In 2006, I walked into my neighborhood Barnes and Noble in Richmond, Virginia, as a newly christened 10-year-old on a mission: find the Taylor Swift debut CD. It was raining, and it was my birthday, but I would not let this stop me. My mom said that the rain was a sign of good luck (unbeknownst to me, this was more of a wedding day superstition). Clad in my sparkly outfit from Limited Too, I squealed when I found a copy of her album. “Please, Mom! She is this new country singer, and she is only a few years older than me! Her songs play on the radio!”
Seventeen years later, I am still staying up late for the release of new T-Swift albums, waiting hours in a queue for tickets, and filling my Spotify Wrapped with each of the Taylor eras. Each album Taylor has released throughout her career represents what fans call an “era,” alluding to how many of us feel as though we grew up alongside Taylor and her music. This week my childhood best friends and I will attend her concert in Chicago, in honor of the many eras of our own lives we have spent together, singing and dancing to Taylor’s albums.
At Interfaith America, we believe in the power of bridgebuilding across lines of difference as the foundation for healthy and diverse democracy. When people can unite and hold space for both their similarities and differences, genuine change can occur. Few individuals throughout history have had the influence of mobilizing millions of people from all walks of life to unite and dismantle an arbitrary system of power. Last December, Taylor’s fans did just that when they filed a class action lawsuit against Ticketmaster (parent Live Nation) over the Eras Tour ticket mayhem and subsequently prompted a Department of Justice investigation into the company. The fall of the world’s leading ticket sales conglomerate is no small feat; yet “Swifties” (as Taylor Swift’s fans refer to themselves) experienced the failure of a capitalistic Mastermind, sought Karma, demonstrating that Only the Young “can save us.”
Recently, Taylor Swift is being spotted with Matty Healy, the lead vocalist of the alternative/indie band The 1975. Matty has been present at her recent shows and even played as a guitarist with Phoebe Bridgers, one of the opening acts for Taylor. This has led to significant speculation about whether Taylor and Matty are dating. Taylor’s dating life has been a topic for fans and the media since the beginning of her career; however, this alleged relationship Hits Different. Swifties have spoken out in an open letter in condemnation of Matty Healy, who has repeatedly been associated with racist, misogynistic, anti-LGBTQIA+, and antisemitic controversies. “Open dialogue with communities affected by these actions is crucial… We believe in the capacity for growth and transformation.”
I have struggled to reconcile my love for Taylor Swift and the nostalgia I feel towards her music after learning about her association with Matty Healy. I have asked myself, “What does it mean to support an artist who maintains proximity to people who have consistently advocated for the harm of others?” I feel this tension in many areas of my life; from a myriad of personal, professional, and organizational relationships I hold.
Earlier this month, I had the privilege of supporting our Team Up Project Inaugural Cohort Training. The Team Up Project is the culmination of a partnership between Catholic Charities USA, Habitat for Humanity International, the YMCA of the USA, and Interfaith America, as was originally announced by President Biden at the United We Stand Summit last fall. The ethos of this project is centered upon the idea that bridgebuilding skills, such as deep listening and navigating tension productively, can equip people and organizations to have dialogues across lines of difference. This paradigm is inherently hopeful; it speaks to the potentiality of human evolution, even when the odds are stacked against connection.
I reread the fan letter several times over the past few days. I realized that this letter represents a portion of Taylor’s fan base who are deeply committed to the values that Taylor has aligned herself with. Historically, Taylor has spoken out in support of people struggling with mental illness, members of the LGBTQIA+ communities, and against racism and white supremacy.
The magnitude of her public persona amplifies her influence when she speaks about any issue. For Swifties to witness her alleged relationship with Matty Healy over the past few weeks, we have struggled with the tension of someone we admire openly associating with someone whose hateful rhetoric and behaviors have harmed many communities. In this tension, the fan letter demonstrates how Swifties have sought conversation and connection in hope of achieving shared understanding.
This is the very essence of bridgebuilding; we build connection and trust, listen to one another, and hold space for the existence of multiple truths. The goal is not resolution of this tension, but rather the moment where we can see humanity in one another as unequivocally valuable. Bridgebuilding asks us to lean into the gray space between polarization and unification.
I wish I could say I have an easy three-step process for overcoming the tension I feel when my values (or the values I am associated with through the relationships I hold) are not upheld in the same way in private and public squares. However, I do believe we can learn, grow, and change. I know that gray space is a fertile ground for transformation if we can sit in the uncomfortableness. I do not have an answer, but I am committed to listening and learning. I will undoubtedly continue to wrestle with public figures and organizations who maintain problematic relationships. At the same time, I am honored to consider myself a Swiftie because this community of fans is larger than any one artist. Our collective commitment to bridgebuilding gives me hope, because it is in these moments that momentum can build and Sparks Fly.