In 2004, Scott Borchetta received a package from a young country artist looking for a record deal. Along with the song demos, “there was an Abercrombie and Fitch catalog,” Borchetta said in an interview with Inc. magazine. remember. “And I think, you don’t see that every day.”
Borchetta is the record executive credited with discovering one of the greatest musical artists of all time. But before she even released her first single, Swift was modeling for the preppy clothing brand. In the catalog she tagged a photo of herself holding a guitar and wiping her eye with a tissue (presumably a nod to her song “Teardrops on My Guitar”, which would be released a few years later). “She was a very attractive girl,” Borchetta told Inc. said, noting that she looked older than her 14 years, and therefore had a chance to make it in the country music market.
Make it she did. Today, as seemingly countless Swift fans are left without tickets to the upcoming tour that will showcase her various “eras” — from curly-haired, Southern-accented Taylor to rainbow-gay Pride Taylor — we’re faced with the least fun version of Swift yet : Capitalist Taylor. So far, the brunt of the outrage has fallen on Ticketmaster, the monopolistic concert-and-ticketing conglomerate, while Swift has received comparably less abuse, perhaps because of the intimate-seeming fandom relationship she’s cultivated over her career. But as that A&F catalog showed all those years ago, Swift has always been one for cultivating brand synergy. Fans, finally noticing, look sad.
Last month, Cosmopolitan hailed Swift as “Scrooge McDuck – levels of rich”, citing an estimate that her pre-Midnight net worth at $570 million. Her 2018 stadium tour for Reputation is the highest grossing US tour on record. In 2019, she signed a multi-year deal with Capital One, just before the release of Lover. Her single “ME!” ran an ad for a 4 percent cash back card, and Capital One cardholders had the privilege of purchasing “any Taylor Swift t-shirt” bundled with a digital version of the album.
For the “Eras” tour, one way to boost your chances of getting an access code to the pre-sale Hunger Games was to buy a lot of Swift merchandise (for example: a wall clock interface designed to work with four to be hanged Midnight CDs, sold separately). She also promised a special “Eras” tour presale for Capital One cardholders, leading to several pieces of service journalism encouraging Swifties to take out a line of credit.
Not that it might have helped them much. The idea was that the two pre-sales would give dedicated fans the opportunity to buy tickets before the general public (and also scalpers). It would have been a mistake to assume that the process of logging into Ticketmaster at the scheduled time with your code in hand would allow you to calmly exchange money for goods and services—after all, it was Swift ‘s first tour in four years. But the process was clearly disturbing. Fans experienced a website that couldn’t accommodate the traffic, and wait times of hours in a digital queue.
Before the Capital One presale, a few friends and I carefully strategized how much we would pay for tickets, and even had backup plans for what we would do if we couldn’t get enough for everyone in our group. When we finally got to a screen showing us a stadium seating map, we were only offered two “Karma is My Boyfriend” packages for $755 each, way out of our price range. (What made the packages a few hundred dollars better than just regular floor seating? They reportedly have extras like VIP entrance to the stadium, an “Eras” tour bag and a “crowd-free VIP shopping -option”.) Not that we could have bought them anyway; within moments one of them was gone from the screen. But perhaps they left the ether before the light from the computer even had time to reach our eyes in the first place – a colleague reported seeing tons of available tickets, only to spend 45 minutes clicking to finding again and again that his choice was not available. And there wouldn’t be, as we were promised, an opportunity to try again at a general public sale—Ticketmaster had to cancel it due to lack of inventory.
Ticketmaster, which is essentially the only way to buy tickets for many concerts and sporting events at major venues, was the villain of this whole debacle, everyone decided. “Trying to fight Ticketmaster in 2022 is trying to wage war against God,” wrote Kelsey McKinney in Defector. In Slate, Ron Knox noted that the garbage calls from politicians like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has sparked calls for the Ticketmaster monopoly to be broken up — and maybe even radicalize Swifties themselves.
Slowly, it seemed to dawn on fans just how much Swift herself even took advantage of this crazy ticket-buying experience. A viral TikTok shows a woman sitting despondently in her car under text declaring that the whole debacle was “Taylor’s capitalist circus on full display…I’m going to say I’m officially turned off by Taylor.” In the New Republic, Timothy Noah also ends up placing the “blame” on Swift, in two ways. There is the fact that she is surprisingly popular. On Tuesday, she sold 2 million tickets, Noah writes — “more than any previous act — Enrico Caruso, Rudy Vallee, Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, Michael Jackson — ever sold in a single day.” Then there is the issue of dynamic pricing. Swift, like many artists, agreed to allow Ticketmaster to raise the prices on seats in response to demand. It’s not necessarily as evil as it sounds, argues Noah: Would you rather be praised by Stubhub, or by Swift herself? I think sure, rush me, Taylor. And if tickets were cheaper, they might be a public good, but that would still leave a core problem: There would be even more demand for them, and therefore less abundance.
Swift released a statement on Instagram on Friday in which she noted that she was “trying to figure out how to improve this situation going forward” and that while she was happy that 2.4 million people were able to get tickets, “it really makes me angry that a lot of some of them feel like they went through several bear attacks to get them.” Ultimately the number of Swift tickets available in this world is limited to how long she is willing to stand in front of a crowd and sing, I can only imagine that she may be sitting between her riches and at some point feeling a little exhausted from the large number of people rioting in anger because they won’t be able to get a picture of her this spring. The Beatles gave up touring after six years; Swift has been doing it for more than twice as long. She could stop and be justified in doing so. And she has done some commendable things over the years, such as using her influence to help artists get paid when their songs are streamed during Apple Music’s free trial, as David Turner described in Slate in 2018.
But it’s still the fans she makes money from, and for some of us it feels disorienting to be asked to pay hundreds of dollars to see her live (if we’re very lucky!), especially when our parasocial relationships with her are so can run deep. . My first encounter with Swift’s music was when I was 16. A friend from a summer camping trip sent me a mix CD with other musical acts like the Jonas Brothers—and one song by Taylor Swift, “Stay Beautiful,” in which she hopes a love interest will come to her, but wishes grant him goodwill even if he does not. The lyrics were just better than anything else offered to me by artists my age. I looked her up and was hooked.
I can accept that in the next decade-plus this woman simply became too popular for me to see her tour now. I understand that she needs to earn money in exchange for her work. And Swift certainly didn’t invent the idea of being a spokesperson for goods and services. But nevertheless, it sucks to turn the poetry of Midnightwhile Capitalist Taylor takes the opportunity to try and sell me a credit card and another shirt.
This summer I got an email from Taylor Nation, Swift’s company. It wasn’t to announce new music or alert me to tour dates. This alerted me to a Memorial Day sale on branded towels. Yes, my favorite poet spammed me: If I buy two towels, I can get 10 percent off.
“It goes without saying that I am extremely protective of my fans,” she wrote in her statement on Friday. Actually, I think we can say she isn’t. And that’s good. It’s just the entertainment business. It was never personal.