Say what you want about T. Swift, but she is a mastermind when it comes to language and weaving words together. Even if you don’t like her music or think she’s overhyped or are sick of hearing about her love life, there’s no arguing with her 12 Grammy Awards or record-breaking tour sales. A lot of factors play into her success, but I believe her ability to leverage language is at the root of it.
Spinning words and telling a story has allowed her to cross genres, sell more than 50 million albums, and make an impact.
Not to be casually cruel in the name of being honest, but I was not a ‘Swiftie’ from the very beginning. Although I’m part of the generation that grew up alongside her - I was in high school when “Fifteen” came out; I was 20 when “22” dropped, I didn’t start listening consistently to her until around 2013 (between the Red and 1989 era). Then, my love and appreciation for Taylor’s talent blossomed with the release of Lover in 2019.
I’ve found one of the best ways to show my appreciation for her art is to use it through intertextuality, which means taking quotes and bringing them into new context - like a blog post.
Or, in the case of Taylor Swift’s lyrics, onto the US Senate floor.
(True story: In January 2023 during a Judiciary Committee hearing addressing the internet meltdown over Swift’s Eras tour ticket sales, Senator Richard Blumenthal said, “May I suggest, respectfully, that Ticketmaster look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m the problem. It’s me.'”)
Or, also in the case of Taylor Swift’s lyrics, onto the screen of a NFL game.
There’s something powerful in an artist’s words reaching beyond the inner speak of their fan base. It shows that there’s something about Taylor’s lyrics that will never go out of style.
Now, does this mean you should go out and write your next piece of content chalk full of Taylor Swift Easter eggs? Absolutely not. That’s an easy way to stir up bad blood with your audience because it could come across as over-the-top and unauthentic, which ultimately drowns out whatever message you're trying to communicate. Remember, if you play stupid games, you win stupid prizes.
For a red lip classic, perfectly timed Swift allusion, here’s what you need to do:
ask yourself, “Is a T. Swift reference appropriate for this piece and this audience?”
Sending a memo about your company’s change in remote vs. in-person work requirements is not the time to add a zinger like, “we’ve experienced low engagement, so look what you made me do.”
However, sending out an email asking for volunteers to sit on an upcoming Women’s History Month panel is a more appropriate time to add something along the lines of, “We’ve got a blank space, baby - so, write your name.”
Choose the right topic with the right audience. Depending on the reference you’re wanting to make and how obvious it is, be careful about gambling. After all, devils roll the dice.
Fun fact: A 2023 survey found that the majority of Taylor Swift’s fans are millennials (between the ages of 27 and 42), but her second biggest fanbase is actually baby boomers, or people between the ages of 60 and 78. Unsurprisingly, more women than men claim to be fans but the difference is slim - 48% is male and 52% is female.
ask yourself, “does it add something to the overall message?”
Taylor Swift is intentional. She’s intentional in the lyrics she writes, and even more intentional with how she communicates with her fans. The singer is known for planting clues, hints, and callbacks across everything she does - music videos, live appearances, social media posts, and even linear notes in her albums.
Tear a page out of her playbook here and be purposeful with any references to her lyrics you make. So, before you hit send or publish, you need to calm down and make sure the reference enhances what you’re trying to say.
ask yourself, “is it too obvious that i’m referencing a Taylor Swift lyric?”
A perfectly timed T. Swift reference should be subtle, not like driving a new maserati down a dead-end street. For example, when she announced the release of her album Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), she started her Instagram caption with - “It’s here. It’s yours, it’s mine, it’s ours.” Subtly and masterfully referencing two popular tracks. The rest of the caption goes on to seamlessly reference several more.
While it might be tempting to stick to the overtly popular lyrics (“you belong with me” and “shake it off” get thrown around a lot), I recommend stepping outside the box. She has more than 200 songs on the Billboard Hot 100. There’s plenty of material to work with - you never know which lyric could’ve been the one.
My best advice when it comes to nailing the timing of a T. Swift reference is to not overdo it.
Appropriate chances for me to sneak in a Taylor Swift lyric are few and far between (excluding this blog). So, when the opportunity comes, I have to seize it.
I have to be fearless.