At one end of the Grand Social on Saturday night, a regular crowd is sipping pints as David Bowie, Blur and Talking Heads play in the background. At the other end, Swiftogeddon, a Taylor Swift club night, is about to open – and the queue of fans waiting to get in stretches from the back of the Dublin venue right around to the front. There are sparkles, cowboy hats, red lipstick and outfits based on the superstar singer’s.
The Swifties fill the dance floors as soon as they get inside, singing along to every song and dancing even to the slower numbers. There are two rooms: the one upstairs has a DJ playing the main Swiftogeddon set; the other has a screen showing Swift videos all night, with a whiteboard for requests. It’s packed and hot; as some people cool themselves down with paper fans, others bop heart-shaped balloons into the crowd.
Clodagh Meaney, who’s 29 and on her hen night, came to her first Swiftogeddon a year ago, with her friend Alannah, who’s also here this evening. “That’s the closest I’ve come to understanding extreme religion, is being a Taylor Swift fan,” Alannah says. “People go to Mass every Sunday and quote the Bible. We just quote Taylor Swift to each other... Outside of religion or work it’s really hard to find a community like that, especially when you’re not in a natural environment like school or whatever.”
They regard Swiftogeddon as a safe space filled with “love and happiness”. “My mam was, like, ‘Be careful you’re not getting spiked’,” Meaney says. “I was, like, ‘Mam, it’s a girls’ night.’ The vibe is so helpful, loving, and everyone is here, united at church.”
Other fans also describe a sense of camaraderie. One tells a story about the last Dublin Swiftogeddon, a couple of months ago, when a girl lost an earring and a circle formed around her, her fellow fans shining their phone torches on the dance floor until they spotted the missing piece of jewellery.
The nights are the brainchild of Dave Fawbert, a DJ and former journalist. He planned the first Swiftogeddon back in 2019, for Moth, a club in east London. By pure coincidence, he says, Swift announced that her seventh studio album, Lover, would be released the same night as the event, so Fawbert decided to go all out. “I thought I’d make a weekend of it and booked a venue called Gorilla in Manchester for the Saturday night. That sold well. Both nights were absolutely incredible.”
The first Irish show was due to take place in 2020, but the pandemic delayed it until the start of 2022. Swiftogeddon now tours Britain and Ireland, with events in Cork, Galway, Kilkenny and Belfast as well as in Dublin. “It’s been crazy from day one,″ Fawbert says. “Every time I think it might be running out of steam, Taylor goes and releases a new album or does something new, like going on tour, to remind everyone just how amazing she is. Her music isn’t built on fads or ‘currentness’ – everything she does is fantastically well written, well arranged and well produced. The music she made back in 2006 still sounds fantastic today. It’s music built to last.”
Alannah and Meaney have made plenty of friends through their love of the star, including Jake Ahearne and Luke Keenan. The four first met at a Taylor Swift-themed brunch at Happy’s on Aston Quay, just across the Liffey from the Grand Social. “We kept looking at them and singing,” says Keenan, who is 23, “and then, by the end of it, they had joined our table. We spent the day with them, and ever since, we meet up, mostly here. They’ll text us and be, like, ‘Are you coming?’ Clodagh made me a friendship bracelet that has my name on it.”
Friendship bracelets are a big feature of Swift concerts. Ahearne, who is 22, explains that it’s because of her song You’re on Your Own, Kid, part of which goes, “Everything you lose is a step you take / So make the friendship bracelets / Take the moment and taste it / You’ve got no reason to be afraid.” “It’s not like she invented the idea of it, but it’s just become a big routine because of that lyric, and people will do it. It’s really sweet,” he says.
The bracelets, Keenan says, are “a way to connect with people. You’re mixing with each other. You will start with a certain amount, and you come home with more.”
Keenan and Ahearne will be going to Swift’s three nights at the Aviva Stadium in June next year. The cost of tickets for the Dublin shows, which sold out within minutes of going on sale last month, became a huge point of discussion among the star’s fans: prices started at €86 and rose to almost €750 for the most expensive VIP package. (Tickets to Swiftogeddon are significantly cheaper, at between €10 and €13.)
Alannah and Meaney will be going to one of Swift’s concerts in Paris. They paid €167 for tickets that they say would have cost about €240 for an Aviva show. “She’s an amazing songwriter,” Alannah says. “She’s a woman – if she didn’t look the way she did, people would be, like, ‘This is the Bob Dylan of the 2010s.’”
“There will be no tour like it when you look back,” Keenan says. “Because of how big it’s become, everybody wants to go, whether they like her or not.” Ahearne adds, “There is no one doing it like her.” According to Meaney, Swift “has redefined what it means to be a popstar. F**k the Beatles. She’s really defined this whole new world.”
Back on the dance floor, Swifties cheer at the end of most of the songs, as if they’re at a gig. Their passion peaks for the 10-minute version of All Too Well, from Swift’s rerecording of her album Red. It’s hard to find anybody who isn’t chanting every word. But almost nobody is dancing now: there’s only the odd wave of a hand in the air. If Taylor Swift is a religion, this certainly feels like a spiritual experience – and All Too Well is its mantra.
The next Irish Swiftogeddon nights are in Belfast (September 8th), Dublin (September 9th), Cork (September 15th) and Kilkenny (September 29th)