a celebratory symbol of girlhood. Swifties have been trading bracelets as if they’ve been friends their whole lives.
Even more precious for the mom of a teen boy, “[She’s] also created a bond between Carter and I, like as a mother and son,” she adds.
Carter notes that the singer makes people happy. “When I’m having a bad day, I turn on Taylor Swift,” he says.
The price of admission to the girlhood club is pretty steep. The Eras Tour caused a meltdown on Ticketmaster. While face-value tickets were priced between $49 to $449, resale prices could be in the thousands. Many opted to attend the concert film, with adult tickets costing $19.89.
Even though girlhood has always been “ubiquitous” in pop culture, this moment is different, says Hannah Wing, an assistant communications professor at Wichita State University. For one, pop culture depictions of girlhood are attracting fans and audiences beyond young girls. She points to recurring references of summer 2023 as “the summer of the girl.” Alongside Ms. Swift's tour, Beyoncé’s Renaissance World Tour smashed records. In August alone, the tour grossed $179.3 million, making it the highest one-month gross for tours since Billboard began tracking earnings in 1985. Beyoncé showed her support for the Eras Tour by attending the concert film’s premiere in October alongside Ms. Swift. Her own concert film, “Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé,” opens Dec. 1.
Part of this shift in girlhood is explained through economics. “There is a kind of top-down element where the cultural creators are realizing that the girls of 10 or 20 years ago now have spending power,” Dr. Donovan says. “There is [also] a bottom-up element in that girls and women are growing up with new gender norms and a new sense of agency.”
Girlhood now allows for girls and women to have the freedom to connect with one another. “There’s a lack of apology in current depictions of girlhood that we haven’t seen in the past, where girlhood is not something to be ashamed of or even something necessarily radical, but instead something to be celebrated and to be enjoyed,” Dr. Wing says.
Ms. Spears’ memoir, out in October, is a stark contrast to the Eras Tour celebration. In it, she chronicles how others, including her father, stole her girlhood and capitalized off her talent. Ms. Swift, by contrast, is in the process of rerecording her first six albums so that a producer whom she considered a bully wouldn’t profit off her work. “Give me back my girlhood, it was mine first,” she sings in “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve.”
Ms. Swift’s carefully cultivated relationship with her fans leaves them feeling as though they are truly understood. From leaving clues that, once decoded, point to whom a song is written about, to holding the “secret sessions” listening parties, Ms. Swift invites fans to participate in her life and music process. Before the pandemic, she would invite super Swifties into her homes to listen to music before releasing it.
“Her music just ... speaks to me,” says Allison Young, a college freshman in Boston. “I relate to [her lyrics] on such a personal level, and it just makes me feel like seen.”
Ms. Young gestures to the three friends beside her in matching, homemade “Red” shirts they wore to watch the movie. “We’ve all bonded over Taylor Swift,” she says. “She brought us all together.”
Become a part of the Monitor community