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Taylor Swift: Pop queen of consumer culture?

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With her record-breaking tour, album releases, Super Bowl appearances and recognition as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, Taylor Swift is more world-renowned than ever. Swift’s ability to captivate global audiences through her lyrics and performances has solidified her status as a household name. Some refer to Swift’s impact as the “Taylor Swift Effect,” highlighting her enormous influence on the public. Her vast public sway can be seen in foreign leaders urging Swift to tour their country and her impact on young voter participation in the US.

This effect did not come from her talent alone. It is also a result of the brand she has established through an extensive merchandising strategy with her release of CDs, vinyl records, cardigans, decorations and even Christmas ornaments. However, Swift’s constant release of new songs and merchandise has brought up questions of sustainability and overproduction. 

This excessive consumer culture surrounding Swift is contributing to the overall issue of overconsumption within the United States. 

Perhaps the most recent example of Swift’s contribution to consumerism is the release of her new album, “The Tortured Poets Department,” on April 19. The record was released as a double album with 31 new songs. As an avid Swift listener myself, the number of songs was an immediate turn-off from the entire album; as a result, the phrase “quality over quantity” immediately comes to mind. Most songs seemed repetitive in tone, narrative and rhythm. It is important to keep in mind that Swift released the “1989” album re-recording and the “Eras Tour” in theaters about five months before this. However, with every release of new music, there comes a merch drop that sells out almost immediately. The brand, “Taylor Swift,” has been marketed on sunglasses, umbrellas, shorts, earrings, rings, hats and more.

While most fans buy a sparse amount of merchandise to support their favorite artists, Swift and her fans have taken it to the extreme. Just by exploring her fanbase, one can see a competition between “Swifties” over who can accumulate the most merch. Some might argue that this is solely a fanbase problem and that Swift is not encouraging this overconsumption behavior, but her marketing techniques tell us otherwise. For instance, Swift had a 72-hour merch drop for her “1989” re-recorded album that promoted a sense of urgency in her fans over a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to buy a special edition version of her merch. With her newest album, Swift released different vinyl variants, each with a “bonus track,” rather than just simply releasing all her songs on one single vinyl. 

One of the most humorous merch releases was the “Tortured Poets Department” cardigan, which is a plain gray cardigan with no evident designs on it that cost over $100. It sold out. Given how well Swift has marketed her brand and how dependent she is on consumerism to increase her wealth, it should come as no surprise that she is a billionaire

Her vast collection of Christmas ornaments, each costing about $20, is perhaps her most consumerist release of them all, with fans attempting to collect them

Some may counter that, compared to the harmful influences in the music industry, being influenced to buy a Christmas ornament is insignificant. However, we must consider how consumerism affects people outside Swift’s world and normalizes excessive buying. 

Taylor Swift has recently come under fire for her astronomically huge carbon footprint through her reliance on travel by private jet. Additionally, it is shocking to understand the amount of plastic and materials that go into the delivery and manufacturing of her merchandise. The trend of plastic friendship bracelets decorating fans at her concerts is also a concern as many are expected to end up in the ocean or in landfills. All of these actions are surveyed by her large audience, while she conveys an indifference of being careless about our environment.

Overconsumption is one of the leading causes of environmental problems, which leads to increases in carbon emissions and more waste being added to Earth’s landfills. Given Swift’s large global fan base, one can see how her products are also contributing to this issue of excessive buying

Overconsumption has become a trend, most notably seen in the Stanley Cup frenzy and shopping apps like Temu that encourage spending money on things one likely does not need. Along with the influence of consumerism culture in general, fans will also see Swift releasing new merchandise every few months and believe it’s justified to continue buying more and more. 

We cannot underestimate the power and influence Taylor Swift holds to be able to influence her audience into being more conscious of their environmental impact. She can afford to promote buying second-hand clothing, following a minimalist lifestyle, trying to buy only the necessities and just being overall mindful of the environment. We might be too hopeful about her, though, given that her position as a billionaire puts her out of touch with the rest of the world. It is important to use Swift as an example of how we can still enjoy music without falling into the trap of overconsumption. 

Zahira Vasquez is an Opinion Staff Writer. She can be reached at zivasque@uci.edu

Edited by Jacob Ramos, Jaheem Conley and Lillian Dunn.