As the V&A advertises ‘Taylor Swift Superfan Advisor’, an Oxford graduate writes something provocative about her being like Shakespeare, Chaucer and Wordsworth

How very far the world has travelled in the 125 years since Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone for London’s V&A Museum to today, when that venerable establishment is advertising for a ‘Taylor Swift Super Fan Adviser’.

The position – for a devoted Swiftie (as fans of the 34-year-old singer are called) – requires someone to give their expert insights into fan culture and the memorabilia that fellow Swifties collect and create, such as concert signs and friendship bracelets. The museum hopes to have its new appointee in place before the 14-times Grammy winner starts the European leg of her Eras tour in May.

Inevitably, the news has horrified cultural purists. They cry that this deification of a pop starlet, known for her string of high-profile boyfriends and fashion sense, will taint the hallowed halls of one of Britain’s most august institutions. She isn’t cultural enough, not literary enough, not deserving enough. How will tributes to her spangly outfits sit alongside Rodin sculptures and all those Virgin and Child paintings?

Frankly, they couldn’t be more wrong. Taylor Swift is as significant to world culture as any of these great pieces.

I write as someone who completed my Oxford University English degree two years ago with a dissertation entitled ‘Is it romantic how all my elegies eulogise me’ – Taylor Swift as a modern romantic poet’.

It positioned Taylor Swift alongside Romantic poets William Wordsworth and Lord Byron. I based my dissertation on ‘the lakes’ (no, this isn’t an error – Swift is erratic with her capitalisation), a song from her album ‘folklore’.

Lines such as ‘Take me to the lakes where all the poets went to die’, of course reference the Lake District, home of Romanticism. Indeed, with ‘Tell me what are my words worth’, she name-drops Wordsworth the father of Romanticism. Of course, I did my Swift dissertation as a fan but also as an appraisal of a young woman whose work I believed the world should appreciate for its literary weight.

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Wordsworth said poetry was the ‘spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings’. By this measure, Swift’s lyrics are indisputably poetry. They conjure floods of tears from those who have never had their heart broken, vengeance from those who have never been betrayed and joy in those who feel bereft at the state of their lives.

Like all the great writers, she speaks to universal experiences. Her cult classic All Too Well – so popular that she released an extended ten-minute version – attests to this.

Everyone can relate to a relationship in which they have felt belittled, uncared for and dismissed. Heart-breaking lyrics such as ‘You call me up again just to break me like a promise, / So casually cruel in the name of being honest’ have formed a lump in many an unemotional throat. For want of a better cliche, Taylor Swift makes people feel seen and heard.

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This woman is an inescapable global phenomenon. Her current tour has already grossed more than £790 million and added £3.6 billion to the US economy. Both Joe Biden and Donald Trump know that 18 per cent of US voters are likely to be influenced to vote in November’s presidential election for whoever she endorses. No wonder the V&A, one of Britain’s key cultural arbitrators, wants to recognise her status. Its Swiftie job is one of several pop culture consultancies the museum has recently launched. People passionate about emojis and Crocs shoes are also wanted. Advisers on Pokémon cards and Lego have already been secured.

According to the job description, the V&A’s new Swiftie adviser must have a ‘hyper niche interest’, with her as their ‘specialist subject’.

The museum’s director, former Labour MP Tristram Hunt, said: ‘These new advisory roles will help us celebrate and discover more about the enormous, and often surprising, creative diversity on offer at the V&A, as well as helping us to learn more about the design stories that are relevant to our audiences today.’

In recent months, more pillars of academia have taken Swift’s work seriously. Harvard University offered a Taylor Swift And Her World course; New York University also runs Swift classes; and Queen Mary University of London has a specific ‘Taylor Swift and Literature’ module.

Shakespeare scholar, Professor Sir Jonathan Bates, has compared her to a ‘literary genius’, the Shakespeare of our time. A self-confessed Swiftie, Bates wrote an impassioned article in which he compared the pair, saying she is a ‘real poet’.

William Shakespeare, painted by Louis Coblitz. Taylor Swift has been compared to the British playwright due to her cultural significance
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William Shakespeare, painted by Louis Coblitz. Taylor Swift has been compared to the British playwright due to her cultural significance

Swift revises stories and rewrites them to fit her own time and work – most notably revisiting the Bard’s Romeo And Juliet in her song Love Story and giving the young couple a happy ending. Shakespeare did similar, by writing his version of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde. Why should Swift be diminished and held in lower esteem for borrowing a story Shakespeare already borrowed?

She pulls lines from everywhere. Prof Bates points out that Swift’s song ‘invisible string’ has the line ‘Isn’t it just so pretty to think’, which comes from Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises, and the song’s premise – that two people connect to each other throughout their lives – draws from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.

With so many references, allusions and borrowings in her work, there is a conflation of fact and fiction that only true Swifties can ascertain. Hence the V&A’s need for an expert.

Her lyrics are not the only things embedded in our cultural consciousness. Even before the #MeToo movement and before allegations broke against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, Swift inspired other women to speak out about harassment and testified herself in court about having been assaulted.

She’s been a trailblazer in her advocacy for artists’ rights and creative control over their work – something that has influenced the whole industry. With her new album, The Tortured Poets Department, due for release in April, and with no sign of slowing down, Swift will only further cement her position as a modern icon. Swift belongs in the V&A because, whether we like it or not she is defining our culture.

A concertgoer wearing armfuls of friendship bracelets attends the second of four Taylor Swift Eras Tour dates at ACCOR Stadium in Sydney
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A concertgoer wearing armfuls of friendship bracelets attends the second of four Taylor Swift Eras Tour dates at ACCOR Stadium in Sydney

The banner of the museum’s website reads: ‘If you’re into it, it’s in the V&A.’ There is no doubt that people are ‘into’ Taylor Swift. Fans in their hordes make friendship bracelets to exchange at her shows because of one line in You’re On Your Own, Kid that urges them to ‘make the friendship bracelets’. While at university, I made one for a ‘guilty pleasures party’ – although, looking back, I don’t think it was that guilty.

The fact is Swift inspires a devotion and a following that is almost Christ-like. How apt that last year, an image of a Taylor Swift-inspired T-shirt was projected on the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, with the permission of the Christ the Redeemer Archdiocesan Sanctuary, which looks after the monument.

Here, in Britain, the V&A was originally known as the Museum of Manufactures and when it opened was supplied with gas lighting so it could remain open for the convenience of the working man. It was always a museum of the people to represent the people.

Today, with nearly three-and-a- half billion views on YouTube for her song Shake It Off and 281 million Instagram followers, Swift does represent the people.

Plus, given that supermodel Naomi Campbell is about to have her own V&A exhibition, its show about fashion designer Coco Chanel is coming to an end, and with Elton John, Cher and Diana Ross all featured in one of its current exhibitions, Diva, why shouldn’t Swift be up there? None of these exhibitions merited the application call to arms for a Super Fan Adviser, which clearly shows how seriously the curators are taking her.

I have already sent off my application for the job, despite the V&A’s vacancies website crashing on Friday, presumably because so many people had tried to access it. Only a fool would believe Swift’s lyrics won’t be spoken of by future generations in the same breath as Wordsworth’s daffodils or Shakespeare’s sonnets.

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